By Sarah Dean
Often as queer people, we talk about the idea of Pride. Pride in who we are without shame in
showing that to the world.
But it would be naïve to think that it is always safe or comfortable to be your complete self. The unfortunate reality is that many places and situations can be dangerous for LGBTQ+ people, even our own homes. So, how can we still honor the fullness of our identities without compromising our physical and emotional safety?
First and foremost, know that you can be out to varying degrees with different people in your life. Maybe your friends at school are completely safe and trusted and are exploring their identities in similar ways. At the same time, you may not be ready to be open with your parents. Both things can be true at once.
You are not any less who you are if you choose to keep information to yourself in certain situations.
However, especially if you cannot be out at home with family, finding trusted friends, teachers, or other safe adults in your community who you can share with can be extremely validating. Choose people that make you feel comfortable and will support you. The importance of chosen family (the “family” of close friends we make as queer people) cannot be overstated; when we do not have support at home, we can create the family we need in those who show us genuine support and love.
Once you identify supportive people and places, spend time there. Whether it’s getting involved in the same theater production as queer friends, joining a sports team, or another extracurricular, more time around those who allow you to be your fullest self will feel like fresh air and freedom.
Time you can spend in safe situations without hiding who you are will make the moments when you must protect yourself more bearable.
Furthermore, the LGBTQ+ community you build will empathize with the problems you’re having, as so many of us experience the same types of discrimination; confiding in those you trust can help ease your burdens and build comradery.
Additionally, experimenting with your style can be a fun way to explore your identity. Whether it’s a new haircut, jewelry, or trying out different types of clothing, expressing yourself through your outer appearance can be freeing. If you want other queer people to recognize you, consider “flagging” – finding small ways to change your dress that queer people will identify as a signal you are part of the LGBTQ+ community. For example, carabiners have long been a signal amongst lesbians to help identify one another in a more subtle way. Most often, straight people will not pick up on these signals, thus allowing you to remain safe while still being identifiable to those in the community.
Lastly, care for your internal world. For many people, their thoughts and their feelings kick into overdrive when they feel unsafe.
If you live in a place that is unsafe for you, you may feel constantly triggered, your fight, flight, or freeze kicking in often. While this is a normal response, for your own mental and emotional health, finding strategies to help you cope is important.
School counselors can be a helpful resource for this and are easily accessible as you can see them during normal school hours. Additionally, finding a hobby such as creating art or writing can help release tension, giving your mind something else to focus on at home besides for potential risks.
There is no perfect solution for honoring the fullness of who you are when you cannot be out at home, but there are still ways you can nurture yourself without familial support. The truth is, LGBTQ+ people have been doing this for a long time – finding ways to survive and thrive, defying the hate they were taught to feel.
Writer and former bodybuilder Bob Paris said, “Every gay and lesbian person who has been lucky enough to survive the turmoil of growing up is a survivor.” You are already a survivor. You will find ways to get through until you reach the life that is meant to be yours. Until then, there is no shame in picking and choosing who you let in. The world would be so lucky to know you.
Sarah Dean is an 8th grade English teacher based in Nashville, TN with a passion for uplifting LGBTQ+ students. From her childhood in California to her new adventures in Tennessee, Dean has always loved to write, seeing words and art as a beautiful way to develop empathy and compassion for others. Deen’s school is the recipient of grant money from our 50 States. 50 Grants. 5000 Voices. initiative in both 2022 and 2023.