In my girl group’s high school coming-of-age movie, I’m the Token Gay character. You know–that comedic relieving gay best friend that is only in the movie for the pride points and the main character’s support. While I do know a few other lesbians, all of my best friends happen to be straight (shocker: not every gay person is friends with every gay person). As a high schooler, friendships are a huge part of my life. My best friends keep me from stressing about finding tablemates at lunch, finding partners for projects, and finding roommates for field trips. Not to mention all the tears, fears, and secrets we’ve shared. These girls are my sisters at heart and their friendship is nothing short of a blessing.
But, being the only lesbian in a friend group of straight girls can be…well…queer (please excuse the pun). It’s not that my friends have ever had any problem with my sexuality. We’ve all been very open and interested to hear about each other’s different walks of life, and we celebrate that. Still, there is a certain loneliness that comes with being the gay friend. I never share the giggles that erupt as the apparently “cute” boys walk by like my other friends do. I don’t get to jokingly make fun of my friend’s crushes without hearing that I couldn’t understand it anyways. I don’t feel that same rush of uncertainty and hopefulness around school dances due to the severe drought of queer people at my school. Of course, none of this is my friends’ faults. There’s simply a barrier of understanding that straight people and lgbtq+ people have yet to transcend.
Being queer as a teenager can feel as if that High School Musical life you imagined as a kid is passing you by, or like it was never built for you in the first place. A queer person who “peaked in high school” is virtually unheard of. And while it’s true that high school is an all-inclusive hell and that many straight people suffer it as well, they can at least have a hopeful chance at that Prom Court Dream while queer people are forced to accept their reality as the pre-dance decorators. Along with popularity and external validation, that Prom Court Dream is about something else: The Knowing. The Knowing is the consciousness that this is where I’m meant to be. The Knowing is the assurance that I will be fine wherever I go. The Knowing is this abstract feeling that if people like me enough to put a plastic crown on my head in a school gym, then I’m probably doing okay in life.
Unfortunately, it takes more than a plastic crown to reach The Knowing, it takes community. The best way to find who you are is to find others who understand your reality. While my straight friends try to do this for me–and I appreciate their efforts–there are certain realities we will never be able to see for each other. They don’t know the stress of rummaging through outfits, looking for one that seems “gay” enough for me to feel seen. They don’t understand the meticulous dissections lesbians must undergo to figure out whether we’re talking to another lesbian, or just a really nice girl. They don’t see the furrow of my brow as I listen to a straight girl complain about how “unfortunate” her attraction to men is and how she “wishes she were a lesbian.” I think that’s why high school is such a bleak place for most queer people. We don’t know others like us so we don’t feel seen. We don’t feel understood. We don’t feel Known.
Although this may all seem a frivolous issue, suicide rates and attempts in lgbtq+ youth are disproportionately higher than their straight counterparts, which can likely be attributed to the incessant loneliness that is high school for a queer person. If we could build a sense of community and belonging for queer teens in school, I believe we would be much closer to solving the suicide epidiemic. Straight friends of the world, try to listen, see, and understand–even failed attempts mean more than you can understand. And for people like me, I hold the knowledge that high school is temporary and that we will find each other when we are meant to. Somewhere out there, there is another person understanding, seeing, and Knowing.
Lydia is an aspiring writer from North Carolina. She hopes her writing will serve as the sign someone is looking for.