Being a queer teen can be cute and sweet and exciting. It can also be horrifying and confusing and painful. But the good news is, the queer kids seem to be alright.
Broadly will soon be launching Queerly Beloved, a podcast about queer chosen family and all the people who help shape and guide LGBTQ people as they're figuring out their identities and finding their places in the world. As we gear up for the release, we've been asking readers to call in and answer the question: Who has influenced you as a queer person? And aside from tons of voicemails—a selection of which we'll play on the podcast—we've been receiving hundreds of texts from teenagers across the country sharing their tender stories of coming out and homages to queer icons. Together, they show that LGBTQ networks of support—both IRL and in media—are as strong as ever. And that kids these days are queer as hell. In this utterly depressing era, they offer a glimmer of hope for a grown queer like me.
Below, read a small selection.
My godmother decided to take me to Kings Island the summer before I started high school. While we were driving there, she asked if I was interested in any boys (I’m a girl), and I hesitantly explained that I wasn't interested in anybody, and as far as I cared, I never would be. I showed her both my aromantic and asexual bracelets and waited for a response. She confirmed my secret hope and explained that she, too, was aro and had known since she was my age. She didn't have the words ‘til she was older, but now she was happy without anyone and in the process of becoming a foster mom. I nearly cried because she's been my role model since I was ten and she was the first person I knew to understand what it's like being aro, and I have such a strong role model now! Having someone who understands such a vital part of who I am means the absolute world to me. —16, Indianapolis
Hayley Kiyoko has greatly influenced my gayness. Being a lesbian, she helped me get through my internalized homophobia and made me realize that liking girls is normal, that I can like girls and not be predatory, that I'm not a predator in the locker room because I don't stare at girls just because I'm a lesbian! She's made me learn that its okay to love myself, even if I'm not accepted by everyone. — 16, North Carolina
I just turned 17 and I live in Alaska. The town I live in is about 1,800 people, which means that I know the entire teen population in my town. I can honestly say that I am the only gay girl in this town…that I know about, of course. When I was younger, I was really shy and hesitant to express myself and be the person that I am. Everyone had an idea of who I was supposed to be or what they thought I was going to become. Telling my family wasn't the hardest thing I've ever had to do, but that doesn't make it any less significant. The only person in my life to not question my "love doesn't have a gender for me" was my older brother, who recently passed. When I told him, he said "good for you, I'm so proud that you can express love to anyone you please" and I have never been the same girl. —17, Alaska
Chella Man has influenced me in so many ways. To see him representing not only queer artists, but deaf individuals, too was life changing for me as a person who fits in both of those roles — 17, Wisconsin
I'm 18 and a hardcore Southern boy. When I was a junior in high school, I was still in the closet and didn't want anyone to know I was gay. Being raised in the country, you are expected to grow up to be a manly man and find a beautiful woman to settle down with and marry. But that's not what was on my mind. I was always interested in guys, and I knew I was, but I tried to hide it, so I was always with a girl. Eventually one day, my bestfriend decide to stab me in the back and told the entire school I was gay. I had people coming up to me all day and asking if I was gay and I kept denying it and telling them that my bestfriend was just starting rumors. By the end of the day, I finally admitted to it and told people I was gay. I was "shunned" by almost all of my friends except a few, and it opened my eyes. I started meeting new people who were part of the lgbtq community and I realized how much better I felt once I came out. I still live out in the country, I have a boyfriend, and I'm happy with my life. If my bestfriend would have never exposed me and pushed me out, I probably wouldn't be this happy. I now have a few guy friends I went to high school with that came to me for advice and aren't sure how to come out and tell people. I've been able to help them so that their experience was easier than mine. — 18, Florida
I love ladies and men! I'm also a Christian. All the Bible quotes are quoted wrong and God wants us to love whoever we want but love him the most. I'm 16 years old and someone who's influenced me strongly in the queer community (outside of the Christian gay sweeties I know) has to be Jonathan Van Ness. He's so unapologetically him and it just warms my heart to see him lift others up the way I wish I could. — Tennessee
