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Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teensby Kathy Belge
If youre 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 werent enough, some of you have one
more thing to deal with—the possibility (or reality) of being queer. This realization is
definitely not a bad thing—but it can throw you for a loop.
To best grasp what may be going on, youre going to have to spend some time looking
within. That doesnt mean staring at your belly button, pondering the cosmos, the
existence of God, and what Lady GaGas going to wear next—though if any of that is
helpful, go for it. But you will need to do a little soul searching.
Lots of teens—straight or queer—have questions about their sexuality. It doesnt
always feel clear cut from the jump. Have you ever asked yourself any of the
• I am a girl and I have a boyfriend. But I fantasize about kissing my best
girlfriend. Does that make me bisexual?
• I think anyone can be sexy, regardless of gender. What does that make me?
• I am a girl and sometimes I feel more like a guy. Does that mean Im
• I am a guy and I keep having dreams about my girlfriends brother.
Am I gay?
If so, you probably want answers. Well, heres the good news: You dont need an
answer to this today. Heres the even better news: Whatever the answer is, its
completely fine. Being straight or queer doesnt define who you are as a person. It
doesnt say whether youre a good friend or a complete jerk or whether you should
do ballet or go out for varsity football. Its 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 its also OK if that answer changes at some point. Its 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. Heres 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 “typical” 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 mens 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 doesnt
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 own—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 “happy” or “carefree” and
also the more negative “licentious,” which means “lacking moral and
sexual restraints.” Gay began being used to describe homosexual people
in the middle of the last century, though its 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 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 youll find
evidence of a lot of these subcultures online and in most major cities, you
dont 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 dont 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 youre 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 theyll
end up with an opposite-sex partner some day. For others, coming out as
bi is harder because people might want them to “choose” 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.
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 dont identify as any gender at all. Transgender people
sometimes opt for medical treatment—like hormones and surgery—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 dont 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.
Its important to understand that while the identities of lesbian, gay, and
bisexual refer to ones 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 dont
want to use any of the these labels but know they fall somewhere along the
LGBT spectrum or that they dont 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 questioning—
and thats OK, too. These days, we often see the acronym LGBT with a “Q”
at the end (LGBTQ). That “Q” stands for questioning, which means people
who are still figuring it out. (And arent we all just trying to figure something
out?) The “Q” 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 its easier
to just say queer!
HOW DO I KNOW IF IM QUEER?
You may have simply always felt different from other kids. Maybe the
words other people use to describe themselves just dont seem to fit you,
or you dont feel comfortable dressing or acting the way that society says
you should. If youre a boy, maybe youre into “girl stuff.” If youre a girl,
maybe youre into “boy stuff.” Maybe you dont feel like youre a girl or a
boy but that youre something unique that doesnt really have a name.
Maybe youre 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 doesnt necessarily mean you
are LGBT. Plenty of straight people are into things that most of society
doesnt consider “normal” like heavy metal, contemporary art, or
raspberry granola, and you certainly wouldnt base your sexuality on what
you like to eat for breakfast. Besides, youre 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. Youll 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 whats right for you. Some days you might
feel one way, and other days, another. Just because your friends arent
talking about conflicting feelings around sexuality doesnt mean they
arent 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 teens assertion of being queer
with a response like, “How could you know? You havent had sex yet!” But
the truth is that you dont have to have sex to know if youre LGBT. Most of
the time, its something youll just have a sense about. For instance, if
youre a guy and you consistently have crushes on other guys, then you
might be gay. You dont have to act on those attractions sexually to know
how you feel. Straight kids have crushes all the time and they dont need to
act on them to know they are straight. Its 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, youll know it on a much deeper level. It becomes
a part of your identity and how you see yourself. Its more about who you
are and who you have feelings toward rather than simply who youre
getting busy with.
On the flip side, just because youve had sex with someone of the same
gender, youre not necessarily gay or lesbian. Sometimes people
experiment just for fun and still dont consider themselves queer because
they dont 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 dont feel the same way.
Obviously, sex is part of the queer equation, but its definitely not the whole
WHY ARE PEOPLE QUEER?
Thats the multimillion dollar question. And its one that no ones 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
“gay gene” or something in our brains that makes us prefer the same sex.
So far, the studies have been inconclusive, and we dont 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, its 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, its not a
choice. Its something that naturally happens. You cant “train” 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 youll gain the respect of others and
yourself. Youll 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. Peoples desires and preferences fell all
along what he called a “sexual spectrum” (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 doesnt mean you wont prefer to date one gender or the
other. You probably will. But if youre not sure how to label yourself or
where you fall on the spectrum of straight, bi, or gay/lesbian, we say
dont stress about it. Even though it may seem like everyone around you
has it figured out, they proably dont. 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 its the same a year from now.
(Image not shown)
WHEN DO I NEED TO DECIDE IF IM QUEER
There is no time limit. Like we said, its natural to go through a period of
questioning and experimenting before you know whats 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. Its your life. Only
you can decide when and how to express your gender identity and
sexuality—no one else.
In Markes words
My Big Gay Revelation
For me, the signs were probably there from the start. I was the kind of little
kid who played dress-up in his moms clothes, ran around singing show tunes
at the top of his voice, and pretend-flirted with other boys. (My parents even
have pictures of me kissing one of my boy cousins on the lips when we were
in diapers!) In grade school, I also fooled around with some other boys in my
neighborhood and from my school. But I didnt really think about it in terms
of whether I was gay or straight or whatever. I knew lots of boys who did
stuff like this, and it didnt seem like a big deal.
It wasnt until around sixth grade, when I started developing deep crushes on
other boys, that I started thinking I might be a little different. But I still
couldnt put my finger on it. I had never even heard the word gay until some
older boys from another school tried to insult me by calling me that. I did a
little research in the library to find out more and discovered a whole history
of people who not only had sex with people of the same gender but had
passionate romantic relationships as well. In fact, there was an entire
community of people who felt the same way I did; it was a delicious
wonderland of queerness! I realized it was OK to like other boys in “that
way,” and even though it took a little while to find other boys who liked me
back, I knew that I wasnt “abnormal” or “weird”—just a little bit different.
In Kathys words
Uh, That Explains It (How I Knew I Was a Lesbian)
As a kid, I kept falling in love with my best friends. Sure, I had crushes on guys,
but when the opportunities came to be with them or a girlfriend, I always chose
the girl. When I go back and read my old journal from high school, I have to
laugh at what I wrote. There are entries that say things like, “Im not queer or
anything, but I dont want Lisa to get a boyfriend because we wouldnt be able
to spend as much time together” or “Were not queer or anything, but Id just
rather be with Jenny than with Joe” or “Im not turning to girls, I just really
want to be close to Kim.” Seriously.
Its pretty obvious to me now that I was trying to justify what I was feeling
because I was confused. At the time, I didnt really understand what it meant to
be a lesbian, and the thought scared me. Lesbians were something we made fun
of, and I didnt really know anyone who was openly gay.
When I got to college and started meeting other lesbians, I was finally able to
admit to myself that I was queer. It was no longer some big scary thing because
I was meeting some really amazing women who were lesbians. I got to see
what lesbian relationships looked like and started going out dancing to lesbian
bars and seeing lesbian movies. I became more and more comfortable with
other lesbians and with myself. So by the time my first girlfriend, Lori, leaned
in to kiss me, it felt like the most natural thing in the world.
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