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Hey, my name is Virginia and I'm 14. I'm not sure of my sexuality, but I know I'm not straight, which I'm very open with at school and with all my friends. However, I'm not out to my parents. I sort of decided I wouldn't tell them until I was 100% sure, but I feel like they should know since so many of my peers do. I know you're not supposed to come out until you're ready, but can I be out to my school and not my family?

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Kristin Says:

Hellooooo Virginia!

The short answer here is: you can absolutely be out to your friends at school before being out to your family, and there is nothing wrong with making that choice if it is what feels best to you right now.

However, there is a little more to this dilemma, which I am going to take in two parts. First, let’s talk about waiting until you are “100% sure.” I get it, I reallllllyyy get it, but I don’t know that there is a guarantee that you will ever get to 100% on the SURE-ABOUT-IT meter, you know? Some of us do get there, but not all of us, and as someone who hasn’t ever felt SURE about one word lasting for my lifetime, I can tell you it is okay to never make it to 100%! I’ve been talking about this a bunch lately, but I think it bears repeating – our desires and identities and sexualities can change over time, and that doesn’t make any identity on our life’s continuum any less valid than any other identity! Meaning, if you come out to your parents today as ‘not straight,’ that is enough of a descriptor, and you don’t have to stay inside of those particular words forever.

Your parents likely don’t expect that you will only talk to them at the ‘end points’ of your life journeys. For starters, most of these journeys don’t have clean ‘end points,’ and I’d imagine most parents would want to be a part of the experience, the questions, and the beautiful parts that come in the in-betweens. If you think that your parents will be accepting of your sexuality overall, then telling them you don’t know exactly who you are yet, but that you know you aren’t straight, is a damn fine way to come out!

Second, I want to talk about the conflict you might be feeling in keeping something about yourself from your parents. This kind of decision is a really hard one to make, because you are negotiating between wanting to feel ready, and also wanting to feel like you can be open about who you are with people that you probably interact with a lot, and who also probably mean a whole bunch to you. It really is a tough call to make, which is why it is so personal to each person’s experience, and why it is so important to check in with yourself often about how you’re feeling.

The way I view it, you are weighing the feelings against each other to see which is the best decision for your heart and your wellbeing at the moment. If the weight of keeping something from your parents starts to be the bigger, more cumbersome feeling, then I think it is good to consider coming out (even if, as we talked about up there, you aren’t 100% certain of your identity just yet). Now, of course, if you are afraid that your parents will be very upset, or take extreme measures, this becomes a very different conversation (and one that involves having a clear plan in place before taking action), but your message doesn’t seem to suggest that this is part of your fear, Virginia. It seems, rather, that this is about timing what is right for you, what’s right for them, and when you should shift to a place of conversation with your family.

If you can, journal about it, or even just spend a few minutes before you fall asleep each night checking in on how you’re feeling. Make a system, even! Maybe you keep a notebook by your bed and you rank your “I want to tell my parents” feelings next to your “I’m not ready” feelings using a numbered scale or by putting a tally in the column that feels stronger to you. Then, over time, you’ll be able to see if those feelings change or if, perhaps, you really are more ready than you’d initially thought.

The bottom line is that there is no “wrong” answer here. This is your process, first and foremost. Your parents will have a process, too, but for now you have to do what makes you feel most comfortable, most safe, and most balanced.

<3

***
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“So I’m a nonbinary trans man and I’m starting college next year. At college I want to start going by my preferred name and pronouns, maybe presenting a bit more masculine, etc. BUT. I’m confused on one thing… Should I tell people I’m trans when I meet them? Like, I don’t want to like, have to explain what being trans is or stuff right when I meet people, especially since I have trouble with social anxiety already. But I’m worried they might assume I’m a girl if I don’t explain.”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Liam Lowery Says:

Hi there, Anonymous. As a non-binary trans man who started going by my preferred name and pronouns in college, I’m glad you reached out with this question. The fact that you’re reaching out at all indicates you have your stuff far more together than I did as an incoming freshman, but I will tell you the top three things I wish I had known when I started undergrad.

The first and most important thing I can tell you is to let people pleasantly surprise you.

When I rolled into my all-girls dorm and met my lady roommate, I stutteringly told her I was trans Actually, I may have said, “I’m a dude, kind of like inside?” I braced for impact, assuming she would ask to change rooms. Instead, she said “cool” and asked me if I wanted to order pizza. Don’t discount that you can get lucky.

What’s more, all the women in my dorm who I feared would shun me were friendly and generally disinterested in my gender identity. That’s because from the first week on, we had papers to write, philosophy texts to read, passages in Russian to translate (maybe that was just me). On top of that, people were hooking up, fighting, and going to Taco Night at the cafeteria. Which is to say that once you are in school and dealing with the day-to-day, it will likely not be as challenging as it seems in the abstract.

My advice is to practice your script for when you meet people initially. Maybe you want to say you’re non-binary, maybe you just want to say your name and preferred pronouns. It will probably change, but the important thing is that you set boundaries for your everyday interactions and introductions that are comfortable for you. Once you do this a few times, you will get used to it and feel out how much you want to say and when.

