When I started to question my sexuality, I was lacking in any sort of guidance. I lived in a pretty conservative town – to this day I can still remember the poor girl who got chased out of our school after she came out.
I also remember my very first boyfriend who was pushed out of the closet… Unfortunately, I had a hand in that one.
It was a confusing time, and we all made some pretty bad choices, but if I can save the next generation from making the same mistakes, I’ll feel like I’ve done my part.
My hope for each and every LGBT teenager is that you’ll learn these things through my experience, instead of learning them the hard way. No one said it would be easy, but it doesn’t have to be so hard. Here are 16 things I’ve learned since I was a teenager.
1. Identity ≠ style.
Clothes are an incredible way to express what’s going on in your life – but your sexual identity doesn’t have to define the clothes you wear. For a really long time, I dressed super girly to “prove” that I was really straight. Then, once I started questioning, I dressed super masculine to “prove” that I was really a lesbian. Once I got out of high school, I realized that my actual style straddled the line a little bit. I didn’t feel the need to use my clothes to justify who I was. I allowed myself to wear what I wanted to wear, and I felt free to express the rest of my personality, too.
2. Style ≠ identity.
Somehow, it took me longer to realize that the same thing I’d figured out for myself was probably true for other people, as well. Even once I stopped defining my style by the trends for my label, I was subconsciously passing that same type of assumption off on others. It took a long time to realize that no one is defined by the clothes they wear – only from the way they define themselves.
3. You have nothing to prove.
I cannot stress this enough: You don’t have to “prove” your gay-ness to anyone. You don’t have to prove that you’re bisexual, or asexual, or transgender. You don’t need to legitimize the choices you make that affect your life, and you don’t have to answer to anyone else’s assumptions about you. If a stereotype happens to be true for you, you’re not bringing the community down by being yourself. Likewise, if a stereotype isn’t true for you, you have no obligation to perpetuate it. You do you, because after high school, no one cares about your hallway rep anymore. I promise.
4. Your sexual health is actually a really big deal.
I didn’t even realize that safer sex for lesbians was actually a thing until I was in my 20s. (Early 20s, but still.) We don’t have the luxury of learning about lesbian sex in school, so instead we rely on what we see in porn and what we hear from our friends. It’s probably no surprise that our friends aren’t getting their information from the most reliable sources, either. Thankfully, the information you need isn’t that hard to find, as long as you know you need to look for it. Read my lips, guys: Look for as much information about safer sex as you can. It might literally save your life.
5. Your sexual happiness is pretty important, too.
Once you’re sexually active, sexual compatibility is pretty important in your relationships. If one of you is really shy in the sack and the other requires a lot of communication, for example, things are going to get bumpy. You don’t necessarily need to leave your partner if the sex isn’t hot, but you will want to work out any issues in a way that makes you both happy. Bad sex can definitely be worse than no sex at all.
6. There’s a reason we use a rainbow to represent us.
Whether we’re talking about the original meaning of each color (see this article about the rainbow flag) or the recently popularized spectrum of sexuality, the symbolism runs really deep for us. In fact, sexuality is a broad spectrum of gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, and everything in between – or even nothing at all! Sexuality isn’t even a single definition to last for a lifetime.
7. You can’t change who you are, but who you are can change.
No matter how much you try to change your sexual identity, it won’t work. Trust me – I tried. You can force yourself into as many wrong relationships as you want, and that’s not going to make them any less wrong. The opposite is also true, though – your sexuality can change, against your conscious efforts, and there really isn’t anything you can do about it. Just go with the flow, and accept that things are different. That doesn’t mean your previous identity was wrong, it just means that you’re not the same person anymore – and that is okay.
8. Labels are 100% optional.
While we’re at it, let’s go ahead and cover the fact that you don’t have to define yourself in order to be who you are. Humans in general try way too hard to find somewhere they fit in, often sacrificing bits and pieces of themselves in order to make it work. But it doesn’t have to be like this! You can define yourself if you want, or opt out if you want. Most of all, don’t let anyone else label you – that’s not their job. Only you can say who you really are.
9. You have nothing to be ashamed of.
While there are so many good reasons to remain in the closet, shame should never be one of them. There is nothing wrong or perverted about being LGBT. It’s not a disease, and it’s not a weakness. It’s simply a small portion of what makes you who you are – no different than your eye color, your birthmarks, or your middle name. That doesn’t mean it has to be everyone’s business, but it’s worth being comfortable with it, for your own sake.
10. Everything we do, we do for you.
Every great civil rights advancement we’ve ever encountered was done for the future generation. Sometimes those things help the current generation, too, but often it’s too late to make a difference to the people who have already been wronged. With the dedication of everyone who cares, we can help make a better future, and save our youth from facing the same hardships.
11. This means you have responsibilities.
You have a responsibility to do your part to help the movement towards rights. We paved the way so that you could finish the work. Not everyone has to be an activist or a lawmaker, but you can speak up when you see someone else being mistreated. Even if you can’t be out, you can still be an ally – don’t work to undo all the good that’s been done.
12. You kinda need LGBT friends.
That conservative town I grew up in didn’t have too many other queer teenagers for me to hang out with, so I had to reach out in other ways. I talked to people online, I joined groups and events, and I sought out people I had things in common with. I found that I made a lot of really attractive friends, too, but you have to be comfortable with the idea of staying just friends.
13. You need straight allies, too.
You shouldn’t choose your friends just because of their sexualities. While you need the camaraderie of your queer friends, you also need to understand that your sexuality isn’t the most important thing about you – and your straight friends have just as much wisdom to share. Don’t stick yourself with a tight interest group, because your friends after high school are going to be a lot more diverse.
14. Don’t waste your time on unsupportive people.
There are going to be people in your life who go out of their way to tell you they don’t “approve of your lifestyle”. It’s perfectly fine to distance yourself from those people as soon as you’re able to. Your sexuality isn’t the most important thing about you, but it is a part of you, and no one should pressure you to hide who you really are.
15. Everything is temporary – especially high school.
Literally nothing lasts forever, at least as far as we can prove. (Maybe space, but I feel like there are some semantics involved there.) Even ancient slates of knowledge wear away over time, and in the grand scheme of things, the time you spend in high school is next to nothing. Enjoy yourself, and don’t get too hung up on the timelines. Things have a way of working out.
16. It gets better, but it doesn’t get better on its own.
For some people, high school is pretty rough. It was pretty rough for me. But things do get better – whether through things you do for yourself, or things other people do for you. It’s important to keep things in perspective and remember that change takes time, and sometimes a lot of effort. One of the greatest feelings you can get is the satisfaction of helping someone else, so don’t hesitate to be that person to someone else whenever you can. All it takes is a few kind words to turn someone’s whole day around – and isn’t that worth it?