When Lexus Phillips was growing up as a self-identified queer black woman in Memphis, Tennessee, she had a distinct feeling of flying blind into relationships. “There’s this dominant narrative of boy meets girls, they fall in love, and this is what it looks like. Often when LGBTQ youth are starting to date, have sex, and have relationships, there’s no role models in the community, school, or media, about what that even looks like,” she says. “I had to figure things out as I went, and sometimes that meant having to learn things more painfully.” Because flying blind into things as complicated as sex and relationships sucks—no matter how you identify sexually—below are some guiding principals that every LGBTQ teen needs to know to help you have the relationships and sexual experiences that are right for you.
Talk and learn about what sex means for you and your body. Because often the sex that’s talked about in health class or among your friends may be heterosexual sex, it’s especially important to be intentional about seeking sexual health information. “It’s crucial for us learn about our bodies, know how certain STIS are transmitted, know what sexual health information applies to the kind of sex we’re having,” says Lexus, now a LGBTQ youth organizer with Advocates for Youth. “Having these conversations is a way to help take away any discomfort and shame you feel about sex because they make you more knowledgeable. I know I felt more secure in any sex and relationship decisions I was making when I had more knowledge and information. Now I say that with the acknowledgement that we unfortunately exists within a system of inadequate sex education and services that burdens us to seek out our own information in the first place. With that being said, I urge young people in the information seeking process to be gentle with themselves—stepping out their comfort zone to have these conversations, but to the extent of what feels comfortable for them.”
Advocate for healthy and balanced relationships. In a healthy relationship both partners are able to express their desires and needs and both partners listen to what those needs are. “We can often be so concerned with our partners that we forget our needs and desires,” says Lexus. “It’s just as important to be aware of what makes you comfortable, what you enjoy doing, and what you’re not comfortable doing.” But understandably, expressing those preferences is not always the easiest thing to do. “A lot of times LBGTQ youth feel invisible,” says Louis Ortiz-Fonseca, Senior LGBTQ program manager at Advocates for Youth. “So when we feel wanted and feel a connection, we want to sustain that no matter what part of ourselves that means giving away or checking at the door. That feeling is normal, but always remember that the other person in the room is lucky too, and that a partner who truly cares about you will want you to be able to be your full self.”
Understand unhealthy relationships can apply to you. Know that sexual violence, dating violence, and the importance of consent are just as relevant to LGBTQ relationships as heterosexual ones. “When you think about intimate partner violence you may conjure up an image of a straight couple,” says Lexus. “But this can happen in all relationships. If at any moment you feel your partner is ignoring what makes you comfortable, or is asserting dominance or power over you—that is problematic.
Be kind to yourself. We’re told to do unto others as we would want done unto us—but sometimes we need that lesson in reverse. “LGBTQ are youth are taught to always be thinking about others—be patient with your parents who don’t’ get it, or your friends who offended you.” says Louis. “But often, we’re not nearly as kind to ourselves. For example, if someone doesn’t like us or find us cute we can start to feel like we’re flawed or there’s something wrong with how we look. We need to extend the patience we have with others to ourselves and our bodies, and not pick ourselves apart or beat ourselves up.” And the most important way to be kind to ourselves, says Lexus, is to “remember we are deserving of love. Love and healthy, positive, mutually respectful relationships.”