20 Queer Women Share The One Thing They Wish They Could Tell Their Teenage Selves
Adolescence is confusing for a bunch of reasons. As your body goes through intense changes, it's inevitable that this pivotal moment in development is met with new and suddenly pressing questions around your identity. During my own adolescence, I continually struggled to find helpful resources to answer questions about my sexual orientation. In school, sex ed never felt in-depth enough to be truly useful for me, between the various explainers, the outdated (and heteronormative) films that were screened, and the ‘sex talks’ that left me hyper aware of my body’s ability to reproduce. Meanwhile, with my friends, I was left feeling excluded from their many conversations gushing over the older boys in high school. Was there something wrong with me if I didn’t find male abs mesmerizing?
For me, and many other young queer women, these lacking conversations left me alone to figure out how I defined my sexuality, with a million and half unanswered questions that lingered into my young adulthood. Bustle asked 20 other young women about what they wish they could tell their teenage selves about identity and sexuality, and from their answers, it's clear that sexuality is far more personal, confusing, and connected to self-love than most seem to realize.
“No one teaches you about relationships, communication, conflict, and queerness in middle school. While it is pretty easy to source information about heteronormative sex, I still don’t really know where to go when I have questions about queerness, communication, and conflict in relationships.”
“When I let go and stopped caring so much about how others might judge me for being with a woman, I could allow myself to love and be loved by my partner on a deeper level. I didn’t even realize it but my fears were a wall and it wasn’t until I came out to my friends and family and saw that they loved me for me — and would love anyone I loved — could that wall come down and I really accept myself. When you hide your your love from the world, it’s impossible to love freely — yourself or the person you are with. Coming out is often talked about as a one-time conversation but it’s really a journey. It took me many years to come out and come home to myself, and feel fully free in my love for my partner, who is now my wife. My advice: Be kind to yourself. Self-love takes time and courage, but you are worth it. I promise.”
"I first came out when I was 15. I was so afraid to share my feelings with others because I was scared of their reaction. I think it took me a number of years to realize that what I feared most was the potential of seeing the prejudice of someone I cared about, and what a loss that would be. It took me so many months, more than a year actually to work up the courage to come out to my parents. I know now that part of that was overcoming my fear, and another part was that I felt like I needed to understand myself before I could share my sexuality with others.
"I wish I had known then that it was okay not to know everything, to not feel fully comfortable and to not have a clear declaration of identity. I wish I had known that I didn’t have to know anything other than what I felt, and that that, in and of itself that was worthy of being listened to and respected. I so feared not being accepted and loved by my friends and family, but also I worried that I would never find a loving relationship and have the kind of life I dreamed of. I had always been told that being gay meant that your life would be hard. I wish I had known then that living this life would lead me to meeting and marrying my wife and finding a kind of joy, safety, and love that is endlessly nourishing. I also wish someone had told me when I was 15 and so scared that it was okay, more than okay that I liked women, and that my love and my desire was normal and beautiful, because it is."
“I just wish I knew earlier how tied to self-love sexuality is. For me, the more I fell in love with myself, the more open I was to falling deeply in love with someone else. I feel like I kept dating boys, even though I felt more attracted to girls, as a self-destructive way to deprive myself of the love I really deserved.”
“I wish I knew earlier that learning my own sexuality and needs would be a long and often painful process. Labels aren’t everything. Sexuality takes time. Sexuality takes learning.”
“I used to Google, 'what is sex,' all the time as a teenager. Even as a grown woman, I find myself constantly redefining what sex is, and I'd still love a place to talk about it.”
"When I was a teen, I would literally cry at the It Gets Better videos and hope with so much of myself that it would just get better. I wish I knew then how incredibly enriching my life would be after I came out. That part of me that once felt too private, intense and embarrassing to share with the rest of the world actually became a quality I love the most about myself. Women are soft and smell so so great. They are complicated and gentle and considerate and nuanced and mature.”
“[Taking] small steps to understand yourself, with no time limit is part of the process. There’s no right way to do things but there is validity in trusting your gut. Readiness is an innate feeling! You will know when the time is right to experiment with presentation, to try dating, to say what you need to to a family member, to write an essay. Hard times don’t last forever, and one day you really will feel at home in your body.”
