Tony Bravo writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, has put together an excellent guide for LGBTQ Youth. I have reproduced it here so his message can reach my followers as well. I hope it is read and taken to heart by all of you just entering the dating world. So, here’s Tony’s helpful and important guide…
What every LGBT teen needs to know about dating
When I look around the cultural landscape, I’m mostly encouraged by the progress we seem to be making towards LGBT equality. We’re celebrating ten years of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, opinion polls show Americans increasingly supporting the rights of their LGBT neighbors in record margins, and the pop impact of everything from “Glee” to Gaga to “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” reverberates across the media spectrum.
That isn’t to say things are perfect. The most vulnerable members of the LGBT community remain young people (especially young people of color and non-cis gendered youth) who continue to suffer higher incidents of bully, depression and suicide than their straight peers. Progress in marriage equality or gay depictions in media don’t mean as much when you’re afraid to go to school or live in fear of being ostracized at home. The case of Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory School senior Jessica Urbina, who was omitted from her high school yearbook photo for wearing a tuxedo, shows we’re not immune to it here in San Francisco (although I give a lot of credit to the students who supported Jessica last week by wearing bow ties in solidarity).
One of the areas where LGBT teens can get especially short-changed is in the dating department. Although teens are exiting the closet at increasingly younger ages , it can still be harder for LGBT youth to find one another and connect, and they can miss the formative teen romance rites of passage. As a gay teen in the not too distant past, I was extremely lucky to have been given some advice on how to handle first dates, first loves and first heartbreak by a slightly older and significantly wiser gay family member who uniquely understood some of the challenges and questions I had. I’d like to share that advice to the LGBT teens out there now, with a few additions relating to the times and technology.
Guide to Love and Relationships
Take it slow
This is applicable to all teens, but I’m looking specifically at young gay men when I say this. Let me level with you: I’m a guy who dates guys, and I was also once a teenage boy who dated other teenage boys. I know the male hormone situation can put you into overdrive pretty quickly. Slow it down. Rushing into sex (especially your first time) can have consequences, and I’m not just talking STDs. Condoms don’t protect your feelings.
One of the cool things about being gay is that you’re in a perfect position to not buy into the sexual commodification of the notch-on-your-gunbelt mentality that can pervade macho sexual culture. Dating is not a race to see who can get their clothes off first or to see how many partners you can rack up before graduation.
Know how to protect yourself
Think STDs are something that won’t touch you because you and your partner are young? Think again. If you make the decision to become sexually active (something everyone does on their own schedule), it is your responsibility to protect yourself. If your school or community doesn’t have safe sex resources available, the Center for Disease Control website remains a great place to get clear tips. Part of safe sex is being able to talk to your partner about your history and practices. Does he or she always use condoms? Does he or she have any STDs or STIs? When was he or she last tested? If you’re not comfortable asking these kinds of questions, then you’re probably not read to have sex.
Get advice from someone older and wiser
If you have the opportunity to get advice from a trusted older and wiser LGBT friend or family member, take it. There are some questions you might feel more comfortable asking someone who’s been there and can speak to their own experiences. These can be big questions (Am I ready to be exclusive with my partner?) or small ones (Who’s supposed to pay for dinner?). Check and see if your community has a program like the True Colors mentorship or The San Francisco Center’s peer support and mentoring workshops.
Beware of strangers with candy
This applies to all gay teens but, again, I’m looking directly at you, gay young men. I know I previously said it’s a good idea to seek out trusted LGBT adults when you have questions, but it’s also a good idea to be suspicious of any adult who gives you attention that feels a little too… let’s just say “intimate.” As you get older and more experienced, you’ll be able to spot the users and the abusers more easily, but when you’re young you can be a much easier target for adults with less than honorable intentions.
Stay friends with your exes
I wish I had learned this one as a teenager. One of the coolest things about being gay is that it’s easier to turn ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends into lifelong friends. At 16 I thought once the relationship was over the door to the person needed to slam shut. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I realized what a huge loss this could be. Sometimes the worst exes turn out to be the best kind of friends.
Love can be fleeting, recordings last forever
This wasn’t so much a problem during my teenage years (we had AIM and primitive text messaging as our lifelines), but with the emergence of smartphones in the last decade, teenage sexting is increasingly common. Assume any pictures or videos in “adult situations” are going to last forever so think twice before sending them.
Stay off the hookup apps
Again, this is a new problem since my adolescence, but it definitely needs addressing. Kids, get off that app. Even if you’re able to sneak around the age restrictions of certain websites and hookup apps, think before you swipe. A “less is more” mentality is best when you’re still in your formative stages: don’t make yourself fresh meat on the human buffet that is app culture.
Get comfortable being single
This is one is never too late to learn, but if you can, get a head start now. People that are comfortable being single are usually the best kind of person to be in a relationship with. It’s part of the whole “if you don’t love yourself how can you love anyone else?” philosophy. Don’t be desperate to start another relationship when your previous one ends. Get to know who you are as a single person and you’ll be much better suited to knowing what makes a good partner in the future.
“No” is a complete sentence
When it comes to sex and dating “no” should be respected. Any partner that doesn’t honor a refusal isn’t worthy of you.
Choose friends over lovers every time
This is another one a lot of teenagers learn the hard way. If a partner ever makes you choose between them and your friends, choose your friends. A partner who doesn’t want to know the people who are important to you, doesn’t really want to know you. In the years I’ve spent dating, my friends have remained steadfast and consistent support and, if you play your cards right, so can yours.
Hands off your partner in front of the family
This goes for all teens gay, straight, bi, etc. There’s nothing less appealing than pawing your special someone in view of their parents (or yours). If you’re invited to family occasions and spend any time in the family home, respect mom and dad by not hanging all over each other in their eyesight. That isn’t to say you can’t be loving and affectionate but, again, less is more.
Be sensitive to different stages of development
Even though teenagers are coming out earlier than ever, not every teen is going to be at the same developmental stage in their acceptance. There are still a lot of questions that can remain for LGBT youths and just because you’re feeling 100% certain about your inclinations doesn’t mean all your peers feel that way. Don’t shame anyone who’s still trying to figure it out, and don’t try to force labels on anyone who isn’t yet sure where they fit on the sexuality spectrum. Give your peers the patience you would have wanted and needed.
You will survive your first heartbreak
I heard this and didn’t believe it, so there’s a pretty high chance you might not either. Just know I speak the truth when I say that you will survive your first heartbreak. I still remember that feeling of loneliness and depression when my first high school relationship ended. LGBT relationships can be especially linked to a teen’s sense of self and purpose, but rest assured, you’re not a bad gay if your first gay relationship ends. You will go on to be happy and heartbroken many times in your dating life, but the good news is you only go through the pain of your first breakup once.