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Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Youth & Their Allies

Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Youth & Their Allies

by Ellen Bass, Kate Kaufman

Free Your Mind is the definitive practical guide for gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth — and their families, teachers, counselors and friends. For too long, gay youth have wanted to be themselves and to feel good about it, but most have been isolated, afraid, harassed, or worse. Their very existence has been ignored, whispered about, or swept under the


Free Your Mind is the definitive practical guide for gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth — and their families, teachers, counselors and friends. For too long, gay youth have wanted to be themselves and to feel good about it, but most have been isolated, afraid, harassed, or worse. Their very existence has been ignored, whispered about, or swept under the rug.

But each day more and more lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are standing up, speaking out, breaking down stereotypes, demanding rights and recognition — shining. In this book, young people share their joy and their pain, their hopes and fears, the formidable obstacles they have faced and overcome, and the exciting opportunities they have discovered.

Free Your Mind speaks to the basic aspects of the lives of gay, lesbian and bisexual youth: Self-Discovery; Friends and Lovers; Family; School; Spirituality; Community. Alive with the voices of more than fifty young people, rich in accurate information and positive practical advice, Free Your Mind talks about how to come out, deal with problems, make healthy choices about relationships and sex, connect with other gay youth and supportive adults, and take pride and participate in the gay and lesbian community. Free Your Mind also presents detailed guidance for adults who want to make the world safer for lesbian, gay and bisexual youth.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This very accessible basic guide for youth and those who care about them includes many valuable, practical suggestions and pointers to additional resources. Bass and Kaufman cover it all in chapters from "Friends" and "Love" to "Religious Life" and "Living in Your Community."

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.12(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt


"We are Everywhere
The only queer people are those who don't love anybody."
—Rita Mae Brown

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people truly are everywhere. They live in large urban areas and in rural communities. They come from every neighborhood. They are part of every kind of family. They are all races and come from all cultures. They work in every occupation. They have every kind of talent imaginable. And they are all ages.

There have always been youth who were lesbian, gay, or bisexual. What's different today is that many young people are able to recognize and name their feelings sooner. And an increasing number are joining the growing movement of gay youth who are demanding recognition as well as fair and equal treatment.

In the last few decades lesbian, bisexual, and gay people have worked for—and gained—significant progress toward equal rights in many areas of life. Openly gay and lesbian people have been elected to public office. Private corporations, as well as some cities, have extended equal benefits to gay and lesbian employees. Gay people are joyously celebrating their commitments to each other and raising families.

And gay youth are insisting that they be acknowledged and respected. They are creating successful lives filled with pride, friendship, love, and satisfaction.

Who is gay?

There are all kinds of gay people. There are lesbian mothers, gay fathers, and bisexual grandparents. There are lesbian fire fighters, teachers, and waitresses. There are bisexual garbage collectors, lawyers, and librarians. There are gay poets, mailcarriers, and stockbrokers. Gay men come from every race and ethnic group. Lesbians are found in every religion. Bisexuals are rich, poor, and from the middle class.

No one is sure what percentage of the population is gay or lesbian, and there is considerable ongoing debate. A number of studies have been done, with varying results.1 Because of discrimination and fear, many gay people may not answer honestly when questioned about their attractions and sexual behavior, so it's hard to tell what the real percentages are. And ultimately, it doesn't really matter. What's important is that there are many lesbian, gay, and bisexual people—millions in the United States alone—and we have every reason to expect the same rights as everyone else. All people have the right to love whomever they choose and to have full, safe, and satisfying lives.

What does being gay, lesbian, or bisexual mean?

Being lesbian or gay means that a person's primary romantic, emotional, physical, and sexual attractions and connections are with someone of the same sex. Bisexual people have those attractions to both sexes. Being gay, lesbian, or bisexual is a label that identifies who we fall in love with.

Many young people question—or know—that they are lesbian or gay before they have any sexual experiences at all. Others may have had sexual experiences with the opposite sex but still feel that they are gay. Or they may have had sexual experiences with the same sex but still feel they are heterosexual.

There is an important difference between attraction and experience. You may have same-sex experiences for any number of reasons besides a genuine attraction—because you are curious, because it's convenient, or because you feel pressured. On the other hand, you might have sexual encounters with someone of the opposite sex for reasons other than your own desire—because you are trying to fit in with society's expectations, because you are lonely, because you don't know how to say no, or because your "no" isn't heeded. Your sexual orientation is more about who you truly are drawn to than about what your experience has been.

