This Isn’t Going to Be Your Forever

Ellen Friedrichs
Because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, in many households, the strains of closed schools, lost jobs, health issues, and close quarters mean that tensions are high, tempers are short, and privacy has become a luxury. If you’re a young queer person who is now isolated with trans- or homophobic family members, you probably know that better than anyone. Here are a few ideas to help you stay as physically and emotionally safe as possible during these difficult days.

Tips for Queer Youth Stuck at Home With Trans- and Homophobic Parents

The global COVID-19 pandemic has put a huge amount of pressure on a huge number of people. In many households, the strains of closed schools, lost jobs, health issues, and close quarters mean that tensions are high, tempers are short, and privacy has become a luxury.

If you’re a young queer person who is now isolated with trans- or homophobic family members, you probably know that better than anyone.

Maybe things are normally okay at home, but now it feels like everything you do is under a microscope. Maybe an environment that usually just felt tense, now feels unsafe. Maybe you’ve been holding everything in for so long that you feel like you are about to burst and have nowhere to go let off steam. Whatever your situation looks like, the fact is, you could probably use a little support.

So here are a few ideas to help you stay as physically and emotionally safe as possible during these difficult days.

Stuck at Home

During high school and college, there were plenty of times my parents and I butted heads, or got under each other’s skin, or found ourselves in epic screaming matches. One of the things that helped the most was getting some space.

These days, many of the self-care strategies that you probably use to manage everything from dealing with microaggressions to flat-out dangerous situations just aren’t going to be possible. Those might have been things like escaping to a friend’s place, being at school, participating in your GSA, going to a movie or a coffee shop, staying at your grandma’s, or even just taking a walk.

So what can you do?

For Darid, a high school senior who’s a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council, what has helped most has been staying connected to the outside world. They say, “I am fortunate to have my own space and my own room in the house to get away from everything, and just focus on myself. I’ve been keeping in contact with friends. We FaceTime almost every day. We even developed a routine; every Saturday, we get together virtually and have movie nights through Netflix Party. Finding a group of friends and starting a mini routine or picking out an activity to do together virtually has been helping me hold on to some type of normality.”

That will resonate for a lot of young people. But for others, connecting virtually is going to be a bigger challenge since it is estimated that almost half of all Americans don’t have reliable Internet. That can be tough under normal circumstances. But as everything from school to socializing has moved online, it can make you feel even more isolated.

Depending on where you live, you might be able to borrow a device or get online via your school. WiFi may also be available through a public place, like outside a library or a McDonalds. Some young people have also been given the okay to safely connect in real life by doing things like taking a physically distanced walk or bike ride, or having a distanced picnic with friends.

Being Yourself

If you are like a lot of people, your home self isn’t identical to the self you share with friends, teachers, or at your job.

For some of you, being at home might actually be a relief and a nice break from the stresses of your regular life. I teach middle and high school health and I was surprised to hear from one of my students who said they were actually happier at home than at school because they weren’t dealing with daily drama.

But for a lot of young people, especially LGBTQIA+ youth who have trans- or homophobic parents, home is anything but relaxing, especially if you need to constantly think about how you are acting, talking, or presenting yourself in front of your family. That is often called code switching and it is a crucial survival tactic for a lot of queer youth. But it can also be an exhausting and stressful one, especially if you have to do it 24/7.

As Darid says, “I am a senior in high school, so I currently live with my parents. At first, it was difficult to adjust. For me, I code-switch a lot. The way I act and express myself with my family is completely different from the way I express myself with my friends. So it was hard, not having supportive and queer spaces that I often occupy.”

If you are modifying how you present yourself to avoid triggering hostility from your family, it is also a good idea to try to find ways to express yourself authentically. That can be with friends over a video chat, dressing up alone in your room, writing in a journal, or even watching a movie or listening to music that speaks to you.

Coming Out and Being Outed

Coming out should always be your own choice, done on your own terms and timeline. But being isolated with your family, especially if you don’t have any privacy, can increase the chance of being outed before you are ready. Your sibling could pick up your phone and see a revealing text. You could get overheard on the phone. Your parents could be watching your every move looking for “signs.”

