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Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teensby Kathy Belge
If youand#8217;re a teen, you have a lot on your plate: school, family, social drama, body issues,
how to get that relative who perpetually smells like onions to stop sitting next
to you at every family gathering. As if that werenand#8217;t enough, some of you have one
more thing to deal withand#8212;the possibility (or reality) of being queer. This realization is
definitely not a bad thingand#8212;but it can throw you for a loop.
To best grasp what may be going on, youand#8217;re going to have to spend some time looking
within. That doesnand#8217;t mean staring at your belly button, pondering the cosmos, the
existence of God, and what Lady GaGaand#8217;s going to wear nextand#8212;though if any of that is
helpful, go for it. But you will need to do a little soul searching.
Lots of teensand#8212;straight or queerand#8212;have questions about their sexuality. It doesnand#8217;t
always feel clear cut from the jump. Have you ever asked yourself any of the
and#8226;and#160;I am a girl and I have a boyfriend. But I fantasize about kissing my best
girlfriend. Does that make me bisexual?
and#8226;and#160;I think anyone can be sexy, regardless of gender. What does that make me?
and#8226;and#160;I am a girl and sometimes I feel more like a guy. Does that mean Iand#8217;m
and#8226;and#160;I am a guy and I keep having dreams about my girlfriendand#8217;s brother.
Am I gay?
If so, you probably want answers. Well, hereand#8217;s the good news: You donand#8217;t need an
answer to this today. Hereand#8217;s the even better news: Whatever the answer is, itand#8217;s
completely fine. Being straight or queer doesnand#8217;t define who you are as a person. It
doesnand#8217;t say whether youand#8217;re a good friend or a complete jerk or whether you should
do ballet or go out for varsity football. Itand#8217;s just about who you are attracted to and, in
the case of transgender people, what gender you want to live as. Any answer is the
right one. And itand#8217;s also OK if that answer changes at some point. Itand#8217;s all good.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE QUEER?
To identify as queer means to see yourself as being part of the LGBT
community. That means you consider yourself to be lesbian, gay, bisexual,
or transgender. Hereand#8217;s the breakdown.
Lesbians are women who are emotionally and sexually attracted to other
women. The Greek poet Sappho, who lived during the sixth and seventh
centuries, wrote about loving other women. She was born on the island of
Lesbos, and this is where the term lesbian comes from.
There is no and#8220;typicaland#8221; lesbian. Some lesbians consider themselves to be
butch lesbians (also known as studs), which means they express
themselves in what society might consider a masculine manner. Butch
lesbians might feel more comfortable dressing in menand#8217;s clothing, playing
aggressive sports, working a traditionally manly job, or being the person
who is more chivalrous in a relationship. Femmes (also known as lipstick
lesbians), on the other hand, usually dress in a more feminine manner, wear
make-up, have long hair, and enjoy activities more associated with girly-
girls, like maybe shopping or watching chick flicks.
Of course, not all femmes wear lipstick, and not all butches work in
construction. And some lesbians call themselves futch, a combination of
femme and butch. There are also blue jean femmes (a femme who doesnand#8217;t
wear dresses) and soft butches (those who consider themselves a less hard-
core form of butch). Boi is another term, which can indicate a hip, youthful
butch who may or may not identify as trans. But remember that all of these
are just labels that help lesbians clarify their social identity, and the
definitions are changing even as we write this book. Not everyone uses
these terms, and some people find that their relationships to masculinity
and femininity change over the years. If none of these labels feel
appropriate for you, feel free to make up one of your ownand#8212;or go without a
label altogether. These identities are really about celebrating yourself and
your queerness, not bogging you down.
Gay men are men who are emotionally and sexually attracted to other
men. (The word gay is also used sometimes to mean homosexual in
general.) Back in the day, the word gay meant and#8220;happyand#8221; or and#8220;carefreeand#8221; and
also the more negative and#8220;licentious,and#8221; which means and#8220;lacking moral and
sexual restraints.and#8221; Gay began being used to describe homosexual people
in the middle of the last century, though itand#8217;s not totally clear why. (Maybe
people thought gay people were happy to supposedly have no moral
restraints!) Today, gay is usually used to describe homosexual men.
It can seem like there are as many kinds of gay men as there are kinds of
music. Gay men who are into alternative rock and punk, underground art,
and#160;and hipster fashion call themselves alternaqueers. (Lesbians and trans
people can be alternaqueers, too.) Many large, hairy gay men refer to
themselves as bears. Some younger men who pride themselves on being
thin and clean shaven call themselves twinks. Gay men with feminine
qualities might consider themselves queens, and when those qualities are
really exaggerated, they might be called flaming. Gay men who work out a
lot are often referred to as muscle queens or gym queens and, if they fly
around the country to dance all night to circuit techno music, circuit queens.
