The recent weeks have seen a few of my old Facebook followers writing in to ask about the “mysterious disappearance” of the page I created for this blog sometime in 2013. It was remiss of me not to post something about that sooner – but I was waiting for the right moment. Basically, I unpublished the page late last year. You could say that it had served its purpose and was no longer needed. For those of you wanting to know what I mean, let me first begin with a little confession:
My fling with Facebook was always going to be a short-lived affair. I apologise for misleading you but I had no intention of keeping the page running in the long term. The sole reason for bringing it into being was to spy – yes spy – on my fans and followers, using this…
Facebook calls it “Insights” – which is pretty apt, since it offers Page Admins eye-opening and in-depth stats about visitors to their page. It’s a most useful investigative tool – especially when you’re looking for something beyond the basic web stats available to bloggers and website owners. These can tell you which country your visitors are from, what search words and phrases they used to find you and which posts and pages they viewed – but they don’t tell you things like their age, gender, city and language. And after years of consistently seeing phrases like these in the top search terms of my blog and website stats…
I found myself wondering more and more, “Who the heck keeps asking – and why?”
Are these a bunch of blokes determined to settle some juvenile bet? Were they admirers? Nosy-parkers or gossip-mongers? Wedding co-ordinators perhaps?
But after a while, I started to pick up on a mood of desperation behind a lot of the search phrases. Some, dare I say, almost sounded like cries for help. Which really got me thinking…
So I used Facebook to gather enough data to confirm my suspicions.
You see, with Insights, not only do you have unparalleled access to information about your visitors and their demographics – namely gender, age, country, city and language – but you can also gauge how many and which users have actively or passively engaged with your page. And this is where it gets interesting. Notice the stats for males in the 18-24 age group…
For the men aged 18-24 who actually Liked my page, there were more than twice as many who regularly visited it or clicked on content but didn’t Like it – presumably because they didn’t want to be seen to Like it by their Facebook buddies.
Now I know that guys that age are usually quite concerned with being ‘cool’ and would therefore be unlikely to publicly associate with anything or anyone off the coolness radar (like middle-aged TV presenters), but what I also know is that my sexuality and marital status have long since been subjects of intense public discussion and speculation – so I’m willing to bet that many, if not most of the young men who made up the 17.9% above are, in fact, gay (most likely closeted) men who frequented my page out of curiosity, voyeuristic thrill or the off chance that I would drop some clues about my personal life.
And if my hunch is correct and you’re one of these young gay men (or women) reading this, I want you to know that I baited you with the intentionally provocative title of this post for altruistic reasons. I have a message for you, so please read on…
Please know that I understand the feelings of fear, confusion, depression, shame or self-loathing you may be experiencing. I receive a lot of mail from gay men (including heart-breaking ones from some as young as 16 years old) via my website and this blog and I always refrain from entering into a protracted correspondence with any of them because I’m simply not qualified to offer counsel or guidance. I always recommend that they speak to someone trained in such matters – and fortunately, there are many people and organisations in South Africa who are dedicated to helping young people like you through the coming out (even if only to yourself) journey and the self-acceptance process.
I’ve had occasion to work with LGBT organisations and causes in the past – and for this post I got in touch with the people at OUT (who do amazing work) and asked for their assistance…
OUT provides health services to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community including counselling, HIV testing, treatment and general lifestyle advice and support. Their Psychosocial Support Services include Online Counselling for gay men and women – which may be the option you’d want to explore if you’d prefer anonymity at this point. They also offer Telephone Counselling and a host of other safe platforms for you to talk about your feelings and ask questions – so check out their website if this interests you.
Here is some constructive information that the organisation forwarded to me on the subject of coming out:
OUT Wellbeing Coming Out Fact Sheet.
WHAT IS COMING OUT?
Most people have heard of the term ‘coming out’. Coming out is short for ‘coming out of the closet’ and it means that you tell somebody else that you are lesbian or gay. That moment is not an isolated one – it is a lifelong process and happens again and again. It starts with coming out to yourself and continues with every person you meet. When you move house, change jobs, or join a club, you will have to decide again whether to disclose or not.
There is no specific age for coming out. Research shows that the general age for coming out for boys is 19 and for girls 21. But some people come out much younger, some much older – even after having been married – and some do not come out at all.
Most lesbian and gay people realise their sexuality as teenagers. Some have felt this way since they were little, but were unable to understand it. It is often when friends or schoolmates start having their first sexual encounters that young lesbian girls and gay boys find out that they are different. This can put them in a difficult position because most young people want to belong to a group and to be accepted. Discovering that they are different can be traumatic.
As teenagers, these kids have to deal with challenges facing everyone their age as well the extra burden of discovering they are lesbian or gay. This can therefore be a stressful and lonely time in a young person’s life.
COMING OUT STAGES
It starts with a vague idea of being ‘different’. This can happen at quite a young age, but more likely at the beginning of puberty (adolescence).
The person considers the notion they are lesbian or gay, but initially they often deny this to themselves.
They then begin to think about it, read about it and slowly come to accept it. For many young people, this is a lonely and depressing time.
They then come to a form of self acceptance and may tell someone else for the first time – usually someone close, like a best friend or their mother.
They start to discover a new world, make new friends and over time find a first special friend or lover.
Only in the external stages it becomes visible for the outside world. Sometimes years of internal stages have already passed by that time.
Each person comes out in different ways under unique circumstances. Some people move faster than others through the stages, others don’t ever get to the point at which they can tell others or feel they can lead a lesbian or gay lifestyle. This all depends on the level of self acceptance, self value and the level of support in the social environment.
References: Triangle Project, 2005. Could my child be gay? Information for parents and guardians. A booklet, Triangle Project: Cape Town.
