What I wish that someone had told me about queer relationships as a teenager

"Being a teenager can be a messy experience, if not externally then certainly internally," explains journalist and artist Rosel Jackson Stern, as they reflect on what they would they wish they had known about queer relationships when growing up.

Transitioning from a child to an adult, having all the adult feelings and none of the freedom, is a particular challenge in and of itself. You’re figuring out your likes and dislikes for the first time, having relationships and forming your identity all at once. Looking back on my own experience, I regret none of the mistakes I made or challenges I faced because they equipped me later on. That said, these are the words of wisdom I would pass on to my future kids and the teens in my life.

You deserve to be with someone who honours your identity 

I came out as nonbinary later in my 20s, having identified as bisexual and then gay earlier in my life. I was blessed with partners who honoured my chosen pronouns and didn’t feel threatened by someone who was becoming more of themselves. This is what every teen deserves. Unfortunately, transphobia is rife within and outside of our communities and young people should be affirmed in who they are as a gift to those around them. 

Attraction is complicated and transitioning into an identity that no longer aligns with your partner can be painful. I wish someone had told me that it’s more important to live in the fullness of yourself, whatever that means for you, rather than to maintain a relationship. The right people will respect your process, even if their role in it changes. 

Your relationship doesn’t have to look like a girl and a boy

When heterosexual relationships are normalised in society, it’s common to internalise the idea that your queer relationships have to follow the same models. Masculine people should be attracted to feminine people and vice versa. Queer people can unconsciously recreate these dynamics, even if we feel proud of our identities. 

Who we’re attracted to is complicated and layered. We’re going to realise that certain beliefs we hold don’t match up to who we want to be. I wish someone around me would’ve encouraged me to be gentle with myself in figuring this stuff out and embrace what I liked early on. Learning to have integrity is not a perfect process and adult support goes a long way.

Sex is supposed to be fun - it doesn’t have to hurt and should never be scary

It sounds obvious but the amount of times I tried to talk myself into having sex with men as a teen because of compulsory heterosexuality fills me with compassion to this day. It was not until my mid-20s that I began to experience sex as a joy rather than an obligation. 

Part of this was because I started being honest with myself and trusting my gut. When you want something and it’s right for you, you feel it in every part of your body. There’s no lingering doubt in the back of your mind or pit in your stomach. As a teen, I wish I knew that there’s no need to rush into sex and that the right person will be willing to figure out what feels good for you at a pace that works for you both. 

Trauma and stress can keep you from feeling connected

Being a young person can be stressful. You’re experiencing new sensations, emotions and situations for the first time and it’s overwhelming. Sometimes your peers and your romantic connections can feel like the only people who understand you so it’s important that adults make themselves available just to listen. They don’t need to have all the answers, but having someone you know will hear you out goes a long way.

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