Dan Savage on long-term love and “The One” person perfect for you

Movies and novels have given lots of people the mistaken idea that there is one person, a soulmate who’s perfect for them. Or at least, they’ll find someone and fall in love with that someone and the relationship will be perfect.

That’s bullshit, says Dan Savage is an internationally syndicated relationship and sex advice columnist. I’ve read Savage for years and I find his advice usually spot on. Here is a video clip of him talking about “The One”:

If you can’t see the video above, click here

You should see the whole video (it’s just 6 minutes), but here’s an excerpt to get you interested:

When you think about it, you meet somebody for the first time, and they’re not presenting, you know, their warts-and-all self to you. They’re presenting their idealized self to you. They are leading with their best. … And then eventually you’re farting in front of each other.

Eventually you get to see the person who is behind that facade of their best. … And they get to see the person behind your facade. You know, your lie self.

And what’s beautiful about a long-term relationship, and what can be transformative about it, is I pretend every day that my boyfriend is the lie that I met when I first met him. And he does the same favor to me.

And we then are obligated to live up to the lies we told each other about who we are. We are then forced to be better people than we actually are, because it’s expected of us by each other.

And you can, in a long-term relationship, really make your lie self come true. …

And that’s the only way you become ‘the one.’ It’s because somebody who is willing to pretend you are ‘the one’ that they were waiting for, ‘the one’ they wanted. Their ‘one.’

I found this video via the excellent Brain Pickings blog, which was talking about Dan Savage’s latest book

If you’re a gay student in India, should you come out? When? To Whom?

Being gay is tough. Being gay in India is even tougher. Which is why many gay people in India remain in the closet most of their lives.

However, I strongly believe every gay person should come out, at least to the people they’re closest to. Having to hide such an important part of one’s identity, from everybody, for one’s entire life, is unhealthy, dangerous, and not a situation I would wish anybody to have to go through.

A few weeks ago, I read an interesting article in the Pune Mirror by Sanyukta Dharmadhakari, about openly gay students on Pune college campuses. I was quite happy to find out that there is increasing acceptance of gay students on our campuses.

So I began to wonder – if there is a closeted gay student, should he/she be encouraged to come out?

I have little or no expertise in this matter. I have at least 4 good friends who are gay, I stayed for 2 years with a housemate who was gay, and I have attended my friends’ lesbian wedding. So I am a little more informed than the average person in India – but, to get an answer to my question, I decided to get the help of experts.

Sorry, this article has become a little long, so here’s a helpful table of contents. You don’t have to read all the parts, and you don’t have to read them in order.

How do you first find out that you’re gay? What does it feel like? I asked my friend Venkatesh Iyengar, who grew up in India, and who’s now openly gay, to answer this question. This is his experience:

I discovered I was gay when I was about 10. In school, I found myself excited by the other boys in class, but before I could comment about this to anyone, I noticed other boys were similarly excited by the girls in our class, and this puzzled me greatly. This was my first sign that I was different. I withdrew into a shell and became an introvert for many years to follow – a great defense mechanism at the time. I’m glad I realized that I was different before I discussed the issue with anyone. Otherwise I would have been accidentally “outed” before I was ready for it, and that wouldn’t have been good for me.

Owing to societal reaction to homosexuality, more so in India, we go through a lot of intense emotions early on, and foremost among them is fear, intense loneliness, self-guilt, self-hate, a desperate need to feel a sense of belonging …. these are very normal feelings, and these behaviours are learnt and reinforced over many years. Consequently accepting one is gay usually takes just as long if not longer. It starts with first understanding that what you are is ‘different’, not ‘wrong’, and truly believing that. I repeat – truly believing that – because that is by far the most important part of acceptance. Truly believing enables you to forgive yourself for whatever transgressions you think you committed, to love yourself without feeling the need to apologize for it, to say “I am gay” loudly with your head held high, and looking others in the eye, and to really feel like you do belong in any group of people. All this does not happen overnight. In my opinion two things are very key to getting through this process – having friends and/or family that will love you regardless, and meeting other gay people and having role models who are also gay.

Nothing can replace knowing that someone else has been through what you are going through, and especially knowing there are both famous and not-so-famous people just like you. Telling people you are gay is just a part of the process, maybe even an optional part. While this is what people refer to when they talk of “coming out”, the real coming out is acceptance of yourself, and your ability to think of your sexual orientation as another personal quality, like, say, the colour of your eyes.

It will happen. With time. And there is help – you don’t have to deal with it alone. Talking to an LGBT group or counselor is the first step. It is not easy – it will likely include some inner turmoil and compromises but it always gets better after that. Accepting yourself and coming out is an incredibly liberating feeling, one that I think everyone should experience.

This is not necessarily the only way that you find out you’re gay. Also, the age when you’ll find out is more likely to be closer to 13-15. But the feelings – of confusion, turmoil, guilt, self-hate, intense loneliness, fear – are very common. Just remember, you are different, not wrong, and you’re not alone.

