Straight Talk Advice

Undressing in front of gay stepsister presents quandary

Mar 05, 2013

Dear Straight Talk: I'm 16 with a stepsister the same age. We share a room during visitations and have become good friends. She has confided that she is gay and is having gay sex with a gay friend. She said she is not ready to come out, but needed to talk to someone. She said she knows I'm straight and will not try anything sexual with me, so it wouldn't be a problem for us to continue sharing a room. I will keep her confidence, of course, and I believe her when she says she won't do anything sexual. The quandary is that I now feel very uncomfortable undressing in front of her. I thought about changing in the bathroom, but that would be so unusual, I'm afraid my mom will ask about it. I tell myself I shouldn't worry since she's seen me nude for two years and it never bothered me, and she is still the same person. What can I do? — Stepsister, Vacaville, Calif.

Molly 21, Berkeley, Calif. Ask me a question

I can't imagine she is attracted to someone she considers a sister, but if you aren't comfortable and need to change elsewhere, I urge you to talk to her first! She needs to know you are still okay with her and that this doesn't change your relationship. Suddenly shifting your behavior without communication will make her feel really bad, right when she needs your support.

Christina 20, Marysville, Calif. Ask me a question

You are correct: She is still the same person and it wasn't a problem before. Nonetheless, nudity is only appropriate if you are comfortable. Maybe try small steps like changing when she is out of the room. Make sure to handle it politely and keep her feelings in mind.

Brennan 19, Colorado Springs, Colo. Ask me a question

Just be honest. The last thing your stepsister wants is to make you uncomfortable. Sit down and tell her what's happening for you.

Nicole 23, Santa Rosa, Calif. Ask me a question

Do what feels comfortable for you. Be honest with your sister and explain that, under the circumstances, you would feel best if she looked away or stepped outside. If you change in the bathroom and your mom asks about it, just tell her you're growing up and like changing alone.

Brandon 21, Mapleton, Maine Ask me a question

From your letter, she has never made a move on you. You even say you believe her when she says she won't. If you run from her, you are on the same backward-moving boat as many other heterosexuals in America who are unreasonably terrified of their openly gay friends “making a move.” I have a gay friend who I kept changing in front of during sleepovers, sports, etc. Sadly, everyone else ran away. It definitely hurts when five boys run elsewhere to change because they're afraid of changing in front of you. He never made a move on me, and we're still friends today. Be reasonable. Close your eyes and put yourself into her shoes and see if this unwarranted segregation feels right. If it does, you didn't think hard enough; if it doesn't, then do the right thing.

Dear Stepsister: Knowing the courage it took for your stepsister (and good friend) to confide in you, I embrace the advice from Molly and Brandon. To suddenly change your behavior will surely be hurtful — at a very difficult time. On the other hand, nobody should feel pressured to undress in an uncomfortable setting. You own intuition is always better than outside advice. The question is, how do you tell intuition from unwarranted paranoia? This is where you have to use discernment. Please give her the benefit of the doubt unless there is a real reason not to.

Editor's Note: The high school and middle school years are generally life's toughest — and LGBT youth have it the worst. The rejection, isolation, and bullying they experience is so prevalent that many commit suicide. If you are a LGBT youth (or falsely accused as one, as many bullied kids are), believe me when I say life gets much better after high school. You really can be completely happy and have a fulfilling life. Need proof? Watch the hundreds of personal videos posted on the www.itgetsbetter.org website.

For those of you in the "straight" majority, a LGBT person hitting on you almost never happens. That so many fear it is paranoid spin of the monkey-mind. Are you a slave to that, or can you stop and discern the actual evidence that this LGBT person just wants to be your friend — or in most cases, wants nothing to do with you?

As I said, life gets better after high school. Case in point: Even in Texas, one of the top states for anti-LGBT laws, this "candid-camera-style" ABC video demonstrates how straight adults will stand up for gay couples. I hope the video inspires readers in middle-school and high-school students to stand up for LGBT youth as well — that's when they need it most. —Lauren


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  1. By L.C. from Folsom, CA on 03/05/2013

    I am also 16 and gay, so I can really relate to your stepsister.  I agree with the panel members who say that you should talk to her.  That is what I would want if I were in her position.  If it were me, I would do whatever was necessary to make you feel comfortable, either turn the other way, leave the room, or whatever.  However, I also want to tell you that you really have nothing to worry about.  As Lauren says, girls who happen to be gay do not try to hit on girls who are straight.  Also, we don’t get a sexual thrill out of seeing straight girls nude.  You even say that she’s been seeing you nude for 2 years and it never bothered you, and nothing has really changed except something in your head.  She must really trust you to confide in you about this when she is not ready to come out, so PLEASE, continue to be her friend and give her love and support, because I can tell you from experience that she needs it.

