i think i might be a lesbian...
now what do i do?

CHANT

PRIDE, INSIDE,
WITH NOTHING TOHIDE
WHERE PEOPLE AND PASSIONS
AND LOVERS COLLIDE.
A PLACE TO BE HAPPY,
WHERE 'FREEDOM' IS CRIED
THEY SAID WE'D BE LONELY,
BUT I KNOW THEY LIED.

MICHELLE DEAN

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A LESBIAN?

Lesbians are women who love women. We are sexually and emotionally attracted to other women. We prefer women as our partners.

As Lesbians, we are not alone. One out of ten teenagers is Lesbian. Lesbians are factory workers, shop-assistants, social workers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, police officers, politicians, film stars, nuns, artists, novelists, bus drivers, models, mothers, office workers. You name it, we do it.

Lesbians are white, Black, Asian, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu. Lesbians are rich, Poor, Working Class, middle class. Some Lesbians are Disabled. Some Lesbians are in heterosexual marriages. Lesbians are Young and Old. You name it, we are it.

Lesbians live in the cities, towns and in the country. We are everywhere.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I'M LESBIAN?

"When I was young I always wanted to grow up and live with my best girlfriend, and that feeling never changed as I got older." Paula, age 17.

"When we're really young, we have crushes on girls, but then we're supposed to grow out of it. We're supposed to read books about how girl meets boy and boy meets girl. Well, I'd never finish those books." Jen, age 16.

During adolescence, most young women begin to be aware of sexual feelings and take an interest in dating. Many young women feel physically attracted to men. But many other young females feel physically attracted to other women.

You may feel different from your girlfriends, like you don't fit in sometimes. When your girlfriends are looking at boys, you may find yourself looking at girls. Going out with boys may not interest you. You may find yourself wondering, "Why aren't there any men like these terrific women I keep meeting?"

You may also feel confused or unsure about whether or not you're a Lesbian. Many adults will tell us that we're too young to call ourselves Lesbian or that we're going through a phase, or that we don't know what we're talking about. That's their way of avoiding the fact that some of us are Lesbian youth.

You may feel confused because you're attracted to both men and women. Sometimes our sexuality develops over time. Don't worry if you aren't sure. Don't worry if you are sure.

AM I NORMAL?

"We're told that it's sick, or perverted, or sinful, or abnormal. But the people who tell us that are the same ones who say that women belong in the kitchen, and that Black people are inferior, and that handicapped people are useless. Who's to say what's normal? Some people think eating raw fish is normal, and other people think it's disgusting and abnormal." Terry, age 16.

"I think we're very brave to have recognised this in ourselves and to have wanted to come to terms with it." Natalie, age 18.

Yes, you are normal. It's perfectly natural for females to be attracted to members of their own sex. But it's not something that's encouraged in our society. Many females push away these feelings because of prejudice against Lesbians.

Most scientific experts agree that a person's sexual orientation is determined at a very young age, maybe even at birth. It's normal and healthy to be yourself, whether you're Lesbian or straight. What's really important is that we learn to like ourselves.

WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE YOUNG AND LESBIAN?

"I feel very powerful, special, independent, strong, and courageous." Sharon, age 18.

"It's scary sometimes. I've felt very unsure of myself. But other times I feel wonderful and proud." Pat, age 16.

There's no "right" way or "wrong" way to be a Lesbian. Because of society's stereotypes about Lesbians that we've all grown up with, you might think you have to be a certain way if you're a Lesbian. But Lesbians come in all shapes and sizes, from all occupations, and with all levels of education.

Your sexual orientation is a very important part of who you are but you may have hobbies and interests that are the same as your straight friends.

Because of homophobia and prejudice, some people don't accept Lesbians. Lesbians suffer from discrimination and violence. That's why there are some Lesbian organisations that work for Lesbian civil rights.

"Once I accepted myself and my sexuality, I found that I became more involved in life with my friends because I was more comfortable with myself." Sarah, age 18.

"I feel down and depressed a lot because of homophobia that I'm constantly up against, but then I realise that I have the power to educate other members of my generation." Julie, age 17.

WHO SHOULD I TELL?

"You shouldn't feel pressured to tell anyone at all until you are comfortable with the idea of being a Lesbian yourself. Be prepared that people's reactions will vary." Surinda, age 19.