My realization that I may not be as straight as I thought came when I was at Warped Tour 2018. All day I had been thinking about pretty boys and girls and I had thought this way for a while, but to me it was just being straight with maybe a "sprinkle of gay" which I was fine with… but for whatever reason I wouldn't admit I was bisexual until I saw a woman named Tatiana DeMaria. She was performing and all I could think of was how talented and badass and pretty she was. I was gonna suppress my feelings, as I have in the past, until she stopped singing and pointed to the two girls next to me and said, "to the two ladies dancing over there… yes girls," and in response they kissed each other and Tatiana smiled and said, "beautiful," and I was like yea it is beautiful. That's the beginning of a series of moments that made me realize I may be bisexual. My best friend is bi and I know my family will support me, as well. All things considered, I don't know why I wouldn't admit it before but either way as soon as I saw this prompt I knew I had to say something because I'm sure there's someone out there who is denying themselves as I have been, and although I'm not totally sure of myself yet, I know it is important to be honest with yourself. — 16, Ohio
I would say Janet Mock influenced my queer identity. She is an out trans woman who is working in the journalism industry. I could relate to her experience growing up, as I transitioned as a child in my sophomore year. She taught me that identity doesn't need to come from labels, but it comes from what you can bring to the table. — 16, Indiana
I live in Arkansas and come from a very conservative, poor, Christian family. I'd never even met a lesbian, just heard about how gross they are and "they get AIDs" all the bullshit. I figured out I was probably into chicks the summer before 7th grade when my lifelong friend walked in the living room naked while I was playing Mario Kart. I flipped out, ngl [not a good look]. It was a really odd feeling. And I felt like shit about that feeling for two years, until I came out to one of my friends. Background on me, though: I'm really shitty at socializing. Asperger's sorta deal. So I never got into a relationship with a girl ‘til senior year. I met a pretty Chickasaw girl from Alaska who lived 45 minutes from me in Oklahoma. Also from a very conservative Christian family. After we started talking frequently, we kinda connected immediately, I liked her a whole lot. I didn't know I loved her or really what the feeling was until I met her. She said it to me first while I was on break at work. In the back of my car. She had my face in her hands and kissed my face all over then looked me right in the eyes and said it. I hadn't heard that before, so I didn't know how else to respond than an inaudible mutter. I did love her too. We talked about getting married, having babies; she wanted to go back to Alaska and I was gonna make it happen. — 18, Arkansas
Kate McKinnon was the first girl I had a crush on when I was 12 (I am a bisexual female). She showed me that it was okay and cool to be myself, which is occasionally loud and over the top. She also showed me that liking girls is awesome as shit. — 14, Wisconsin
I'm a bisexual nonbinary teen and honestly, I'm terrified to introduce myself as so. People tell me that I'm just a cis straight girl who wants attention or pity or something, and I don't want to be branded as a "special snowflake" rather than a person. For a while, I thought maybe I was just trans, but that never fit well for me. It felt the same to call myself male as it did female—not quite right. It was my best friend who introduced me to what being nonbinary is, and the term genderqueer was what fit best for me. People are just now getting used to my pronouns and it's so empowering to truly feel like myself for once. As for being bi, I've never been apologetic about it. People tell me I'm just confused or "bi-curious" because I have a romantic preference for men, but I've always been just too stubborn and mean to let it get to me. I wish more people could come out as taboo things like nb and bi without fear or being shamed—I'm pushed away by both the LGBT and the straight communities, and honestly, if that's what it takes to be who I am and to be happy, I don't need anybody but me. — Florida
