Growing Up Queer

By Angela Shaw

As Pride month draws to a close and we begin to see less and less rainbows and pride flags everywhere, it is important to talk about what remains – every member of the queer community living our day-to-day lives.

Queer is a word that describes sexual and gender identities other than straight and cisgender. The queer community encompasses LGBTQ+ people whose identities and self-expression fall under many nuances of these broad terms.

For that reason, it is important to talk about the developmental effects on the children and adolescents who grow up with the knowledge that they don’t fit squarely into the heteronormative box.

Of course, there can be a wide variety of coming out experiences for queer people, including different stages of self-awareness along that journey. Within that, there exists a unique set of developmental differences for children that realize earlier in life that they are “different.”

For one, there is a sense of isolation that is specific to queer children and adolescents. Even in culturally diverse families, experiences of marginalization are shared among the family and, therefore, care and support among family members are also shared. There can be a collective sense of togetherness within the family unit in the face of societal discrimination. However, for queer children, there is no one to turn to. They are afraid they will not be accepted and maybe even shunned from their own family. A scary thought for a kid!

Another factor for LGBTQ+ young people is the idea that revealing one’s true self can feel very risky. At an age when being vulnerable is already hard for most adolescents, queer adolescents have the extra burden of hiding very vital parts of themselves, often the very essence of who they are.

As a queer adult, it can become tricky to sort out who we are, even to ourselves. A lot of self-reflection is needed to make sure that we are living our truth instead of a palatable version that we’ve adopted to safeguard ourselves. This can show up in all sorts of large and small ways, like not making certain style choices that could ‘clock us’ as queer, to omitting information in a casual conversation such as “wife, boyfriend, etc.” Some of us still scan to make sure we know our audiences.

As someone who has been out of the closet for half of my life now (where does the time go?!), I have certainly run the gamut on stages of self-acceptance. When I came out in the late 90s/early 2000’s, we as a society were still on the cusp of public acceptance of gay people. Even all these years later, I am still constantly reminded of how growing up gay shaped my life experience in a different way than my straight peers.

Because so much of the queer youth’s experience consists of self-protection by being inconspicuousness, it can be extremely hard to untangle that as we get older. Therapy can help to do undo some of the effects of having to hide ourselves during our formative years.

Oftentimes it can be helpful to have a therapist who also identifies as LGBTQ+ so that they know to dig deeper and understand those specific issues. Together we can take the necessary steps to understand some of what holds you back and help you live your life, fully and unabashedly.