Wealthy gays who often dress in preppy styles are sometimes known as
A-gays, and gay men into leather are leathermen. Though youand#8217;ll find
evidence of a lot of these subcultures online and in most major cities, you
donand#8217;t have to belong to any of them, and you could also create your own.
Remember, these identities are only to help gay men say a little about who
they are to the world. Never take on an identity if you donand#8217;t want to, or let
others label you against your will.
People who can be attracted to either sex are bisexual. Sometimes people
think bisexuals are equally attracted to both sexes, but this is not
necessarily the case. If youand#8217;re open to dating both men and women, even if
you prefer one sex over the other, then you can identify as bisexual (or bi).
Sometimes people identify as bisexual during a transitional stage before
coming out as lesbian or gay. For others, it truly is an identity that sticks
with them their whole lives. For some people, coming out as bi is easier
because it offers hope to their homophobic parents and friends that theyand#8217;ll
end up with an opposite-sex partner some day. For others, coming out as
bi is harder because people might want them to and#8220;chooseand#8221; one sex or the
other. If you think you may be bisexual, know that bisexuality has been
around forever. Some cultures, like ancient Greece, celebrated bisexuality
as a great way of life.
A little different than bisexuals, pansexuals people are attracted to not only
boys and girls, but people who identify as transgender.and#160;
People who feel there is a difference between their birth gender and the
gender they truly are inside consider themselves transgender or simply
trans. They often choose to live life as the gender they feel they are, or, in
some cases, they donand#8217;t identify as any gender at all. Transgender people
sometimes opt for medical treatmentand#8212;like hormones and surgeryand#8212;to
actually change their sex so that their bodies appear on the outside more
like what they feel on the inside. People who undergo these medical
procedures sometimes think of themselves as transsexuals, though often
they prefer to be thought of and referred to simply as the gender they are
living as (male or female) since transsexual is sometimes seen as an
impersonal medical term. There are also abbreviations for people who
change their sex, like FTM (female to male) or MTF (male to female), which
are sometimes used.
People who feel they donand#8217;t fit into either gender may use the terms gender
queer or gender fluid to describe themselves. They may feel that they are
neither male nor female, both male and female, or somewhere in between.
They may also feel that even saying there are only two genders is too
restrictive, and may identify with one of the various genderqueer terms out
there like transboi, bi-gendered, or third gendered.
Itand#8217;s important to understand that while the identities of lesbian, gay, and
bisexual refer to oneand#8217;s sexual orientation, being transgender does not. It is
specifically about gender. People who are transgender can be straight,
gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
Queer can describe people who are any of the above or people who donand#8217;t
want to use any of the these labels but know they fall somewhere along the
LGBT spectrum or that they donand#8217;t fit into the heterosexual norms.
If you find yourself wondering if any of the terms in this chapter describe
you, you might be queer. Of course, you might also just be questioningand#8212;
and thatand#8217;s OK, too. These days, we often see the acronym LGBT with a and#8220;Qand#8221;
at the end (LGBTQ). That and#8220;Qand#8221; stands for questioning, which means people
who are still figuring it out. (And arenand#8217;t we all just trying to figure something
out?) The and#8220;Qand#8221; can also stand for queer. Sometimes people even write the
LGBT acronym as LGBTQQ or LGBTQQI, where the I stands for intersex
(see page 24). With all those letters to keep track of, sometimes itand#8217;s easier
to just say queer!
HOW DO I KNOW IF Iand#8217;M QUEER?
You may have simply always felt different from other kids. Maybe the
words other people use to describe themselves just donand#8217;t seem to fit you,
or you donand#8217;t feel comfortable dressing or acting the way that society says
you should. If youand#8217;re a boy, maybe youand#8217;re into and#8220;girl stuff.and#8221; If youand#8217;re a girl,
maybe youand#8217;re into and#8220;boy stuff.and#8221; Maybe you donand#8217;t feel like youand#8217;re a girl or a
boy but that youand#8217;re something unique that doesnand#8217;t really have a name.
Maybe youand#8217;re a boy into boy stuff or a girl into girl stuff, but you feel
attracted to other boys or other girls.