Hi, baby gay here (15). So my experience with, I guess, older queer icons isn't as vast. But I think for me, my gay icon would be Trixie Mattel. It's funny because in the Drag Race community, people think all Trixie Mattel fans are like young gay kids, and I guess I fit the stereotype. Anyway, I really like her because I can really see myself in her. Out of drag, she wants to be left alone and just be by herself. And I can really relate to that because when I'm not performing (I'm an actor going to a performing arts high school) I tend to want to be left alone to myself. But when Trixie is performing, she's loud, she's hilarious, and breaks out of her shell with her campy aesthetic. I also try to be loud and more extroverted and (at least try) to be funny on stage. I definitely think I'm more camp and more cool with my sexuality when I'm on stage, all thanks to Trixie. So yeah, that's what a little gay dude has for his queer icon. —15, California
High school is a place where teenagers can discover who they are. You then have friends who you can be your true self around, but it's hard when you still haven't accepted who you are. It all started with a crush on a beautiful girl. She had found herself in a way I dreamed of finding myself. At the time, all I knew about myself was that I was confused and curious. I admired her happiness from a distance, longing to feel the same way. Then one day she reached out to me. Out of the ordinary. My heart had never beaten faster, for she had called me "beautiful." Me. The girl I admired thought I was beautiful. I felt the happiness rush through me until it quickly faded. My facade had put itself back together and convinced me that it was nothing, that I was feeling nothing. And yet again I allowed myself to be convinced. But one of my friends saw through my wall that I thought was strong enough to contain my happiness. A part of me was tired of hiding from those I loved. But showing my true self was what I feared the most. I struggled for days, not wanting to accept it, to allow myself to feel the way I did. I had the luxury of having a friend who knew me more than I knew myself at the time, though. Behind my fake smiles and jokes, she saw that I was hiding something from myself and she guided me on a path of finding my own true happiness, the ability to be happy with myself. Others’ happiness with themselves made me realize that I was keeping something from myself that deep down I knew was there. I was able to finally breath after holding my breath for so long. Fake smiles became real ones. I felt things that I hadn't allowed myself to feel and I couldn't have done that without my best friend being there for me. Discovering who I am was very difficult for me and it still is but every day I learn that I am still loved by the people I care about and that's what is most important to me. — North Carolina
It's probably going to sound really fanboyish but Shane Dawson really influenced my identity. I was struggling in coming out since 7th grade (I'm a senior in high school now), and growing up in a conservative Christian family with an extraordinarily conservative father and a mother who had dealt with two people close to her in her childhood getting sexuality exploited by a gay man, anything queer was looked down upon. But one day I was in the car with my mother and a friend and I told my mother I was bisexual. She freaked out, and my father got mad because I "lied" and "covered up my sexuality.” My mother cried for days and said she failed as a parent. So I was naturally crushed and I went back in the closet and I guess they accepted me as straight again, so I didn't come out to them again, and I felt really alone and broken—until Shane Dawson came out as bisexual. It really helped me through that period in my life, especially with the fact that I also identified as Christian and I was really struggling with the fact that my life was a sin. He helped me realize that I was created as me for a reason and to not be ashamed of that. And so I hope once I graduate I can come out again in a safer environment and not feel trapped in my family. So if I ever need help or I feel like I can't do it, I watch Shane and realize that it's just a period in my life I can get through and that I am loved and I can be happy. — 17, Florida
Growing up in a state where "rednecks" are highly populated was rough for me, especially when coming out at 15…I guess you could say that I was a religious Connor Franta Youtube subscriber, and in many ways I'd say he was a mentor to me. However, I think the people that helped me the most was the incredible, immense amount of people who came forward on Youtube and in real life to support me and help me through the rough patches of being gay. Through Youtube and the general LGBTQ+ presence on that platform, I was able to work through and understand what it is like to live as a gay man. Not only did I come to understand what it's like to live as a gay man but how important it is to preserve our rights as a LGBTQ+ community. So, at our small high school of about 400 kids total, I helped lead the charge in pushing a GSA club and safe space into our school system. Since then, it has taken off and I've graduated but I was so happy to help spread my knowledge to other students who were struggling with things I once struggled with.—18, Wisconsin