by Jeremy Ellis
An exploration of the so-called triviality of sex, dating, and love after coming out.
It’s no secret that being part of the LGBTQI+ community is rife with challenge and obstacles. It’s hard to know where to begin; marriage equality, harassment and discrimination, microaggressions socially and professionally, identity issues, legislative disempowerment or family dismissal… it feels like a never-ending list.
One event close to the heart of any queer person, is coming out. Often the ideal society where you never have to come out (straight people don’t, why should we?) is discussed and even lived by some. However, it’s still common, and incredibly difficult for most. Upon coming out, my first thoughts to you would be ‘Congratulations!’ You’ve put aside struggles, doubt and are ready to start living openly. It should be smooth sailing from here – right?
You may be eager to explore sex, dating or love. It’s the part you’ve been excluded from. You’re excited! Is there someone at school where that might happen? Probably not. That’s okay, you’ll meet other people! Now you’re going to a party with some straight friends. Maybe tonight’s the night. You walk in, and your straight friends have endless opportunities – is there even anyone queer at the party? If so, are they interested? Let alone, are you?
To be a young, queer adolescent or early adult, you’d be ‘lucky’ to have had a relationship, flirtations or casual involvement. That as a standard experience for young queers, is ‘unheard of’ (especially without online facilitation). In a society dominated by heteronormativity, labels and categorisation … this is isolating. It leaves you vulnerable. Your straight friends can go off into countless experiences while you’re left standing there, wondering if something is wrong with you.
That sexual and romantic exploration as you develop is foundational to recognising your identity, developing healthy relationships and gaining insights into those things. To feel like you’re excluded from it by virtue of who you are, simply due to what at first seems a lack of people but then becomes an entire self-doubting mechanism, can really hurt you.
Even for those who have had relationships its not some miracle exception. To draw on my own context, the only queer friends who have been in relationships involved one long-distance, and one taken away by COVID-19 right before it began. When it feels like your only chances at sexual or romantic exploration are in what’s considered ‘exceptional’ circumstances for straight people, it only solidifies pain and invalidation. Your straight friends may not understand this, but that’s because they have it.
Online dating: something once described to me as ‘my only choice’. Online dating can work for some people, and when it does that is nothing but excellent. However, for queer people it facilitates many toxic behaviours. At least in Sydney, the community has far too many normalised problems. Massive age gaps in sex lacking mutual capacity/autonomy; attacking of feminine personalities; racial exclusion or fetishism. Probably most of the queer people you’ve met have been assaulted, discriminated against or taken advantage of. This doesn’t mean positive experiences cannot happen online – not at all. However, it certainly acts as a tool for employing the more toxic of behaviours in a community you’d think would be unified against shared challenges.
If you consistently struggle to meet anyone face-to-face, and then miss out again in online dating – what does that leave you with? Feelings of desperation, alienation… there are many potential reactions.
Now, count yourself lucky if you do have supportive friends. However, you may hear consistent reassurances like ‘You’re attractive! It’s not you! You’re smart, funny, you’ll find something eventually!’ If time starts to pass and you keep hearing these comments with no experiences arising, no matter how good the support is – you start to wonder if any of that is true. It invites foundational self-doubt.
Over the last year, this was all exacerbated by COVID-19. This was unilateral, yes, but it heightens the queer struggles when you’re literally incapable of meeting new people. For anyone who had freshly come out, left school or turned 18 – it was a dream and a hope taken away.
So yes, unfortunately obstacles don’t disappear after coming out. Letting yourself be vulnerable after you’ve been forced into it by virtue of who you are, feeling like you’re missing out on basic experiences that you don’t even know if you deserve is tough. It’s easy to consider these emotions juvenile but they hold such developmental importance.
Remember a couple things; put yourself first and rely on the right friends and family. If you engage in sex, ensure it’s safe – speak to your doctor if you’re unsure. Don’t get involved with someone still figuring themselves out; it takes time, is something they need to do on their own and is a trap you cannot fall into. Finally, recognise that you are not alone. This is a collective experience for a reason.
Despite it all, you might find you’d change very little. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable will lead you to make mistakes, yes – but it can be incredible too. You may fall in love, meet amazing people, foster deeper connections with friends and family… another never-ending list, but a good one.
DISCLAIMER: I write from an incredibly privileged position and have intentionally chosen to focus on issues of validating and exploring the sexual or romantic self post-coming out rather than discrimination or harassment, as I feel this has less discussion. Those are separate and substantial issues. I cannot speak for the queer experience in its entirety, or for anyone and everyone, especially not the lesbian or transgender experience. I only seek to convey the experiences of myself and friends over time.