It is exciting to see several new/expanded reports and surveys of LGBT youth, most between ages thirteen and seventeen. I’m hesitant to fill your brains with figures and statistics and have grappled with how much to include. In some cases, I’ll provide summaries with links to the full reports; in others, I’ll do my best to highlight the most important findings.
Doing Just Fine, Thank You
To use Mardell’s terminology, if you’re a “LGBTQIA+ novice,” a lot of the stories and strategies in this chapter might be ones you’ve not heard about before. And if you’re an “LGBTQUIA+ expert” (i.e., this is your life), you will, hopefully, recognize parts of yourself.
It’s true that LGBTQ youth deal with issues that “straight” youth do not. And I’ll talk about some of those shortly. But it’s important to stress that the majority of LGBTQ teens, particularly those who are out to family and friends, are happy and optimistic and envision a fulfilled life ahead of them.
Milenka, seventeen, identifies as an asexual homo/romantic. She doesn’t experience sexual attraction but feels romantic attraction toward females. “A lot of people,” says Milenka, “experience romantic and sexual attraction simultaneously. For me, it’s romantic like holding hands, feeling emotionally close to somebody.” Has she ever had sex? No. “It seems foreign and unnecessary to me.” Milenka has a girlfriend who is also asexual. They knew each other for a year before the relationship became romantic. “Our relationship looks like any other lesbian relationship, but we don’t have sex.” Does she feel that there is anything in her past that helped form her gender identity? No. “I was never sexually abused and have good relationships with my parents.”
Milenka has been out to her parents since she started dating her girlfriend. “I think they knew because I was never interested in guys. But when I told them, they didn’t really have a reaction. They just said, ‘Okay.’ And I knew they’d be accepting because we grew up around a lot of homosexual and lesbian couples in our building. I didn’t have worries about coming out.” Since then, her parents have been curious about the differences between romantic and sexual attraction but have had many more questions about Milanka’s friends who are transgender.
Milenka attends a public college-prep school in Chicago where, she says, students and teachers are very accepting of the LGBTQ community. “I’m really lucky. If I didn’t go to this school, I probably wouldn’t have known about my sexual identity. The subject is talked about a lot.” The majority of LGBTQ students are out at Milenka’s school but many are not out to their families. There are a lot of families, she says, that are very conservative, and kids are afraid of being kicked out or not having family financial support to attend college. Milenka is very aware of the ways in which our society is geared toward heterosexuals and the assumption that, if a girl is attracted to a guy, it must be sexual when, in truth, it can be admiration or respect or some other feeling. “This can be very confusing because that’s the way society is set up. For me, figuring out that I was gay has made my relationships with men a lot easier and more comfortable. Before, I used to feel that, if I ever got close to a guy, I’d have to date him. Now, I understand that that doesn’t have to happen.”
While Milenka has never been threatened or assaulted, she knows that life can be very different for LGBTQ youth and that living in a small town or conservative enclave can make big problems for other gay youth. She spent some time during a summer in a small Minnesota town, where she felt a “negative vibe” and could imagine how isolated gay teens could feel.
Milenka is confident and articulate with a deep understanding of herself and her gender identity. She is a thinker whose perceptions are much more mature than her seventeen years.
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