“No one prepares you for that moment you realize you’re not straight. I needed support then. I felt the most vulnerable. Why is there no place in sex ed to talk about confusion when it comes to sexuality? Labels are helpful for some, but not for all of us.”
“I wish I knew earlier that there are fierce, interesting, sexy people up and down and across the spectrum of gender and sexuality who have shared my sense of not being seen. I wish I had realized that the guys I liked as a teenager, aren’t the only flavor out there. I wish I had realized earlier that my palate would change and expand as I grew older.”
“Most of the advice I’d give my teen self I’d also give my 23-year-old self: my comfort with myself, with my sexuality, my happiness overall stems from self-love, something I seriously lacked in my teens. Even now, it sometimes feels out of reach. It’s one of the hardest things to get your hands on, and it can come in waves, but it is what lets me be the best friend, daughter, sister, person I can be. Most importantly, it lets me be me.
"Part of self-love is respecting, accepting, and learning from your own process. And trusting that life is a process and always will be. You’ll have your milestones, but there is always something more to learn about ourselves and others. Having someone tell me then that the key to my happiness lay in loving myself more may have spared me a lot of pain, but may have honestly sounded absurd. It seems backwards that loving yourself can let you love others more. But it is the least selfish thing you can do. It lets you be brave, it lets you be kind. It makes seeing an Instagram photo of your friends hanging out without you, or your crush with someone else, hurt less. It makes straying from peer pressure feel empowering.”
“I wish I realized earlier that being straight is so ingrained into our minds from such a young age that it takes a lot of thinking, questioning, and self-awareness to realize you might not be. Not everyone has this magical moment of queer self-realization as a child — it's OK for it to happen in your young, mid, or late adulthood, too. For me, finding a label was so difficult because I didn't see someone like me who identified as queer or pansexual for so long. Also, not really having someone to talk to about it didn't help. Sure, I had a few cis gay friends that were guys, but the only girl friend I had that was queer identifies as a lesbian, and I was trying to sort out my attraction to multiple genders.
"I wish I learned earlier that you don't need to prove your sexual identity to anyone — it made me uncomfortable for so long that I was realizing my queerness while I had a boyfriend, like that somehow invalidated it all. And people's questioning about what I had 'done' physically with women, like there was a score sheet I needed to keep track of to prove my queerness, was so messed up and not okay. Your queerness if how you define it, no matter what you have or haven't had — a kiss, relationship, sex, etc. It's your identity and no one else's."
“I never thought I was straight, but I found myself still having an inexplicable instinctual response to male attention throughout my adolescence. I used to Google, 'How could I both find girls fascinating and get weirdly nervous around boys?' If I had had a place to talk about everything I was going through as a teen, I would be such a happier adult."
“I wish I knew that bad sex wasn’t a reflection of me. Bad sex happens. Awkward sex happens. It’s all okay, and in time you will figure out what is best for you. I feel like a lot of my adolescence was spent trying to figure out why sex didn't feel like I thought it should, or saw in movies."
“I remember being confused as a teenager about the difference between a girl crush and a romantic crush. Even today, I’m not really sure I’ve figured it out."
“What is good sex? What even counts as sex? Conversations around these types of questions would have really helped me better navigate my first few relationships. Even now, I'm not really sure where to go to engage in these types of conversations.”
“With my partner, I am often unclear about how to communicate my emotional needs to her. Conversations about communication would have been very helpful for me as a teen, and honestly, me now.”
“I didn't have my first queer kiss until I was 20. I think if even one teacher in sex ed would have suggested that sexuality and/or sexual preferences aren't static, I would have saved myself so much confusion in adulthood."
“You can come out to no one, you can come out to everyone, but regardless of who/when you tell anyone, your sexuality is still yours to decide. Also, you can change your label! I wish every middle schooler in the world could hear this and internalize it. You're never too young to know yourself or your sexuality.”
“I grew up in a very liberal city and I still did not learn about what the word queer meant until I was in my final year of college. Sex education must start including conversations about queerness. It's 2018. It's time we do better."
Important conversations around communication, vulnerability, self-love, and queerness are not just needed in middle school, but throughout adulthood too. There is no time limit to learning yourself, or your sexuality, and it's time we finally talk about it.