If you’re a teen, you have a lot on your plate: school, family, social drama, body issues,
how to get that relative who perpetually smells like onions to stop sitting next
to you at every family gathering. As if that weren’t enough, some of you have one
more thing to deal with—the possibility (or reality) of being queer. This realization is
definitely not a bad thing—but it can throw you for a loop.
To best grasp what may be going on, you’re going to have to spend some time looking
within. That doesn’t mean staring at your belly button, pondering the cosmos, the
existence of God, and what Lady GaGa’s going to wear next—though if any of that is
helpful, go for it. But you will need to do a little soul searching.
Lots of teens—straight or queer—have questions about their sexuality. It doesn’t
always feel clear cut from the jump. Have you ever asked yourself any of the
• I am a girl and I have a boyfriend. But I fantasize about kissing my best
girlfriend. Does that make me bisexual?
• I think anyone can be sexy, regardless of gender. What does that make me?
• I am a girl and sometimes I feel more like a guy. Does that mean I’m
• I am a guy and I keep having dreams about my girlfriend’s brother.
Am I gay?
If so, you probably want answers. Well, here’s the good news: You don’t need an
answer to this today. Here’s the even better news: Whatever the answer is, it’s
completely fine. Being straight or queer doesn’t define who you are as a person. It
doesn’t say whether you’re a good friend or a complete jerk or whether you should
do ballet or go out for varsity football. It’s just about who you are attracted to and, in
the case of transgender people, what gender you want to live as. Any answer is the
right one. And it’s also OK if that answer changes at some point. It’s all good.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE QUEER?
To identify as queer means to see yourself as being part of the LGBT
community. That means you consider yourself to be lesbian, gay, bisexual,
or transgender. Here’s the breakdown.
Lesbians are women who are emotionally and sexually attracted to other
women. The Greek poet Sappho, who lived during the sixth and seventh
centuries, wrote about loving other women. She was born on the island of
Lesbos, and this is where the term lesbian comes from.
There is no “typical” lesbian. Some lesbians consider themselves to be
butch lesbians (also known as studs), which means they express
themselves in what society might consider a masculine manner. Butch
lesbians might feel more comfortable dressing in men’s clothing, playing
aggressive sports, working a traditionally manly job, or being the person
who is more chivalrous in a relationship. Femmes (also known as lipstick
lesbians), on the other hand, usually dress in a more feminine manner, wear
make-up, have long hair, and enjoy activities more associated with girly-
girls, like maybe shopping or watching chick flicks.
Of course, not all femmes wear lipstick, and not all butches work in
construction. And some lesbians call themselves futch, a combination of
femme and butch. There are also blue jean femmes (a femme who doesn’t
wear dresses) and soft butches (those who consider themselves a less hard-
core form of butch). Boi is another term, which can indicate a hip, youthful
butch who may or may not identify as trans. But remember that all of these
are just labels that help lesbians clarify their social identity, and the
definitions are changing even as we write this book. Not everyone uses
these terms, and some people find that their relationships to masculinity
and femininity change over the years. If none of these labels feel
appropriate for you, feel free to make up one of your own—or go without a
label altogether. These identities are really about celebrating yourself and
your queerness, not bogging you down.
Gay men are men who are emotionally and sexually attracted to other
men. (The word gay is also used sometimes to mean homosexual in
general.) Back in the day, the word gay meant “happy” or “carefree” and
also the more negative “licentious,” which means “lacking moral and
sexual restraints.” Gay began being used to describe homosexual people
in the middle of the last century, though it’s not totally clear why. (Maybe
people thought gay people were happy to supposedly have no moral
restraints!) Today, gay is usually used to describe homosexual men.
It can seem like there are as many kinds of gay men as there are kinds of
music. Gay men who are into alternative rock and punk, underground art,
and hipster fashion call themselves alternaqueers. (Lesbians and trans
people can be alternaqueers, too.) Many large, hairy gay men refer to
themselves as bears. Some younger men who pride themselves on being
thin and clean shaven call themselves twinks. Gay men with feminine
qualities might consider themselves queens, and when those qualities are
really exaggerated, they might be called flaming. Gay men who work out a
lot are often referred to as muscle queens or gym queens and, if they fly
around the country to dance all night to circuit techno music, circuit queens.
Wealthy gays who often dress in preppy styles are sometimes known as
A-gays, and gay men into leather are leathermen. Though you’ll find
evidence of a lot of these subcultures online and in most major cities, you
don’t have to belong to any of them, and you could also create your own.
Remember, these identities are only to help gay men say a little about who
they are to the world. Never take on an identity if you don’t want to, or let
others label you against your will.
People who can be attracted to either sex are bisexual. Sometimes people
think bisexuals are equally attracted to both sexes, but this is not
necessarily the case. If you’re open to dating both men and women, even if
you prefer one sex over the other, then you can identify as bisexual (or bi).
Sometimes people identify as bisexual during a transitional stage before
coming out as lesbian or gay. For others, it truly is an identity that sticks
with them their whole lives. For some people, coming out as bi is easier
because it offers hope to their homophobic parents and friends that they’ll
end up with an opposite-sex partner some day. For others, coming out as
bi is harder because people might want them to “choose” one sex or the
other. If you think you may be bisexual, know that bisexuality has been
around forever. Some cultures, like ancient Greece, celebrated bisexuality
as a great way of life.
A little different than bisexuals, pansexuals people are attracted to not only
boys and girls, but people who identify as transgender.
People who feel there is a difference between their birth gender and the
gender they truly are inside consider themselves transgender or simply
trans. They often choose to live life as the gender they feel they are, or, in
some cases, they don’t identify as any gender at all. Transgender people
sometimes opt for medical treatment—like hormones and surgery—to
actually change their sex so that their bodies appear on the outside more