SUGGESTIONS ON ‘COMING OUT’
- Be clear on your own feelings about the matter. If you are still dealing with a lot of guilt or depression, try to get some help in getting over that before sharing it with others. If you are comfortable with the issue, those with whom you share it will often sense that fact and be aided in their own renewed acceptance of you.
- Timing can be very important. Be aware of the health, mood, priorities, and problems of those with whom you would like to share this part of yourself or your history. The mid-life crises of parents, the relationship problems of friends, the business concerns of employers, and countless other factors over which you have no control can affect another’s receptivity to your revelation.
- Never reveal something that may shock or disappoint during an argument. Never use this information as a weapon or to get back at someone by making them feel to blame for your issue.
- When sharing the information that may shock or disappoint try to affirm mutual caring and love before launching into your announcement.
- Be prepared that your revelation may surprise, anger, or upset other people at first. Try not to react angrily or defensively. Try to let other people be honest about their initial feelings even if they are negative. Remember that the initial reaction may not be the long term one. Ultimately the individual who has really faced and dealt with their own issues on the subject may be far more supportive than the person who gives a superficial-liberal expression of support.
- Emphasise that you are still the same person that you were before sharing the information. If you were loving and responsible yesterday, likewise you will be loving and responsible tomorrow.
- Keep lines of communication open with people after having shared the news with them – even if their response is negative. Respond to their questions and remember that they are probably in the process of coming to terms with what you have told them and re-examining their myths and stereotypes about the issue.
- Be sure that you are well informed about the subject. Read some good books and share them with others.
- Remember how long it took you to come to terms with the issue and that it took even longer to decide to share it with others. Therefore, be prepared to give others time to adjust and comprehend the new information about you. Do not expect or demand immediate acceptance. Look for ongoing, caring dialogue.
- If you are rejected by someone with whom you have shared this information about yourself, do not lose sight of your own self-worth. Remember that you were sharing an important part of yourself and that this was a gift to the other person that the other person has chosen to reject. If rejection does come, consider whether the relationship was really worthwhile. Is any relationship so important that it must be carried on in an atmosphere of dishonesty and hiding? Was the person really your friend or simply the friend of someone they imagined you to be? Decisions about sharing personal information about yourself must be made cautiously, but integrity and self respect are extremely important in the long run.
- Remember that the decision to share information about yourself that may shock or disappoint others, is yours. Don’t be guilt-tripped into it by people who think that everyone has a right to know everything about you and that they have the right to ask inappropriate questions. You can usually decide, when, where, how, and to whom you want to reveal something so important about yourself.
- Try not to let your family and close friends find out aspects that you wish to share with them from third parties, such as neighbours or the media. Try to tell them personally beforehand.
OUT headquarters are in Pretoria and I explained that I suspected most of the gay men who reach out to me to be Durban-based, so they were kind enough to get me the following info:
THE DURBAN LESBIAN AND GAY CENTRE & HEALTH CENTRE
Description: we provide personal HIV/AIDS counseling and do referrals for legal matters and advice. We cover matters ranging from understanding own sexual orientation, health status, coming out[LGBT and HIV+], mitigation/fighting stigma and discrimination, homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, living positively, drafting wills, same sex marriage and divorce
Address: 42 Mckenzie Road, Morningside, Durban 4001
Tel: 031 312 7442/7402 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Centre Manager: Nonhlanhla Mkhize Email: email@example.com
PIETERMARITZBURG GAY AND LESBIAN NETWORK
Description: LGBTI Non government organization
Physical Address: 187A Burger Street, Pietermaritzburg, Kwazulu Nata, 3201l
Postal Address: P O Box 2721, Pietermaritzburg, 3200
Tel: 033 342 6165 Fax: 086 508 2203 Helpline: 0860 333 331 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Description: Relationship differences, loss and grieving, interpersonal differences, trauma, debriefing, stress and anxiety management, personal growth and development, work problems, divorce, low self esteem, anger control strategies, couple counseling, sexual orientation and play therapy
Address: 17 Quail Place, Manors, Pine town
Tel: 031 561 2334/ 071 632 1111 Email: email@example.com
Description : Individual and Couples therapy
Address: Number 6, Hilton Avenue, Hilton, Durban Tel: 033 343 4408
NAME: JERUSHA MOODLEY
Description: Social worker……Psychosocial support [Life line] 24 Hour counseling services, face to face counseling, youth development programs, rape crisis, support groups
Address: 38 Adrain road, Stamford hill, Durban
Tel: 031 303 1344 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
DR ANDREW MACLEOD
Description: LGBTI Affirmative General Medical Practitioner
Address: 113 Jan Meyer Road, Westville, Durban
Tel: 031 266 5369 Fax: 086 228 4598 Email: email@example.com
NATIONAL LGBTI HEALTH CAMPAIGN
Description: HIV/AIDS Prevention, support and care programs, women who have sex with other women, men who have sex with other men, sexual health and human rights services
Address: Durban 140, Dr AB Xuma Street, 4001
Tel: 072 0944 054
NAME: DEO GLORIA FAMILY CHURCH
Description: DGFC has a vision to be a church for all people. We believe that Christ love does not discriminate based on sexual orientation. We are Contemporary, Apostolic-Prophetic church with a history. All are welcome at our church,[ that includes LGBTI people] Christ came to change our hearts not our finger prints
Pastors: Apostle Deborah Bell [Senior Pastor] & Prophet Marietjie Geldenhuys [ Co- Pastor]
Address: 43 Armstrong Avenue [1st Floor] La Lucia[ Behind La Lucia Mall]
Tel: 031 562 8869 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.deogloria.org.za
I hope this is of help to you or someone you know. Let love & truth be your guides.