    I have come out and can tell you that it is not easy and there is still lots of prejudice toward those of us who happen to be gay.  I get looks that could kill in the girls’ locker room at school from girls who think that seeing the other girls changing and nude in the showers is a sexual thing for me when nothing could be further from the truth.  I even get dirty looks in the girls’ bathroom if you can believe that, as if I’m in there looking for sex when I’m only there to go to the bathroom just like everybody else.  I share a room with my 12 year old sister who totally loves and accepts me and has no problem sharing a room with me and undressing in front of me.  However, her best friend’s mom won’t let her have sleepovers at our house ever she found out that I’m gay, even though she had stayed in our room and undressed in front of me many times before her mom found out about this and there had never been a problem.

    I could go on and on with examples, but the point is that your stepsister is just another normal teenaged girl who happens to have a different sexual orientation, so please treat her that way.

    Been There

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  2. By Dana from Fullerton, CA on 03/06/2013

    I agree with L.C. that you have nothing to worry about.  I have a good friend whose gay.  I’ve been to sleepovers and slumber parties with her where everybody undresses in front of each other and changed clothes and taken showers with her in the girls’ locker room and have never had any reason to feel uncomfortable about it any more than with girls who are straight, including my sister who I share a room with.  I’ve also never had any indication that seeing me nude gives her sexual feelings. She’s been at our house for sleepovers many times and my mom and sister are cool with it and my sister is also comfortable with her sleeping in our room and undressing in front of her.  If you think about it, its no different than undressing in front of any other girl.  Your bodies are still the same, so there’s nothing to worry about.

    Unfortunately, my friend also faces many of the prejudices that L.C. mentions, both from some of the other kids and their parents.  I hope that someday people who happen to be gay will be judged for who they are as human beings rather than by their sexual orientation, which really shouldn’t matter.  Things have been getting better in recent years, but there is still a long ways to go.

    Dana

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  3. By Samantha from Carmichael, CA on 03/06/2013

    I agree that this is nothing to worry about.  I have a gay cousin the same age as me who shares both my room and my double bed when her family comes to visit.  Undressing and sharing the bed have never been a problem, and no different than when I have sleepovers with my straight friends or share my room and bed with straight relatives when they visit.  She’s never shown any interest in my body when she sees me naked.  Why should she, when her body is the same? I’ll bet it’s the same for your stepsister.  If she’s been seeing you naked for 2 years with no problem, why should it be a problem now, just because she’s confided in you about her sexual preference, especially since you say you believe her when she says that she has no sexual interest in you?

    Samantha

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  4. By G.S. from Santa Ana, CA on 03/07/2013

    I’m secretly gay.  Nobody knows but my girlfriend who is also secretly gay.  Our parents and other kids just think that we are best friends.  I keep it a secret because of the prejudices that others have written about, and because my mom belongs to a church that teaches that this is a terrible sin.  We have sex when we have sleepovers at my house and we share my double bed, and my mom has no idea what is going on.  We can’t have sex when I stay at her house because she shares a room with her younger sister who undresses in front of me with no shyness.  It has never been a problem, and I have never felt any sexual attraction toward her.

    I also share a room with my stepsisters on visitations at my dad’s.  They have no idea that I’m gay, and they make prejudicial, anti-gay comments which hurt and make it very hard to hold my tongue.  They undress in front of me and are very casual about their nudity in front of me since they think I’m straight, and I get no sexual excitement out of seeing them this way.  I’m sure they would freak out if they found out that I’m gay and that I’ve been seeing them nude all this time.  However, they would have to admit that they had always been comfortable in this way with me, and there has been no problem.  Sometimes, I’m really tempted to tell them to see their reaction, but I know better.

    I know that I will have to come out some day, but I am not ready, and also do not know how to deal with all the problems that it will create.

    G.S.

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  5. By Maggie from Seaside, CA on 03/07/2013

    My sister and I have a stepsister who is openly gay who shares our room when she stays with us.  We have become good friends with her and enjoy the weekends that she spends with us.  Undressing in front of her is no different than undressing in front of each other or any other girls.  We’re still all girls and all the same, so we don’t see what there is to worry about just because she has a differet sexual orientation than we do.  We also all use our hot tub with her in the nude and it’s no problem.  Sometimes other friends join us in the hot tub who know she’s gay and couldn’t care less about it.  I have a friend who hates having to share a room with her stepsister, and they’re both straight! So sexual orientation does not determine whether or not someone is comfortable sharing a room and/or undressing in front of somebody.

