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Say Gay: The Fight to Unapologetically Be Ourselves

Today, June 1st, kicks off Pride Month. Here I share some of my story as well as break down some major misconceptions the world has about the LGBTQ+ community. Happy Pride Month! We belong here.

When I was a pre-teen, I knew I was attracted to both boys and girls. In school and in the media, we rarely saw anything other than a woman loving a man, so I didn’t explore my sexuality until much later. There was some talk of classmates feeling like they were attracted to the same gender, but I only ever viewed that as strange and abnormal when I was a child because it was so forgeign to what I was shown.

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill troubles me a lot because some politicians assume that the LGBTQ+ community wanting to normalize discussions of sexuality and identity must mean we want to teach children about sex at young ages. It’s so far from the truth and it’s abhorrent to pin our community with the intent to groom when it’s these very political leaders who cause the most harm. For young children, we only want to normalize for them to say, “Hey, I have two moms” or, “Hey, I go by they/them pronouns because I feel that’s fitting for me” because children deserve to have a say in their identity. Forming their self identity will help them discover healthy relationships with themselves and others as they grow up. There is no ideal age to introduce this topic because the time to talk about this is at every age — with different parameters, wording and expectations at each age group. The education we give elementary aged children will of course be vastly different from the education we give high school aged children.

When we see Florida drawing the line at LGBTQ+ education in schools, we see a trickle-down effect across the country, which is also why our community is so adamant about pushing back now. We already see a bill in Louisiana preventing instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity through eighth grade, as well as prohibiting teachers from discussing their own sexual orinentaion or gender identity, which threatens our basic freedoms and is a human rights violation. If you’re a person saying the “Don’t Say Gay” bill is harmless, you must understand a common goal is to abolish all of these classroom discussions and to silence the LGBTQ+ community, which is shocking when we all know someone in the community — including these politicians. One decision, which may seem harmless to some, is rooted in homophobia and intolerance, and will be further pursued until children and school staff feel like they are not allowed to be themselves. Allies must speak up alongside us now. Your support and acceptance will continue to save lives.

Being LGBTQ+ is not solely about sex, and it’s truly a shame we are viewed this way especially in terms of political coercion. Perhaps people jump to conclusions when they see the word “sex” in “homosexual” or “bisexual”. Or perhaps the lack of education and understanding for us invites broad assumptions. Normalize two men holding hands. Normalize two girls kissing. Normalize a child getting butterflies when they see their friend of the same gender. Normalize everyone using pronouns at every age. Normalize clothes being genderless. Not everything comes down to sex, but rather a desire to simply be seen as any other person, especially in comparison to a man and woman being together or showing affection like kissing or holding hands (which is very normalized and children see in the media and in their every day lives all the time). Normalize what deserves to be normalized.

Many children begin to develop feelings for others and experience crushes when they are very young. Many of the thoughts are innocent enough, and the goal of normalizing the LGBTQ+ community at every age is so children no longer question if they are wrong to want to hold hands with someone of the same gender or if they feel like they want to wear a dress instead of pants. The goal is to create an open, accepting world where children feel comfortable and welcome — that sounds beautiful to me. The goal of others is to demonize being who we are and to stir up fear and encourage divides. The LGBTQ+ community aims to dispel the intolerances and instead, help children feel loved and welcome.

Are you on the right side of history or are you on the white side of history? The LGBTQ+ community is no stranger to facing violence and discrimination. The Stonewall Riots highlight the massive problem with police brutality in this country and remind us we cannot go back to where we started. However, it may feel at times we haven’t even gotten very far. History repeats itself. The constant news of how trans women, notably trans, Black women are disproportionally being murdered and how children are not allowed to be educated on vital topics like racism and the LGBTQ+ community reminds us we must be vigilant in protecting our people and fighting for our rights. My community holds great empathy for people of other marginalizations and we strive for equality and justice for the disabled, BIPOC, people living in larger bodies, among the LGBTQ+ folks and those at various intersections of marginalization. Our message is one of equality and acceptance. The same political leaders who find issues with the LGBTQ+ community also uphold racist ideals. It’s important to educate ourselves on how discriminating any one community is so dangerous and rooted in white supremacy and outdated rhetoric. Every oppression is linked. We are in desperate need for equality and acceptance as well as an uprising of righteous and compassionate leaders.

Regarding the division at hand with the bills, perhaps children’s pronouns change when they get older from their initial decision and perhaps they discover they are attracted to all genders or just one, but whatever journey they take, know that it’s natural and must be normalized. Gender and sexuality are fluid, meaning the feelings may ebb and flow at different times, so it actually makes perfect sense to have these discussions at every age because it gives children the time to process and grow into the people they are meant to be. Having been raised in communities that did not hold these discussions of sexuality and gender at all, I grew up feeling very ashamed that I liked girls, too. I felt alone and like something must be wrong with me. I did not come out as bisexual until last year and I still grappled with how I felt in recent years. I come back to the saying, “Leave it better than you found it” and aim to create a safer, more welcoming world for future generations of children.