If you are a young person questioning your sexual orientation, you may find it useful to ask yourself who your most deeply felt attractions are for. Who do you get crushes on most often? Who do you usually have romantic fantasies about? Who do you really wish you could spend the rest of your life with? Or just next weekend? The answers to these questions are often helpful in beginning to sort out your feelings.

The Spectrum of Sexuality

Although it's common to feel more strongly attracted to one sex or the other, many people feel at least some amount of attraction for both sexes. Alfred Kinsey, the famous researcher of sexual behavior, found that our attractions and our sexual behaviors are seldom absolute. While there are some people who have attractions and experiences only with the same or only with the opposite sex, most people fall in between the two extremes.

We live in a society that is more comfortable when things are neatly defined—either gay or straight. But many people don't experience life quite that simply.

Bisexual People

Bisexual people have the potential to feel sexually attracted to, and to fall in love with, someone of either sex. They are able to experience desire and intimacy with a special person, regardless of gender. Alessandra, who has had relationships with both men and women, explains her feelings:

I like women because they are women and I like men because they are men. I used to think the feelings were the same, but they're not; not to me at least. The chemistry, the lovemaking, the communication is totally different. They're both wonderful and they're both part of me. I couldn't turn one set of feelings on and turn the other off. Both are always there.

Yet because society seems to like simple labels, bisexual people often experience pressure to fit into restrictive boxes. As Anni says:

I find it real hard to describe myself as bisexual because the heterosexual community closes me out for having that gay part and the homosexual community closes me out for having that heterosexual part. I think it's almost harder to be bisexual than to be just gay or straight. I'm seventeen so I'm all over the place and I'm constantly changing, and if you don't like that, tough luck. I want to say I'm bisexual a lot. Instead people call me gay. I think a lot of bisexuals are hidden. They choose one world or the other to live in. I don't think it has to be that way.

Some bisexual people date both men and women. Others are in committed monogamous relationships. And sometimes bisexuality can be a transitional stage that people go through before they discover their gay—or straight—identity.

One bisexual, Susan, says, "People always ask me if I'm confused about who I like. I'm not at all confused. It feels perfectly natural to me to be attracted to both women and men. I think what those people are really saying is that my being bisexual confuses them."

Susan has coined her own word for people who define themselves as either gay or straight. She says they are "monosexual."

Why are people gay?

Over the years there have been many theories about why some of the world's population is homosexual. Basically these theories fall into one of three possibilities: nature, nurture, or a combination of the two.

Nature, in this context, means you were born gay—it's your nature. Recently there seems to be evidence from scientific research to support this theory that homosexuality may be biologically determined.

Nurture refers to your life experience and how it has affected your development. In the past it was assumed that if you were gay, something damaging must have happened to make you that way. Now it's widely accepted that this is not true. Our experiences—both positive and negative—may play a part in determining our romantic and sexual attractions, but no one is gay or lesbian solely because of a harmful—or beneficial—experience.

While some people have favored the nature theory and some the nurture, others have proposed that a combination of both nature and nurture are involved in determining sexual orientation. At this point no one is totally sure, though scientists are continuing to study these questions.

Interestingly, although there is quite a lot of talk about why gay people are gay, no one has done much research on why straight people are straight. The reason for this, of course, is that much of our society still presumes that being heterosexual is "normal" and therefore needs no explanation, whereas being gay, lesbian, or bisexual is abnormal and so needs to be caused by something. In fact, homosexuality, bisexuality, and heterosexuality are all simply variations of human sexuality.

Understanding why people are gay may help some people accept gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. If that's so, then the information is certainly worthwhile. However, it is also possible that once scientists know why people are gay, that information could be used in discriminatory ways.

In the meantime, the question of why some people are lesbian, bisexual, and gay is less important than the fact that we are lesbian, bisexual, and gay. And that we—like all people—deserve to be treated with respect.

Meet the Author

A pioneer in the field of healing from child sexual abuse, Ellen Bass currently teaches in the MFA program at Pacific University in Oregon. Her poetry books include Mules of Love and The Human Line.

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