Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth are two to three times more
likely to start smoking as their straight peers. Although their reasons for smoking
may be similar, LGBT youth are also dealing with other issues, such as figuring
out who they are and where they fit in, dealing with hostile environments, and being
directly targeted with marketing from tobacco companies. Learn more about these
and other LGBT issues and how to deal without smoking.
As a teen, you’re trying to figure out who you are and who you want to be.
As an LGBT teen, you may also be struggling with your sexual orientation and gender
identity. Maybe your friends and family have been accepting and supportive of you
being LGBT. Maybe you haven’t told anyone. Maybe you’ve been picked
on, bullied, harassed, called names, or worse. No matter where you are in the process
of coming out, and no matter what reactions you’ve gotten from people you’ve
told, it can be hard to figure out who you are and where you fit in.
LGBT is part of who you are, it’s not the only thing that defines you.”
Independent and Connected
One of the biggest challenges teens face is creating a balance between wanting to
be independent with wanting to feel connected. You may want to be your own person,
make decisions for yourself and blaze your own trail. But you may also find that
your social relationships are more important than ever. Whether it is the connections
you have with friends, a romantic partner, your parents, or siblings, as much as
you want to be independent, you also want to feel close to and understood by the
important people in your life. Being LGBT adds a layer to this. Maybe you’re
the only LGBT person you know, and that can make you feel lonely or even scared.
It could also be really empowering. Maybe you have a great group of LGBT friends,
but your way of expressing yourself or being “out” with your sexual
orientation is different than theirs.
Figuring out What’s Important to You
A big part of expressing yourself involves knowing what is important to you, or
what you value. Are there political issues that you feel really passionate about?
Would you drop everything to help out a friend? Do you spend hours looking at an
art exhibit or going to open mic night at your favorite coffee shop? What are your
career goals? Is dinner with your family the most important part of your day? The
things that are important to you are the things you make time for—the things that
you want to have front and center in your world. And they shape how you think about
who you are and who you want to be.
“Trying on” different identities is one way to figure out who you are
and what’s important to you. Maybe smoking is an identity you’re trying
out. Maybe it makes you feel independent or unique. Maybe you think smoking helps
you fit in or makes you look more sophisticated. The thing about smoking is that
it may seem like it makes you more independent at first, but before you know it,
you’re hooked. And then cigarettes are making the decisions—not you.
“Think about who you are and who you want to be.”
important and valuable to you? How does smoking help? How does smoking get in the
way of you being who you want to be? Try on identities that make a statement about
what’s most important to you, who you are, and who you want to be. If it’s
important for you to show confidence, try doing it through your clothes or how you-
carry yourself. Self-expression can also mean opening up to friends through a blog,
artwork, or music.
Dealing with Stress
“You have a lot going on in your life.”
Between school, work, family, and friends,
sometimes it can feel like a lot to handle. Lots of teens smoke to deal with stress.
It might feel like smoking helps at first, but you’ve probably learned by
now – from your own experience – that the stress is still there after the initial
effects of smoking wear off. So what else can you do?
Understanding What Makes You Feel Stressed
Different things stress people out in different ways and in different amounts. Sometimes
a bunch of little stresses can really add up. Being LGBT means you have to deal
with some stresses that your non-LGBT friends might not be dealing with. Perhaps
you’re struggling with being comfortable with your LGBT identity. Or maybe
the people around you haven’t been very accepting or encouraging. It’s
hard when you don’t feel supported by the people who are most important to
you. And it’s hard to feel like others aren’t on the same page as you
are—like they don’t really get who you are and where you’re coming from.
You might feel betrayed and lonely. Sometimes the judgments of others sound a lot
like your own judgments—and it can be surprising how loud it sounds.
“When you’re stressed, your emotions and reactions can feel out of control.”
It’s like you don’t know if you’ll laugh or cry or yell from one
minute to the next. Take a step back to consider what you’re feeling stressed
about or reacting to. Sometimes it’s what’s happening in the moment
and other times it’s stuff you might not be aware of. Understanding what makes
you feel stressed is a first step toward taking charge and dealing with it.
RAIN is a great tool that might help you to better understand and deal with stress
in a way that empowers you and is longer lasting that what you get from cigarettes.
- Recognize what is happening:
Focus on your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Notice how your body responds. Is
your heart racing? Are you holding your breath? Clenching your teeth?
- Allow life to be just as it is:
You might want to push away the thoughts and feelings you’re having because
they’re so uncomfortable. Give yourself the OK to feel what you’re feeling
and think what you’re thinking.
- Investigate inner experience with kindness:
Sometimes “Recognize” and “Allow” are enough to relieve
some of the stress. Other times you need to dig deeper. Investigating with kindness
means exploring more of what you’re feeling and sensing—without beating yourself
up over it.
- Non-identification: Dealing
with stress involves a balance between acknowledging what you’re experiencing
but not connecting that experience with who you are. You are not defined by the
things going on around you.
Tip: Identify allies who can help you figure out how to lower your
stress. Channel stress into positive activities that help the LGBT Community. The
Gay-Straight Alliance Network
has local and national events you can get involved with. If you need a LGBT quit
smoking community, try the National
LBGT Tobacco Control Network
to get started.
Feeling awkward? Everyone feels awkward sometimes—even the people who seem completely
confident and popular. In addition to trying to figure out who you are, being a
teen also means figuring out where you fit in and where you want to fit in. This
can be extra challenging as an LGBT teen. You might be the only LGBT person you
know. You might be the only person in your group of LGBT friends who has come out—or
you might be the only one who hasn’t come out. And although it’s fun
to show off your unique qualities, sometimes it can feel like you’re standing
out in all the wrong ways.
“For a lot of teens, smoking can be something you do to fit in.”
Maybe you feel like
smoking relaxes you and you feel less awkward. Maybe your friends smoke, and smoking
is just something you all do when you’re hanging out. Or maybe you feel really
lonely and isolated, and the most reliable “friends” in your life are
cigarettes. Take a step back and ask yourself:
“What does “fitting in” mean to you?”
What would it take for you to feel
like you fit in?
- Think about your relationship style. Do you like to have lots of people around you
all the time? Or do you prefer smaller groups of people you feel really close to?
Fitting in isn’t all about numbers. Whether you have a big group of friends
or just a few close friends, connect with people who support you and help you to
feel comfortable with who you are and who you want to be.
- Who are the people you like spending time with the most? What do you like about
them? What things do you have in common? How are you different? How do you feel
when you’re with them?
If you’re feeling lonely, sometimes it helps to think about the ways you already
fit in instead of focusing on how you stand out. Think about the people you enjoy
and what you enjoy about them. Build relationships with people who build you up,
and don’t let smoking get in the way.
Tips: Trying to find ways to fit in or meet new people? Join a
group with people who share similar interests. Check out your school for new activities,
or volunteer with organizations like the Trevor Project
or check out the LGBT center in your community or the Gay-Straight Alliance at your