"Only tell someone if you feel you have enough support to face what may happen. Try to tell someone if you think you can't deal with these feelings alone anymore. If you think your family might flip out, tell someone who might be more impartial." Carol, age 19.

"When I told a couple of my friends, I told them I was no different now than I was five minutes before I told them, except that now I wasn't keeping a big secret from them." Nicki, age 16.

Coming out is the process of accepting yourself as a Lesbian and figuring out how open you want to be about your sexual orientation.

Unfortunately, not everyone you know will think that being a Lesbian is the greatest thing since sliced bread. It's hard to know who can handle the information and give you support. Some friends may accept you. Some may turn away from you or tell other people without your permission.

Telling family/guardians can be very difficult. Some families are very supportive. But some Lesbian Youth have been kicked out of their home when their parents/guardians found out. Some Young Lesbians live in children's homes and may have to deal with the reactions not only from other young people in the home but also from social workers and care assistants.

Maybe there's a guidence counsellor or social worker in your school, or in a local youth or counselling agency, that you can trust. There are many Lesbian Lines and Gay Switchboards around the country, you could ring them. If you can't get through, you can always ring the LYSIS helpline: 0706 817235, on Wednesdays, 7-9 p.m. It's important to have someone to talk to because it's not normal or healthy for young people to have to keep secret such an important part of their lives.

WHAT ABOUT SEX?

"First I would ask myself if I felt ready. Then I would talk to my partner to see if she felt ready. When you decide to have sex, it feels good when you've made the right decision. Only you can know when it is and isn't right for you to have sex." Theresa, age 18.

"Just because you're turned on to someone doesn't mean you're ready to have sex. You have to feel emotionally ready. It's important that the two people talk about what they like and don't like. No one should have to do something they don't want to do. There's no need to rush things. It'll come in time." Terry, age 16.

Deciding whether or not to be sexual with someone is a big decision. You may feel very scared at the thought of having sex with another female. That's OK. Lots of us do, especially if it's our first time.

Women aren't encouraged in our society to talk openly about sex, but it's important that we communicate about what we like and don't like to do sexually, whether we feel ready to have sex or not, and different expectations we may have about the relationship.

And it's important to talk about whether we're at risk for HIV, the virus that is thought to cause AIDS, or other sexually transmitted diseases, like herpes.

DO I HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT AIDS?

All of us should know about HIV, the virus believed to cause AIDS - how it's transmitted and how we can prevent ourselves from becoming infected. You and your partner should discuss your risk factors for HIV infection and decide what, if any, safer sex methods you should use.

Lesbians who are at risk are those who:

* Share needles if using IV drugs.

* Have vaginal intercourse with men without using condoms.

* Have oral sex with an infected woman without the use of a barrier to protect against infected vaginal secretions or menstrual blood.

HOW DO WE LEARN TO LIKE OURSELVES?

"It's important that we don't deny our feelings. If we be who we truly want to be in our hearts, we can be surprised at how happy we can be. And we should think a lot about all our positive points, and being a Lesbian is very positive." Rebecca, age 15.

"It helps me to interact with people who make me feel happy and good about myself. And I try to do things I feel good about doing." Sarah, age 19.

All people have a right to feel good about themselves. We're all valuable human beings. Developing self-esteem is very important for young people. It's hard for Lesbian Youth to feel good about ourselves because all around us are people who believe that we're sick, or perverted, or destined to live very unhappy lives.

When we feel like we have to hide who we really are, it can make us feel like hurting ourselves, like through alcohol, drugs, or suicide.

We may feel very isolated, fearful, and depressed, especially if we've had no one to talk to about the fact that we're Lesbian.

More and more, we, as Young Lesbians, are learning to like who we are. It helps to read good books about Lesbians - books that have accurate information in them and that are written about Lesbians who are leading very fulfilling lives. It also helps to meet other Lesbians because then we find out that Lesbians are as diverse as any other group of people and that we've been told a lot of lies by our society.

It can help to say to yourself every day, "I'm a Lesbian and I'm OK." And try to find someone to talk to who also believes that Lesbians are OK. Remember: it's normal and natural to be a Lesbian, just like it's normal and natural for some people to be heterosexual.

HOW CAN I MEET OTHER LESBIANS?

