Dating in the queer community can be complicated at any age, but it can be especially tricky in high school. Crush + sexual exploration + gender identity questions + parents and school and friends and LIFE = a slightly difficult thing to navigate. And that’s not even taking into consideration how your crush might be feeling. Do you know how they identify? Where are they at with their sexual orientation? Or if they’re out to their friends and family? These questions might be making you wonder: What do I do when I want to ask someone out, but they haven’t yet come out as queer?
Well, let’s dive in.
First dates are hard, no matter how old you are or how many you’ve been on. And it can be especially hard when you’re just coming to terms with your sexuality, and your exposure to relationships and advice is dominated by heteronormative ways of expressing and being in love. When I was younger and coming to terms with my own sexuality, it seemed like my whole life was dominated by my queer crushes — on my friends, on celebrities, and even on people I barely knew. I spent so much time agonizing over whether they were queer or not, whether they were interested or not (apart from the celebrities — it was safe to assume they weren’t interested, sadly), that I didn’t realize the obvious: if I never got up the courage to talk to them, I’d never find out if they were queer or interested!
Through my anxiety, I missed opportunities to forge what could have been some really great and meaningful relationships (and friendships), and I wish I could go back in time and talk to myself when I was feeling so confused. The only kind of flirting I knew about was the kind of flirting I saw on high school movies and TV shows: girl meets boy. Girl and boy have some kind of awkward interaction in a math class or by some lockers. Girl and boy talk online. Girl and boy have a romantic moment at a school dance or football game and waltz away into the sunset. The end! It left me feeling unsure, and I wondered how dating was supposed to go when things aren’t as clear-cut as what you see on TV.
For queer people, things often don’t follow that trajectory, and if you aren’t sure if your crush is queer or not, figuring that part out can be half the battle. But especially if your crush isn’t out, it’s better to have a soft and respectful approach and try to start things off as friends, rather than immediately trying to initiate a romantic relationship. One of the best things about being queer is feeling like you’re hanging out with your best friend all the time — so why not treat it like that? Try to forge a friendship by inviting them to do an activity with your friends — and once you start feeling like you’re getting closer, it’s okay to start flirting in a way that ensures neither of you feel uncomfortable. Try telling them they look nice today and seeing how they react, or telling them you thought more about something they said and found it really interesting. Thoughtful things like that are great ways to show you care without coming off too strong!
The scariest part of all, though, can be the part that leaves not only your crush vulnerable, but you, too; telling them how you feel. In middle school, I developed feelings for one of my really close friends, and I agonized for months on how I should tell her, and if I should tell her at all. One day, I felt like I couldn’t hold it in any longer, so I wrote her a long message confessing my feelings via the only medium any ’90s kid really understands: AIM. It might not have been the most overt or romantic proposal, but I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, and I was so glad I did it. You can do the same however you feel comfortable; in person in a casual environment (like hanging out at school), or a romantic one (like at the movies or a restaurant), or even via text. Make sure to respect their boundaries (in the case that they’re not queer) so you can preserve your friendship later on. Something like “Hey — I really like hanging out with you and would love to go on a date sometime. If you aren’t down, that’s totally cool, and I’d love to keep hanging out just as friends” is casual but gets your point across. Like I said, it’s scary, but worth it! If it works, you get to know them better in a romantic way — and if not, you still have an awesome friend, and there are plenty more fish in the sea.
But there are ways to show your love, even if you aren’t comfortable coming out, or you are out but aren’t comfortable telling your crush how you feel. One of the things that initially attracted me to my girlfriend was her unabashed authenticity and pride in who she was; to me, her confidence was the bravest thing I’d ever seen.
It took her a while, though, to get that way; she didn’t come out as a lesbian until the end of high school, but when she was a sophomore she was secretly crushing hard on one of her basketball teammates.
The day before Valentine’s Day, she collected all her pocket money, walked to the flower shop in the small town she grew up in, and placed an anonymous order for a bouquet of red roses to be delivered to her crush at school the next day. “I thought about it all day, and I was so nervous,” she told me. “But, at a time when I wasn’t yet ready to publicly talk about my feelings for girls, it made me feel strong that I could at least do that.”
Sure enough, at the end of the day, she watched in the cafeteria as her crush gushed over the bouquet of flowers, excitedly giggling with all her friends about who they could be from. “She never guessed it was me, of course,” my girlfriend said, “But I loved seeing her smile and knowing I’d made her happy. It seems like a tiny thing, but it was a huge step for me, and I loved getting to make her day too.” I might be biased when I say that’s the sweetest story I’ve ever heard…. but I’m also sure you agree, because IT IS.
So, what happens after? If you want to pull out all the stops and take them on a super-cute, well-thought-out date, that’s awesome; if you want to do something more low-key, that works, too. What’s most important to remember is that even though coming out is a different process for everyone, as long as you’re communicative with each other and respectful of each other’s needs, you’ll have an awesome time.