For me, growing up queer and coming out in the suburbs of Montclair, NJ, was not easy. Around seventh grade, I made the bold step to tell my best friends that I liked both boys and girls, and while they were nothing but supportive, it took me years to tell anyone else. Even though my town is relatively progressive, it didn’t seem like people at my middle school embraced differences, so I wasn’t sure how they would react.
Luckily, by the time I got to high school, more of my friends came out and found acceptance, and I noticed that my peers seemed more open to the concepts of sexual and gender fluidity. Still, becoming comfortable with my bisexuality hasn’t been an easy process, despite the fact that Montclair is one of the more LGBTQ-friendly suburbs in the country. While comparing struggles isn’t simple (nor is it necessarily productive), I know that my experience has probably been easier than many queer teens’ in other suburbs.
The most helpful thing for me was realizing that I’m not alone. Considering that a recent study found that more than half of people between the ages of 13 and 20 identify as non-heterosexual (and more than a third as specifically bisexual), it seems safe to say that queer teens aren’t only living in progressive large cities; plenty of them are living in the more traditionally-minded suburbs, too. And that can be particularly hard, especially when queer teens are so underrepresented in mainstream media.
What’s important to remember is that the LGBTQ community is not only large but incredibly diverse, and there’s a huge difference between queer teens in the city and queer teens in the suburbs — and presenting a singular narrative on what “queer” looks like can be alienating for both groups.
Growing up queer in the suburbs can make teens feel isolated; there are fewer resources, and fewer openly queer people to go to for support. But thanks to the internet, many teens are finding their place in the world, whether it's through the Gay Straight Alliance at their high school or a community on Tumblr. Not to mention, Generation Z generally seems to be more progressive when it comes to sexual and gender identity — that same study found that 81% of Gen Z respondents didn’t think that gender defines a person as much as it used to, compared to 23% of people above the age of 28.
To help diversify people’s preconceived notions about what it’s like to be queer in the suburbs, I spoke to eight of my queer friends and classmates and allowed them to share their personal experiences and opinions regarding their sexual and gender identities. Ahead, eight narratives that showcase the diversity and beauty within one suburban LGBTQ community.
The gap between what we learned in sex ed and what we're learning through sexual experience is big — way too big. So we're helping to connect those dots by talking about the realities of sex, from how it's done to how to make sure it's consensual, safe, healthy, and pleasurable all at once. Check out more here.