Eric Marcus

Am I Normal?

Filed By Eric Marcus | July 13, 2008 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: gay teens, normal, out with it, sexuality

More than anything else, the teens who write to me want to know if they're normal. Here's a letter I received this past week from a teenaged girl:

I've here recently came out to my mom about being gay. the reason i didn't come two years ago was that i may have been sexually confused. i was just curious if it's posible to be sexually confused?

As I usually do in response to such letters, I did my best to be reassuring. Here's what I wrote:

It is so totally normal to be sexually confused. We live in a society that has put our sexual feelings into well-defined categories when our sexuality is in fact a very complicated and often fluid thing. The more I've read over the years the more I think we do a terrible injustice to young people by saying that you can be straight, gay, bi, etc. and then expect everyone to declare. Your experience is completely normal. All best, Eric

What these teens are looking for beyond reassurance is to meet other kids like themselves and to hear about the experiences of other young people. Despite how much progress we've made, so many of these kids are isolated. They're all alone in their own heads.

This is why I'm really pleased that one of my favorite non-profits, Youth Communication, in New York City, has issued a new edition of Out With It: Gay and Straight Teens Write About Homosexuality
(I like the book so much that when I was asked by Youth Communication's Executive Director to write a new introduction, I didn't hesitate.)

There are so few places where teens can read about the experiences of other teens. And in this case, the essays are written by minority urban teens, a group of young people that we almost never hear from. The essays are heart-warming, inspiring, and just plain normal.

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Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | July 13, 2008 4:22 PM

Eric, I couldn't agree with you more! Maybe it's because my gender identity puts me in an "in-between" category, but I think expecting young people to "delineate" their sexual-orientation simplifies a complex issue to the point of distortion. Why pressure a person to "pick a category," rather than just let their self-knowledge unfold as time passes and they grow older?

I think this is another reason I prefer the label "queer," as it offers me a community and support, without restricting me to a certain set of behaviors. It offers the freedom to let my identify reveal itself to me naturally.

Absolutely! Kids have enough to worry about without having to put their sexualities in boxes.

Although while it's interested to theorize about ways to move beyond those labels and get to the more "natural" desires we all have beneath them, I think that by the time we finish high school we're too mired in the Western epistemology to have the faintest idea of how to do it.

Hi Alex! I have absolutely no hope that we'll ever move beyond labels, because that would mean including an ongoing and sophisticated discussion of human sexuality as part of sex education. We don't even have adequate sex education for school kids that includes discussion of contraception. So I'll just keep doing my very small part by responding to e-mails from kids who are looking for someone to tell them that they're normal. What else can any of us do?

It may not seem like much, Eric, but remember... When you and I were growing up we didn't have anyone like you to e-mail or even write an honest-to-gosh letter.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 13, 2008 11:51 PM

Thank you Eric, you are keeping these kids alive. I hope she shows the letter to her mom!

eric, very well said....but certainly, it does not apply to everyone. some know very strongly that they are attracted to the opposite sex. some know that they are attracted to the same sex - just as strongly. as a transsexual adolescent, i knew very strongly that i was "not normal". i just had no clue as to how i would or should deal with it.

being "normal" in adolescent years is extremely desirable. it opens doors, allows for friendships and inclusion in activities, wards off bullies and harassment. the desire to appear "normal" is part of our self preservation instinct. america is the melting pot - a society which in itself consists of many diverse and intricate cultures. our society needs to expand the concept of normal to include the diversity of gender and sexuality. so yes, this requires open discussion and education concerning the complexity and diversity of gender and sexual orientation in the classrooms. or on the internet. it will be a process. and it is happening as we read and write on our little blogs. "times, they are a changin...."