People often use the words lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, two-spirit or queer (LGBTQ) to describe their sexual orientation. Some people know their sexual orientation early on in life, while others go through periods where they wonder: Do I like men? Do I like women? Do I like both?
How do I know?
It might take a while for you to figure it out your sexual orientation (who you are sexually attracted to), and there’s no need to rush. Some gay, lesbian and bisexual people say they “felt different” when they were young. They had an idea or sensed they might be different, but it took a while to think of themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. As they grew older, they realized that those words fit in with their feelings.
Exploring your feelings
Many other people don’t really learn their sexual orientation (i.e. who you are sexually attracted to) until their teens. Some don’t know until they are adults. And even if some people are experiencing a sense of confusion or wonder, they may not fully explore what that means until they are older. If you’re feeling confused, you're not alone. It isn’t unusual to feel attracted to someone you’re close to or admire. This doesn’t mean you’re gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
You also don’t need to be sexually active with other people to recognize your sexuality. One or two experiences with someone of the same sex may not mean that you’re gay, lesbian, or bisexual, just as one or two experiences with someone of the opposite sex may not mean you’re straight. Over time, you’ll find that you are drawn mostly to men or women, or both, and you’ll know then. And over time your questions about how to express this sexual identity in a healthy way will also become clearer too.
Labeling yourself as straight, gay, bisexual, two-spirit or queer is something you need to feel comfortable with, and you don’t have to label yourself today or ever. The choice is yours.
If you are comfortable in one of those categories, you may wonder how, or if, you should tell others. The process of acknowledging your sexual identity is called “coming out.” It can be personal or shared, and often means:
- Telling others you’re attracted to people of the same sex
- Identifying yourself as gay, lesbian, or bisexual
- Telling others that you identify as transgender
- Deciding to tell others about your feelings and attractions
The first and most important thing is being honest with yourself. If you feel ready, you might want to tell someone you trust that you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. This might be a close friend or family member whom you trust will be understanding and supportive. You might not feel able to tell people about your feelings right now, and you might feel like you have to keep your sexuality a secret. Organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAGhave local chapters where you can find support from people who have gone through the same things that you’re experiencing now.
Being bullied or harassed
Unfortunately, some people in our society discriminate or may be violent toward people who are perceived as different. No matter the reason, whether you are at school, work or just hanging out, harassment and abuse—whether verbal or physical—should not be tolerated. Some actions you can take if you’re being harassed are to tell friends you trust what is going on, report the harassment to someone in authority, like a teacher, boss, or if necessary, the police.
Reactions to coming out
Each person that you come out to will probably react differently. For those people who take your news a little harder, try to give them some time and space. They’re working through the same feelings that you did, but you’re ahead of them in the process. You will need to support each other through the coming out process. They may have a lot of questions for you – about your feelings, how you knew, what this means – and this just means that they are working through it at the same time you are. Be open and honest with them, as they ask questions, as you would want them to be open and honest with you.
Try to remember that by sharing your sexuality, you’re sharing an important part of yourself. If people choose to ignore this part of you, they are missing out on knowing who you are. There are people who will support you. If you’re having a hard time coming out to the people closest to you, it might be helpful to talk to someone outside of the situation, like a counselor. It might even be helpful to talk to a complete stranger. In that case, you can try one of the numbers below.
Resources and hotlines
Speak anonymously with a trained volunteer:
- National LGBT hotline: 1-888-843-4564
- National LGBT talkline: 1-800-246-7743
- Trevor helpline: 1-866-488-7386
Acknowledgement: This fact sheet was originally developed by youth and staff at ReachOut.com, a website that helps teens get through tough
Tony Aaron Fuller
Many articles in this section were adapted from WeRNative.org, a website for Native Youth by Native Youth