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Virginia Ironside’s Dilemmas: Do you think I'm a repressed gay?

Dear Virginia,

I've got a fixation that I might be gay. After a wretched life, and ending up in rehab, I married an amazing man, and we had a son, now four. We had a great sex life – but now he's left me. Then my mother died and my business failed. Now I'm obsessed by my sexuality. I've never had sex with a woman, and don't fancy them, but when I see nudes in photos I shudder, and blush at the word "gay". I don't feel gay or straight, I feel inhuman and isolated. Do you think I'm a repressed gay?

Yours sincerely, Sandra

I have to say that if you've never fancied a woman, never in all your life had a sexual experience with a woman, have had an amazing sex life with a bloke and flinch when you see pictures of nude women, it does seem incredibly unlikely that you are even remotely gay.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking you might be like those men who keep telling everyone how they think gays are the scum of the earth and who are then revealed to have a secret nightlife on Hampstead Heath. But remember these are men who know, au fond, about their own sexuality, and keep up this bluffing front of loathing and intolerance because they actually hate that side of themselves. But as far as I can see, you don't even have that side to repress or deny.

At the risk of being labelled a cheap therapist, I'd say that this fixation is actually a sign of depression rather than gayness. The symptoms of depression are incredibly wide-ranging. When new mothers get depressed, they often think of harming their child. They cannot get this dreadful thought out of their heads. It's as if the depression tries to think of the worst thing in the world, then constantly brings it to their attention to torment them. There's a wonderful engraving by Goya of a despairing man sitting at a desk, his head in his hands, being tormented by demons. I think one of the demons that's tormenting you is the demon that says, "What if I'm gay?" This is not reality talking. It is the demon of depression.

After a separation like yours, and particularly if you've been an addict, you're probably more vulnerable to lows in your life than some, and it's perhaps inevitable that you'll be depressed. After a bereavement, too – which is what separation can feel like – your sex drive can behave in the most peculiar way. Sometimes people feel fantastically sexy and race round having affairs with everyone. Sometimes, like you, they shut down completely, and feel like sexual non-people. Lack of sex drive is also a possible sign of depression.

See your doctor, and don't reject the idea of anti-depressants; yes, some can be rubbish, but others can work miracles. Bringing up a child is always boring and frustrating at some points, but tends to improve as the kids get older. And when these horrible thoughts creep into your mind, tell those pesky demons to buzz off. Lastly, don't let depression tell you that your doctor can't help. It may well be that they can.

Readers say...

You're upset, not gay

Your partner has left, you've lost you mother, your business has failed... Could it simply be that you are distraught and feel betrayed by the man you loved? Perhaps it is your anger at your ex-partner that has made you wonder whether you like men at all. Research has shown that we are all born bisexual but what we consider socially acceptable behaviour inclines us towards heterosexual relationships. You could try out homosexual relationships, but if you have been heterosexual all your life it is unlikely that you are gay. You are probably just confused: you are going through a terrible time, and it can't be easy.


By email

Be strong for your son

Your life has been one of loss and letdown, and just when you thought things were going well, you were abandoned by your mother and partner. No wonder you are so unhappy. Your sexual identity and performance aren't the issues here. I don't know if you were offered therapy in rehab, but please consider it. It may help you understand and appreciate yourself, so you will be comfortable with whoever you are. Your son has lost his dad – he needs you to be there for him, physically and mentally, so don't let him be abandoned, too.

Christina Burton

St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex


Find a friend, not a lover

Building a relationship with another woman is about more than simply sexual attraction. It's about a level of intimacy that, for some of us, goes far deeper than any emotional connection we have ever made with a man. It's about the totality of relating, of understanding and being understood, of seeing at least through similar lenses. If you want to experience a sexual relationship with a woman, it's not that big a deal – just do it. Thousands of women do, and many don't label themselves as either bisexual or lesbian. But being in a genuinely intimate relationship is entirely different. If that's what you want, then it helps to come to it whole, not feeling "inhuman and isolated". Perhaps therapy might help? And then making some meaningful friendships, that don't need to evolve into sexual relationships?

Manda Scott

Clungunford, Shropshire