What I Learnt From Love
© Illustration by INJECTION - Alicia Lupieri
Six queer individuals open up about their first relationships.
First relationships can be a huge milestone. They can teach you a lot about love, your needs, desires and boundaries. This goes for anybody, but for queer people in particular their first relationship can teach them so much more. It may make you feel secure in your sexuality or help your family to accept you, and can tell you a lot more about being queer in a hetero-normative society.
INJECTION spoke to seven queer individuals about their first relationships. We asked where it all began, their favourite memories, the challenges that came with it and the biggest lessons that they learnt.
Twiggy Nutland, a 19 year old student, experienced their first relationship at an early age.
© Twiggy Nutland
“My first queer relationship was with my best friend at the time, we were both 12 and had met through a mutual friend. We began as just friends but we started to explore our sexuality. Honestly, it was mostly just hand holding and feeding the ducks at the park, but it was special and it was the first time I’d loved a girl like that.
My mum was supportive of our relationship since she loved my best friend. I came out 2 years before at age 10, my mum thought it was a phase but she still supported me.”
Ivo Barraza Castaneda, a 30 year old fashion designer who grew up in El Salvador, also began to come out from an early age. By the time his first relationship began aged 15, Ivo was already comfortable in his sexuality.
© Ivo Barraza Castaneda
“I started coming out to friends when I was about 12. It just felt impossible to develop real friendships at that age if I couldn’t be honest about this big part of me. I remember some people being weird about it, sometimes I cared, sometimes I didn’t, and sometimes people were just cool about it.”
“It’s always complicated to pin out which exactly is your first relationship. But if we go by the official terms, I was 15. I am from a small city in El Salvador, so the only place kids hang out is the mall. I met this guy there, it was almost closing hours, so me and my friends, and he and his friends were almost the only people there. I fell in love… It didn’t last long though, maybe a few months and then I let go.”
For others we spoke to, their experiences of coming out and first relationships came later in life. It can be common for queer people to have their ‘firsts’ later than their heterosexual peers, as discovering your sexuality can take so much time, before considering other factors that young queer people often have to deal with, such as unaccepting parents or peers.
Naomi Davidson, a 27 year old photographer from Brighton said:
“It wasn’t until I was 22 that I had my first proper queer relationship, we met as we shared some of the same friends. She had just broken up with her ex and we got together very quickly. It was quite intense at first as I think a lot of queer relationships can be, but ultimately, we just weren’t a good match and were in very different places in life.
© Naomi Davidson
“Before this, I had been dating only girls for about 2 years and there were some people I dated for a few months at a time, I just didn't want anything super serious with anyone. It was during this period that I came out to most of those around me though. I had moved to uni and I made a lot of new friends very quickly so I was just open with them about the fact I was queer from the start.”
When first coming out, many queer people are met with acceptance and love, and it can be a really positive experience. For others, it can be the exact opposite. But no matter how smoothly coming put those around you goes, you will struggle to meet a queer person who hasn’t experienced homophobia, compulsory heterosexuality or other societal issues towards the LGBTQ+ community.
For many queer people, particualry those who are straight-passing, these issues may not be evident to them prior to their first relationship. In my own experience, I had convinced myself that homophobia was barely an issue anymore, and it was only a select few people who had a problem with the LGBTQ+ community. It wasn’t until I entered my first queer relationship that I realised how far from the truth this was.
Rayn, a full time student, experienced homophobia first hand when coming out to their family.
“My father was and is very against queer relationships, especially those between two women as he sees them as more sexual in nature. I'm on the ace spectrum so for him to even associate the two with one another doesn't make much sense to me. I told him early May 2021. It was the worst thing I have ever experienced, it almost got me kicked out of the house.
“I have noticed a larger amount of homophobia in certain areas of the internet, the largest one being discord. It used to be my main place for talking to people but after being in open online spaces where most people remain anonymous has encouraged a feeling of safety and I believe that has lead to motivate people to be hateful.”
A negative experience with a parent isn’t uncommon for many members of the LGBTQ+ community. Emily Cooper, 20, a student from Leeds, also had a parent struggle with her identity when she began her first queer relationship aged 16.