There are some Young Lesbian Groups and Lesbian and Gay Youth Groups (although these tend to be male dominated) around the country. To find out if there is one near where you live, ring up your nearest Helpline.

LESBIAN LINES/LESBIAN & GAY SWITCHBOARDS (S)

ENGLAND

BEDFORD (S) 01234.218990 Tue 7.30-10

BOLTON 01204.394610 Thu 7-9

BRADFORD 01274.305525 Thu 7-9

BRIGHTON 01273.603298 Tue 8-10, Fri 8-10

BRISTOL 0117.9290855 Tue & Thu 7.30-10

CAMBRIDGE 01223.311753 Fri 7-10

CANTERBURY 01227.464570 Fri 7-10

CLEVELAND 01642.217955 Mon 8-10

COLCHESTER 01206.870051 Sun 8-10

CORNWALL 01737.62869 Thu 8-10

CUMBRIA (S) 01965.31171 Wed & Thu 7-10

DERBY 01332.41411 Wed 7-9

DORSET (S) 01202.318822 Mon-Fri 7.30-10.30

EAST LANCS (S) 01282.454978 Tue & Thu 7.30-9.30

EXETER (S) 01392.422016 Mon 7.30-9.30

GLOSSOP (S) 01457.865722 Tue 2-4, Fri 7-9

GLOUCESTER FRIEND 01452.306800 Mon, Thu, Fri 7.30-10

HARLOW 01279.639637 Tue, Thu, Sun 8-11, Fri 8-12

HEREFORD & WORCESTER (S) 01905.723097 Tue-Fri 7.30-10

HUDDERSFIELD (S) 01484.538070 Sun 6-9, Tue 7-9

HULL 01482.214331 Mon 7-9

ISLE OF MAN (S) 01624.611600 Thu 7-10

ISLE OF WIGHT (S) 01983.525123 Wed & Sat 7.30-10

LANCASTER (S) 01524.847437 Thu & Fri 7-9

LEEDS 0113.2453588 Tue 7.30 - 9.30

LEICESTER (S) 0116.2550667 Mon-Fri 7.30-10

LINCOLNSHIRE (S) 01522.535553 Thu 7-10

LONDON 0171.25l.6911 Mon&Fri 2-10 Tue-Thu 8-10

MANCHESTER (S) 0161.274.3999 Daily 4-10

MEDWAY & MAIDSTONE (S) 01634.826925 Thu, Fri 7.30-9.30

MERSEYSIDE FRIEND 0151.708.9552 everday 7-10

MIDDLESBOROUGH 01642.217955 Mon 8-10

MILTON KEYNES 01908.666226 Thu 7-9

NEWCASTLE 0191.261.2277 Tue 7-10

NORWICH 01603.628130 Tue 8-10

NORTH STAFFS (S) 01782.266998 Mon, Wed, Fri 8-10

NORTHAMPTON 0604.39723 Tue 7-9.30

NOTTINGHAM 0115.9410652 Mon, Wed, 7.30- 9.00

OXFORD 01865.242333 Wed 7-9.30

PORTSMOUTH 01705.876999 Thur 8-10

PRESTON 01772.51122 Mon & Wed 8-9.30

PLYMOUTH 01752.603839 Wed 12-4, Thu 6.30-8.30

READING (S) 01234.597269 Tue & Fri 8-10, Sun 4-6

SHEFFIELD 0114.2581238 Thu 7-10

SHROPSHIRE (S) 01743.263712 Tue & Fri 8-10

SOLENT (S) 01703.637363 Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri 7.30-10

