I just helped a friend out by filling out a questionnaire for her psych class, and it kicked my ass a little.
These were questions about dating as a teen, and I realized while answering that I have absolutely no answers for what LGBT kids did in the 1980s for dating. For me, there was no one “appropriate” to date, really. I had one other gay kid in my high school class and we were good friends. I remember keeping an eye open and hoping to find someone in the closet at my school whom I could fall in love with. That didn’t happen.
I went to a couple youth groups for LGBT kids in New York City. It really wasn’t for me. I was the kid whose hair WASN’T blue, or pink, who DIDN’T have multiple piercings. It was frustrating. Like, I was too weird to find love like the “normal, straight kids” at school, but not weird enough for those groups.
I went for what was behind Door C.
I have always felt a tremendous amount of shame for how I behaved as a teenager. I’ve talked a lot and written a lot about “acting out” as a teenager. I met college-aged and adult men. That was my early dating life, such as it was. They were too old for me, and I know now that it was tremendously damaging to me to have had some of those formative experiences.
And yet, it wasn’t until today, answering that questionnaire, that I realized something:
What were my options?
Seriously. What was a gay kid who was lonely and intrigued and all that stuff supposed to do? There was nothing for me. Unless I wanted to date females, which I did do a little bit (with no success), what were my options?
There were dances at Columbia University back then that I used to go to, and I loved those. I went a few times with friends from those youth groups I mentioned, and we had a blast. And the men were college students (borderline appropriate) and older (not appropriate).
There were also bars. Starting when I was 17, I went to gay bars. And no one in there was really an appropriate person to date.
So the feeling I have today, as I think back on that, is less one of shame and more of anger. I grew up in a world in which people like me were no supposed to exist. Older people who were “like me” were dying, and the world didn’t seem to care too much about that.
There were few healthy pathways, and tons of unhealthy ones.
This is why I’m happy when I see kid couples, like I saw all over the country on my tour. It gives me hope for this generation. That their existence won’t be quite as … existential … as mine was.