    I think this whole undressing thing gets blown way, way out of proportion and is much ado about nothing.

    Maggie

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  6. By Lauren Forcella from Sebastopol, CA, USA on 03/08/2013

    Dear L.C., Dana, Samantha, G.S., and Maggie—It is heartwarming to hear reassurance from gay girls and reinforcement from straight girls that there is nothing sexual to worry about in situations where girls need to undress together. I really appreciate you all taking the time to write in. You are helping many other girls relax in settings like “Stepsister’s” and not perpetrate more trauma and drama onto gays who are young and have just come out, and are almost always more fragile than they seem from the outside. I , too, like Dana, can’t wait until people are judged by who they are as humans rather than by their sexual orientation. 

    To G.S. from Santa Ana, I always recommend young people wait to come out publicly until they are completely on their own and no longer need support for college, etc. While some young people turn out to have amazing parents* who care for them no matter what, yours, as you’ve noted, are likely to blow a gasket. Plus all the juvenile bullying and isolation that goes with the high school scene is best to wait out. You are correct that it creates many problems that can be avoided by waiting for full adulthood. Please take care of yourself!
    Love, Lauren

    * Beware though: Some “amazing” parents can really flip when it’s their own kid. I just recently met a young man whose parents were into gay rights and compassionate… but when he told them, they threw him out. He was 17 at the time. He’s 24 now and has been totally struggling every since, both financially and emotionally. 

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  7. By T.J. from Huntington Beach, CA on 03/08/2013

    I’m secretly gay due to the prejudices that others have written about, including my own family which really hurts.  I have a girlfriend who I’m affectionate with in private, but we haven’t actually had sex yet.  I guess I’m different than the others who have written, but I do sometimes get sexually excited from seeing other girls nude, like at sleepovers and slumber parties, and in the girls’ locker room and showers. However, I keep my feelings to myself and have no desire to actually do anything sexual with straight girls.  I share a room with my sister and don’t get these feelings when I see her naked, so it’s probably like with guys who don’t normally feel sexually attracted to their sisters.  However, I do get these feelings when she has friends spend the night and they undress and I see them naked.  I do a good job of acting like I’m totally disinterested when I see other girls naked, so since they don’t know about my feelings, no harm is done.  It sounds like the same was the case in Stepsister’s case.  It didn’t bother her when she didn’t know her stepsister was gay.  Nothing has really changed and even if her stepsister did feel sexual attraction, it shouldn’t make any difference since it’s just something in her mind, as long as she doesn’t try to act on her feelings and it sounds like she won’t.

    T.J.

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  8. By Mary Jo from Carmichael, CA on 03/08/2013

    I totally understand how Stepsister feels.  There’s no way I could undress in front of sombody who’s gay.  I’m very private about my body and not comfortable undressing in front of anyone but my sister who I’m close to and share a room with and my best friend.  They’re the only ones who ever see me nude and I’m not comfortable even being in my underwear in front of anyone else and avoid it whenever possible.  Even my Mom hasn’t seen me nude in so long that I can’t even remember the last time.  I couldn’t possibly handle having someone gay see me.

    I know they say it shouldn’t matter because “Girls are all the same” but in my opinion it doesn’t apply in this situation because if somebody’s gay, you’re NOT the same!  If I’d been undressing in front of somebody for 2 years and letting them see me nude and then they told me they were gay, I’d feel very angry, humiliated, and betrayed.

    I don’t feel I’m prejudiced since I believe in gay rights and think they have the right to get married and do whatever they want in private, but I don’t think that means I should have to expose my body to them.

    Mary Jo

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  9. By Sally from Lodi, CA on 03/09/2013

    My sister is 8 years older than I am.  She told the family that she was gay when I was only 7.  I didn’t really understand what it meant at the time even when my mom tried to explain it to me, but I thought it must be something good since I ideolized my sister and wanted to be just like her.  I changed my mind later, but at the time I decided that I wanted to be gay when I got older since I wanted to be like her.

    We shared a room and she was always very, very good to me and I was closer to her than anyone.  When I was younger, I was very shy about my body and she was the only one I could be naked in front of.  We only had one bathroom and I would even let her come in when I was on the toilet, I was so comfortable with her.  She’s now out of the house and lives with her partner who she plans to marry when it hopefully becomes legal.  My sister and I are still as close as ever.  Her partner is also very good to me and I’ve come to think of her as another sister.  Last summer I went on a weekend trip with them and all 3 of us shared a room.  I was totally comfortable undressing in front of both them and with sharing a room even with them sleeping in the same bed and even sharing the bathroom with my sister like I used to do when I was younger.  Unfortunately, they do face lots of discrimination like others have written about.

