One of the most damaging stereotypes about being LGBTQ+ is the belief that all LGBTQ+ people know from a young age that they are LGBTQ+.
While this is often true for many people, it’s not for others. Many people (both LGBTQ+ and cisgender heterosexual) believe this idea wholeheartedly, and it actually invalidates many queer and trans* experiences; it can even lead to people invalidating their own identities because they didn’t discover this identity or part of themselves until later in life.
As a young kid, I didn’t think about sexuality or gender in any way. I was just being me. I was a “tomboy,” but to me that was just who I was. Attraction and gender didn’t even enter my mind; I was too busy playing Runescape and worrying about whether Harry would defeat Voldemort (spoiler: he does). When sexual attraction did enter my life, I was attracted to men. This is still true, but it turns out that I am also attracted to women. But, did I know this in middle school or high school? Not at all. I was so oblivious to my sexuality; I assumed all girls had a crush on Katara from Avatar: the Last Airbender, dreamed about dating Emma Watson, and felt tingly when hugging girls and boys. Looking back, I was so, so, so bi. But I didn’t know.
It’s the same idea with gender. Some transgender and nonbinary people know they are not cisgender when they are very young children. Some have a feeling they are not cisgender, but they don’t know what they identify as. Some people have no idea until they are older. As with my sexuality, my gender situation relates to the “no idea until they are older” category. Does this mean that I am not genderqueer because I didn’t know when I was young? Of course not! The only thing that people need to identify as a certain gender or with a certain sexuality is that they want to identify as that. That is all.
The Trevor Project, a suicide-prevention organization, posted a nice summary of what I have been saying on its website: “[M]any people question when they should know for sure what their sexual orientation is. There is no one specific age that everyone knows. Some people are sure as children, others as teenagers while others are not sure until they are adults.” Gender identity should also be included in this, just saying.
Being queer or trans* is a part of someone’s identity. It is not a choice that one makes; it is simply a part of them. However, that doesn’t mean they know this part of their identity as a child or teenager. Sure, a person could know that early, and often people do know that early, but knowing as a child it is not a requirement of being queer or trans*. I’ll repeat what I said earlier, because the idea of needing certain requirements to identify as a certain gender or with a certain sexuality is horrendous: The only thing that people need to identify as a certain gender or with a certain sexuality is that they want to identify as that.
I didn’t figure out my bisexuality until I was 19, and I didn’t realize that I am gender-questioning/genderqueer until literally a week ago. Some people don’t realize they’re queer until they’re 90. Some people know when they’re 5. All of these realizations are valid. So, if you are questioning but think that you are not valid in a queer identity because you didn’t know as child or teenager: please know that that is okay and completely normal. Take your time, know that it is okay to be questioning, and do what makes you comfortable.
“The short answer is that you’ll know when you know” – Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).