June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month! And while there is a lot to celebrate amongst the LGBTQ+ community, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) still reports that the risk of mental health conditions like depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder are almost three times as high for youth and adults who identify as LGBTQ+.
As a queer cis woman, this statistic hits home as I spent most of my adolescence and young adulthood living it.
I recognized I was gay at age 14 when I had feelings for a friend in high school. The butterflies in my stomach and the energetic attraction I felt for this friend surprised me. I went to a religious school and was surrounded by a heteronormative narrative. No one explained that it was ok for a girl to like another girl. So, I assumed I was “straight,” and didn’t realize there were other ways to be. When I discovered my difference from the “cultural norm,” I instantly felt isolated, confused, shameful, and like there was something wrong with me.
I didn’t feel safe talking about these feelings. As loving as my parents were, I didn’t think they would understand. I had no gay role models or friends, and talking about it with my best friend didn’t even cross my mind as I hadn’t yet learned to be vulnerable and authentic with my feelings. So, I did the only thing my adolescent brain could think of: I protected myself from what I perceived to be a dangerous situation. Namely, the danger of being different. I broke my best friend’s heart by exiting our friendship, started overtly declaring my obsession for celebrities like Tom Cruise, and shoved the sweet butterflies that fluttered in my tummy so far under the rug that it took an entire decade to find them again.
After college, I moved to Northern California for graduate school which is where I began the slow road towards self-acceptance. During the time between high school and graduate school, I developed my identity in other ways as I continued to fiercely protect my queerness. I was a strong student, a teacher, and a documentary filmmaker. Due to repressing my sexuality though, I was also anxious, stressed, and started exhibiting chronic health issues.
Luckily, where I chose to go to grad school was a queer-friendly environment. Others around me were openly gay, and the LGBTQ+ community was celebrated. So, I let my guard down for the first time in a decade. I fell for another friend in graduate school. Those butterflies courageously found their way home, and after holding onto what felt like a deep secret that, if found out would ruin me, I outwardly told a few trusted friends that I wanted to start dating women.
Their excitement and joy was palpable, and the very fuel I needed to own this part of my identity. I soon discovered that there’s power in speaking your truth. Within a week of my declaration, I met the woman I am now married to. We’ve been together for a decade, and daily find magic both in our love, and from the world we inhabit together.
Looking back on my experience, though, I wish I had found a path towards self-love and acceptance sooner, as the chronic stress and anxiety caused by feeling different took a toll on my body, mind and spirit for far too long.
If you’re feeling isolated and alone because of your sexuality, here are a few resources I wish I had when I was fourteen:
- Reach out for help. If you’re in immediate need of talking to someone, scroll to the “Get Help” section of The Trevor Project’s website for a crisis hotline where you’ll be able to talk to a trained professional and be directed to more sustainable support down the line.
- Write it down. Start a journaling practice to work through any questioning feelings or emotions around your sexuality. Then, find a trusted friend to talk to before discussing these feelings with people you may not feel as comfortable with.
- Listen to others’ experiences. Time Out Youth Center’s podcast Out With It, is a great podcast for LGBTQ+ youth. It provides information on how to check in with yourself and how to accept yourself.
- Celebrate your differences. Seek your local diversity center where there are often meetups, online groups, events and other forms of support specifically for the LBGTQ+ community. During quarantine, you can even find online pride events across the globe to attend during the month of June!