Even if you relate to any of the above, that doesnand#8217;t necessarily mean you
are LGBT. Plenty of straight people are into things that most of society
doesnand#8217;t consider and#8220;normaland#8221; like heavy metal, contemporary art, or
raspberry granola, and you certainly wouldnand#8217;t base your sexuality on what
you like to eat for breakfast. Besides, youand#8217;re in a stage of your life right
now when love can feel a bit confusing, and you may not know if you want
to kiss that cute soccer player or just want to be her. Youand#8217;ll probably get
crushes on all kinds of people, from teachers and best friends to
celebrities and star athletes. You may even go through a period of trying
out different things to find out whatand#8217;s right for you. Some days you might
feel one way, and other days, another. Just because your friends arenand#8217;t
talking about conflicting feelings around sexuality doesnand#8217;t mean they
arenand#8217;t feeling them, too.
That being said, if your feelings persist, then you may decide to start
identifying as queer or as any of the related identities. If so, embrace it!
Being part of the LGBT community is great, but it does mean that, yes, you
are a little bit different than most of the people you know. Being different,
of course, is something to celebrate. But it also means that sometimes you
might feel like you are from another planet. If so, think of us as your tour
guides to Planet Queer!
DO I HAVE TO HAVE SEX TO KNOW?
Lots of questioning teens think they need to have sex to know if they are
queer, and often older people will doubt a teenand#8217;s assertion of being queer
with a response like, and#8220;How could you know? You havenand#8217;t had sex yet!and#8221; But
the truth is that you donand#8217;t have to have sex to know if youand#8217;re LGBT. Most of
the time, itand#8217;s something youand#8217;ll just have a sense about. For instance, if
youand#8217;re a guy and you consistently have crushes on other guys, then you
might be gay. You donand#8217;t have to act on those attractions sexually to know
how you feel. Straight kids have crushes all the time and they donand#8217;t need to
act on them to know they are straight. Itand#8217;s no different for queer kids.
Some people do say that they discovered they were lesbian, gay, or
bisexual after experimenting sexually. So that is possible. But most people
say that if you are queer, youand#8217;ll know it on a much deeper level. It becomes
a part of your identity and how you see yourself. Itand#8217;s more about who you
are and who you have feelings toward rather than simply who youand#8217;re
getting busy with.
On the flip side, just because youand#8217;ve had sex with someone of the same
gender, youand#8217;re not necessarily gay or lesbian. Sometimes people
experiment just for fun and still donand#8217;t consider themselves queer because
they donand#8217;t want to actually date or have relationships with people of the
same gender. Or you might have fantasies or dreams about having sex with
someone of the same gender, but in real life you donand#8217;t feel the same way.
Obviously, sex is part of the queer equation, but itand#8217;s definitely not the whole
WHY ARE PEOPLE QUEER?
Thatand#8217;s the multimillion dollar question. And itand#8217;s one that no oneand#8217;s really
been able to answer yet, probably because everyone, queer or straight, is
different. For years, scientists have been trying to discover if there is a
and#8220;gay geneand#8221; or something in our brains that makes us prefer the same sex.
So far, the studies have been inconclusive, and we donand#8217;t know exactly what
makes one person gay and another bisexual or trans or even straight, for
that matter. There are any number of things that make you the person you
For some queer people, it seems like they were just born that way. For
others, itand#8217;s the way our emotions and sexuality developed as we grew up
and our personality began expressing itself. And other people say that
somewhere along the way, they just changed and suddenly started liking
people of the same gender.
But though you may come into your queerness at any stage, itand#8217;s not a
choice. Itand#8217;s something that naturally happens. You canand#8217;t and#8220;trainand#8221; yourself to
be straight any more than you can train yourself to have three eyeballs, fly
like a bird, breathe underwater, or like listening to the Rolling Stones as
much as your parents do. You have no control over your sexual orientation
or gender identity. Be authentic and youand#8217;ll gain the respect of others and
yourself. Youand#8217;ll also be way happier in the long run.
WHERE ARE YOU ON THE SEXUAL SPECTRUM?
Back in the 1940s, a sex researcher named Alfred Kinsey asked people to
be honest about their sexual activities, fantasies, and romantic attractions.
After thousands of interviews, he found that it is rare that a person is solely
homosexual or heterosexual. Peopleand#8217;s desires and preferences fell all
along what he called a and#8220;sexual spectrumand#8221; (also known as the Kinsey Scale)
between gay and straight. What he interpreted this to mean was that most
humans have the capability to be attracted to or to fall in love with both
men and women. We think that the idea of viewing sexuality as a spectrum
is a great way to look at it. It means there is some fluidity in our
preferences, and everything is totally acceptable.