For one college student, being home from school right now meant being pushed to come out by religious parents. As she wrote on Reddit, “A couple of months ago my mom asked me if I was gay and I said I wasn’t because I did not want to be forced out of the closet.” However, being at home has changed the dynamic and after being asked and confronted repeatedly about her sexual orientation, she came out. The result? “My parents are not really taking it well,” she wrote.

While some of you are probably terrified that your families will find out about your identity, others of you might be desperate to come out to them. That can be the case if you feel overwhelmed by the difficulty of keeping everything inside.

Coming out can definitely be an amazing experience. But it can also be a risky one. So if you are leaning in that direction, you really need to think about whether or not now is the best time.

Here are a few things to ask yourself:

  • How do I think my family will react?
  • How will coming out impact my situation at home?
  • Is it safe, physically and emotionally, for me to come out to my parents?
  • Do I have resources available (both emotional and financial) if coming out changes my situation at home?
  • Do I have people whom I can talk to before I come out to my parents?
  • What will waiting to come out until after the pandemic ends do to me? What are the upsides of waiting? What are the downsides?

If you go through this list and decide that coming out at home it isn’t the best choice right now, you should know you still have options.

For example, there might be a friend or family member whom you could call and talk to. If your school or college has a GSA, or something similar, you could also reach out to the person who runs that. Many communities have LGBTQIA+ community centers that have programs for youth. You can find your closest one at Centerlink. If you have privacy online privately, there are also a lot of places you can find support. For example, you can ask for advice on the Scarleteen message boards, live chat or via text. There are also groups like the Trevor Project or the LGBT National Youth Talkline which are geared towards queer and questioning youth in crisis, and sites like Q Chat Space, that can help you connect with LGBTQIA+ peers.

If you hadn’t been involved with the queer community before the lockdown, getting involved now could actually be a good way to ease in since there are more virtual spaces around than ever.

When Life at Home is Unbearable

Sometimes a person’s family of origin is just so toxic or abusive that being at home is unbearable or unsafe. Some young people suffer verbal or physical abuse. Others are forced into conversion therapy. This practice, which falsely claims to be able to change sexual orientation and gender identity, had been banned in almost half the states. However, minors are still being put into these dangerous programs by parents.

Getting help from a supportive community, an affirming school guidance counsellor, an understanding family therapist, or an LGBTQIA+ – friendly religious congregation can help families work through many of their issues.

But there are plenty of situations where needed help isn’t available, or it just isn’t safe for a young person to live at home. As a result, some choose to leave. Others are removed by the state. Far too many get kicked out by their parents. That generally isn’t legal if a person is under 18. But, sadly, that doesn’t stop it from happening.

Whatever the reason, if you can’t live at home, the first thing to do is to see if you can stay with a friend or family member. That option is really going to be impacted by the state of the pandemic and by the rules about physical distancing where you live.

If finding someone to live with doesn’t pan out and you are facing homelessness, or if you are already unhoused, try to locate LGBTQIA+-friendly services. When dealing with a crisis like losing your home due to trans- and homophobia, the last thing you need is to hit up against the same prejudices in the outside world.

These days, you can find LGBTQIA+ focused services for youth in cities around the US and Canada as well as in many countries around the globe. Lambda Legal has a good list of resources for LGBTQ youth by state. In some areas, there are even LGBTQIA+ shelters and residences. One of those is the Ali Forney Center in New York City, which is committed to staying open throughout the pandemic. They also have a list of resources specifically for youth facing homelessness around the country.

In extreme cases, teens can seek legal emancipation from parents. This gives minors the legal rights and responsibilities of adults. But with courts closed, jobs hard to come by, and schools shut down, this probably isn’t the best bet for most people.

What it All Comes Down to

Being a young person queer with trans- and homophobic family can present challenges during the best of times. But right now, living with parents who are hostile to your identity is probably just about one of the hardest things around.

So it is crucial that you find ways to stay safe, honor yourself, and get support. Sometimes talking to a friend you know in real life, finding your people online, or reaching out to an organization that supports queer youth is a good option. Other times, just being able to step outside your front door by yourself can give you the headspace you need to get through the day.

