Teenage years are a time of self-discovery, sexual exploration, and – in my case at least – having pretty much no clue what was happening around me half the time. Luckily for me, by the time I was 16 I had taken the brave leap of slowly ‘coming out’ to my friends and family – much earlier along in the journey than a lot of my LGBTQ+ peers.
Being 16, I’m sure anyone would remember that sense of making things up as you go along and hoping for the best. Let’s face it, even in your 20 and beyond nothing changes much either, right?
Summer Pride events serve as annual reminder for me of how steadily we’re progressing within the wider UK society as a minority group, but this time of year also makes me think about how much I’ve improved my own understanding of who I am as a gay man and what it really means to be a thoughtful and caring member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Some of these things I wish I’d discovered much sooner after coming out at 16. I’m sure the same is true for many others out there. So here goes:
1) Go to a Pride event and FEEL PROUD
Coming from a small countryside town, I unknowingly experienced a lot of self-internalised homophobia in my younger years. I had the self-destructive attitude of not wanting to identify with ‘camp’ Pride events, feeling as if they didn’t represent me as a person, and acted as if I was “above it all”. It’s wasn’t until my 20s that I started to understand the importance of gay people coming together and having our voices heard as a community. We’re living in a time of ongoing hatret, such as the Orlando attacks, and only last month of course the DUP bringing their bigoted ideologies closer to the UK government. Now especially is a time for young people to understand the significance of Pride and why we should all show our support wherever we can together.
2) Respect your elders (25 isn’t old!)
I’m 25 now, and teenaged me totally would have ignored me on Grindr because of that. I wish I’d known sooner not to view elders within the community like a reject pile from The X Factor‘s ‘25 & Overs’ category. Davey Wavey had some harsh, but true words in one of his YouTube vlogs, titled ‘show some f*cking respect’. He explains that the “creepy old man” you see in a club is part of a generation that gave you the rights you’re able to enjoy now – have some respect. Someone isn’t automatically “creepy” just because they’re older than you.
3) Know your self-worth
We live in a society where LGBTQ+ young people are still often shamed for just being who they are on a daily basis, with regular news reported of unprovoked homophobic hate crimes. It’s important to know at 16 that people who have a problem with your sexuality are either just ignorant or have issues themselves. Also, know that you’re more than just a girl’s ‘gay shopping accessory’. Simply put, you’re actually a unique human being who’s worth more than someone’s fad.
4) There’s no rush to have sex for the first time
Everyone lives to their own timeline. There’s no urgency to have sex and you should never feel pressured by anyone to think you should. Sometimes you can forget you literally have your whole life ahead to do these things.
5) P.S. There’s no rush to have a boyfriend either…
6) Get tested, babes!
Sex education was so shamefully orientated around heterosexuality when I was at school. It was also taught so poorly that when I was youg literally thought every reference the teacher made was to an egg was genuinely about one that you put in your breakfast. It’s so important to know as a teenager, that when you do eventually choose to become *cringes* “sexually active” , that you should go and get tested at a sexual health clinic at least every six months to a year.
7) Educate yourself in some LGBTQ+ history
Nope – no one died at Stonewall… sorry Derrick Barry. Saying that, the queen has a point: It’s important we understand what’s come before us in LGBTQ+ history and schools aren’t going to teach you about that right now, so you’ve got to be proactive in seeking it out yourself.
8) Rejection isn’t a bad thing
Rejection can make us feel temporarily worthless and downright sad. It’s important to know that rejection will happen a lot as you make your way through life, but it’s actually a vital lesson of growing up. Sometimes you need to just step back and look at the bigger picture. Fuck that guy who didn’t want ya sugar that one time – sack him off! And remember, even Katy Perry too once felt like yet another lonesome and unloved shopping sack.
9) Femme-shaming is wrong – full stop.
Being 16 can be a time of serious insecurity and can inadvertently lead to bringing others down – but don’t stoop there! Camp, not camp – who cares? Value the people you surround yourself with for the right reasons, not something that’s so superficial within the bizarre social norms we’ve created within our own community. Femme-shaming is damaging not only to the self-esteem of those around you, but of course, to your own self-worth.
10) Be careful on dating apps
Rumour has it that some people actually use fake catfish profiles and trick you into meeting them *shock horror!*. You also won’t love the shirtless pic you sent when you’re 16 as much 10 years later on. Think about what you’re handing out to the public, as you can never take control back over any images once they’re out.
11) Just be yourself!
Believe it or not, there isn’t one ‘type’ of gay man. You’d be surprised that being your genuine self is actually what people will love about you the most! So many guys fall into the trap of changing their whole identity as soon as they come out, trying to bend and shape themselves to fit into different gay cliques for a sense of belonging, 9 times out of 10 adapting a ‘mean gay’ facade along the way out of insecurity. You don’t have to be like that. Stay true to yourself! That’s what Pride has fought for and continues to fight for after all – the ability to be you, and love yourself.
George Palmer is a Brighton-based writer and singer. You can follow him on Twitter @george_palms.