So, on to the main question of this article: If a gay student is closeted, would you encourage him/her to come out? Why or why not?

I asked this question to Bindumadhav Khire, gay rights activist, and founder of Samapathik Trust, an NGO that works on LGBT issues. Here are his answers:

The question is coming out to whom? To their friends? Family? Teachers? Public? My advice is that they should (when they become Adults) come out to some good NGO like Samapathik Trust (Pune) or The Humsafar Trust (Mumbai). Their confidentiality will be respected (they need not give their real name) and they will find LGBTI community members who have a +ve image of themselves. They can also then seek counseling on various issues.

I feel they should not come out to their friends/family/teachers/public till their studies are over and they get a good job and become financially independent. In case they come out too early, and they are rejected by the family, they have nothing to fall back on. At a young age they are more vulnerable to blackmail, sexual exploitation, unsafe sex, alcohol/drug use, etc. as they have no support systems for them to help them cope with their sexuality. They also have no role models hence they are very vulnerable. The Trust is a good support system for them and they should avail of it.

If they insist on coming out, they should not come out till they are at least 18 years complete. As an adult they are legally in charge of their lifestyles.

In case he/she needs help, or information, or counseling, or therapy, what resources exist in Pune?

They can approach Samapathik Trust and based on their needs (e.g. depression etc.) we can refer them to a gay-friendly psychiatrist. In case they have been into unsafe sexual practices we can – with their consent – get them tested for HIV; if they have acquired Sexually Transmitted Infections we can provide medicines to them (as per advice of the doctor). If they have been sexually assaulted we can assist them to approach the police.

Where should he/she go for more information.

In Bombay, get in touch with Humsafar Trust.

Venkatesh Iyengar adds: In Bangalore, Good As You is a wonderful resource. They have a terrible website that doesn’t even load most of the time, so the best thing to do is go to a meeting and then get added to their Facebook group, which, for obvious reasons, is not searchable. There is also a YahooGroups group, and an email id that is monitored regularly – goodasyoublr@googlemail.com

I further asked Bhooshan Shukla, child psychiatrist, whether he would like to add to what Bindu said, and here is his response:

I agree with Bindu on most issues. My take is –

Coming out is a long and layered process. First is coming out to oneself. Accepting own sexuality, gathering data about it from safe sources like Samapathik trust and the internet. Once the person is okay to a reasonable extent, they should look for friends / family sources who can understand them better. Fortunately, this subject is all over the media so there are ample chances of discussion and knowing people’s views. When in doubt hold back, would me my rule of thumb because coming out is irreversible.

Another important issue is to recognize that sexuality is one part of life and difficulties in one part can not be allowed to take over whole life. Getting counseling help for distress is important.

Financial independence is very important and becomes supreme in a homophobic culture like ours.

Not jumping into indiscriminate sexual adventures is also important. I see many gay adolescents and youngsters exploring their sexuality prematurely. Leaving themselves exposed to ridicule, blackmail, abuse, and even mental slavery.

Lastly, after coming out to family and finding non-acceptance there, do not get into angry self destructive mode or even trying to shock and shame the family by behaviour that is embarrassing for close family members, especially mothers. It is important to realize that the family really struggles to come to terms with minority sexualities and needs a lot of time. Severing ties with the family makes one vulnerable to temporary and exploitative relationships.

Coming out is a process stretched over almost 10 years, i.e. from age of 13-15 to almost 25. It needs to be paced properly. This is the price one is forced to pay in our society. It is unfair but that is how it is.

So, here’s the simplified summary:

  • First, come out to yourself. Accept your sexuality.
  • Then, come out to a good NGO, (in Pune: Samapathik Trust, in Mumbai: Humsafar, in Bangalore: Good As You), and/or a gay-friendly psychiatrist
  • Then, with the help of the above, figure out the right time to come out to the others, including your family, friends, and others.
  • Be careful. People can be cruel; you’re vulnerable and easily exploitable

Being gay is difficult. Don’t do it without help.

I don’t have all the answers. Neither does anyone else. But asking the questions, exploring the possibilities, and having a discussion helps.

Please give your thoughts, suggestions, questions in the comments section below. If you have a question, ask in the comments section below and I’ll ensure that one of the experts featured above will answer it.

I know this is a sensitive topic, so please feel free to leave a comment anonymously. (Just pick a random username, and set your email address to <your_random_username>@example.com – you can also use your real email address, in which case, I will see it, but nobody else will see that email address so your identity will still remain hidden.) Or you can get in touch with Bindumadhav Khire via the Samapathik trust or the help line (details above), Dr. Bhooshan Shukla via his clinic, or Venkatesh Iyengar via email – they’ll all be happy to help, while respecting your confidentiality.

Appendix: Definitions, Misconceptions, and Clarifications

This section is not a part of the main article, so please feel free to skip to the comments section below.