© Emily Cooper
“I came out to most friends in quite a chill way, it didn’t seem that scary to me. But dealing with a homophobic parent was quite a lot to handle at that age.
“Struggling with family members and their heteronormative expectations of you was something that I’d never experienced before and it was really difficult. I also questioned my sexuality a lot because of finding out about heteronormativity and it took time to become comfortable with my sexuality.”
For older generations who came out during a time when the world was less accepting, it could be even more difficult. Rick Rogers, 71, came out during the 1980s. He has since written a spoken word piece, 'It Takes a Train to Cry' which documents his coming out story.
© Rick Rogers - photography by Mark Long
Rick said: "I was surrounded by homophobia, in the church, in Christian school, and just as much in the world of the music business, which, apart from a few brave artists in the early 80’s and a handful of politically gay executives, was a cesspit of male heterosexuality of the very worst kind. So over the course of time , I had been very aware of homophobia, and to a certain extent it kept me, at least partly, closeted until I was in my late twenties.
"But the Thatcher era, Section 28, and the hatred towards queer people during the early days of AIDS was the worst of all. The only response was to be Out, Loud and Proud, and fuck the consequences."
For others, homophobia comes in different forms. Stereotypes, harassment and inappropriate comments are more normalised, and often more hurtful than direct homophobia or slurs.
Despite Twiggy’s young age when they experienced their first relationship, a problem they experienced was the sexualisation of queer relationships.
“I did experience homophobia, but in the sexualisation of my relationship. From ages 12 I had young boys in my year group asking about scissoring and lesbian sex, truly invasive questions, I used to laugh it off and join in the joke but looking back it was so incredible sexually inappropriate.”
Sexualisation is something that a lot of the queer community are forced to deal with. For lesbians in particualr, they often have their relationships fetishised by straight people, narrowed down to simply something they watch in porn. This was something that Naomi became aware of during her first relationship.
“The complete disregard or fetishisation some straight men have of lesbian relationships is shocking. What is also shocking is that it is still very much an ingrained mentality, even among men that seem more liberal and accepting.”
Injection asked all of our participants, ‘What do you think is the biggest thing you learned from your first queer relationship?”. Every participant emphasised the importance of communication and boundaries.
Gab Gibek, 20, a freelance photographer, said: “Communication is key. Whether it's about consent, comfortability, worries, happiness – understanding your partner and their perspective is crucial in order to have a safe and happy relationship. In my first queer relationship of two 16-year-olds, we were very lost, very confused, and too stuck in a honeymoon phase of a fresh relationship to truly talk about the important things to build the foundation of a relationship.”
© Gab Gibek
Emily said: “I think the biggest thing I learned was how to communicate and most importantly how not to communicate with someone. the balance between being there for someone and depending on someone. It was a really emotional relationship and from that I’ve learned what boundaries are important in those lines of communication and how to need support from someone without trying to rely solely on them.”
For others, they learnt more about their sexuality, and felt more certain of their identity. This was the case for Naomi.
“When you are growing up you spend the whole time being told how to be straight, in every sense - from straight sex, to how to look appealing to men and being taught to want to get married and have kids etc.
“It’s one thing to realise you’re gay but you have to unlearn this ingrained heterosexuality when you are in a queer relationship. Working out who you actually are and what you want in another person takes time.”
Rayn also found that they discovered more about themselves during their first relationship:
“My biggest takeaway from my first queer relationship is that I wasn't bi and that I had been taking part, very heavily might I add, in compulsory heterosexuality. Being in a relationship with a girl opened my eyes to realising I didn't have feelings for people of the opposite gender.”
Being queer, discovering your sexuality, and embarking on your first relationships in a society that may often demonise you for being yourself can be incredibly difficult. For Injection’s seven participants, and many other queer people, their first relationships and queer milestones come with so many lessons and enlightenments that can make being a part of the LGBTQ+ community both tricky to navigate but also uniquely significant.
There are several resources available for LGBTQ+ people that may be struggling with their sexuality or friends and families reactions. If you are suffering please reach out to one of the following organisations: Mind Out, LGBT Foundation and Stonewall.