lgbt

What Adults Can Learn from LGBT Youth

Recently, I attended a conference for the LGBT community. It was an enlightening experience and I encountered LGBT people of all ages and from all circumstances, including differences in race, home life, religious beliefs, and more.

I was most impressed, though, by the LGBT youth I met there. This is you

You are so strong and so bold to be living your life as authentically as possible. I suppressed my feelings about being a lesbian for many years and came out as an adult. You, however, have chosen to branch out, find yourselves and express your true self. It was simply inspiring to see such a strong group of young people.

I also met family members who fully supported their LGBT children of all ages in their life's journeys. I hope this is the case for you, too: that your loved ones treat you with respect and love you just as you are.

~~~

Let me share a few things I, a lesbian adult, learned from you, an LGBT teen, at my recent conference visit.

1.   It’s okay to believe in who you are.

You’ve inspired me to be me and believe in that. I am a strong individual who can be like you and love myself. 

2.     I don’t have to be closeted and alone.

I watched so many LGBT youth at the conference interacting and forming new friendships. Not that you were in cliques, but you were loving and accepting of each other. I saw you being “out,” coming together, and making connection so you don’t have to be alone on your journey.

3.     Strength comes from within -- and it's infectious.

So many of you exuded strength beyond anything I have possessed. You encouraged and showed others how to be strong and how to share that strength so others can feel and grow from it.

4.     I can live happily in the LGBT community no matter how old I am.

I was so impressed how comfortable you were in your own skin. I loved watching your happiness and how it spread. It showed me that in my journey as an adult, I can be happy just the way I am ,and that many of you already are living happily just as yourselves.

In the end, I found that you, as youth, are a driving force in forging the LGBT community's way forward. You are strong, new pioneers opening up the way for many others to express their sexualities and gender identities.

You are the new generation who will lead and create a brighter future for us all.

 

Photo courtesy of Kevin Dooley / Flickr.

Must-See TV For LGBTQ Youth: 'RUPAUL'S DRAG RACE'

I was embarrassingly late to the party with RuPaul’s Drag Race.

I finally arrived on a visit to Toronto to see my best Canadian friend Shih-Ming Yao. We were lying in his bed, recovering from a big night out.

“Let’s watch some Drag Race?” he suggested. I knew of RuPaul’s Drag Race -- the reality TV show hosted by drag icon RuPaul -- but I’d never invested any time in watching it. Ming, though, had several seasons ready to go on the hard-drive of his MacBook.

I was hooked from the first episode.

~~~

Drag queens are entertainers, so it’s fun watching them do anything. Ming jumped around the various seasons, showing me some of the best episodes, the most sickening lip-syncs, and the fiercest death-drops.

When I got home I was on the case, catching up on all the seasons (except Season 1, which I’ve only seen glimpses of); I even watched the spin-off series Drag U. By the time the most recent season of RPDR came around (Season 6, won by Bianca Del Rio) I was a total aficionado. I'd watched nearly every episode, the Untucked behind-the-scenes companion piece, the YouTube updates, and even the AfterBuzz panel discussion following each episode. RuPaul’s Drag Race is simply great TV.

But RuPaul’s Drag Race is a lot more than just a zany reality show. It takes you behind the scenes, behind the make-up, the wigs, the costumes, and the huge personalities that go into being a drag queen -- which is one of the toughest jobs in the entertainment industry.

There is a lot of drama, a lot of tears, and personal stories shared, but ultimately the show’s message is one of empowerment, self-belief, and self-worth. One of RuPaul’s many mantras is: “If you can’t love yourself - how in the hell are you going to love somebody else!”