    Somebody’s sexual orientation shouldn’t matter.  It’s the quality of the person that matters, and nobody could be better than my sister and I love her as much and am as close to her as any sister possibly could be.

    Sally

    I

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  10. By Michelle from St. Helena, CA on 03/09/2013

    My aunt (my mom’s sister) is gay and shares my room when she visits.  She’s 10 years younger than my mom and in many ways I can relate to her better than my mom.  I really enjoy her visits and having “girl talk” with her in my room.  She has her own partner and has no sexual interest in me.  We love each other as an aunt and niece like any other aunt and niece.  I’m totally comfortable undressing in front of her.  In fact, I’m more comfortable with her seeing me nude than with my mom.  I normally wouldn’t have a problem with my mom seeing me, but she always acts really embarrassed when she sees me nude, which then makes me feel embarrassed.  My aunt doesn’t make me feel this way.  A few months ago I went on an overnight trip with her to San Francisco.  We had lots of fun.  We shared a double bed in a hotel room and again it was no problem and no different than when I’ve shared a double bed with straight girlfriends.

    Michelle

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  11. By Robin C. from Redding, CA on 03/10/2013

    My older sister who I’ve always been close to told our mom and me that she’s gay a few months ago.  It makes no difference to me, and I would have no problem continuing to undress in front of her in our room that we share.  However, our mom freaked out about it.  She’s so paranoid that she actually makes me change in the bathroom which is a hassle and totally unnecessary.  She says it’s “not appropriate” for my sister to see me nude anymore since she’s gay.  How stupid!  Gay or straight, we’re still sisters, so there should be nothing to worry about.

    My sister and I have always been able to share the bathroom even when we’re going to the bathroom (both #1 and #2).  As sisters, it doesn’t bother us and it makes things much easier during the morning rush since we only have one bathroom and need to get ready at the same time.  However, our mom now says we have to use the bathroom separately which even makes less sense than the undressing issue.  Again, her only reasoning is that it’s “not appropriate.”  Splitting bathroom time makes things very difficult in the morning.

    My sister now is very, very sorry that she ever told our mom.  She didn’t think it would be a problem since our mom favors gay rights and thinks that gay marriage should be legal.  Lauren is right that some understanding parents aren’t so understanding when it’s their own kid who is gay.  I agree that it is better to wait until you’re on your own before coming out because you never know how parents are going to react.

    Robin C.

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  12. By A. from El Dorado Hills, CA on 03/10/2013

    This column and the comments have been very helpful to me.  I am gay and have been debating whether or not to come out.  Nobody knows but my girlfriend who everyone thinks is just my best friend, and my sister who I am close with and with whom I have confided in about this.  It has made no difference to her and she says that her love for me as her sister has nothing to do with sexual orientation.  She is very supportive and is totally comfortable sharing a room with me and with nudity in front of me.  After reading all of the comments, I have decided against coming out until I get older.  I don’t know how my parents and friends would react.  Things are going fine for me now while I’m still in the closet so to speak, so I figure “if it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it.”  I also want to add my voice to Stepsister and tell her that she does not have to worry.  I have no interest in the bodies of straight girls when I see them nude, and I’m sure that this is true of most girls who happen to be gay.

    A.

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  13. By Stepsister from Vacaville, CA, USA on 03/10/2013

    Dear Lauren:

    I’m the girl who wrote in with this question and I wanted to update you and let you know that the panel’s comments were very helpful and so were the online comments.  Especially helpful were the comments from the girls who are gay and the girls who have been in a position similar to mine.  I decided to talk to my stepsister as was suggested, and I actually showed her the online version of your column and the comments and told her that I wrote the letter.  She was very glad that I was up front with her about my concerns and told me that any time I am uncomfortable with anything regarding her being gay, just tell her and we’ll find a way to work it out.  She assured me like the gay girls who wrote that seeing me nude does not give her sexual feelings, but if I’m uncomfortable she would be glad to turn the other way or find a reason to leave the room when I’m changing.  However, I told her that now that we have it out in the open, I really don’t feel concerned anymore and not to worry about it.  After all my concern about it, I felt totally comfortable undressing in front of her, even when I was completely naked. She also hugged me and thanked me for being so honest with her and for being such a good friend that she could confide in about something so personal and sensitive.

    Thanks Again!

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  14. By Dan from Woodland, CA, USA on 03/11/2013

    Why did no one suggest that the sister be asked to close her eyes and turn her head until the changing was done.  I’m 72 and that has worked for many years in situation where one party was shy or of the opposite sex.

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