This isn’t going to end overnight. But try to remember that what you are experiencing right now, and whatever you are doing to survive it, also isn’t going to be your forever.

Photo of clouds and text that says "this isn't going to be your forever"
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How to celebrate Pride from home (even if you can’t be out)

Sam Wall
Social distancing has introduced new challenges into Pride month. Here are some tips on how to celebrate safely at home, including what to do if it’s not safe for you to be out yet.

The spread of COVID-19 has, rightly, led to the cancellation of most big celebrations this summer. Pride marches and gatherings are among the events that have been put on hold. For those of us who still want to mark Pride month, this poses some challenges. And those challenges are even bigger for those people who cannot safely be out due to being stuck at home with unsupportive family. In this piece, we’re going to talk about ways you can celebrate Pride while social distancing, and what to do if you’re living in a space where you can’t be out.

First things first!

As I write this, we are over two weeks into protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, and the painfully endless list of Black people murdered by police.

It’s become almost a platitude to say “The first Pride was a riot.” It wasn’t just any riot, though: Stonewall, and earlier acts of resistance like the Compton Cafeteria riot, arose because of police targeting queer and trans individuals for daring to exist. Those actions were led by queer and trans people of color. Resisting police violence and oppression are at the core of Pride. We forget that, at our peril and to the detriment of the most vulnerable members of the queer community. Pride without intersectionality, without an eye towards justice, dismantling white supremacy, and safety for all of us is a toothless thing, rainbow-coated and hollow.

Which is why, before we get to anything else, I want to share a list of just a few organizations that could use your support right now.

What do I do if I’m not out?

It’s a sad fact that many young people are not in a place where it’s safe for them to be out publicly, or even to their friends or family in private. And from what we’re seeing here at Scarleteen, even more people than usual are stuck in that situation, thanks to COVID-19. If you’re a young person in that situation, you still have some options for (quietly) marking Pride month and connecting with a community that loves and affirms who you are.

With these suggestions, remember that you are the expert in how safe it is to do certain things in your living situation. For instance, if the adults in your life monitor your devices or communication, some of the digital Pride events and resources may be off-limits. If you do your own laundry (or the laundry for the household) you may have an easier time sneaking a few pairs of rainbow underwear or socks into the mix. I believe finding ways to celebrate Pride however you can is important, but nothing takes priority over your safety. Remember, this isn’t going to be your forever.

Reading queer fiction is one way to feel connected and seen. If your devices aren’t watched, most libraries have digital databases where you can borrow books and read them on your phone, or borrow them as audiobooks. You can also choose books whose titles don’t give away their content, in case someone happens to spot the cover. Carry On, You Should See Me in a Crown, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secret of the Universe, Lumberjanes, Not Your Sidekick, The Prince and The Dressmaker, and Gideon the Ninth (just to name a few) are all stories where their queerness isn’t immediately obvious to someone looking at them.

Speaking of audio, podcasts and music are a great way to stay connected to queer spaces and stories from the privacy of your earbuds. And there are a growing number of both queer non-fiction and fiction podcasts for you to choose from. If mixtapes are more your speed, we have a list of some killer Pride-themed ones at the end of this article.

You can also find ways to express yourself through your appearance. Color is a major one; even if you can’t wear the flag of your choosing, you can still show its colors. This is a little tricky with the rainbow (we’ll talk about it in a second), but most other flags, such as the bi, trans, ace, or pan pride ones, are only three colors. Three colors that you could, conceivably, put onto your body in the form of clothes, make-up, and accessories. It doesn’t have to be three big things either; got some pink socks, blue nail polish, and a yellow shirt? Congrats, you’re a secret pan pride flag! Got a white shirt, blue hat, and pink shoe-laces? Stealthy trans pride ahoy!

