There is a story out there for you to follow.
The story of the gay kid who has always known they were gay, and is afraid to come out, the kid who stays closeted for a while and then eventually comes out to their friends and then to their parents, and finds community among other gays and gets into a great, loving romantic relationship and lives from then on to the tune of “out and proud”. The story of the gay kid in the conservative, religious family who gets disowned by their parents, goes to live on a friend’s couch, comes to accept themself and then throws away their religion in exchange for happiness. The story of the trans kid who has always known they were trans, and spends much of their life feeling insecure and miserable in their body, but then finally transitions, which they always wanted to do, and after transitioning, happily ever after.
These stories are out there for you to follow – if you want to.
But it’s okay if none of these stories are yours.
It’s okay if you didn’t always “know”. It’s okay if “born this way” doesn’t quite sit right with you. Because what do these things even mean?
In the fight for LGBTQ rights and equality, people on one side will often say that there are rising numbers of LGBTQ folks because it’s “trendy” and teens are being influenced, and people on the other side will often say that “we were born this way” and the rising numbers are just because the environment is safer and more welcoming now for people to come out. But aren’t both true, to some extent? In some ways, it is safer and more welcoming to come out now. But precisely because it is safer and more welcoming, people are talking about the community more – there are more news articles, more organizations, more stories, more events – and a lot of people out there who didn’t know it was okay to date another girl, who didn’t even consider it was a possibility to be asexual, who don’t have severe gender dysphoria but gravitate to words like “androgynous” and “non-binary”, are having their eyes opened to this new world and these new possibilities. It’s okay if you feel like you were “influenced” into choosing any particular label for yourself, because what matters the most is your happiness and peace – and what’s wrong with being “influenced”, anyway? We are all “influenced” everyday by everyone and everything we know. As long as you give it some thought and end up in a place where you’re genuinely happy, there shouldn’t be a problem.
It’s okay if you aren’t sure how you identify. It’s okay if the label/s you use to define yourself change over time – even if you change your mind twice and go back to what you were using before, that’s okay.
At the end of the day, labels are just words – and words are just words. They don’t inherently mean anything. As time passes and language evolves, the socially-acceptable labels come and go, and their socially-interpreted meanings change. You shouldn’t feel restricted into living a particular way because of a word. That’s not to say that words don’t have power, or that labels don’t have power, but I’m just saying it’s fine to sit with “gay” and then decide “bisexual” feels better, or maybe “pansexual,” and by the way maybe “non-binary” is nice too – but then, as I thought, I like “gay”… oh, there’s also “queer” now, what’s that? And it’s not just the words that change – people change, too. Your preferences, how you identify, can change over time. Maybe for a while you enjoy dating women, but a few years later you come to enjoy dating men better. Or for a few years you use she/her pronouns, but later prefer they/them. What’s wrong with that?
It’s okay if you don’t feel the need to “come out”.
Personally, I’ve always felt that sitting people down to say “hey, by the way, I’m in love with XYZ or I like XYZ” is a bit strange. It doesn’t feel right to me. I’m not hiding anything – I’ll explain how I identify or who I have a crush on and so on if it comes up in normal conversation – but I just don’t feel that it’s right or necessary to dramatically “come out”. Nobody should have to do that, and I feel that for me, it’s better to normalize it. It makes room for flexibility and change and thoughtfulness.
It’s okay if you don’t have a super emotional “coming out story”. It’s okay if you didn’t struggle with depression and self-acceptance. It’s okay if everybody accepts you and your life is just good.
Based off the mainstream stories of LGBTQ life, I feel like it’s tempting to seek out one’s own dramatic sob story – i.e., to feel bad if everything goes right, because the stories say everything is supposed to go wrong. But not having a dramatic, romanticized, marketable sob story doesn’t make your life any less valid or valuable. If everything went right, then great!
It’s okay if you’re religious.
For a lot of folks, it can be hard to be both LGBTQ and religious, because a lot of religions are or have been used as justifications to discriminate. So, it’s okay if you used to be Catholic but after coming out you don’t feel comfortable or safe enough to step into a church anymore. But it’s also okay to still be religious, because being LGBTQ and being religious aren’t mutually exclusive. There are a lot of religions that are safe and tolerant and welcoming – and even among religions that have been used for discrimination, there are many people who live that religion, who preach it, who teach it, who are also supportive of LGBTQ folks. It doesn’t necessarily have to be one or the other.
It’s okay if you don’t act a certain way, or talk a certain way, or dress a certain way, to match up to expectations of your label/s.
There are a lot of stereotypes, especially for gay men and trans folks, regarding how you should dress and talk and act. It’s okay if that’s you – but it’s also okay if that’s not you. You don’t have to go out in drag and glitter sparkles screaming pride and extroversion to be a valid gay man or trans person. Like I said earlier, labels are just words. Sexuality is a spectrum, so is gender identity, so is gender expression – and there are a lot more complexities involved here, too. You shouldn’t feel the need to act a certain way so that people will consider you “gay enough”. Label yourself however you want, and just be your authentic self.
It’s okay if you don’t feel the most safe or find the best community among other LGBTQ folks.
The LGBTQ community isn’t a utopia. Racism, sexual harassment and violence, and other problems exist – and when you take each person one at a time, you realize that everybody is carrying their own individual baggage, their own histories and biases and struggles. People who have experienced a lot of trauma tend to carry pretty complex baggage. So, it’s okay if your best friend isn’t also an ace. It’s okay if you don’t feel great walking into a gay bar or going to a pride festival. It’s okay if your same-sex relationships don’t always go right. That being said, community does exist – sometimes you have to work a little to find it. Just remember to take people one at a time.
It’s okay if you don’t know whether or not you want to transition – and it’s okay if you end up not doing it.
Transitioning is huge. Not every person who identifies as trans wants to do it. It’s okay if you feel safer and happier not transitioning, and it’s okay if you aren’t sure and put off the decision until later.
It’s okay if your post-coming-out / post-transition story doesn’t abruptly stop with “happily ever after”.
So you came out to everyone you know, or you transitioned, and you’re living “out and proud,” as they say – what now? Life is complicated. It’s okay if things don’t automatically go right. It’s okay if you have a bit of regret about coming out or transitioning, it’s okay if you come out multiple times using different labels, it’s okay if you aren’t magically super happy.
It’s okay if how you identify with regards to sexuality and gender don’t make up a huge part of who you are.
At the end of the day, sexuality and gender are just two aspects of your identity. It’s okay if, for you, those two particular aspects are relatively large and salient; but it’s also okay if you don’t really care that much, if other aspects of your identity mean more to you, if living with the constant adjectives of “gay man” or “trans woman” or the constant focus on being “an out and proud member of the community” doesn’t feel quite right to you. We are all complicated human beings, and not everything matters equally to all of us.
In sum: write your own story. Seek out your own happiness. Everybody is different; you be you. Don’t let mainstream storytelling convince you otherwise!
Source: personal experiences and thoughts, influenced by various news articles and books and discussions with friends. Wrote this after thinking about a conversation I had with a younger friend who’s a bi-romantic ace.