Now, to the second big thing I wish I’d realized sooner. There is a major pitfall to be wary of, especially as a trans person: you will feel pressure to do the unpaid work of educating people when there are others who are tasked with that responsibility. Try not to fall into this role.

Early in my time in undergrad, when I did happen upon some poor unfortunate soul who had no clue what gender identity was and had never heard the word trans before, I would talk with them at length about gender identity and why it mattered. I had at least thirty of these conversations in my first month of school, I kid you not. It left me feeling burnt out and unsatisfied.

Here is the thing, Anonymous: you are at school to learn, just like everyone else. And hopefully, have a blast and make a lot of friends. But you are not there to be anyone’s personal gender identity educator, even if you happen to be an expert in the subject area.

Looking back, I realize that those people who had burning questions about what gender pronouns are should have just googled it. I mean, give me a break here—gender pronouns are what they sound like!

Asking me those simplistic questions just because they knew I was trans was disrespectful of my time. If nobody is paying you to do that educational work and there are a lot of great resources available to people who want to be allies, you do not need to be that resource. Stepping into that role instills an expectation that trans people exist to educate cis people. If you want to get involved on your campus, advocate for your school to include a transgender 101 training at orientation so that all students will get some info on trans identities—that would reach more people than a one-on-one chat with you.

The other important pitfall to side-step is one I never realized until I was done with school, and it might be even more important than the whole “you are not everyone’s gender professor” thing.

My RA didn’t really get it when I told her it was important that she take the sign with my given name off the door. Instead of complaining to the building manager, I ripped it off and put up on that said Liam in big, honking block letters. I did that, more or less, all through college: I would email professors at the beginning of the semester and ask them to change my name on their class rosters. Usually they would, sometimes they wouldn’t. I would get called by my given name in class, be embarrassed, and stop participating. Or if I felt brave that day, I would clear my throat and say, “Actually, I’m Liam.”

Those moments were far from personal triumphs. What I should have realized is that there were salaried staff members at my university tasked with helping students—including me—deal with administrative issues. By making my problems and myself invisible, I was giving them a free pass not to engage with the issues transgender students often face at colleges.

Look for opportunities to lessen your load so you can take full advantage of being a college student. For instance, contact a dean at your school and ask them to inform professors about your preferred name. Let people do their jobs for you, and by extension you will show them how to do it for other trans students.

There you go, Anonymous—those are the things I wish I knew when I started school that have remained relevant (at times, too relevant) since graduating. Good luck at college, and remember: you’re there to learn and occasionally have fun!

***
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"What should I be doing, as a queer person, to support Planned Parenthood right now, especially in light of recent events?”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Grace Manger Says:

You should be speaking up and fighting like hell. And most importantly, recognizing that even if attacks on Planned Parenthood do not directly affect your daily life, you still have a responsibility to see underlying connections between all oppression.

Planned Parenthood is too often framed as a place for cis-women who sleep with cis-men and absolutely no one else of any gender or orientation. For this reason, the recent attacks on Planned Parenthood are all too easily seen as “a straight woman’s problem.” This, of course, is not true, and plenty of queer and trans folks go to Planned Parenthood for a long laundry list of reasons, like STI screenings and treatments for STIs, UTIs, and yeast infections; access to safer sex materials; and, at some clinics, even hormone replacement therapy. But but but! Even if they didn’t—even if Planned Parenthood offered abortion services only and nothing else—these attacks would still be a queer issue, and we would still have to voice our support and show up for the fight. Let me tell you why.

First, a little back story. This past summer, a series of illegally filmed videos were released online by a pro-life organization with segments cut and pasted together that gave the impression that Planned Parenthood clinics were profiting off selling fetal tissue. The truth quickly came out, including plenty of expert opinions that the videos were heavily altered and misleading, as well as a reminder that it is perfectly legal for a person to opt to donate fetal tissue for the purpose of medical research.

Republicans in Congress took this opportunity to introduce extreme pro-life legislation to cut federal funding of Planned Parenthood. This loss in funding would have meant lack of access to birth control and family planning services for the most financially in need, among many other basic healthcare services Planned Parenthood provides. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed this bill, but, thankfully, President Obama vetoed it.

On the bright side, more and more people are standing with Planned Parenthood and sharing their stories of how Planned Parenthood saved their lives. Additionally, in a twist of the best kind of irony, the two people responsible for these videos were indicted for tampering with government records, and one of them was also indicted for attempting to purchase human organs. On the dark side, though, opponents of Planned Parenthood have become violent and aggressive, terrorizing staff and patients outside of clinics and sending constant physical and cyber threats. On November 27, 2015, an armed man entered a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and shot 12 people, held others hostage, and killed three. It’s clear that these attacks are not ending any time soon.

In addition to all the many medical services Planned Parenthood provides, Planned Parenthood clinics are also community spaces where people can learn about their bodies—spaces where they are trusted to make their own decisions about their bodies. We live in a society that teaches women (in particular) that they do not have autonomy over their own bodies; Planned Parenthood is trying to turn that thinking on its head and defend what should always be ours to control.

