When I was in high school in the 80’s, nobody was out of the closet. There were people you might have guessed were gay — gaydar is a thing after all. But no one was willing to admit it.
Growing up in a Texas suburb, being queer wasn’t safe.
Everyday life was closely interwoven with the dominant religious doctrine of the area. And while teenagers would rebel with drinking or sex. Admitting you were gay was crossing an invisible line from safety to danger. And almost no one dared.
It’s no wonder I wasn’t able to consciously recognize my own queerness back then. On some level I knew I was a lesbian. I remember having an undeniable crush on a girl during my sophomore year. But I somehow rationalized it away because being gay just wasn’t an option.
I had been taught — and wholeheartedly believed — that being queer was fundamentally bad. My religious upbringing and the attitudes I saw in my home left no room to question my assumed straightness.
I didn’t find acceptance or safety with my peers either. The hatred that oozed from the queer slurs I heard in my high school hallways left no doubt. Admitting I was queer, even to myself, would have put me in danger.
But things are changing.
It’s true that political attacks on the queer community are off the charts these days. You can’t say gay in Florida. And we’re heading that direction here in Texas too — along with other right-leaning states. Anti-trans bills are becoming the norm in state legislatures all over the US. But that’s the politicians and loud extremists.
On the ground it’s a different story. My kids’ experience is dramatically different from mine. Teenagers at our local high school aren’t hiding their queerness from their friends. It’s still Texas, so many of them aren’t out to their parents. But they feel accepted by many of their peers.
And it’s not just here. Teens all over the country are speaking out and standing up for the queer community.
With the raging controversy over Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, high school students chose to rise up to protect and defend their queer peers. I could hardly believe it when I saw videos of the protests at Florida high schools. It healed something deep inside me. Seeing hundreds of kids draped in pride flags shouting “We say gay'' in support of LGBTQ+ students gave me hope. It showed me that acceptance is possible, even in high school.
Yes, the right wing politicians are doubling down. Yes, they’re going after queer (and especially trans) people. But I believe they’re fighting a losing battle. Aging politicians who are stuck in the past, romanticizing an imagined history of peace and tranquility won’t be around forever. There’s a crowd of younger people gearing up to take on the establishment and expand the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, along with all the other marginalized and persecuted humans.
My son is starting his freshman year at a college in Virginia. And when we attended orientation, queer acceptance was on display. I saw advertisements for queer clubs. I heard student orientation leaders talk about their queerness and how they feel supported on campus. There’s a dedicated LGBT Center. And in almost every single orientation session, staff and students alike introduced themselves with their name and pronouns.
My kids and the generation that follows will inherit a lot of messes. But I have hope for them and their future. I see my kids and their friends living their lives authentically, even as teens. I see queer and trans students comfortable with being out at school and around their friends. I see a growing appreciation of individuality — even here in suburban Texas.
As Pride flags fly high and the rallying cry of 'We say gay' resounds, my kids and their generation are ushering in a new era of acceptance and change.
Kathy Kiger is one of our OUTWrite Authors grads. If you feel like you have a book in you, considering joining an all queer cohort for nonfiction writing. OUTWrite Authors is an eight-week course for book-curious AND book-ready LGBTQ+ authors-to-be that gives you the tools you need to raise your voice and write a nonfiction book that makes an impact.
Are you book curious or book ready? Find out more at www.OUTWriteAuthors.com
About the Author
Kathy Kiger is a marketing strategist and copywriter who helps queer businesses and entrepreneurs build and connect with their ideal audience. As the CEO of Kathy Kiger Agency, she writes blogs, emails, and website copy for entrepreneurs, coaches, and small businesses. Kathy also offers copy coaching for business owning badasses who prefer to DIY their marketing.
Kathy was raised as an evangelical Christian and dutifully followed all the rules and expectations — from homeschooling her kids and baking her own bread, to suppressing her sexual orientation for decades.
Married for almost 15 years, and then divorced for 10, Kathy finally had her holy shit I’m a lesbian moment in early 2021. Kathy is now living in her queer joy as a cat-owning-dog-person and single mom to 4 adult and teen kids.
Kathy is the creator behind the Better Late Than Straight blog where she shares her own insights as a late-blooming lesbian, along with resources, and the stories of other women who have embraced their queerness later in life.
You can hear Kathy on podcasts like Coming Out With Lauren and Nicole, The Coming Out Late Podcast, and Redefining Family. You can follow along with Kathy’s Better Late Than Straight journey on Instagram.