Old Enough to Know Themselves: Voices of Queer Teens

queer students at camp, jumping on a beachPlease welcome Rosa, a high school student from my home state, who is the latest guest blogger for Transplantportation while I attend to my wee one. I would also just like to note here that Rosa runs a Gay-Straight Alliance in her school, which have clearly shown to help with anti-bullying initiatives and increasing cultural competency of teachers, administration, and staff, when implemented in a school—something not available at Walla Walla High School, and banned this month by the Benton Franklin County School Board. We all need to push harder to include these student-focused groups in our schools.

When I was first asked to write a post in Ev’s absence I was incredibly excited to have a chance to bridge at least some of the gap between teenagers and adults. I so often feel like it’s nearly impossible for most teenagers to try to communicate with adults, and vice-versa. Adults view teens as these hormonally crazed aliens without a rational bone in their bodies. While teens view adults as these fascist rule makers with no purpose other than providing various doses of misery and “ruining their lives.”

This relationship is part of what led me to a topic for my post (after much time debating between ideas).

While I could easily step up onto a soap-box about how it’s nearly impossible to get any sort of acknowledgment as a gay teen from any heterosexual adult, or the lack of sensitivity (and not to mention respect) that school administration and some social workers have for the gay issues that trouble teens, these issues already receive plenty of attention. No need for them when there are plenty of other perfectly good soap-boxes that are far more neglected.

Digging through the topics I recall debating with friends about, the one that stood out most vividly to me was sparked by just one phrase: “You’re not old enough to know what you’re talking about.”

Now, adults try their best to help the teenagers they care about- that’s completely obvious (coming from the ones that do care, anyway). However, what they seem to think is helping might not actually be so awesome. What they think is an attempt to push their children in the right direction, may actually be boxing them into an unwanted corner—and not just one imagined by melodramatic minds.

I often wonder what benefit parents of gay teens get from telling their children that they don’t know what they’re talking about- can’t possibly know what they’re talking about. As the president of my school’s gay straight alliance, I hear over and over again the damage that parents do when they put so little faith in their children. Kids don’t want lessons in “right” or “wrong” from their parents they want support- blind support. To a teen, hearing their parents repeatedly say that they have no belief in their self-awareness ruins not only their belief in themselves, but the way that they relate to their parents. Self-esteem is hard enough to come by in teenagers. Why should parents get to pry away the few clinging remnants of hope for cheerfulness?

The situation seems to me, only to get worse as the teens get older and move away from their parents. Once they put themselves in a situation where they have to make choices on their own and, lo and behold, know who they are. Let’s theorize how this turns out…

First: A teenager comes out to their parents—a nerve-racking and mortifying experience, preceded by weeks or months even of anxiety and fear of rejection. The conversation involves lots of stuttering and blushing on the part of the kid, and shock and fear on the part of the parents. Parents who are less accepting of homosexuality might freak out, while more liberal parents might have a less violent response, but the shock is pretty universal.

Second: The parents spout that dreaded phrase and the kid is horrified not at the rejection, but at being labeled childish. That is the worst feeling to a teenager, in case you parents out there didn’t know. Being called immature and unworthy of responsibility, useless and incapable of making decisions—that takes away everything that one gains from growing up out of the “tween” years and into being a teenager. It denies every freedom that a teen hopes to gain and flushes it away. It denies their self-autonomy, their independence, and their self-worth.

Third: The teenager starts to deny being gay, and grows up in this denial. A very, very poor situation.

Alright, to me this seems like it’s heading toward a dark place with very few options for escape. As a teenager, you’re told that you’re too young to know what you’re talking about on the topic of who you love. Actually, you’re told that you’re too young to talk about love at all (but that’s another fight for another person- one who has more faith in most teenagers and their hormone control than I do). But, as you grow into adulthood, people find it unacceptable for you to leave a heterosexual relationship because you’re no longer attracted to the opposite sex. A married woman who leaves her husband for another woman is ostracized for her apparent “confusion.” Is the ultimatum starting to rear its ugly head yet? How is a person ever expected to come out and find someone that they can love if the expectations leave them almost no time to do so? No matter when it happens, you’re either labeled too young to know, or too confused to be taken seriously.

I feel that while parents are trying their best to help their kids, and the kids know that (deep down on some level, buried in there beneath the drama and insecurities), they should try to keep their advice to themselves on this topic. At least if their advice is that their kids have no clue what they’re talking about and should not even consider being queer.

It should be good for a teenager to want to explore who they are—especially during a time when finding their own personality is so crucial. School forces so many norms and molds on students that a parent telling them that they have no freedom to explore even who they love, or who they are as a person is just one more stressful factor. Telling a person that they can’t possibly know who they are when they’re younger, and it’s wrong for them to realize who they are when they’re older makes it nearly impossible for anyone to come to terms with something that’s already so hard to handle—especially in a heteronormative culture.

Teens do know what they’re talking about when it comes to who they find attractive, and even if they don’t- what’s the big deal? It’s no crime to think that you’re queer and then realize you’re wrong. No crime at all.

Most of Rosa’s free time outside of schoolwork and running a Gay-Straight Alliance is spent working on sets and sound for her school shows. As a senior, she’s presently panicking over the current college application process, but is looking toward a career as a psychiatrist.

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Categories: LGBT Civil Rights


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4 Comments on “Old Enough to Know Themselves: Voices of Queer Teens”

  1. Nicoline
    September 26, 2011 at 9:45 am #

    Great post, Rosa! I’m sure I’ve committed many a faux pas in dealing with my own teens, but I don’t think this particular one was one of them. My oldest son came out to us after he had left home, but I don’t think that was because he was afraid we wouldn’t accept him. We’d certainly dragged him and his younger brother to plenty of pro-gay marriage rallies and such for him to be fairly confident of our reaction.
    The only problem I have with teens going one way or the other early on is that I’ve personally come to believe it’s healthier not to think in terms of being one thing vs. another. Not because being straight is better than being gay or whatever else, but because adolescence is – or should be – a time for experimentation and figuring out what you are and what you want out of life. It’s OK to have sex with members of both the opposite and the same sex, as long as both partners are honest with one another (and themselves!), do not exert undue pressure and, of course, practice safe sex. It is – or should be – part of figuring out who you are as a person. Not because you don’t know what you’re talking about yet (do any of us ever really figure that out?) but because you’re putting the finishing touches on your personal development, which began when you took your first gulp of air.

  2. Lyra Rose
    September 29, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    Thank you for posting this. I am not a teen, and I don’t have children of my own, but I tried to come out to my mom when I was a teenager. I know that it was most definitely NOT the ideal circumstances (long story), but suffice it to say that when she found out I was dating a girl she made us break up, told me I was “to be straight” (she didn’t use those words, but that’s the condensed version of her lecture). Since then I’ve had two other relationships with women (one that I’m in now), and while this girl is my everything, I’m afraid to tell my mom about her simply because I don’t want to go through the hurt and turmoil I went through last time. She may not be able to break us up (Kerri and I are two adults after all), but the words I know she’ll say are what I don’t want to endure. Someday I’ll have to though. I can easily see myself spending the rest of my life with this girl.


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