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So, you are a teen and you think you're gay or bi, or you know you're gay or bi? You may be wondering how you figure out what your sexual and romantic orientation is, when most folks know who they're into, whether your feelings are normal, and how (and if) to break the news that you're queer to your family and friends.
First Things First: What's In A Label?
"Gay", "lesbian", and "queer" are labels most people are familiar with — labels that people attracted to other people of the same gender may use, and labels that others may use to describe them. "Bisexual" or simply "bi" people, on the other hand, can be attracted to either men or women.
In a world where transgender people, genderqueer people, and intersex people are increasingly visible, we have to note, though, that human sexual and romantic orientation comes in many more shapes and colors than "gay", "straight", and "bi" alone, or rather that those descriptive labels simply don't fit everyone. The words "gay" and "lesbian" traditionally refer to men attracted to men and women attracted to women, after all! If you're a genderqueer person who is attracted to females or femininity, for instance, you may not feel that these labels adequately express your identity, and may simply describe yourself as "attracted to females and femininity", a "gynesexual" person, or something else entirely. The term "pansexual", likewise, is a more inclusive term than the word "bisexual", as it recognizes the presence of more than two genders.
Labels may not matter very much at all when you're a young person first working out who you're attracted to, especially if you firmly identify as "cisgender" (the sex assigned to you at birth matches the gender you identify as).
How Do I Know What My Sexual And Romantic Orientation Is?
Interestingly enough, scientific evidence shows that a personal awareness of sexual attraction is typically achieved sometime between 9.6 and 10.5 years of age — though you wouldn't necessarily have the vocabulary to describe it yet. However, it is possible to become aware of "who you're into", to some degree or fully, as early as middle childhood, and it is also normal to not have much of an idea of your sexual and romantic orientation until later in adolescence.
Whenever you become aware of your sexual attraction, these are some of the things that might clue you in:
- You develop a crush on someone
- You fantasize about someone, either someone specific or a more generic concept
- Somehow, your orientation has always been clear to you; it has just taken time for you to realize what it means as you get older
- Somehow, you simply realize the general profile of person you are attracted to or could see yourself in a relationship with
Depending on where you live in the world and in what kind of subculture, you may automatically be assumed to be "straight", in which case you might realize you are "different" at some point, or your sexual and romantic orientation may just be another of those existential exploration processes associated with being a teen — like deciding what career you might like to pursue, whether you are religious or not, or where you fall on the political spectrum.