With little readily available research to aid the process and the recent emergence of hundreds of harmful micro-labels in the past decade, questioning sexual orientation can be an especially trying time for young kids and teens. While some are confident in their sexuality from an early age, others don’t recognize non-heterosexuality until adulthood. In fact, a significant number of lesbians take longer to figure out their sexuality in comparison with gay men, most likely largely attributable to experiences of internalized homophobia and what is referred to a “compulsory heterosexuality,” or a feeling of obligation to be attracted to men that influences perceptions of attraction.
This period of questioning is a stressful, isolating time of confusion, frustration, and maybe even fear, and it becomes increasingly important to provide people–particularly teens and preteens–with a support system and a method of inquiry without judgement. The difficulty of self-acceptance is furthered for kids and teens growing up in predominantly homophobic countries, where there may be institutionalized homophobia and laws against homosexuality or gay marriage. I noticed this in my own community in Tokyo, where, despite it being arguably the most liberal part of Japan, homophobia and prejudice are very much still alive and affecting the way kids view their identity. During such an isolating time, it becomes necessary to ensure that questioning youth are aided in working towards the maintenance of mental health.
In positive psychology, a method for well-being is the PERMA model. PERMA stands for positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishments. In looking at the mental well-being of questioning teens, I found that three areas of the model were lacking: positive emotion, relationships, and accomplishment. The isolation of questioning, especially when the person in question does not have any LGBT peers, is a detriment to positive emotion and relationships fundamentally, and the missing element of accomplishment is essentially the struggle to latch onto a conclusion. With proper guidance, all three can be resolved to restore balance to the well-being model of positive psychology.
A clear resolution to the issues presented is to provide questioning youth with a mentor to help answer specific questions about the questioning process, sexuality, identity, and other LGBT matters. This should be an accessible service, but few reach out to communicate with people they feel could have assisted. In two surveys, I asked two questions to LGBT peers*:
- When questioning, did you reach out to someone you thought could provide advice?
- Had you had access to a service that could’ve provided advice and mentorship, would you have utilized it?
To the first question, the majority of people stated that they did not reach out. Upon further questioning, they mentioned that they worked towards figuring out their identity in silence, and that they felt that experience was counterproductive. The majority of people who answered the second survey said that they would’ve utitized a service that could’ve provided advice. This led me to my project.
I created a blog, Questioningask, to provide a public space for anonymous questions about questioning and LGBT. It’s easy to access and easy to ask for advice, and quick answers and help are only a click away. It’s a way to reconnect some of that feeling of accomplishment by establishing a positive relationship to influence positive emotion, restoring the aforementioned PERMA balance. It is crucial for kids and teens to be able to voice their concerns during such a confusing time, and this project aims to give them that voice with the potential for complete anonymity.
Being an ally can be made easy. I created this poster to distribute around my community, and helping is as easy as putting up one, especially if you think your community could need it for lack of LGBT support due to the environment and country. By spreading the word, it may be enough to make sure someone gets their questions answered, and in turn contributes to the positive psychology efforts described by boosting positive emotion, relationships, and accomplishment.
*Not everyone who responded to survey 1 responded to survey 2.
“Chapter 3: The Coming Out Experience.” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project, Pew Research Center, 13 June 2013, www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/06/13/chapter-3-the-coming-out-experience/#.
“The PERMA Model.” Wellness Program, The University of Queensland Australia, 3 Jan. 2017, www.uq.edu.au/wellness-program/health-and-wellbeing/focus-wellness/perma-model.