Somewhere in Metro Vancouver is a young man whom I've never met. I'm told he's nineteen years old, attractive, and a good dresser. He works in a retail outlet, a restaurant, a call center—I don’t know. For this story, it doesn't matter where. Like many nineteen-year-olds, he's insecure about himself and searching for answers. We'll call him Dan.
What is notable about where Dan works is that he has a male colleague who's older than he is. This colleague may be in his 30s or even 40s, I'm not sure which, but he's an adult, and, between Dan and him, he's the more mature, more settled, more secure. Or at least I think he is. I don't know how long Dan's worked with this fellow, but it's been long enough to know each other on a personal basis. We'll call him John.
Here's the situation: John is gay. John's noticed how cute and well-dressed Dan is. He's also recognized Dan's insecurity and vulnerability. John's pointed out Dan's attributes to him, and how other gay men would find him attractive. John thinks that, in all of Dan's confusion about himself, he doesn't know if he's straight or gay. John thinks he's gay. He's trying to convince Dan that he should explore the gay lifestyle, that that would help him make his decision.
To some degree, Dan's accepted what John's said. Dan's parents know about the situation at their son's workplace, and they are understandably upset by the influence John's had on Dan, and what's he's suggested about him by thinking he's gay. (I don't know if Dan's parents are more upset over John's influence on their son, or on the possibility that their son could be gay.) Dan's parents are sure their son is straight, or, at least, they hope he is. They're good Christian people, and, of course, they don't want their son to be gay.
I'm familiar with a situation somewhat similar to this one. In the mid 1980s, when I lived in Kelowna and frequented Club Amicus, an informal night spot and gathering place for gays and lesbians, I knew about a gay male couple there. One of the fellows was an older man, probably in his early forties--overweight, unattractive, and controlling. The other fellow was much younger, perhaps in his late teens or early twenties--tall, blond, well-built, and cute.
I'd heard from some of the younger fellow's friends at Amicus that his parents had kicked him out. I'm not sure why. On the street, and, with nowhere to go, the young fellow met the older fellow somewhere, probably at a bar. The older fellow was employed and had money, I don't know how much. He befriended the younger fellow and eventually invited him to move in with him. With nowhere else to go, the young fellow accepted the older fellow's offer. The older fellow was gay, and, at some point, probably because of their arrangement, the two of them became a couple.
Shortly before I moved from Kelowna to Vancouver for work, I heard some of the young fellow's friends talk amongst themselves. They said what a shame it was, that the young fellow was confused about his life circumstances and about his sexuality; that the older fellow had taken him in, made him financially dependent, had assumed he was gay and entered into a relationship with him. With everything financially taken care of for the young man, he had found it increasingly difficult to get away from the influence of the older man. While he was still in the gay relationship, how could he make his way in life, figure out who he was, or come to the realization whether he was straight or gay? In fact, some of his friends thought he was straight and would be much happier in the company of a young lady.
Hearing about this unfortunate situation stuck with me, and I've thought about it from time to time over the years. When I heard about Dan's situation, I was reminded of the gay couple in Kelowna, and, although some of the details are very different--for example, there is no financial dependency between John and Dan--what was common among them was the struggling, searching, vulnerable young man, and the mature, influential, and cunning older man.
From the perspective of John, I think I understand what he's trying to do. Potentially, depending on how old he is, John would have come of age around the same time I did, in the late '70s or early '80s. Being gay wasn't easy then. Many of the posts on my blog have gone into how I was teased non-stop at school for being gay; how older men propositioned me when I was in my early and late teens, which freaked the hell out of me; how I could be walking in the local mall or on the street and have someone yell out "Faggot!" at me; and how I've taken all of the years since to come to terms not only with who I am as a gay man, but also with the messages I continuously received regarding how vulgar, disgusting, and unacceptable being gay was. So I know what John went through, believe me.
It's possible that all John wants to do is create a safe place for Dan to come out and to be himself. Those are two of the biggest challenges facing any gay young man, and each of us, in his own way, seeks the support we need to come out to family members and friends, and even colleagues at work, and to live comfortably in our own skin. As I've learned all too well, it's one thing coming out to everyone who's important to you, potentially risking losing them in your life, and it's quite another to make your way in the real world as an out gay man. It's better now than it was in '80s, but there are still some obstacles, and we never know where those obstacles will come from and how they will affect us. (In other words, being gay still isn't an easy path in life.)
So, if this is the motivation for John to encourage Dan to come out and to be himself, I understand. I understand how you might want to make the path Dan follows a little easier for him. Perhaps I could have used some of the same support myself, although, to be honest, I was so scared about being gay and what that would mean for me, that, even if John had appeared in my life back then, and promised to pave the road ahead of me with golden bricks to make what I had to do easier, I wouldn't have had anything to do with it. I was determined not to be gay, no matter what, and any encouragement I may have received from an older man would have been rejected outright, especially since I would have been suspect of his motivation for being so nice to me.
And that's the point of what I need to say here. In the end, Dan may be straight, as his parents hope, or he may be gay, as John hopes. What's critical for all players to remember--whether they want to support Dan in his efforts to be straight or to be gay--is that Dan must come to this realization himself. Sexual orientation is a highly personal thing; it influences ll aspects of your life. Dan can no more be straight because his parents want him to be than he can be gay because John wants him to be. Dan is what he is, and, if there's any confusion about that now, there won't be in the months and years to come.
What Dan needs more than anything else is space from both sides to let him figure out for himself what he is. And from his parents, he needs to know that he has a safe place to be straight or gay, whichever one it ends up being. The worst thing Dan's parents can do is expect or urge him to be straight, because, if he's not, then they send the crushing message that to be gay is not right, not acceptable, and that he could risk losing them. Whether they like it or not, the best thing Dan's parents can do is tell him that, straight or gay, they will love him and support him, no matter what. They must realize that each of us is born with our sexual orientation already determined, just like everything else that's genetic, and that what Dan's going through right now with all the confusion about what he is and isn't, is natural. The fact that Dan is the least bit open to what John has to say may in fact suggest that he could be gay. Despite what his parents want, they must be prepared for that possibility.
And to John, I say the following: Back off. Leave Dan alone. I've given you the benefit of a doubt here by saying that perhaps all you want to do is show your support to Dan in case he is gay and needs someone to turn to. But don't confuse your interest in Dan for your own self-interest. That is, if you are the least bit interested in Dan as anything more than a co-worker and friend, you should be ashamed of yourself. Presumably, you are the adult in this situation, and you should know better than to confuse Dan further about something that's already hard enough. He doesn't need your undue influence or pressure in his life, particularly at his age. He doesn't need you leering at him, pining for him, in the hopes that he's gay so you can get it on with him. Think about what's best for Dan here. If you care for him at all, you'll step back, reexamine your motives for being so heavy-handed thus far, and get your focus back on your work, which is where it should be anyway.
I repeat, leave Dan alone. His sexual orientation is his business and his business only. You have no right to help him with this. In his own time, Dan will be who he is, whether that's gay or straight. And your influence will have nothing to do with that decision, because Dan already is what he is.