Illustrated by Paheli/OutWrite
This article was originally published to represent Orange (Healing) in our Spring 2023 print issue “Color.”
Coming out is hard in so many ways. I came out to myself when I was 18 years old — well, I didn’t “come out,” rather I abruptly clarified it to myself that I like women. Big deal.
I hate categorizations and boxes and lists, yet it also relaxes me to put things and ideas into categories, boxes, and lists. The LGBTQ+ spectrum is mindblowingly expansive and, as I’m sure you already know, it is so beautiful. The multitudes of identities and expressions, the inexplicable drive toward activism, the intrinsic nature to care for others, it is all so wonderful. And frankly, the term “coming out” reduces our minds, our bodies, our experiences into moments of uncomfortable conversations that can often lead to distressing responses.
According to the 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health from The Trevor Project, 73% of LGBTQ youths between the ages of 13 to 17 experienced symptoms of anxiety, and 58% experienced symptoms of depression. This is often influenced by internalized homophobia, lack of parental support, absence of queer communities, and other childhood experiences. Internalized homophobia has been studied and analysis suggests that it is correlated with levels of depression, anxiety, and suicidal impulses, tending to affect individuals their entire lifetime because heteronormative social expectations do not align with homosexual attraction.
To make matters worse, homophobia, bullying, and a fear of rejection forces young people to silence themselves and their identities from those around them and ultimately creates additional stress that can trigger anxiety or depression. All of these debilitating forces have a direct effect on the way young people view themselves and react to the world around them. As a young, queer Latine myself, I can attest directly to this statement.
I wasn’t able to come out to myself for what felt like an eternity. I remember having my first real crush on a girl in the sixth grade, but I didn’t actually acknowledge that for another six years. The reasons? I was raised in a Catholic-Latino household and I assumed I would inevitably find my Prince Charming. Despite feeling no genuine attraction to the boys my age, I thought that all I needed to do was find the perfect formula to succeed. Maybe if I dated all of the popular soccer players like my mom, I would eventually find “the one” like she did. I hoped that if I “liked” enough guys, one would stick. Time that I should’ve spent enjoying friendships and crushing on girls was instead used to hyperfixate on finding the perfect boyfriend. I also dealt greatly with anxiety and depression, due in part to the cognitive dissonance I was feeling, which acted as an additional barrier to discovering my queer identity. And because of this, I feel I robbed myself of queer adolescence.
Second Adolescence. The idea that some queer people experience two periods of adolescence. One during their teenage years, where they experience puberty and the awkward physical changes that come with it. The second happens after coming out, or when one is finally safe to be open about their identity.
Adolescence is normally a time to discover yourself, make mistakes, and grow, but as queer people, we are robbed of these experiences during our teenage years. Many grow up with no feeling of LGBTQ+ community. We are unable to find support from our peers and have no access to queer resources, whether that be because of a complete lack of resources or the fear of exposing our true selves to the world. We aren’t usually given the safety and comfort to explore our sexualities and bodies. Second queer adolescence can happen at any point of one’s lifetime, whether that be at the age of twenty or at the age of seventy. During this period, we are finally able to explore and rediscover ourselves and our identities.
College was a breath of fresh air; it was my chance at a second adolescence. For the first time, I found myself outside of my family’s influence and in a space that embraced all identities. I am becoming my truest self. Someone who researches at a Neonatology lab, goes on dates with girls, is a part of too many queer organizations, attends weekly poetry nights, and aspires to serve the queer community as a doctor. Getting to be myself includes being anxious and depressed, though they aren’t exacerbated by me not being “out” anymore. I am healing. I am able to enjoy the overwhelming giddiness I feel when I like a person, and I have the tools to take care of myself when I experience heartbreak and pain. I was able to take a girlfriend to prom last year, I made community with my queer friends, and I have been able to open up to my parents more about my sexuality. Healing can take a long time, but once it starts, it can be so rewarding.
Though I wish that my younger self got to experience her queerness at an earlier part of her life, I’ve stopped dwelling on the “ifs,” and I try to live more presently. Instead, I simply reflect and try to find ways to help our community thrive and to support it. Queer youths are targeted everyday for their identities, expressions, and livelihoods and we need to focus on inclusive, collective and comprehensive healing for the entire LGBTQ+ community. Queerness has always existed, and it will continue to exist. We must make a united effort to prevent our traumas from following suit.
To the queer youth — from the past, in the present, of the future:
You are not alone. Four words, 14 letters, they come out so easily yet seem indigestible. I would know. For years, alone was the perfect word to describe me. Yet, here I stand, at 21 years of age, writing to you, and I am not alone. The journey here wasn’t easy, and yet I know I’m not done. Healing requires a conscious effort that lasts a lifetime, but it is worth it. I am slowly becoming the person I have always wanted to be. I hope this letter, my teenage ruminations, my euphoric second adolescence brings you whatever you need, whether it’s laughter, grief, hope… or healing.
Author: Giulianna Vicente (She/They)
Artist: Paheli (She/Her)
Copy Editors: Ava Rosenberg (She/They), Maya Parra (She/Her)