I usually just do my own thang when it comes to blogging, but I had a new experience last week. I had someone request a topic for me to blog about. I’ve been asked my opinion on things before, but I’ve never been asked to blog on a specific topic. This topic, however, woke up something inside of me.
After getting retweeted a few times by The Fosters and AfterEllen, I’ve gained a following of fan of the show. One of these fans asked me if I have any advice for teenagers questioning their own sexuality.
My immediate reaction? “Just be yourself!”
The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve wanted to retract that advice.
When I was 14 or 15, I started noticing girls. I saw what mainstream society told me, and I figured I could go on a couple of dates with girls in college to “get it out of my system.” The older I got, however, the more sure I was that I wasn’t attracted to boys like most girls my age.
When I was 16, my only source of comfort in my own journey to find out who I was was the internet. I remember chatting in MySpace groups and making secret Xanga blogs to process my teenage drama. I would clear the internet history every night to hide any traces of my sexuality from my family (we only had the ol’ desktop family computer, and you can forget about separate accounts on the computer!). I found comfort and a community on AfterEllen.com, and I secretly spent my paycheck from the local grocery store on itunes giftcards so I could purchase Seasons 3 & 4 of The L Word to secretly watch on my ipod. I worked in the school library, and I would borrow—but not check out—poems about lgbt youth. My entire life was an emotional, chaotic, teenage angst filled time, and I felt like the biggest disappointment in the world to both myself and my family. I couldn’t even begin to fathom being happy and gay, despite the words being synonyms.
I spent a lot of grocery store money on itunes giftcards. Clearly I didn’t understand how YouTube worked.
I remember the first person I came out to was my 11th grade English teacher. I was trying to remember how this felt when I remembered a wonderful thing—my username and password from my Xanga all those years ago!
So, from November 26th, 2006, here are some words from 16 year old me.
I was running late getting to school early this morning, so I ended up having about 3 mins before the hmrm bell to talk to my teacher. I must have looked upset or something (it sounds silly, but I felt like I was almost on the verge of crying) because as soon as I said “Can I talk to you?” she said “What’s wrong?” in a really concerned voice. I gave her a small smile and said “Actually, I wanted to say thank you.” She gave me the funniest look ever that was obviously saying “WTH for?” Then I said, “Yea, I know it’s silly, but I wanted to say thanks for the lesson on Tuesday and Wednesday. It really got me thinking, and it helped me realize some things about me and my life that I wasn’t 100% sure about before. So thanks…” Needless to say, my teacher was pretty cool. She was pretty touched that I took the time to tell her thanks, and she told me that she’s happy she helped me somehow. She really looked like she was about to hug me, or at least like she was thinking about it. Then she said, “I’m always here for you if you ever need to talk about anything.” I think I said “Thanks, I appreciate it” before I ran off to hmrm… Then I saw her again during English 1st period. When I 1st walked in, she was looking at me, obviously thinking…After class, when I was handing in a poem for some poetry contest, she started to talk about it again. She said “I just wanted to say thank you for before, it meant a lot that you came to say thank you…” and she seemed like she was going to say more, but I was kind of rude. I cut her off and started asking her a question about the poetry contest or whatever… I guess I was afraid that she was going to address what I realized right then and there and honestly, a few of my friends were around and I was scared that they might hear. That sounds so stupid, but its the truth…
You have no idea what a relief it is to have someone I can talk to. I know she wont go blabbing to anyone, so it is a relief. I think I might thank her tomorrow before school again and say “Man I’m saying thank you a lot lately! I wanted to say thanks for saying you’re here for me if I need to talk, I really appreciate it. There are certain things about me even my best friends like ____________ wouldn’t understand, and I don’t know how you feel about them either, but it’s nice to know that I have someone to talk to if I need it….” Then again, I might not. Two days in a row seems a little much…But bottomline, it is such a relief to know that she’s there if I need to talk to her. My friends and family definitely not understand my sexuality, and while she might now either, at least I know I have someone to talk to who wont take sides or anything. Thanks again Ms.______, I really appreciate it!
(A week later)
December 8th, 2006
I told someone today, to an extent.
I had asked my English teacher earlier this week if she was going to tell my Mom anything about what I’ve kind-of-but-not-really told her at conferences last night, and she said since i haven’t said anything officially, she wouldn’t say anything. She also said that conferences are academic, and she wouldnt say anything since she officially didn’t know anything.