SOUTHAMPTON 01703.405111 Tue, Thu 7.30-10, Fri 1-4

SUFFOLK (S) 01473.232212 Tue & Sat 7.30-10

THAMESDOWN (S) 01793.644585 Wed & Fri 8-10

WEST MIDLANDS 0121.622.6536 Mon 7.30-9.30

YORK 01904.612828 Fri 7.30-10 Tues, 10-mid Thurs

WALES

ABERYSTWYTH (S) 01970.615076 Tue 6-8

BANGOR/GWYNED (Bilingual) 01248.351263 Tue 6-8

CARDIFF FRIEND 01222.340101 Tue-Sat 8-10

SWANSEA/ABERTAWE 01792.651995 Fri 7-9

WEST GLAMORGAN (S) 01792.301855 Tues 7-9

SCOTLAND

ABERDEEN 01224.586869 Wed 7-10

AYRSHIRE (S) 01292.619000 Mon, Wed, Fri 7-10

EDINBURGH 0131.557.0751 Mon, Thu 7.30-10

FIFE 01592.266688 Mon 7.30-10.30

FORTH FRIEND 01786.471285 Mon 7.30-10

GLASGOW 0141.552.5768 Wed 7-10

PERTH 01738.828840 Mon 7-10

STRATHCLYDE (S) 0141.221.8372 7-10

WEST HIGHLANDS & WESTERN ISLES 01851.706771 7.30-9.30

IRELAND

BELFAST 238668 Thu 7.30-10

CORK 271087 Thu 8-10

DERRY 263120 Thu 7.30-10

DUBLIN 872.9911 Thu 7-9

GALWAY 566134, Wed 8-10

LIMERICK 310101 Thu 7.30-8.30

NATIONAL HELPLINES

BISEXUAL PHONELINE LONDON: 0181.569.7500
Tue & Wed 7.30-9.30; EDINBURGH: 0131.557.3620 Thu 7.30-9.30

BLACK LESBIAN & GAY LINE 0171.620 3885 Tues & Thurs 11.30-5.30.

GAY AND LESBIAN LEGAL ADVICE (GLAD) 0171.976.0840 Mon-Fri 7-9.30

JEWISH LESBIAN/GAY LINE 0171.706.3123 Mon/Thur 7-10

LESBIAN SURVIVORS OF LESBIAN ABUSE 0171.328.7389 Thur 7-9

LESBIAN & GAY BEREAVEMENT PROJECT HELPLINE 0181.455.8894 nightly 7-12

LESBIAN AND GAY CHRISTIAN HELPLINE 071.739.8134

LONDON LESBIAN/GAY SWITCHBOARD 0171.837.7324 24 hours.

POSITIVELY WOMEN 0171.490.2327 MON-FRI 12 NOON - 2.

SHAKTI (SOUTH ASIAN LESBIAN & GAY NETWORK) C/o London Friend, 0171.837.3337. 2nd Sun.

PARENTS ORGANISATIONS

BRISTOL: JEAN, 0117.9837818

EXETER: JENNY, EXETER 79546

FALKIRK: IRIS, 01324.713315

IRISH PARENTS ENQUIRY: DUBLIN 721055

KENT PARENTS ENQUIRY: JILL, 01795.661463
LEEDS PARENTS FRIEND: 0113.2674627

LEICESTER PARENTS GROUP: 0116.2550667

LONDON PARENTS ENQUIRY: 0181.698.1815

MANCHESTER PARENTS GROUP: 0161.274.3814

MERSEYSIDE: BETTY, 0151.342.2937

NOTTINGHAM: NORA, 0115.9211302

SCOTTISH PARENTS ENQUIRY 0131.556.4040

SHREWSBURY: ARTHUR/ROSE, 01743.4479

LESBIAN/LESBIAN & GAY ORGANISATIONS

* Albert Kennedy Trust, 23 New Mount Street, Manchester, M4 4DE. 0161.953.4059. (Young Lesbian & Gay Fostering Project).

* Black Lesbian & Gay Centre, 5 Westminster Bridge Road, London, SE1. 0171.620.3885, Tues & Thurs, 11.30-5.30.

* Catholic Lesbian Sisterhood, CLS, BM Reconciliation, London, WC1N 3XX.

* Gemma, BM Box 5700, London, WC1N 3XX (Lesbians with and without Disabilities).

* Irish Lesbian Network, c/o London Irish Women's Centre, 59 Stoke Newington, Church St., London, N16. 0171.249.7318.

* Kenric, B/M Kenric, London, WC1N 3XX. (Social organisation for Lesbians over 18 years).

* Lesbian Custody Project at ROW, 52-54 Featherstone Street, London, EC1Y 8RT. 0171.251.6577.

* Lesbian Employment Rights, Unit 1G, Leroy House, Islingdon, London, N1 3QP. 0171.704.8066.

* Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement, Oxford House, Derbyshire Street, London, E2 6HG, 071.739.1249, helpline: 0171.739.8134.

