Dilemmas: You're gay. She's not. But she fancies you

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A while ago, Andrew, who is gay, was pursued by a secretary at the office where he works. Finally, he told her he had a girlfriend, and she was very upset, thinking he had led her on. Did he do the right thing? Should he have said he was gay? Should he come out now?

WHAT VIRGINIA SAYS

I always feel a little uneasy answering gay questions as I'm not gay and have absolutely no idea what it feels like to be so in a heterosexual society. All I do know is that lying and pretending nearly always exacts an injury to someone, either to yourself or someone else or both. Lying, like a boomerang, usually comes back to haunt you as, indeed, it's haunting Andrew.

Not only did he upset the secretary, who might have felt far less humiliated and rejected if he'd admitted he was gay, but also now he's subjected to blokish jokes about women to which he has no idea how to respond.

I suppose that Andrew could have been mysterious in his confession to his secretary and simply said that there was someone in his life to whom he was emotionally committed and then gone on to say that he made it a habit never to speak about his private life, leaving her to wonder if this special character was a woman, a man, his old mum or even God.

But his very mystery would have provoked suspicion. Most people, particularly other men, have a clue about whether men are gay or have gay streaks about them. Certainly any other gays in the office will have spotted him instantly.

I always remember introducing a gay man, who passed himself off in society as straight, to another couple of gays. When he left the room they turned to each other saying: "Oooh, scrumptious, where did you find him, darling?" When I asked how they knew he was gay, they looked at me in astonishment. "But it's obvious," they said, in chorus.

I would recommend that Andrew at the very least tell the secretary that he lied, and that he's gay. It would make both of them feel better about themselves. But whether to come out to the office is another thing.

There is an argument that your sexuality is no business of anyone's except yourself. And certainly if your taste runs to, say, being tied up or chained like a dog on a lead in the bedroom, that's your own business. But being gay is also a social business. When people don't know where you stand on such a basic matter of whether you fancy men or women, it can affect them - as, indeed, Andrew has found to his cost with the secretary.

It's a funny world in which nearly all of us, even public figures, admit to having smoked dope, which is illegal, but Andrew feels uncomfortable about admitting to being gay, which is legal. Andrew's behaviour under the law is perfectly acceptable, and a lot of people went to a lot of trouble in the Sixties to get the law against homosexual practices changed. If it weren't for them, he would now always be under the threat of being sent to prison.

Does he not owe it to them, and himself, and other gays in the office who are too nervous to come out too, to admit freely that he's gay? He needn't leap on a desk and call a meeting or send an e-mail to all the staff. But he could gradually leak references to gay clubs into the conversation, or talk about special friends, and let it be known that they're male.

Talking to gays I know who have come out, not a single one of them has regretted it and, apart from those who have told parents who haven't been able to come to terms with their children's sexuality, they have all felt much, much better about life and about themselves.

WHAT READERS SAY

Be honest and show some self-respect

I shared Andrew's predicament when I started my present job five years ago. When asked about weekends, evenings or anything regarding my home life I answered with the most non-committal of statements rather than mention my boyfriend. The act of declaring myself gay was not so much terrifying, just rather embarrassing both for myself and my colleagues.

The situation was, however, untenable. So I resolved to mention my partner as often as possible in the context of my best friend, flat-mate, the person I spent the majority of my free time with, whatever - to let them become slowly aware of the obvious humour, love and respect I shared with this man, and let them fill in the gaps.

The penny dropped far quicker and easier than I'd ever hoped and two of my workmates subsequently came out confessing they'd been waiting for years before my arrival but never knew how. I'm not sure I did but it takes a mixture of honesty and pride - not necessarily Gay Pride (in all its rainbow ribbed horror) but just a basic self- respect for yourself as a human being who wants to be honest about both loving and being loved.

JAMIE SAME

Balham

Don't be scared: you are what you are!

Andrew must feel secure in his sexuality before he can defend himself from the possible homophobia of his colleagues. I have had three jobs. At the first, I was young and scared and closeted. In the second, a liberal publishing environment, I felt able to come out gradually with the support of close colleagues. When I joined my current employer, I consciously decided not to hide. I came out to a couple of colleagues early on, just by making it clear that my partner was female. It has been a life- affirming process. I would recommend honesty. Sometimes, for your own self-respect, you have to say, "I am who I am, take me or leave me."

GILL COOPER

Essex

Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I'm 27 and have been seeing a counsellor for a year now and she is encouraging me to write a letter to my parents outlining how I feel they let me down in my childhood. I keep writing the letter, but can't bring myself to post it. I am sure it would upset them. But my counsellor assures me they can look after themselves and I have myself and my own mental health to think of, which is much more important. What do you think I should do?

Yours sincerely, Nicolette

Anyone who has advice quoted will be sent a bouquet from . Please send letters and dilemmas to Virginia Ironside, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, fax 0171-293 2182, or e-mail: dilemmas@ independent. co.uk - giving a postal address for sending the bouquet.

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