Are you straight or gay? It might not be that straightforward...


What's this page about then?

Well, you might be confused about your sexual identity, or you might be sure. You might be happy and confident in whatever that is, or you might be miserable because of it. You might not care who knows, or you might be dreading your family or friends finding out and you don't have a clue how to tell them or "come out".

You might have got through all of that, everyone around you is cool with it and treats you normally, or they might have completely flipped and rejected you. They might be somewhere in between - confused and upset and needing help to adjust. Although it's not unusual for the people who know you to have figured it out long before you decided to tell them, even if you thought it was a secret.

Could be the other way round, you are definitely straight and someone close to you turns out to be different to how you thought they were. Your best mate tells you he is gay after all. Your mum says she wants to be a bloke. Your dad leaves home to live with his boyfriend. Same applies, you might be cool with it all or you might be confused and upset and needing help to adjust.

So either way, somebody needs information, advice and support. This page is for anyone affected by a sexual identity issue, the person themselves, or their family or friends.

  • Straight, or heterosexual.
  • Gay, or homosexual.
  • Lesbian.
  • Bi-sexual.
  • Transgender. 
  • Tranvestite. 
  • Cross-dressing.
  • What do these terms mean anyway?
  • Heterosexual - "straight" - people are emotionally and physically attracted to people of the opposite sex.
  • Gay and lesbian people are emotionally and physically attracted to people of the same sex.
  • Bisexual people are attracted to both sexes.
  • Being transgender is when a person feels like they are trapped in the body of the wrong gender - so a boy could feel that he is actually a girl trapped in a boy's body, and a girl can feel she is a boy trapped in a girl's body.
  • Occasionally it is possible to be born with a mixture of sexual characteristics. This is referred to as Disorders of Sexual Development and you can read about it on NHS Choices. This is rare, and even more rare is Androgen insensitivity syndrome where you are born genetically male, but your genitals may appear to be female or somewhere in between male and female. If this is how you were born, the chances are you are can't fail to be well aware of being different by now. But don't confuse this with being transgender. Without getting technical, a disorder means your body is incorrectly developed, not sure what it is, male or female. Transgender is when you know what sex you should have been and you are in the wrong, but correctly developed body. Medical research is impoving knowledge all the time which may help with understanding what sex you should naturally be irrespective of what body you occupy.
  • A word about cross-dressing (wearing clothes associated with the opposite sex). This has nothing to do with fancy dress or wearing costumes. If you are a lad with an irresistible urge to wear female underwear, or dress up totally like a woman (tranvestism), it's a lot harder to get away without anyone noticing than a girl in blokes' clothes. Your family might freak out if anyone catches you rooting through their underwear drawer with a view to borrowing it, but equally possible is that sexual partners might be accepting and even encourage it. There is nothing wrong with this if this is how you get your kicks, but it isn't really to do with sexual identity and it does NOT necessarily mean you are gay or even transgender, and it is not "drag" unless you are a man clearly dressed as a woman for theatrical effect! If you are worried about doing it, or getting caught doing it, talk it through with any of the sites we've told you about here. If the women in your life want to learn more or get help to understand cross-dressing, show them for women with cross-dressing partners, and the Beaumont Trust are there to help with transvestite and transgender issues. Download their leaflet about tranvestites to learn more and you can contact them twice weekly by phone, or by email.

You can also talk it over on any of the other helplines we list.

When it's not a straightforward choice (pardon the play on words)

It's not unusual to be confused about your sexual identity especially when you are young.

Likeitis is a no-nonsense site which advises "While some people are sure they're gay from an early age, others only discover it later in life, and some people who think they're gay because they fall for their friends, turn out to be straight. There's no right way to work out exactly what your feelings are, especially when you haven't much experience. If you really want to know if you're gay or straight, all you have to do is be patient and pay attention to your feelings and sexual urges. Eventually these will show you exactly where you stand".

This is what Youth2Youth have to say about sexual identity: "Accepting and understanding your own sexuality is a journey which we all undertake. We start to become aware of our sexuality often around the stage of puberty but it often takes years for us to fully understand who we are and what sex or gender we are attracted to. At Y2Y we believe that sexuality is not as simple as being straight or gay but more of a continuum with straight at one end and gay at the other. People can move along, stay in one place or change their position as they try to define their own sexuality. If you can describe yourself as straight or gay then that is fine, but there are many young people who find they do not fit into either of these categories".