* Lesbian & Gay Legal Advice, 2 Greycoat Place, London, SW1 1SB. 0171.976.0840. Mon-Fri 7-9.30 p.m.

* Lesbian Information Service/LYSIS, P.O. Box 8, Todmorden, Lancashire, OL14 5TZ. Mon-Fri 9-5.30, 01706.817235.

* North London Line Youth Project, 0171.607.8346.

* SHAKTI South Asian Lesbian & Gay Network: SHAKTI KHABAR,BM Box 4390, London, WC1N 3XX. 0181.802.8981.

* Stonewall Housing Association, 2a Leroy Business Centre, 436 Essex Road, Islington, London N1 3QP. 0171.359.5767. (Young Lesbian & Gay Housing Project).

* Stonewall Youth Project, Dunford House, 7 Boroughloch, Edinburgh, EH8 9NL. 0131.556.4040 Tues 7.30-9.

BOOKS/PUBLICATIONS

A Stranger in the Family, Terry Sanderson, The Other Way Press, 1991.

Being Lesbian, L. Trenchard, Gay Mens Press, 1989.

Growing up Gay/Growing up Lesbian, A Literary Anthology, ed. Bennett L. Singer, New Press, 1994.

Joining the Tribe, Growing Up Gay & Lesbian in the 90's, Linnea Due, Anchor Books, 1995.

Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology, ed Evelyn Torton Beck, The Crossing Press, 1982.

Not the Only One, Lesbian & Gay Fiction for Teens, ed. Tony Grima, Alyson Publications, 1995.

Out on the Shelves, Lesbian Books into Libraries, compiled by Jane Allen, Linda Kerr, Avril Rolph and Marion Chadwick, AAL Publishing, 1989.

Parents Matter, Parents' Relationships with Lesbian Daughters and Gay Sons, Ann Muller, The Naiad Press, 1987.

Passages of Pride, Lesbian and Gay Youth Come of Age, Kurt Chandler, Times Books, 1995.

Talking About Young Lesbians, L. Trenchard, London Gay Teenage Group, 1985.

The Journey Out - A Guide For and About Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual Teens, Rachel Pollack & Cheryl Schwartz, Puffin Books, 1995.

This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, eds. Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua, Kitchen Table/Women of Color Press, 1981

Two Teenagers in Twenty, writings by gay and lesbian youth, ed. Ann Heron, Alyson Publications, 1994.

Young Lesbian Pack, £3 individual Young Lesbians, £5.50 institutions, L.I.S.

NOVELS

Annie on My Mind, Nancy Garden; Virago, 1988.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson, Pandora Press, 1990.

Patience and Sarah, Isabel Miller, Rupert Hart-Davis.

ALTERNATIVE BOOKSHOPS

[Note: Many of these bookshops provide a postal delivery service.]

Alleycat Co-op Bookshop, 36 Low Friar Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 5UE. 0191.221.1750.

Cactus Community Bookshop, 2B Hope Street, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent ST1 5BS. 01782.204449.

Frontline, 1 Newton Street, Manchester, M1 1HW. 0161.236.1101.

Gay's The Word, 66 Marchmont Street, London, WC1N 1AB, 0171.278.7654.

Greenleaf, 82 Colston St, Bristol, BS1 5BB. 0117.9211369.

In Other Words, 72 Mutley Plain, Plymouth, PL4 6LF, 01752.663889.

Mushroom, 10 Heathcote St, Nottingham, NG1 3AA. 0115.9582506.

News From Nowhere, 96 Bold St, Liverpool, L1 4HY. 0151.7087270.

October Books, 4 Onslow Rd, Southampton, SO2 0JB. 01703.224489.

West & Wilde, 25a Dundas Street, Edinburgh, ED3 6QQ. 0131.556.0079

Lesbian Information Service produce a number of publications. For a copy of our Publications List send stamped addressed envelope to:

© Lesbian Information Service Jan 1999

This booklet was originally written by - and all of the quotes are unchanged - Young Lesbians from OUTRIGHT, the Portland, Maine, Alliance of Lesbian and Gay Youth, with help from Diane, their adviser. It has been adapted for use in Britain and is reproduced with the permission of the Campaign to End Homophobia, P.O. Box 819, Cambridge, MA 02139, U.S.A.