Now, I know you didn’t ask for a current events lecture, but stay with me. Knowing the facts and educating yourself on these issues is so hugely important, because we can’t pick and choose whose equality is worth fighting for. We can’t say gay people should be able to get married and trans people should be able to safely use public bathrooms while looking away when black people are murdered in the street or when low-income women get kidney infections after repeatedly untreated UTIs. These injustices are related, and meant to divide us amongst our own personal struggles. But, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “None of us are free until we are all free.”

So, Anonymous, all of this is to say that you, “as a queer person” have a million ways to get involved. You can start by calling someone out if they make a callous and inaccurate joke about how Planned Parenthood “sells dead baby parts.” Arm yourself with knowledge on this issue so that you can confidently educate those around you. Spend some time thinking about how bigger themes on this topic relate to other queer and trans issues that maybe have directly affected you. You can also use the hashtag #IStandWithPP to acknowledge all of the life-saving services Planned Parenthood provides and show your e-support in this fight. When in doubt, you can just share this post with your friends and followers to pass the knowledge along through the Internet.

That’s a lot of heavy stuff I just threw at your face brains, but if you’ve read this far: Hello! And thank you! You’re great. Thank you for showing your support, and have the best day ever.

***

Grace Manger manages all content and development at The Parents Project. A graduate of Kalamazoo College in Michigan, she now lives in Portland, Oregon where she writes for Bitch Media and works as a case worker for Planned Parenthood. In her spare time, she can be found reading feminist theory, writing letters, and doing handstands around the world. Follow her on Twitter @gracemanger

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“Is it okay to call myself gay when I am bisexual? Gay has become such an umbrella term that it feels much easier, but I will stop if I’m not allowed to.”

-Question Submitted by buckybarnesfanatic

Kristin Says:

Okay, okay, okay, okay. There is a LOT going on here, so let’s take this apart a tiny bit, shall we?

You are ALLOWED to call yourself a giraffe if that is what you want to call yourself. Words, and especially identity words, are incredibly complicated things, and you have to pick the one that fits the way that you feel, period. That might mean not even PICKING a word! It might mean using several words in combination. It might mean telling someone your entire history with identity categories when they ask you how you identify, which I will refer to as the “Kristin Russo Method.”

Let me employ the Kristin Russo Method for a moment and tell you my own relationship with identity terms. Perhaps it will help!

I came out when I was 17 and when I did, I came out as bisexual. That word made sense to me because I knew as sure as hell I was crushin’ on girls and I also knew that I would one million percent still like to make out with a boy (especially if he looked like Brad Pitt in Thelma & Louise, but that is another story for another day and also really makes clear just how old I am!!). That was as far as my reasoning went in 1998, because at that point I was clueless about gender being complicated and not operating on a binary. Are you still reading?! GREAT. So, I came out as bisexual and rocked out with my identity term UNTIL my mom was like UGH KRISTIN IF YOU ARE BISEXUAL WHY CANT YOU JUST BE WITH A BOY and I was like UGH MOM FORGET EVERYTHING I SAID I AM ACTUALLY A LESBIAN.

I legit just claimed that word as my identity only to quiet my mom. Then, I dated girls for a long time and the word stuck (even though it never felt quite right). Sometime later, I went to grad school and learned the word ‘queer,’ and was like oh THIS is lovely, this feels just like a warm coat on a chilly night, gimme that queer identity marker to roll all around in. Kaboom.

BUT THEN (and, dearest buckybarnes, this is really where I am circling back to you), just two years ago, I started really thinking about how I had tossed that word ‘bisexual’ right to the curb without a second thought. The reason I started to mull it all over again was because I was learning more and more about how bisexual people are completely fucking erased in oh-so-many communities! I experienced queer people saying rude, dismissive shit about bisexual people just as much as non-queer people! Oh, and then there was this whole report released by HRC!!! It really got me BUBBLING, let me tell you.

All of those thoughts were enough to make me unpack my own identity all over again, at the ripe old age of 34. I wanted to take back the word bisexual for myself, I wanted people to hear it and see it and have to think about it more and more, and I felt like my own experience could add to that conversation.

So, buckybarnes, here’s the thing. You’re right. Saying you’re “gay” is an easy answer to give to people. And, while you are honest-to-god allowed to do whatever you want (refer to earlier comments on giraffes), I do want to tell you that sometimes the easy answer actually makes things way more complicated for you (and me, and others) in the long run. I just want you to think about that as you go on your own journey with these words and with yourself and your heart and your attractions and feelings… because I wish I’d thought about that before I tossed ‘bisexual’ to the curb all those years ago.

No matter what you do or what you decide, identifying as bisexual doesn’t mean that you have to always give the same answer, and it doesn’t mean you can’t sometimes just say “Yeah, I’m gay,” and call it a day. I have those days, too (in fact, here’s a little anecdote about me pretending I had a boyfriend at the passport office!), and that’s a-ok. You may, find, though, that having people ask you more questions or wonder about the complicated nature of who you are is sometimes way, way more powerful than the alternative.

Have the best night.

x, Kristin

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