WHEN WE WERE YOUNG #5: Dahlia Adler


Our final WHEN WE WERE YOUNG Essay is by YA and NA author Dahlia Adler, author of UNDER THE LIGHTS, LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT and JUST VISITING!


When we were young, we didn’t talk about sexuality or gender spectra, or where we fell on the Kinsey scale.

“Gay” was something people guessed you might be if you were a guy who wore pink and were into hugging and pop music. “Lesbian” was a rumor, a joke—never something it was acknowledged anyone might actually be.

And “bisexual” was…something  I only remember ever hearing it once, when a guy friend confided in me that he thought he might be bi, because another guy kissed him and he liked it.

(I said, “Oh, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re bi.” Then we got separated by a crowd and we never talked about it again.0

Let me tell you, dear reader, all the other things I wish I’d said.

(But I thought that was the best thing, then—this assurance that “No, you’re not like that, don’t worry about it.” It didn’t even occur to me to say, “But it’s cool if you are.” I can’t tell you now why I never asked him about it again, if he wanted to talk about it.)

It’s been fifteen years and I think about that moment a lot. But even now, I don’t reach out and apologize because I’m afraid he wants to forget it ever happened, maybe even has forgotten. How can you ever want to revisit something when the initially reaction you received from someone was to erase it?

When we were young, these words didn’t belong to people we really knew. The unspoken understanding was we were all going to date members of the opposite gender (ha, you don’t think we understood that there was gender outside the binary, do you?) and get married and have babies and that cycle would happen all over again.

When we were young, we didn’t think about the people among us who might not want exactly that.

And then, suddenly, high school ended and college and then real life happened, and suddenly, people were breaking The Rules. Rumors floated back that guys from my high school class had started hooking up with other guys. The person from my class about whom there’d been the most pervasive lesbian rumors? Came out as a transguy.  One old female friend from camp turned out to have been with the same girl for eleven years, and a male friend became the first to come out to me since that ill-fated first time in high school.

(That time, I didn’t screw it up, I swear.)

Turned out, everyone was just waiting to break free—from teen years, from high school, from religious education, from rumors, from constantly prying eyes, and from being surrounded strictly by people like me who did not have a freaking clue.

I advocate the hell out of LGBTQIAP+ YA because I can’t stop thinking about what high school must’ve been like for those people, what it must’ve been like to be in my class and be a transguy and just know you are not in a safe place to explain who you really are. To be a bi boy coming out to your good friend, and have her reaction be to erase it. To think you’re weird. To think you’re invalid. To think you cannot really exist.

And I want so much better for those who are still young.


67711c76fa8ec5bc-DahliaAdler_authorphoto_Credit-MaggieHallDahlia Adler is an Associate Editor of Mathematics by day, a Copy Editor by night, and a YA author and blogger at every spare moment in between. She lives in New York City with her husband and their overstuffed bookshelves.

You can read the rest of the WHEN WE WERE YOUNG essays here:

Robin Talley

Marieke Nijkamp

Katherine Locke

Zac Brewer

WHEN WE WERE is available for purchase now by clicking the photo below.


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