Imagine how much more comfortable I would have felt in myself if I felt I could have come out sooner because these discussions were normalized. Instead of harming myself, I could have gotten into recovery sooner. Being unable to accept who I am, I utilized an eating disorder to cope — I restricted who I was, binged on my self-denial that I felt attracted to any gender, and purged the love and acceptance I so desperately craved because I was not ready to come out.

Throughout middle school and high school, I pretended I was straight to try to keep myself out of trouble. My heart aches for little Lexie who felt so different and “wrong”, yet is truly so innately human and just trying to figure out life — like any one of us. We begin to see that it’s an issue with the world and heteronormative messaging rather than an individual’s plight when we see “being yourself” must be suppressed in order to survive. “Being yourself” can result in being made fun of, being rejected or being exiled. “Being yourself” is a social, individual and familial risk. “Being yourself” now for teachers can mean being fired and “being yourself” for students can mean suppressing yourself in an attempt to survive. We must fight back against these injustices. All at the same time, I want “being yourself” to be celebrated. We are beginning to see this in the world, and I hope we keep the momentum. Children deserve to have safe spaces to express and find themselves. Schools are wonderful places for children to be educated on sexual orientation and identity. In fact, for some students, school may be a safe outlet if their home is unsafe or not welcoming. Teachers and school personnel can help students feel welcome and let them know there is nothing wrong with them. If home isn’t safe, and now school isn’t safe, how are children supposed to feel grounded and grow up having the vital skills they need to succeed? According to the Trevor Project’s 2019 National Survey, “LGBTQ youth who report having at least one accepting adult were 40% less likely to report a suicide attempt in the past year.” The numbers do not lie: safe spaces for LGBTQ youth are life-saving. These safe spaces can include schools, which may be the only lifeline a student has at times if their family is not accepting of them. I’ve shared before that one of my teachers was there for me when I was struggling with understanding my sexual orientation, “Part of my story was finding a safe space in opening up to one of my teachers about my sexuality. She was there to listen non-judgmentally. When I felt seen by her, I felt more open to one day living a life in recovery from an eating disorder, self harm and suicidal ideation; I could see a better future for myself when I felt supported and accepted”.

Another assumption about withholding conversations of sexuality and gender from younger children is that children may come out “sooner” than any other previous generation. And truly, what is wrong with that? Where is the threat? Or is the threat that we are gaining more confidence, fierce independence and braver voices that shake the status quo at even younger ages now? Of course we know LGBTQ+ people face more adversity and violence than cis, straight people, but how is closeting people and denying how they feel inside helping them in any way? Perhaps as parents we want to protect our children, but there is no way we can protect them in healthy, productive ways by denying or punishing how they feel. We harm children by not giving them the terminology and compassion to self express. Instead of protecting, we may encourage secrecy and suppression, which riddles our minds with shame. In denying who we are, we may resort to self-harm, drugs, alcohol, an eating disorder or other maladaptive means in order to cope with not being able to be ourselves.

With all of this being said, I hope the younger generations today and the generations to come do not feel so much pressure to come out or identify differently right away today. We are merely giving them the education, tools and understanding to come out if and when they need to. At the same time, there is no right time to come out and it’s perfectly ok to experience confusion surrounding your sexuality or identity. Some people need to have an experience to know their sexuality and some people know exactly who they are when they are children and know very little about sex. Some people identify as bi-curious until they feel comfortable identifying fully as anything other than straight.

You can identify however you’d like to. If anyone pressures you to come out when you’re not ready, know that you’re allowed to take your time. If you are outed before you’re ready, I hope you know that you still deserve time exploring and no one gets to decide who you are but you. As painful as many of our experiences may be in this community, there are wonderful people out there who love us just the same after learning our different pronouns or who we choose to love. We are also a wonderful community who uplift, protect and welcome.

While I may say “choose to love”, of course I signify the choice of being vulnerable enough to live openly. Loving who we love is not a choice. There are biological and environmental forces that impact who we love. It’s not so simple as making a choice or not making a choice. At the same time, choosing to live and love openly and allowing people to get to know us for who we are is a beautiful thing about being LGBTQ+. I’m so proud to be part of this community. I have been grateful to have the people in my life love and accept me the same after coming out last year. My close friends, therapists and teachers helped me and accepted me at different points of my journey. Each of them have been so important to me and I hold so much love for all of them still today. We will get through this journey with the help and support of caring hearts.

We will say gay. We will love who we love. We we will be who we are. And we will take on this fight together.