The teenage years can be a challenging and confusing time. Not only is your body changing, but your feelings may also be changing. This can cause a roller coaster of emotions as you explore your sexual identity.
It is during the teen years that most boys and girls begin to take a closer look at their sexual orientation. That's a term used to describe a person's physical and romantic attraction to other people.
WebMD takes a look at what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. We give you answers to some pressing questions.
What does LGBT mean?
LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. It's a term used to describe types of sexual orientation.
- Gay. A person -- male or female -- who is attracted to someone of the same sex.
- Lesbian. A female who is romantically and sexually attracted to other females. Lesbians are also considered gay.
- Bisexual. A male or female who is sexually attracted to both sexes.
- Transgender. Someone whose feelings about being male or female differ from their sexual anatomy. For example, a person may be considered male because they have a penis. But in their mind they may feel like a female. Transgender is not the same as being gay. Transgender people may be heterosexual (attracted to the opposite sex), homosexual (attracted to the same sex), or bisexual.
I'm not sure if I am homosexual or bisexual. How do I know for sure?
Determining sexual orientation can be confusing for some people. Sexual identity often develops over time. So you may not know who you really are attracted to until you are older.
It is not unusual for heterosexuals, or straight people, to have fantasies or be curious about people of the same sex. Just because you have these feelings doesn't mean that you are gay. But, if you are gay, in time, your sexual feelings towards a person of the same sex will become stronger and clearer.
Is there something wrong with me if I am gay?
No! There is absolutely nothing wrong with you. You are who you are.
Why am I like this? Can I avoid being gay?
There are many factors that contribute to a person's sexual orientation. These include biology, environment, hormones, and emotions. Homosexuality is not caused by poor parenting or sexual abuse.
Most experts agree that a person's sexual orientation cannot be changed. Still, many homosexual or bisexual people choose to live a heterosexual lifestyle, despite their feelings. Usually, this is to avoid prejudice against homosexuality.
Should I come out?
Hiding your sexual orientation, or pretending to be someone you are not, can be painful and lonely. Such pain can harm your self esteem and lead to destructive behaviors.
If you are putting yourself at risk, it is better to come out and reveal your sexual orientation rather than hide your true self. Despite the prejudice some gay people may experience, most people say they felt relieved, happy, and more confident after they came out.
Keep in mind, coming out doesn't mean telling everyone you know that you are gay. Start by telling someone you trust, someone who is understanding. It might be a friend, a sibling, a parent, or a teacher or counselor. Then, in time, as you become more comfortable with your sexual orientation, you can tell others.
Should I tell my parents?
Yes, if you feel confident in your decision and ready. Still, the answer to this question will depend on your relationship with them and how you think they will react.
Some parents may be more accepting than others. You know your parents best. If you think they will accept you, than yes, definitely tell them.
However, if you think your parents will not be accepting of your sexual orientation, it is probably better to wait. Talk to a close friend, sibling, or trusted adult, for example, a coach, uncle, or aunt instead.
If your parents are not supportive, give them time to think over what you tell them. If your parents continue to have a hard time accepting your homosexuality or gender identity, organizations such as Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) are available to help.
Will my friends and family reject me?
Unlike in the past, people today are more accepting of differences, particularly homosexuality. According to a 2013 poll by the Pew Research Center, 60% of Americans say society should accept homosexuality, compared with 49% in 2007.
Younger people are even more accepting of homosexuality than the general population. According to the Pew survey, 70% of Americans ages 18 to 29 say society should accept homosexuality.
Even so, there are many people who do not accept homosexuality. Many LGBT teens are taunted, humiliated, and bullied by their peers. It is important to know this so that you are prepared for whatever reaction you may get from your peers should you come out.
The teenage years are hard years, especially if you are struggling with your sexual orientation and gender identity. You are not alone, no matter how lonely you may feel. There are plenty of resources that may be of help to you if you are struggling.