So if you not sure, you are not the only one, although there's a good chance all your mates aren't talking about it even if they're just as confused! 

Ruth was born in a male body but knew from the age of 16 that she wanted to be a woman. She describes her hormone treatment and surgery, and how she feels now.

What does it mean to be a girl or a boy? Young people share their views with Brook, the national organisation offering free and confidential sexual health advice and services specifically for young people under 25. 

Glad to be gay? (or anything else for that matter!)

If you are comfortable with your choices, preferences and how you look or dress, that's great, but your friends and family may not be so thrilled or feel confused and need some help themselves to accept how you are. Everyone has the right to make their own choices and be themselves but the people around them may need to adjust, especially if the news comes as a surprise.

But whatever you are or feel you should be, if you are confused or worried about it or if you are under pressure to be something you are not and conform to other people's ideas of normal, talk to someone who understands. Local help and support comes from 2byou, based in Cambridge, offering support, friendship, projects and training for young people aged 14 to 24 in Cambridgeshire, discovering their sexuality. Call them on  07808 189158, text or email them. They have drop in sessions for 16-24s, every Wednesday, 6.30pm-8.30pm, and 14-16s, every Thursday, 3.30pm-5pm

Mermaids help with gender identity issues, offering information, support, friendship and shared experiences.  "We give support for individual young people, with or without support from their families, whether they are out or not We will try, where possible, to help their families understand and accept their child's gender identity issue. We will also offer our help to family members, professionals and others who are worried about a child or young person. We will offer our support via telephone, email and snail mail."

Youth2Youth say "being gay can pose many problems to teenagers. You may find the label hard to accept yourself or you may be afraid to tell family or friends. Your age, culture and religion will play an important role in how you can accept and tell others of your sexuality.... Whether you are a gay young man, lesbian or bisexual you will find many organisations can support you. Y2Y will endeavour to find the most appropriate service, either a national or local organisation and provide you with links to other sites that can help."  

The Queer Youth Network is a busy, vital source of everything to do with the world of "queer" and more. Information, groups, online discussions, current affairs, become a member and join online to be part of a big community where you run no risk of being judged or rejected, suport their campaigns and events. Contact them by phone or e-mail.

"Queer" used to be used an insulting reference to gay people, so now see what QYN have to say about using the word now themselves: "Queer is a reclaimed word that is most commonly used today to describe anything relating to minority sexualities and gender identities. We use it to encompass everyone and everything that could be described as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, curious, asexual, pansexual, polysexual, queer, or questioning - in fact anyone who does not fit into the norms of the mainstream sexuality or gender identities. The word is used often as an empowering, umbrella term to describe the diverse spectrum of communities recognised as being minoritised or socially disempowered due to their gender identity or sexuality. It is also a collective social identity which has many meanings to many people depending on who you ask. In the past the word queer has been used as an insult and some still find the term offensive although "gay" has replaced it's usage in recent years in places most commonly assoicated with verbal abuse and opressive language. People of all ages choose to identify as "queer" and it's usage is ever changing."  

Qwest FTM is for Female-toward-Male transsexual, transgender, gender-variant people, and those questioning their gender identity - having previously been assigned as female. They publish and distribute the magazine BoysOwn, written by and for FtM (female to male) folk; offer an information helpline; host a national biennial conference, and put people in touch with their local support networks with the aim of supporting FtM identified people and their SOFFAs (Significant Others, Friends, Family & Allies) throughout the country.

The London Gay and Lesbian Switchboard can be contacted on 0300 330 0630  (10am-11pm), e-mail and instant messaging. It's "a place to talk about things that may be difficult to talk about anywhere else...a place to find non-judgemental support and help. It's confidential, secure and a way of reaching out for help, perhaps when you don't know where else to turn". Their friendly website is there for you whether you've decided  :
"I'm coming out... call us if you want to talk about your feelings, are frightened, confused or isolated.
I'm going out... we can give you listings and details of bars, clubs, saunas, social and sports groups and support groups. We can also tell you what’s going on and where in the rest of the UK.
I'm staying in... ask us anything you like about sex: wanting sex, having sex, safer sex, sexual health and where to go if you have an itch or a sore. If you're worried about HIV and AIDS, we can tell you what the risks are and what precautions you can take."

PFLAG UK provide support and information for parents, friends and family of lesbian and gay people, they list useful links and resources and their site has details of local support groups and information for you, your family and friends and ways to support your LGBT person.

