Connor Franta, the YouTuber who famously came out as gay to his audience of over 5 million, made a video titled: My One Gay Regret. Apart from this generally being a brilliant title for a Youtube video, this video expressed something most queer people have experienced but never really talk about. That something is missing out. Specifically, missing out on a normal dating life as a young person.
There are a myriad of reasons for why young queer people often feel like they’ve missed out on an important part of growing up, which is teenage romance, but before I get into that, let me preface this by saying that I was lucky. I, unlike most LGBT+ young people, grew up in London, in a liberal private girl’s school where I never really experienced being bullied or noticed much discrimination amongst my peers against those who were exploring their sexuality. Sure, there were the odd comments from one of the ‘popular’ groups of girls about so-and-so maybe being a lesbian, complete with giggling and finger-pointing. But those prejudices were confined mainly to the younger years, and by the time we had all reached Year 9, sexual experimentation was no longer gross, but actually kind of cool.
What I’m, trying to say, is that I never felt I had to squash down my same-sex attractions in school. This was partly because I had a bit of a fuck-you attitude to all the mean girls at my school, but mainly because of the support of my friends. Not one of them batted an eyelid when I started dating girls, much less turn away from me. One thing I should mention, however, is that I only started seeing girls … differently … from about the age of 15. Before then, I was pretty boy-crazy. It wasn’t until I started dating a boy that I realised my craziness wasn’t for boys at all. From the ages of 11 to about 14 I blissfully unaware of my latent gayness, so it didn’t occupy my thoughts. But from 15 onwards, it did, and by the time I was ready to start dating a girl, my classmates had grown out of their childish homophobia for the most part and I felt perfectly safe.
This situation is not the case for a lot of queer kids. Many figure out they like the opposite sex sooner, and most grow up in much more homophobic school environments. This causes these teens to set up walls. Walls which prevent them from fully appreciating and exploring their own romantic feelings towards others. When a child or adolescent is led to believe their feelings aren’t normal, you bet they will do their best to bury those feelings deep down. While their straight friends may go on to start dating for the first time, get their hearts broken for the first time, maybe even fall in love for the first time, gay teens are often left behind, watching their peers experience all these fantastic feelings enviously.
One of the greatest enjoyments a teenager can experience is becoming attracted to someone for the first time, in a way that is completely different to any other attraction they had experienced before. The first hints of a crush, while confusing and sometimes a little overwhelming, are always exciting and fascinating to a young person. When someone is denied these feelings due to societal pressures, that is a tragedy. In a heteronormative world, most straight people are oblivious to how growing up gay in a straight world can affect a young person. Queer people grow up, finally come out and often may feel the need to catch up when it comes to relationships.
This feeling is missing out extends to an even greater proportion when it comes to transgender people. Feeling as though you are lagging behind in the dating world is one thing, but imagine feeling that way about you gender; your entire sense of self. A transgender person may feel as though their life had not fully begun until they decided to transition. On the Channel 4 series My Transsexual Summer, Lewis Hancox, a transgender activist told his father in a touching scene that he felt as if he was living out his teenage years in that moment, even though he was in his mid-20s. Lewis hadn’t started to transition until after his teenage years, and so felt as if they had never really begun, at least not in the way they were supposed to.
It may seem like a silly thing to complain about. After all, not everyone dates during high-school. Indeed, it can be argued it’s better for some people to wait to start dating until they are emotionally ready for it. This is certainly true, teenagers can be cruel, and dating as a teen can be stressful as hell. But it can also be great practise for someone to know how to be in a healthy relationship with another person before they become an adult. The fact that many people feel as though they missed out on a part of their lives where they could have experienced what most teenagers experience, just because they wanted to date someone of the same sex, is truly sad.
Bullying, stigma, and lack of positive LGBT sex education are all reasons why many queer teens feel left behind in love and relationships. If kids are taught from a young age that sexuality is fluid, that being attracted to the same-sex is nothing to be ashamed of, and are given access to positive resources, maybe queer teens will grow up and experience life in a similar way to their straight counterparts: with no restrictions.