Fast-forward to today…I saw my English teacher after school, and I apologized. I felt bad about getting her involved with my personal drama but not officially explaining what was going on. I said, “I just wanted to apologize I guess. I know that I’ve kind of strung you along, kind-of talking to you and having you kind-of listen. I’m just trying to come to terms with my…” And then I couldn’t say anything more. Although I’ve acknowledged my sexuality here, and in my head, saying it outloud was something different. My teacher looked at me and gave me a reassuring look. She kind of pushed me to say it, but in a gentle say-it-if-you-can kind of way. She said, “Your…?” I swear, I’ve never stumbled so much saying a damn sentence before. “My…my…my sexuality,” I managed to say. Those few words took almost a minute to come out. My teacher said “It’s alright…” and gave me a look of reassurance as i was trying to say it… After I said it I felt kind of upset, like “Wow. I said it outloud, to a person.” She must’ve figured that, she said “You know, it’s ok to be scared. I kind of figured it was that because of how you were acting when you were ‘kind-of’ talking. It’s a hard process to go through, and it’s going to take a while. But you will be ok, and I’m here if you ever need anyone to listen while you’re figuring things out.” Then I told her something else, clarifying something she had misunderstood and told my Mom about at conferences. After that, another girl walked in, wanting to say hey to my teacher. I took that as my chance to leave, and I can’t remember what my teacher said exactly, but it was something really sweet and uplifting. I think it was along the lines of “Be free! Have fun! And don’t be scared! Everything will work out.” There was something else too, something sweeter, but i can’t remember what exactly. I keep replaying that moment when I told her over and over in my head. It felt so good to have someone push me to say it, for someone to say it was ok and that it’s ok to be scared. It’s funny– I’ve only been in school for 3 months, and usually at this time, I feel like I’m still getting to know my teachers. Now, I’m telling my English teacher something I can’t even bring myself to tell my best friends or family. I’m telling my deepest secret to a virtual stranger, and yet I feel completely comfortable with her knowing, but appalled at the idea of any of my loved ones finding out.
I don’t think there’s ever a clear cookie-cutter moment when someone knows he or she is gay/bi/straight/queer/pan/asexual/etc. For some people, there may be an exact moment, but for me it was a process. I’m proud to say, almost 8 years later, I’m an open, out, femme-identified lesbian. I’ve gone through my fair share of labels while trying to find one that fit, and I realized the best one was two letters: ME. Our society forces us to try to label ourselves, and sometimes that is a difficult, nearly impossible thing to do. I didn’t feel comfortable with labels until I was in my very early twenties. And you know what? Even though it was a process, my extended and immediate family members are extremely supportive of me, my sexuality, and are even helping me plan my wedding!
Trying to be a stereotype my freshman year of college! Note the tie.
If you are struggling with who you are, know that you don’t have to pinpoint yourself in a set amount of time. Some people find out who they are very easily, and others may not realize for years! It sounds almost ridiculous, especially if you’re in a situation where you need to rely on others for support, but you need to worry about being you. Find a way to process who you are—join a club or group if you’re able to, write your feelings down, read books or blogs about identity, Google the internet, (carefully and safely) join message boards or Tweet/ Facebook/ whatever else is popular others, find a trusted individual to talk to, or even call a hotline. There are myriads of support systems in the world, but you may just have to do a little digging to find them.
Here are some I recommend:
Books on LGBTQQIAetc. Identity:
Personally, I recommend:
The Hours by Michael Cunningham (there’s a really wonderful movie version as well!)
Ash- Malinda Lo (really beautifully written Cinderella-themed story with a lesbian twist)
Any Mark Doty poetry
Keeping You a Secret- Julie Anne Peters (first book I read when I was coming out)
Luna- Julie Anne Peters (trans-oriented)
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit- Jeanette Winterson (slow read, but good)
Fun Home (A Family Tragicomic)- Alison Bechdel (first graphic novel/memoir by creator of Dykes to Watch Out for, a famous lesbian comic)
Anything by Audre Lorde or Staceyann Chin
www.pridecenter.org (NJ Pride Center)
http://www.lambdalegal.org/sites/default/files/publications/downloads/fs_resources-for-lgbtq-youth-by-state_1.pdf (list of LGBTQ resources by state)
www.tumblr.com (pretty much any blogging website, but this one offers a bunch of resources at once! Just search for what you need to look up.)
This has turned into a long, rambling post, but I promised I’d post this today. I’m going to be working on creating a better go to guide and list of resources for teens. Just know that you are NOT alone, and it’s okay to be different.
Also, I’m always totally just a tweet away.