Depend is there solely for friends and family of transsexuals and where friends and families can share their experiences and support each other in celebrating  or commiserating without offending the transgender person either way. Whether it's you or someone close to you who already is trans or suddenly announces they are now, families or friends might find this a bit of a shock, confusing or even upsetting if they are none of these things themselves and had no idea. Help them get in touch with other people who know how they feel and where they can come to terms with it all and learn how to treat it as normal.

Coming out - ready or not? 

Telling people is referred to as "coming out", when you don't want it to be a secret any more. In this video from Youth Health Talk, five young people talk about their experiences of coming out to their family and friends.

In this video, teenagers describe how they came to terms with being gay and how they each found their unique way to tell their family and friends.                                                                                                                       

Get general help and advice on how to handle coming out and what to do if it doesn't go as planned from Young Stonewall, support from other young people on the Queer Youth Network and the other organsiations on this page, including 2byou locally.

Homophobia, bullying and discrimination

It's a sad fact that people may bully you or discriminateagainst you because of your sexual identity, or even the sexual identity of a friend or family member, so it's important to know your rights - and their responsibilities if they are educating or employing you, for instance. Checkout your rights and being being gay, lesbian, bi or trans with NHS Choices, see what Stonewall have to say about how they are working to make things fairer.

Read more about how to deal with general bullying, discrimination and self-esteem issues on GTRT. 

People may even be abusive, bullying or even violent towards you because of your sexual identity. Youth2Youth say "Many teenagers experience homophobia - being treated differently, bullied or assaulted because of their sexuality. Homophobia can seriously affect your studies, self esteem and confidence so it must be addressed." Contact them for more help. Read Doug's story about homophobic bullying.  

If you are the victim of homophobic bullying or discrimination, you can report it through Educational Action Challenging Homophobia's website or the actionline on 0808 1000 143 .

Stonewall is the pioneering international organisation campaigning for LGBT rights and to educate in schools and workplaces to eliminate discrimination and homophobia. Checkout what support and information they have, and ways to get involved and support their work on the main site and particularly Youngstonewall aimed at 16-25s.  

Domestic violence and sexual assault

Domestic violence is also a problem for gay and lesbian people. Broken Rainbow is the only National LGBT Domestic Violence Helpline providing confidential support to all members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) communities, their family and friends, and agencies supporting them. Contact it on 0300 999 5428, Monday and Thursday, 10am to 8pm; Tuesday and Wednesday 10am to 5pm (1pm-5pm Tuesday is a trans-specific service) or e-mail.

Rape and sexual assault are still precisely that whatever your sexual orientation and whatever the sex of the person committing the crime. See information on the page for rape and sexual assault.

Keep healthy - mind and body

According to NHS Choices, studies show that lesbian, gay and bisexual people show higher levels of anxiety, depression and suicidal feelings than heterosexuals. Rates of drug and alcohol misuse have also been found to be higher, and even those figures may be wrong as not everyone admits their sexual orientation when seeking treatment or help and advice.

What this means is that is it very important to be aware of your mental health and take extra care of it. See GTRT pages on is there something wrong with me? and life is not worth living. Get more to your life encourages everyone to feel better and cope more easily, whatever their sexual orientation.

Your health concerns may be slightly different and more specific than "straight" people, especially your sexual health. The Terence Higgins Trust offer information and help on sexual health especially HIV. When Terence Higgins died of AIDS in 1982, nor did his gay partner, friends, family or even doctors. The Trust works hard to maximise sexual health in the UK, and minimise the spread of HIV and STIs, by encouraging people to value their sexual health and by leading innovation to increase access to local sexual health services. They offer a helpline and online questions answered along with health information and advice on their website and support for people with HIV.

NHS Choices has a whole section on Lesbian, Gay, Bi or Trans (LGBT) health. See also more general stuff on GTRT's sexual health and pregnancy page.

Sing if you're glad to be gay

Or anything else you enjoy doing. We've borrowed a song title from the gay rights protagonist Tom Robinson way back but it's good advice for your social life. There are plenty of events with a LGBT theme nationally and locally and local opportunities to meet through 2byou, for starters. Most people enjoy socialising with people who share their interests but being LGBT doesn't mean you have to stay out of straight society. So get stuck into whatever you enjoy, whoever else is doing it.

The page was last updated on 02 July 2014 by andrea.bateman.

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