Now, about that rainbow. Remember how I mentioned socks and underwear earlier? Plenty of places offer those things in rainbow colors and, while others can’t always see them, it can help to wear them for your own sake. Tie-dye is also a great option; it’s technically rainbow but doesn’t immediately ping an unsafe person’s “Wait, that’s gay” radar. If you paint your nails, you can sneak the rainbow onto them (toenails may be a safer bet for this, as people look at our hands more than our feet). If you’re feeling ambitious, you can also try putting the full rainbow on your body, one color at a time. If you’ve got an eye for color and style, you can even try your hand at a gradient, starting with red near your head and gradually working through the rainbow until you hit purple at your shoes.

You can also dip into queer history for inspiration. Queer and trans people have been using codes, symbols, and signs for a long time, often with an eye towards avoiding detection by unfriendly people while still letting other queer and trans people know, “Hey, I am one of you.” S. Bear Bergman outlines some options in this excellent piece on celebrating Pride quietly. Wikipedia also has a thorough list of queer and trans symbols, some which are obscure enough that they can let you show your pride without alerting bigoted people to your identity.

Personally, I’m a fan of lavender as a symbol for my own queerness. I first learned about it in the context of the Lavender Scare, an attempt to remove queer people from government jobs (and yes, like the Red Scare around communism, this was Senator McCarthy’s fault). But the connection goes back farther, at least to pre-WWII Germany, with music like “The Lavender Song” that celebrates being queer and trans. You may not be able to wear a “Lavender Menace” t-shirt, but you can still add a lavender accent to your outfit or make-up, or even tuck a sprig of it behind your ear or pin it to your shirt. If anyone asks why you’re wearing it, you can say you find it soothing.

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Celebrating Pride from the Safety of Your Home

If you can safely be out in your living space, there are lots of ways you can celebrate Pride month! From online parties to rainbow cake, here are just a few ideas for how to be out and proud while staying indoors.

Go Online

Tons of major Pride celebrations are going digital this year. And while it’s a bummer for those of us who like going to the in-person events, there are some major upsides; digital prides are often more accessible for disabled queer and trans folks, and being online means that someone in Nebraska can now take part in and enjoy L.A. Pride without a plane ticket. While I encourage you to check out the big-name Pride celebrations, take some time to also look into any local LGBT centers to see if they’re holding digital celebrations as well. Who knows, you might meet some peers you can hang out with when the pandemic is over.

And if you’re looking for another digital way to celebrate Pride, we’ll be celebrating right here at Scarleteen on Friday, June 26th! Keep your eyes on our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram!

Consume Queer History and Culture

Pride month is also a great chance to do (or continue) a deep-dive into queer culture and history. A lot of us still get only a sliver—if we get anything at all—of queer history growing up. For instance, did you know Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera founded STAR? Or that there have been nonbinary people in different cultures for centuries? How about the Ashes Action and the Blood Sisters? I was well into my twenties before I learned any of that, and I went to school in a “progressive” area.

Queer history is a vibrant, varied, and fascinating thing, and reading it can help you not only connect to those who came before you; sometimes it can give you tools to help you understand yourself in the present moment.

Queer fiction is equally powerful in helping us feel like our stories and lives matter. Luckily, there’s been a boom in the last few years of queer YA that doesn’t center on trauma and unhappy endings (not that those stories are unimportant, but sometimes you really need to read something where the gays don’t get buried at the end). Whether you’re looking for history, fiction, or both, here are just a few places to start building your reading list.

If you’re more of a movie person, you can have your own queer film festival! You can even use Discord and other platforms to watch along with friends for a long-distance movie night. Whip yourself up some multi-colored popcorn and find the flick that’s right for you (if you need one with a happy ending, here are some to try).