It sounds straightforward enough, but if you’ve ever tried to analyze what went wrong in a failed relationship then you’ll know that looking in the mirror is the first place to start.

~~~

The winner of RPDR Season 3 was the uber-stylish Raja. Towards one of the final episodes of the season, each of the contestants was asked what winning the competition would mean to them. For me, Raja’s answer perfectly encapsulated everything that I had been feeling for years but never found a way to express:

“In winning this competition, I would like to be a role model for all those little boys who are teased, who are bullied, who don’t know how to express themselves creatively yet. I wanna tell them, ‘It’s okay to say f*** you, and do whatever you want to do.’”

“The power of ‘f*** you’” said RuPaul, nodding and smiling.

RuPaul’s Drag Race has become so successful that the contestants from the show are now some of the biggest names in entertainment - world tours, sold out shows, guest appearances at Pride events all over the place.

Entertainers. Role Models. People. The queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race are the living embodiment of the power of “f*** you.”

 

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

What Makes a "REAL" Man? Does It Really Matter?

by Joshua Shane

 

When I was young, I liked to play with my sister's Bratz dolls. 

Even more clear in my memory than playing with the dolls, though, was the reaction my parents and other family members had to me expressing my interest in female-assigned activities. I was told: "Real men don’t play with dolls."

This has always confused me. Even if I stopped playing with dolls, I would always desire to play with dolls. Would that not make me something other than a real man? I remember thinking, How could I have been wrapped in a blue blanket at birth, but not be a ‘real man' now (unless I identified as a transgender woman)? If I’m not a 'real man,' and -- since I identify as male -- cannot be a 'real woman,' what am I?

The answer, I've learned is: I am not unreal, I am just different. Our gender identity, or the gender we define ourselves as, or who people perceive us as is completely subjective. Subjective means "it's all in the eye of the beholder," rather than a hard, factual truth

Which means, for one thing, we cannot choose how other people see masculinity and femininity. And quite frankly, I think, it should not matter.

~~~

Subjective perceptions of gender -- what we think makes something truly "masculine" or "feminine" -- are placed on almost every activity, behavior and trait. These ideas and meanings have simply been attached by society over the course of human history. However, these rules have never applied to everyone. They aren't the truth: there is not one, single truth when it comes to gender.

My advice: do not let other people control how you perceive and present yourself. You are your own agent.

It is time to look deeper into our perceived perceptions of what makes something "manly" or "womanly." Removing gender-biased tags can open up a world of new possibilities, for both men and women. 

Just because we have been told that, because we're a "boy" or a "girl," that we are not "made" to think a certain way, dress a certain way, do a specific activity, or pursue our dream jobs does not mean we need to suppress our desires. In fact, I think it means just the opposite.

 

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Every Gay Guy I Knew Wanted to Be Someone Else...And That's Not OK.

I'm coming up on 30 years of age.

With that milestone, comes some thinking about life and love and relationships. A little self-reflection as I reach this life passage. And with that in mind, I turn my thinking to the body image issues that have come to define a good portion of gay culture.

It seems we are always striving to be someone else.

We want to be skinnier, we want to be more muscular. We want to be hairier, we wish we weren’t so hairy. All this lies in the thought that if we aren’t these things, if we don’t fall into these categories, or look a certain way, we will not find the connections we want so badly. We will be outcast, set aside, and live a life of loneliness.

The truth is, though: Everyone is different. That’s for sure. But of course, not everyone thinks this way. I look at some of my friends, and I see a lack of confidence in who they are. I've seen it consistently over the years: in boyfriends, in acquaintances, in countless others.

~~~

In New York City, every gay guy I knew wanted to be someone else. You walk into the bars, and it’s a sea of up-down looks, men sizing each other up, and deciding if you were good enough for them to deign to speak to you.

We don’t respect ourselves enough.

I think that’s the thing. Gay men put these prerequisites on each other, these pillars you have to reach. You aren’t heavy enough for me, you aren’t skinny enough for me. If you want me to like you, you’re going to have go to the gym and get that belly toned. You need to change the way you dress. 

And we don’t just do it to our partners, we do it to our friends. We constantly compete. We're constantly judging each other. It’s rampant, and in fact, it’s toxic.

What’s the goal? What are we running to? What do we get out of this? What is all this really doing for us?

I would argue it is doing very little. It’s squashing our self-esteem, it’s killing our confidence. We walk on eggshells, as that is too often the only life we know.

~~~

Think about how you are in your friend groups. Are you guys talking about real issues, really trying to understand each other? Are you arguing, debating, sharing your passions? Or do you spend more time fixated on clothes, and bodies, and the surface of it all?

Look at your relationship. The guy you’re dating -- does he love you for you, or is he constantly asking you to change things about yourself?  Is he glad you’re with him, or is he looking elsewhere?