Not everyone is familiar with the various concepts and terms related
to homosexuality, and I’ve noticed that often people have
misconceptions so here are some basics:

  • A homosexual or a gay person is someone who is sexually/romantically attracted to others of the same gender.
  • A homosexual who has not yet disclosed his/her homosexuality is said to be “closeted” or “in the closet”.
  • A homosexual who (voluntarily) discloses his/her sexual orientation is said to “come out”. Most homosexuals who come out, come out in stages – _i.e._ they initially disclose their sexuality to only a few people, and then over the course of many years, might disclose it to more and more people (or not). So for example, a gay person might first only come out to a psychologist/therapist/counselor, then later he might come out to a few close friends, then they might come out to their parents, _etc._ Some homosexuals never come out at all.
  • Both males and females can be gay/homosexual. A female homosexual is called a lesbian. There is no separate term for a male homosexual.
  • Feminine behavior is not necessarily an indicator of male homosexuality. It is not necessary that necessary that someone exhibiting feminine behavior is gay, nor is it necessary that a gay man will exhibit feminine behavior.
  • Lots of people in India, especially those without much exposure to gay people, are convinced that they can easily identify who is “a gay”. My belief is that these people are completely mistaken and are usually those who confuse effeminacy with homosexuality.
  • There is no reason for you to be uncomfortable/awkward around a gay person. There is no problem with shaking hands with him, or hugging him. Just because someone is gay, doesn’t mean that he wants to have sex with you. As Harish Iyer once memorably told one of my friends, “Daro mat, yeh chhoone se nahiN failta hai!” (Don’t worry, this does not spread through touch.)
  • The word gay is an adjective. Thus, “He is gay” is correct English, while “He is a gay” is wrong. Similarly, you can say “gay people” but not “the gays”.
  • Being gay is not a choice. It is not a psychological problem that can be fixed by counseling/therapy. It is not a “mental illness” that can be treated. When I hear of people (typically, parents of gay children) talking about a “cure” for homosexuality, I think of one of my friends – being gay has caused so much torment in his life that he would give anything to not be gay, just so he can have a normal life. But he can’t. (Yes, he’s been through multiple rounds of the so-called cures and treatments, with multiple doctors, and no, he hasn’t been “cured.”)
  • Being gay in India is not illegal! Technically, according to Section 377 of our IPC, gay sex is illegal, but this is rarely enforced – unless someone with the right connections wants to take advantage of a gay person for some other unrelated reason. Then Section 377 becomes a handy weapon of blackmail/manipulation. (Update: On 6/9/2018, the Supreme Court of India struck down Section 377 effectively decriminalizing gay sex, and other forms of unnatural sex between consenting adults. So that’s one problem solved.)
  • Being gay is just one of the possible ways in which a person’s gender/sexuality can differ from the mainstream. Physical body, mental gender, and sexual orientation are independent things. Mental gender is whether you think of yourself as a male or female, irrespective of what physical body you have. Sexual orientation is which sex(es) you find attractive, irrespective of your physical body and your mental gender.
  • There are many variations of what a person can be: bisexual, transsexual (or transgender), intersex, hijra, and more… but a discussion of that is way beyond the scope of this article.
  • The term LGBT is sometimes used in this context, and stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. Sometimes, Intersex is added to this, so you get LGBTI. In India, sometimes, Hijra is added to this, to give LGBTIH.

50% People “remember” false stories that never happened if they support their preconceived ideas

Remembering is believing, right?

Not really.

We have always known that people remember things that they agree with, and forget things that are inconvenient for them. However, here is some research that proves that people can “remember” completely made up events.

Here is the scary abstract of the research paper:

In the largest false memory study to date, 5,269 participants were asked about their memories for three true and one of five fabricated political events. Each fabricated event was accompanied by a photographic image purportedly depicting that event. Approximately half the participants falsely remembered that the false event happened, with 27% remembering that they saw the events happen on the news. Political orientation appeared to influence the formation of false memories, with conservatives more likely to falsely remember seeing Barack Obama shaking hands with the president of Iran, and liberals more likely to remember George W. Bush vacationing with a baseball celebrity during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. A follow-up study supported the explanation that events are more easily implanted in memory when they are congruent with a person’s preexisting attitudes and evaluations, in part because attitude-congruent false events promote feelings of recognition and familiarity, which in turn interfere with source attributions.

Let me repeat the most important points for effect:

  • The study involved 5000+ participants, so there is little chance of it being a few weirdos. This probably applies to “most of us”
  • Half the people “remembered” an even that had never taken place
  • 27% of the people remembered “seeing” the event on the news – an event that never took place
  • People were more likely to “remember” false events that agreed with their preconceived notions / political leanings

With the rise of social media putting an increasingly harsh spotlight on every action by every political leader, can we feel happier that the truth is more likely to come out? I would argue that social media just makes it easier to manipulate people…

Check out the original paper if you’re interested, and the related reddit discussion.