Engage in activism and community care

In case I haven’t made the point abundantly clear, there are many groups within the queer community that face extra barriers to accessing everything from Pride celebrations to basic rights. One of the best ways to mark Pride is to, if you’re able, find ways to support other community members from a distance and advocate for a better world for all of us. Here are four ideas to get you started

  1. Join or start a GSA/QSA: If you’re in high school or middle school, you can use the summer months to research whether your school already has a Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) or Queer/Straight Alliance (QSA )and, if it doesn’t, how you can go about creating one. Starting or supporting a QSA is a great way to build a queer space somewhere you spend a lot of your time, and also means you’re creating a safe space for others in the community. And if your school is staying online for the foreseeable future, you still have the option to start a virtual QSA.
  2. Connect with your local LGBT center to see if they need volunteers: While most LGBT centers are staying online due to COVID-19, some still need volunteers to help with things like fundraising, online events, and even peer support! Volunteering gives you a chance to help out the community while also keeping you connected to other queer people.
  3. Write to an incarcerated person: Because of greater rates of things like homelessness, queer and trans people end up in prison at a disproportionately high rate. Once there, they’re at greater risk of discrimination and violence (including from guards and other workers within the prisons). Writing to someone who’s queer and incarcerated can make a huge difference to that person. If you’re interested, Black and Pink has the tools to get you started.
  4. Donate: If you have funds to spare, donating to queer and trans-led and focused organizations is a quick way to help make a big impact. If there is a certain issue that’s important to you, like mental health, access to food, or queer sex ed, you can pick a queer organization that focuses on those issues. I also encourage you to look for organizations working in your state or town, so that you can help make an impact in your own backyard. And if you, like some people I know, are in a situation where your funds are monitored or shared with people who are homophobic or transphobic, you may still have ways to donate. For instance, if you follow artists on places like Instagram or Twitter, many are taking commissions and then putting some or all of the money you pay them towards non-profits, mutual aid funds, or bail funds.

And if you do make the choice to protest on the streets? Make sure you have the tools to be safe about it. We have a general safety guide for those engaging in active protest. Initial findings suggest that the protests have not caused the feared spike in cases, due to factors like many protesters wearing masks and the fact that fresh air seems to dilute the virus, making transmission less likely. Even so, safety is a priority, and there are steps you can take to lessen the risk of contracting or passing the virus during protest. Think of it as yet another way to keep yourself and your community safe during Pride.

The Fun Stuff

Because humans can do and believe multiple things at once, you can use Pride as a time for activism and resistance while also using it as a time to throw a Pride party in your own space!

Express Yourself

One of my favorite things about going to a Pride celebration is seeing all the ways that humans express themselves, and having the chance to express myself in the way I’m most comfortable. For some, that means glitter and make-up that would make a bird of paradise proud. For others, it means dad shorts and flip flops with some sunscreen, or a shirt that screams “I’m gay!” or a plain white tank-top. And every variation of expression between, around, and within those groupings.

Right now, since many of us are still staying home as much as possible, it can feel silly to put on anything but your pajama pants or that one t-shirt that’s super-soft. But I’ve noticed that on the days I put on an actual outfit, I feel less like a jellyfish floating in an endless sea of awful. When I dress like I’m going to Pride, it helps me feel a little bit more like myself. So, if you’ve got a favorite Pride look, throw it on!

Decorating for Pride is both a great way to celebrate and liven up a space you have, in all likelihood, been stuck in for months. I’m a fan of DIY decorating, both because limiting trips to the store is still a sound choice, but also because it allows you to customize to your preferred Pride palette.

Outdoor or window decorations have the added benefit of letting other queer people in your area know they’re not alone. Do you have lights that are rainbow, or multiple strands that you can make into Pride colors and hang somewhere? How about some flowers that you can plant into a rainbow? Pride flags are a classic, and if you don’t have or can’t afford a big one, you can get the small hand-held kind that people wave at parades and stick them in the ground.

Queer Your Ears

Need some playlists for when you want to be loud and proud (or when you need to jam your headphones in and be surrounded by people who love you in all your queerness)? I’ve got you covered.

Nourish Your Body

While we might not be having in-person parties any time soon, food is still a fun (and delicious) way to celebrate the month. Whether you’re cooking for one, for a partner, for a family, or to show off to your friends over the next video chat, here are some recipes to get you started.

I hope this has given you some ideas on how to celebrate Pride this year, both the fun parts and the hard, necessary parts. I hope by this time next year we can be out in parks and streets again, basking in each other’s company. I hope that if you’re one of the folks who has to celebrate in secret, you know that I’m thinking of you, rooting for you, and wishing you the strength to hold out for the day where you can be out safely.

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