Of course, that doesnand#8217;t mean you wonand#8217;t prefer to date one gender or the
other. You probably will. But if youand#8217;re not sure how to label yourself or
where you fall on the spectrum of straight, bi, or gay/lesbian, we say
donand#8217;t stress about it. Even though it may seem like everyone around you
has it figured out, they proably donand#8217;t. Instead, see all of your questions
about your sexuality as something that makes your life more interesting
and will give you more personal insight and confidence.
Want to try a little experiment? Look at the scale below and locate where you think you are on the spectrum. Make a note of what you think today, and then see if itand#8217;s the same a year from now.
(Image not shown)
WHEN DO I NEED TO DECIDE IF Iand#8217;M QUEER
There is no time limit. Like we said, itand#8217;s natural to go through a period of
questioning and experimenting before you know whatand#8217;s right for you. You
may spend some time being bi-curious, which means you wonder a lot
about what it would be like to get with someone of your own gender. You
may try out dressing as the opposite gender or explore your feelings by
looking at photos or movies to see what appeals to you. Itand#8217;s your life. Only
you can decide when and how to express your gender identity and
sexualityand#8212;no one else.
and#160;In Markeand#8217;s words
and#160;and#160;My Big Gay Revelation
and#160;For me, the signs were probably there from the start. I was the kind of little
and#160;kid who played dress-up in his momand#8217;s clothes, ran around singing show tunes
and#160;at the top of his voice, and pretend-flirted with other boys. (My parents even
and#160;have pictures of me kissing one of my boy cousins on the lips when we were
and#160;in diapers!) In grade school, I also fooled around with some other boys in my
and#160;neighborhood and from my school. But I didnand#8217;t really think about it in terms
and#160;of whether I was gay or straight or whatever. I knew lots of boys who did
and#160;stuff like this, and it didnand#8217;t seem like a big deal.and#160;
and#160;It wasnand#8217;t until around sixth grade, when I started developing deep crushes on
and#160;other boys, that I started thinking I might be a little different. But I still
and#160;couldnand#8217;t put my finger on it. I had never even heard the word gay until some
and#160;older boys from another school tried to insult me by calling me that. I did a
and#160;little research in the library to find out more and discovered a whole history
and#160;of people who not only had sex with people of the same gender but had
and#160;passionate romantic relationships as well. In fact, there was an entire
and#160;community of people who felt the same way I did; it was a delicious
and#160;wonderland of queerness! I realized it was OK to like other boys in and#8220;that
and#160;way,and#8221; and even though it took a little while to find other boys who liked me
and#160;back, I knew that I wasnand#8217;t and#8220;abnormaland#8221; or and#8220;weirdand#8221;and#8212;just a little bit different.
and#160;In Kathyand#8217;s words
and#160;and#160;Uh, That Explains It (How I Knew I Was a Lesbian)
and#160;As a kid, I kept falling in love with my best friends. Sure, I had crushes on guys,
and#160;but when the opportunities came to be with them or a girlfriend, I always chose
and#160;the girl. When I go back and read my old journal from high school, I have to
and#160;laugh at what I wrote. There are entries that say things like, and#8220;Iand#8217;m not queer or
and#160;anything, but I donand#8217;t want Lisa to get a boyfriend because we wouldnand#8217;t be able
and#160;to spend as much time togetherand#8221; or and#8220;Weand#8217;re not queer or anything, but Iand#8217;d just
and#160;rather be with Jenny than with Joeand#8221; or and#8220;Iand#8217;m not turning to girls, I just really
and#160;want to be close to Kim.and#8221; Seriously.
and#160;Itand#8217;s pretty obvious to me now that I was trying to justify what I was feeling
and#160;because I was confused. At the time, I didnand#8217;t really understand what it meant to
and#160;be a lesbian, and the thought scared me. Lesbians were something we made fun
and#160;of, and I didnand#8217;t really know anyone who was openly gay.
and#160;When I got to college and started meeting other lesbians, I was finally able to
and#160;admit to myself that I was queer. It was no longer some big scary thing because
and#160;I was meeting some really amazing women who were lesbians. I got to see
and#160;what lesbian relationships looked like and started going out dancing to lesbian
and#160;bars and seeing lesbian movies. I became more and more comfortable with
and#160;other lesbians and with myself. So by the time my first girlfriend, Lori, leaned
and#160;in to kiss me, it felt like the most natural thing in the world.
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