When I first realized I was not straight in middle school, I felt very alone. I didn't have many friends, and I lived on a military base in rural Alabama with very few people my age. I wished I could have someone I could talk to who understood how I was feeling. Now, 5 years later, I want to share what I have learned about the convergence of my queer and military kid identities; I want other LGBTQ+ military teens to know that they are not alone.
Without further ado, here are some lessons I have learned as a queer military kid!
1. Moving makes coming out more complicated.
Constantly moving to new places means constantly needing to come out to people. Coming out can be highly liberating, but it is also emotionally tiring, and every time you move to a new place, you need to come out…again…over and over and over and over and over. It gets really annoying! I got to a point where I just quit coming out to people because it gave me no joy; I was tired of hearing “but you don’t look gay!” as a response. Instead, I just went about my life, and let people learn about my queerness as it came up.
A quick example: in my senior year of high school, I entered my first relationship with another woman. I never tried to hide my girlfriend from anyone in my life, and that was how many people in my life learned I wasn’t straight.
Additionally, moving can lead to being placed in a situation where you can’t come out due to safety reasons. When I first realized I was queer, I lived in rural Alabama. Despite living in a relatively accepting military community on-post, I did not feel safe coming out. Military families can be sent to countries where there is little to no protection or rights for LGBTQ+ people, and that can put you at risk, so be aware of the community you are entering.
2. You owe no one an explanation of your identity…
This one connects back to the last point about coming out. You owe no one an explanation of your identity. If you don’t feel safe, don’t feel supported, or simply, as I did, just don’t care about formally “coming out,” you do not have to explain yourself. No one DESERVES to know how you identify; instead, you get to choose to whom you give that explanation, to whom you tell about that part of your life, and in whom you confide. This doesn’t just pertain to coming out; as an out and proud queer person, I often choose not to engage in conversation about my label or identity because I am not entirely sure how I want to identify myself. Queer identity is a super complicated and fluid thing, and how I feel and who I am is no one’s business but my own, so I can choose whether to share or to keep it to myself.
3. …But you deserve to take up space, so own it!
Now, I don’t want you to think that I am telling anyone to stay in the closet -- heck no! Coming out of the closet and living openly as a queer person has been one of the most liberating parts of my young life. Because I came out, I’ve gotten to experience love and a whole lot of joy, and I hope every LGBTQ+ person gets to experience that too! We all deserve to take up space in this world and to live as who we are.
4. Finding a queer community can be hard, especially as a military kid.
Finding an LGBTQ+ community in a new place (particularly in high school!) can be tough, especially if you are not fully out of the closet. It can be hard finding other LGBTQ+ people in a place that is unfamiliar, whether they be potential partners or just future friends. I recommend getting involved in diverse clubs or extracurricular activities just to meet new people!
When I was in high school, I joined arguably the gayest extracurricular possible: theater. I met a lot of amazing LGBTQ+ people through that program, including my first girlfriend.
Through theatre and other extracurricular activities, I was able to find other LGBTQ+ people in my area.
But, just like in the real world, LGBTQ+ people are everywhere, and I was always able to find someone in the community in almost every activity or club I signed up for, so don’t worry about pinpointing a stereotypically “gay” activity just to find other gay people. Just join a variety of things that are interesting to you, and I bet you’ll find other LGBTQ+ people that share your interests! Additionally, many schools offer some sort of LGBTQ+ or Gay-Straight Alliance club specifically for people in the community, and that is a great way to engage in local queer culture, conversation, and even activism.
5. Labels hold as much meaning as you let them.
I have been out for about 4 years, but I still haven’t found a label that feels right, that I feel encompasses my identity, and that is totally okay. Using labels such as bisexual, lesbian, gay, nonbinary, etc. can be extremely affirming to some people. It allows them to put words to their feelings and identities. But to others, labels can be stifling. Some people experience stereotypes based on their preferred label for their identity. For instance, a lesbian stereotype is that they are masculine with short hair. Others find trouble fitting into labels; personally, I see sexuality as something that is fluid and can change, so I have a hard time boxing myself into a certain label like gay or lesbian. Instead, I generally refer to myself with broad labels like queer or not straight.
I also want to note that it is ABSOLUTELY okay to change your labels. Your identity and/or understanding of your identity can change, and that is totally and completely normal; identity is based on who you are and how you feel right now.
TLDR: Use labels that feel right to you, and if none feel right, you don’t have to use them at all! Labels only
hold meaning if you let them hold meaning.
6. Resiliency comes in handy as an LGBTQ+ person.
I love being LGBTQ+, but I would be lying to you if I said that it was easy. When I was younger, my queerness was something I hated about myself. I struggled with my mental health and suicidal ideation. As I grew older, I continued to run into hardships related to my sexuality, such as unaccepting people in my life.
As military kids, we are well-equipped for many aspects of LGBTQ+ life. We are taught resiliency, acceptance, and many other lessons throughout the military lifestyle that are applicable to queer experiences.
Lessons in resiliency AND vulnerability from my experiences as a military kid were helpful in overcoming my challenges. Resiliency helped me conquer the depressive state I found myself in, but vulnerability has helped me accept and love myself and my queerness. Resiliency helped me move past homophobic comments, but vulnerability allowed me to confront and explain why those comments hurt.
7. Being LGBTQ+ is beautiful, and you should love that part of your identity.
The other day, I was listening to a podcast episode that documented a gay man’s journey of finding love in his 60s after losing a partner to suicide. By the end of the episode, I was in tears because I was struck by my community's beauty and resiliency. As LGBTQ+ people, we are oppressed and discriminated against based on who we are and whom we love. Queer and trans people have been murdered based on their identity. Some countries deem us illegal and being LGBTQ+ can be punishable by death. Even the United States Military, the very institution to which I owe so much and in which my family served, banned and discharged LGBTQ+ service members for decades before starting a path towards inclusivity. Despite this, we still exist. We still are who we are and we still love whom we love. This love, this self-acceptance in the face of all these negative things is truly beautiful. Your existence, your bravery to be who you are, is beautiful. YOU are beautiful.
Happy Pride Month to all my fellow LGBTQ+ military kids! I hope you take some time to celebrate and take pride in who you are because you are a beautiful, resilient, wonderful person, and I'm very proud of you!🏳️🌈🏳️⚧️