I remember when I first realized, in straight-up gay horror, that I was different. Sitting by myself in a barber shop lounge, bored and fidgety, I'd reached for a Sports Illustrated (because Vogue and Vanity Fair were for girls, duh) and started flipping through while dad finished getting his hair trimmed.
Then, I landed on a spread that changed my life: an advertisement for underwear. Men’s underwear.
And I felt … lots of things.
Now, as an openly gay 29-year-old, that memory is pretty damn funny. Little gay me, feeling little gay stuff for the first time staring at a Sports Illustrated — in a barber shop lounge, of all places. The sit-com storyline writes itself.
But at the time, it was terrifying! I felt confused, worried — even a little disgusted with myself. Why was I feeling these weird, awful feelings? And how in the world can I make them stop?
Many LGBTQ people can relate to the confusing horrors of those first crushes — when you first discover you're different. Pop star Troye Sivan is one of them.
Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Spotify.
The 22-year-old Australian recently opened up to Attitude about the traumatic experience he'd had fawning over a celebrity of the same gender.
"I remember I cried when I realized that I thought Zac Efron was really hot," Sivan explained. "I cried and felt really sick."
"It wasn't, 'This is just a little crush on a boy,' or something like that," he continued. "'I'm not just interested in this boy, I think that he's hot.' And that was weird for me."
Photo by Caroline McCredie/Getty Images.
Sivan and I aren't alone: Petrifying puppy love can definitely be a thing for queer kids.
I texted a few of my gay friends to see if any of them had their own "barber shop" moment growing up, and most of them immediately shared an equally vivid memory.
For one of them, it was a famous actor's ... assets that did the trick.
"Pierce Brosnan's butt in 'The Thomas Crown Affair,'" read my friend's suspiciously fast reply. He'd really enjoyed the sight, apparently, and remembers thinking afterward that "that wasn't right."
Another friend also had the glossy, retouched pages of a magazine to blame for their disorienting "aha" moment.
Oh, boy. Image via the author.
Another was mortified to learn he wasn't envious of the taller guys at his all-boys high school — he wanted to date them. "I started realizing I'm not jealous, I'm attracted," he wrote back, adding "lol" and a shrugging emoji.
Even my editor, who approved my writing this story, had her own scary first-crush experience: "No lie, mine was Miss Honey," she said. "I crushed on Miss Honey from the movie 'Matilda.'"
These first-crush experiences are hilarious to revisit as more confident LGBTQ adults. But it's worth remembering how scared we were first feeling them all those years ago.
Living in a world still unwelcoming to LGBTQ people in many ways, closeted queer kids are more prone to a handful of serious mental health concerns, like depression and anxiety disorders.
Tragically, young LGBTQ people are far more likely to attempt suicide than their straight, cisgender peers too. They also make up a disproportionate number of homeless youth, with parental rejection being a driving force behind the discrepancy.
Adults need to get better at creating a world where every LGBTQ kid can have their first queer crushes — guilt-free and shamelessly.
Fortunately for Sivan, it all worked out pretty well.
"I ... started doing my research; that was when I started to become a lot more comfortable [with being queer]," the pop star explained to Attitude. "I watched coming out videos on YouTube and heard people speaking about their experiences and realized that I wasn’t a freak."
I wish I could tell little gay me in that barber shop that I wasn't either.
If you're a young LGBTQ person struggling with your sexuality or gender identity, friends at The Trevor Project can help.