It is becoming increasingly common for people to understand the pressures that LGBTQ+ individuals face, for example, hate speech, bullying and isolation. Yet, not as many are aware of the pressures faced within the community for youth to act a certain way and the toll this has on their mental health.
Upon first exploring your gender identity and sexuality within LGBTQ+ spaces online or in real life, it can be an information overload, with a wide range of new terms to describe yourself. Although finding ourselves is a continuous journey, you may feel a lot of pressure to use a clearly defined label to describe yourself.
Though the purpose of a label can act as an aid to self discovery and feeling secure, or may help you in answering the big question: “Who am I?”, it can have negative effects as well. Within the community you are expected to come out, and it often happens as a big reveal with a label. There is the implicit pressure that once you come out, you should be comfortable enough with the label to not change your mind again. That is not always the case, as who we are can evolve and grow over time into someone else, and as adolescents we are constantly exploring our identity, having a single label to define who we are is unrealistic. Nowadays, some individuals experience what is known as a “second coming out”. A second coming out does not need to be taken literally, it simply means to come out again. However, people tend to steer away from it, due to the stigma attached to a second coming out, which may be seen as attention seeking or embarrassing.
Labels suggest that we are living in a binary society whereas sexuality or gender identity actually lie on a spectrum. As a result, many people prefer to use the term Queer, this term historically was deemed offensive, however it has been reclaimed by the community and used as an umbrella term; describing someone who does not conform to the traditional notions of gender or sexual orientation social expectations.
“Looking” and “Acting” the part
Being openly out screaming from the top of your lungs that you are part of the LGBTQ+ community is not something everyone is comfortable with or feels safe doing. In some cases, youth can feel pressured to gain recognition from fellow members of the community, by dressing in a way which reflects their stereotyped identity to look what their label is stereotypically associated with..
Unfortunately the limited LGBTQ representation, in the media, perpetuates the pressure to act according to the widespread, but one-dimensional stereotype present within society, such as the myths that all gay men are feminine, non-binary people should dress androgonously and that transgender people must go through gender confirming surgery.
This creates the unspoken need to conform within the community. Sadly there are members of the LGBTQ+ community who gatekeep who is accepted within their community by excluding them. However, these stereotypes are not all harmful for teens. When exploring gender identity, it can be reassuring and comforting to dress in a way that is associated with their LGBTQ+ identity. This may be an outlet for individuals to express their LGBTQ+ identity, and feel welcomed into the community. However, it is important to keep in mind that these stereotypes should not define them, and that individuals should be supported regardless of whether they conform to a type of “look” or not.
In Hong Kong the most common and well known LGBTQ+ spaces – are bars. However, the loud pumping music, free flowing drinks and strobing lights may not be everyone’s scene. With party culture and bars being the primary safe space, this may exclude individuals who simply want to meet and get to know others within the community. This rings true, especially for younger LGBTQ+ individuals who just want to share their experiences with others and find an open support network With bars and nightlife being the norm, it leaves LGBTQ+ youth up to two and four times more susceptible to substance abuse relative to their non-LGBTQ+ peers according to Rhode Island.
Though LGBTQ+ youth do not have their own spaces in Hong Kong, there are organisations available, offering the chance to meet others LGBTQ+ individuals in the community. Such as Big Love Alliance which hosts group activities to spread awareness and advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and Gender Empowerment, who advocate and offer support for those exploring their gender identity.
Rhode Island Prevention Resource Center (2014). LGBTQ Youth & Substance Abuse Fact Sheet, Rhode Island Prevention Resource Center.