This is, of course, a larger issue, but it’s worth beginning that dialogue. Be who you were born to be: that’s my advice to you you. If you don’t like it, then by all means, change it. But ask yourself why you are changing. And ask yourself who are you really changing for.

Is it the man in the mirror? Or is that guy you’ve been dating for three months? Or is your friends who don’t believe enough in who they are?

If you love comic books, cargo shorts, and science fiction, then love it, and don’t make any apologies for it. If you have a couple extra pounds on you, who cares? Love your body as it is.

Everyone wants to be noticed, to be loved. I think we can all agree on that. But that doesn’t mean you have to change. The guys I know, the ones who don’t worry about their bodies, they are the ones who are the most secure.

Love your body. Love who you are. Love the things you like. Change if you’re not happy. But don’t change for a guy. Don’t change for anyone but your own self.

 

 Photo courtesy of Ming Lee / Flickr.

 

My Decision *Not* to Come Out, Or, Balancing Self-Acceptance and Privacy

As Coming Out Day (October 11th) approaches, I start thinking about the pressure to 'come out' thatLGBTQA individuals face and how it has affected my own life and my relationship to the community.

I've never 'come out'. Shocking, right?

I have been out lesbian since I was 19 and yet I can safely say that I have never once had a talk with someone else that began with any variation of "I'm gay." Not to my friends, not to my parents, not to anyone. It's not out of a sense of shame or a fear of rejection, no. It boils down to one very simple fact:

I am a very private person.

~~~

What do I mean by "private"?

Private about my health, private about my work, private about my relationships. Just generally private. And I like it that way and have since I was in middle school. It's why my parents don't think I've ever had a date in my life (but that's another story).

But it seemed that being gay negated all of that desire for privacy in the eyes of my LGBTQA friends.Everyone around me insisted that 'coming out' was the way to go. All I had to do was start the conversation and I'd have a much better life. My parents would know the 'real' me and my friends and I would have a stronger relationship.

In theory, this was all wonderful. But as I faced down the prospect of opening up to everyone, all I felt was dread. I really, really didn't want to do it.

And why should I? I never wanted to discuss my personal life with my parents. While I know they aren't homophobic, we weren't (and never will be) the kind of family that shares that sort of stuff. As for my friends, they were far from homophobic and I didn't talk much about my romantic life with them either.

~~~

So how was 'coming out' going to improve my relationships?

"But you have to come out," I was told. It's a matter of pride, of self acceptance. For some, I'm sure that's true; but I was (and am) comfortable with myself, comfortable with my level of openness.

Why, I would ask them, did I have to 'come out'?

Suffice to say that the term 'internalized homophobia' got tossed around a lot in these conversations. Eventually, after several anxiety-inducing attempts to 'come out' the traditional way, I gave up. Those "I'm a lesbian" conversations were never going to happen.

People I knew complained. I was told it was my job to be an example. To show people -- especially young people -- it was okay to be gay by being open about it, especially as a leader. But, I wondered, isn't it better to show people that being gay doesn't change who you are on the inside?

Being a lesbian didn't fundamentally change who I am or how I live my life. Why should it change the way I interacted with the people I cared about? As I told many people, I shouldn't have to sacrifice my privacy and comfort just because I like women.

~~~

Of course, never having had the 'coming out' talks doesn't mean I'm in the closet. People have made their assumptions and I let them. I'm not exactly secretive. I once got outed on Facebook because of a picture someone else took of me at a Pride rally. And while I will (sometimes) confirm peoples' suspicions if asked I try not to volunteer the information upfront.

This choice has led to a few funny (and awkward) conversations as well as a few break ups; but I'm glad I did it my way. Being a lesbian changed my life but, as I said before, it didn't change who I am.

A lot of times people treat coming out like a gay right of passage. Something you do to find acceptance and build close bonds. However, it seems like the pressure to do it has increased and that's not okay.

If coming out works for some people, cool. You do what you have to do to be happy. But it's not for everyone. Not everyone can or wants to come out. Some people, like me, don't need the same level of openness to be happy.

We are a diverse community. As such, it's time we stopped putting pressure on each other to do things the same way. So this Coming Out Day, remember to respect each other's decisions -- whatever they may be.

 

Photo courtesy of Q Thomas Bower / Flickr.