Senior year brings self-acceptance


Jacqui Haining, Staff Columnist

Senior year and turning eighteen don’t necessarily mark the absorption into adulthood for everyone. Certainly not immediately, at least. But the realization of these quickly approaching milestones has still left me toying with memories of changing times and visions of a novel future. Adulthood is coming.

Today, I begin my final year of high school. Twelfth grade. Maybe it’s naive that I never expected this year to come. Maybe the mythical quarantine months have transported me here like a time machine by halving my time in a normal school environment. Either way, I’m reeling.

The catalyst for this wave of existential thoughts is Instagram, without a doubt. As I find myself scrolling away through stormy July afternoons, posts about college acceptances, LGBTQ+ people, and happy couples catch my eye. But two such posts struck me more than the rest.

The first featured a selfie of a gay couple around my age. There was no shame about it, no internalized urge to conceal who they were. This kind of post is not only a beautiful display of queer joy but a symbol of growing maturity and self-acceptance among my peers.

The second was an Instagram video by the transgender model and influencer AJ Clementine. In her video, AJ and her boyfriend spoke out against the stigma many straight men attach to dating transgender women. AJ is an inspiration to me as a trans woman, and her videos across various platforms always give me hope for the future.

For LGBTQ+ youth, you see, our adolescent years are not typically like that of our heterosexual and cisgender counterparts. In our society, many parents and grown-up figures assume that children are straight and cisgender until proven otherwise. This same assumption pressures us to fit their expectations of the “default” identity. The hurtful expectations and prejudices from even those who intend to love us unconditionally force LGBTQ+ children, teens, and young adults into hiding.

For most in this situation, life becomes an act of make-pretend straightness and/or inaccurate gender expression that can feel like a humiliating costume for transgender and non-binary people. Because we are presenting to the outside world an identity or persona to which we have been forced to conform, we don’t have the privilege of experiencing the many “firsts” of one’s early teenage years. How can one even hope to date or have a first kiss if they and their possible partner are deeply closeted at the time or if prospective love interests perceive them as the wrong gender?

Of course, these events can come late for some non-LGBTQ+ people, as well. Many queer and trans folk, however, experience psychological distress from not only missing these common teen landmarks but from feeling forced to change oneself fundamentally to have even the prospect of participating in “normal” teen life.

But adulthood gradually brings maturity and self-acceptance, which turn this phenomenon on its head. When I was younger, almost no LGBTQ+ people my age had come to terms with their identity yet, let alone come out. But now, I am seeing so many more peers in my age group from a multitude of schools and backgrounds living their truth with pride. When I was younger, I thought that I, like many others, would never be able to display my authentic self as a queer and/ or trans person. But now, I celebrate that it will never be like that again.

The future holds so much freedom, love, and joy for LGBTQ+ people. What society might deny us now or what we might even deny ourselves will come swiftly to us with the greater independence of adulthood. Whatever existential feelings I have in anticipation of young adult life pale in comparison to all that I have to look forward to and appreciate in the near future. So, as senior year and turning 18 grow closer, I enter this watershed period with enthusiasm for the proud, authentic, mature world which I will soon have the pleasure to freely navigate.

My birthday, by the way, is October 15. Please wish me a happy birthday because it will indeed be a joyful occasion: a symbol of perseverance through my uncertain and often oppressive early teenage years and a celebration of all that is to come as adulthood slowly begins. And, God, I’m excited for it to start.