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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.
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.
It’s National Suicide Prevention Month and that got me thinking about how the world can feel brutal sometimes: mean comments, rumors, judgment. Research unfortunately has found that LGBTQ youth are at higher risk for suicide. For their 2020 National Survey […]
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Sorry-not-sorry, but this sucks! I know it and you know it; maybe it’d be best if we let it show.
The ‘latest crisis,’ whatever it was at the time, has always been a big part of teen, tween, and young adult existence. Even the category of ‘teenager’ can be linked to the set of crappy political and psychological crises that flooded the anxious minds of Western societies after WWII. For some of my colleagues it was the AIDS crisis; for me it was 9/11 and its aftermath; for many of you it will be COVID-19. How are you supposed to deal with that?
The worst piece of advice I can possibly imagine is the one I hear most often: “Be positive!”
Other variations include:
- “Chin up!”
- “At least you’re young!”
- “We owe it to essential workers to be strong, and stay positive.”
- “It might be hard now, but it’ll be ok in the end. It’s all a cycle. You’ll see.”
- “Don’t worry, it only affects people with pre-existing conditions.”
- “This is no time to be negative.”
- “At least the crisis is bringing the nation together.”
- “What a great opportunity to rediscover baking?”
I know – it’s ironic to suggest that I have a solution that’s good or helpful while I’m dissing all supposed goodness in the world, but here’s my tuppence:
I’m not going to pretend everything doesn’t suck or wax poetic about the greater good or silver linings to a global pandemic, or pretend that the light it shines on the faults in our broken systems is helpful. It’s not; those faults were already documented and have been ignored.
So what do I suggest? I say: save yourself the energy drain of building a perky plucky persona and be as miserable as you like! You are already worthwhile, you are already generous, supportive, caring, and compassionate. Showing high spirits in hard times doesn’t help you to do any of the acts of kindness, wisdom, or survival that come from your qualities.
However, resisting and saying ‘no’ to the enormous weight of pressure to be or appear positive is not easy. I have found it extremely difficult. I keep finding myself, wracked with guilt, in the gap that lies between how I really feel and the persistent expectation that I might squeeze some sort of goodness from this poisoned fruit.
With all this ‘free’ time, why haven’t I finished my job applications? Or become a successful podcaster, poet, or private tutor? Why isn’t my bedroom clean? Why did I cringe at 8pm every day while half the UK were opening their front doors to “clap for the National Health Service?” Now that I’m away from the usual catalysts of my mental illness, why am I ‘doing badly’ at self-care?
Stop this thought pattern now. Once more with feeling, here’s another reminder for me, you and all your friends and family:
Everything sucks, and that means misery. Being miserable, and the effects of being miserable, abound. So of course I didn’t clean the house, or get out of bed, or write a novel!
If you also, frequently, need help to absorb that truth, to save yourself from that self-criticism, I can attest to the benefits of creating a mental list or writing an actual list of what sucks. Here are a few things on mine:
Thing That Sucks 1: Death
You know death: the inescapable black hole which troubles the most enlightened of minds. It’s in front of us daily, and, as we’re told, haunts every in-person interaction that we wish we could have.
Thanks to slow reactions from political leaders, and the indifference of nature at the microscopic scale, a virus has infected and killed well over half a million people worldwide, at time of writing. The possible deaths — and for some of us, actual deaths — of many of the people we care about and fears for our own safety weigh heavy on all of us.
Thing That Sucks 2: Nationalism
Nationalism celebrates the big idea of a national identity above everything else. The idea of a simplified and idealized typical American, or British, or Indian, or Chinese family to represent the nation is what matters. Racism? That can wait. Sexism? Huh? People whose families, lives, and sexualities don’t fit? Stop making things weird. Working because you have no choice? Don’t say that, we only care about heroes! Salute the flag? Very important! YUCK.
Just as wars result in a ‘Rally round the flag’ effect, wartime leaders enjoy bumps in their ratings, and normal soldiers are made into idols (who are later neglected), this pandemic is having a similar effect. We have watched our political leaders be praised on TV for ‘joining the nation’ on their doorsteps and clapping for National Health Service workers who just a year ago were being demonised by newspapers and politicians for demanding better conditions and funding – they still lack the safety equipment and testing they need.
You can’t eat applause, you can’t use it to test for COVID-19, just as ‘Thank you for your service’ doesn’t provide safer employment options for underprivileged youth, or mental health support for homeless veterans.
There are other ways to connect to people. A shared complaint and dedication to our own values can connect us through the troubles we encounter in a way that is much more inclusive and real. So I don’t believe in fake cheeriness as a ‘national duty’ – it has only ever made me feel weird, alone and ‘wrong’. That sucks.
Thing That Sucks 3: Distress and Depression
Did you have mental illness before the pandemic lockdown crisis? Well, congratulations, here’s some more. The drivers of mental illness include traumatic experiences at home, financial hardship, and lack of control over your own life. Predictably, domestic violence is up and job losses have been widespread. As for lack of control, being told you are not allowed to leave your home is textbook.
Achieving social distance when your housing is poor quality, you have a large family in a small space, or you live in an abusive or otherwise strained relationship with partners, family, or housemates is a massive ask. Being the perfect example of a public health role model isn’t something we can all actually do. Being under 18 and/or disabled may already include a long list of pressures that make depression a struggle. Some of us may need more help than we needed before, but with less access to that help and an explosion in the size and persistence of our symptoms. That sucks.
Thing That Sucks 4: The Future
Recovery takes time. A lot of it, and we do not always know what the effects will be of a crisis on our communities, our psyches, or the political realities we will be left with. Many governments have pushed through policies which would not have passed during gentler times. We are yet to feel any of the long term effects of these. I have no doubt that our newly proven capacity for funding healthcare will be argued as ‘only a thing for exceptional circumstances’, and that many of the world’s worst leaders will congratulate themselves for being leaders during the pandemic.
Many of us will lose grandparents and loved ones, and many invaluable intergenerational conversations will never happen. What effect will that have on cultural memory?
This is exhausting now, and I dread to think of what issues might arise in the coming days from the exhaustion of a traumatised, weakened, and bereaved society. That sucks.
Thing That Sucks 5: Forced Positivity
Constant, if sometimes subtle, reminders that we should be upbeat or surviving with a sense of pride or dignity is alienating and puts the lid on many conversations that we need to have, in order to know that we’re not losing our marbles.
For me, there is an irony to what does help me get through. I do not find the ‘positivity’ of pretending that this doesn’t suck to be optimistic. This is far from the best version of events. If you really can imagine something better, then this world is frustrating, and you’re likely angry about it.
That’s why I feel that real optimism is something else. Those of us who do our darndest to work towards a better world, including protesters who take to the streets, are optimistic about what the world could be, not what it is, and that comes with pain and disappointment. If you’re miserable, it says to me that you are on the right track. I hope that, for all our sakes’, there are times when we don’t feel miserable, but my optimism also says that you, in your negativity, are the closest we’ll get to an honest and realistic recovery from our current struggles and our best hope for the future.
You, my companions in this dire gloom, are likely struggling, facing poor sleep, depression, and disappointment. This isn’t a fault in you; it’s a fault in everything, so put the blame where it belongs, and let yourself be as you are.
Let us join together, in optimistic misery, and say a final time, let a thousand wolves howl, all together now:
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