Thanks to Towleroad and Outsports, I came across this blog by a high school kid named Sam. Sam just recently came out to his family, and is beginning his journey toward gay adulthood, which runs on a different time scale than that of heterosexual teenagers because of a later starting age (although it’s been getting younger and younger in the past decade.) Sam is three years younger than I was when I came out, and I admire his bravery. He is also, I gather, from an area near-ish to where I grew up, so I understand the community and the culture.
Sam’s posts got me thinking about what I would tell a newly-out gay teenager (other than “It Gets Better,” to which I direct you to this website.) Gay people, unlike most other minority groups, cannot generally look to older people in their families as role models. It is rare for a gay child to have a gay older sibling or a parent, and one is very fortunate if he or she has gay uncles, aunts, or older cousins. Instead they have the Internet, which is not necessarily a force for good.
So dear gay teenagers, consider this post advice from an ersatz older brother.
1. If things have gone well thus far, congratulations. If not, I’m so sorry. Please know that your life will change.
2. It gets better is a misnomer. “It” does not get better. You get better. You get stronger. The situation may or may not change, but you will develop enough strength to make it tolerable or even enjoyable.
3. If your parents are having a hard time with this, be patient. Give them a year. Remember that in their eyes they are seeing all their dreams for you fall apart. Given time (and help from PFLAG), they will realize that is not the case, and will embrace you for who you really are. If their behavior does not get better though, find some adult who will support you emotionally.
4. Just because you can pass as straight and consider yourself masculine, doesn’t give you the right to ever look down on the effeminate gay kids. Unlike you, they could not hide, and they got the beatings that you escaped. As a result, they got tougher, and they fought back. The benefits and the progress that we all enjoy now are because of the effeminate kids. And the lesbians. Never think otherwise.
5. There’s no way around it, American television and movies are almost universally terrible when it comes to LGBT-themed projects. The things that we are told we should like–Will & Grace, the American Queer as Folk, Brokeback Mountain, Glee–are not actually that good, and occasionally insulting. If you want good quality gay-themed entertainment, look to the British who have some excellent gay-themed movies (Beautiful Thing, My Beautiful Laundrette, Derek Jarman’s Edward II) and television shows (Beautiful People and the original Queer as Folk.) The excellent movie Maurice is an American film, but it was adapted from a British novel.
6. Make sure you read books and make sure they have some kind of lasting value. Trust me when I say that people can take only so much talk about Glee and the items you find in Entertainment Weekly. Books will help you develop interesting things to talk about. Beauty fades, but intelligence does not.
7. Music did not start in 2004, and Lady Gaga, as wonderful as she may be, is not God’s gift to us all. There is a whole world of music spanning centuries and countless genres. Take in as much of it as you can.
8. Don’t be too eager to go to bars and clubs; you’re too young. I know you don’t want to hear that, but it’s true. You’re not ready for that kind of predatory atmosphere, and you will be preyed upon. Hell, most of the people who legally frequent these places aren’t ready. Be comfortable in your own skin first. The bars will be always be there, even if the names and locations change.
9. Along the same lines, don’t be so eager to get a boyfriend now that you have just come out. Believe me I understand why you want one. Our culture tells us we need to be in relationship, your straight friends are all dating, and you’re lonely. Here’s the problem though, boyfriends are a lot of work and a lot of drama. I agree that you need love right now, but this is the time when friends and family have to give you that love. The boyfriend will come later. That’s what college is for.
10. Keeping your virginity throughout high school is not the worst thing in the world, but if you do insist on having sex, always use condoms. If you don’t want sex, don’t let him pressure you. If you just want to be held, say so. Don’t mistake sex for intimacy even if the two are closely related. If he is not willing to accommodate what you need, get the hell out and never look back. You’re life is precious, and you’re a worthy human being.
11. Get involved with your Gay/Straight Alliance. If your school does not have one, consider starting it. If your school protests, know that you are in the legal right so long as there are other extracurricular activities at the school. That’s the law. Here is where you go if you need information to start a GSA.
12. Keep informed about politics. Gays don’t just have to worry about physical threats. There is a whole American political party, as well as multiple religious hierarchies and organizations, devoted to keeping us from full equality and to rolling back the gains we have made. Ignorance of this will not protect you.
13. Read Dan Savage’s column, and listen to his podcast. He’s one of the most prominent and important gay thinker/activists out there, even if he pretends he’s not. Also you’ll learn how to deal with sex in a much more mature way.
14. Don’t fall in love with the first gay person you meet; it will only lead to heartache.
15. Drugs are bad, particularly drugs found in clubs and bars (stay the hell away from meth.) And remember that alcohol is a drug. I’m not telling you what to do, just begging you to act prudently.
16. Finally, read this advice that was published in The Stranger some time in the early 2000’s I believe. The original page seems to be gone (and the author no longer works for The Stranger), but it is the best advice out there, and for an entire year I had it posted on my apartment wall.
Good luck, kiddo. I’m rooting for you.