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    (LGBT) Questioning a Gap Year? Take the Leap and Get Out There!

    Posted September 25, 2023, 10:00 am by Andrew Ryan
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    Some start asking the question in middle school. Some don’t start thinking about it until college. Others never let themselves even consider it:

    Should I take a gap year?

    How you answer might depend on some other questions you might also be asking yourself. I’m a queer leader for traveling gap year semesters with Carpe Diem Education, and I wanted to offer some advice on why young folks that are questioning their sexuality or gender identity, or those that are already confidently identifying as LGBTQ+, should take the leap and get out there.

    Take Time to Become Your Full Self

    Everyone’s coming of age journey is a story of not just understanding oneself, but of becoming oneself. As convenient as it might be to view identities as fixed, unchangeable things – and, conversely, as dangerous as it is to view identity as entirely malleable – the reality is that who we are is a complex push and pull of nature and nurture. For young LGBTQ+ and questioning people, this can present a rather stressful predicament: How can you know who you are if who you are is not a clearly definable thing?

    Words like “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual,” “male,” “female,” can sometimes help us reach clarity, but other times they can feel insufficient and restrictive. Which is in part why there are so many different words to describe LGBTQ+ identities. Paradoxically, “queer” is a word that gets used today to address those concerns by embracing being hard to define, and personally, it has been a great relief.

    But I encourage any young person on the grand spectrum of the LGBTQ+ or questioning scale to not get too caught up in the words. Some things in life cannot be understood just by reading. Which is why it’s particularly important for students who have sat in classrooms for years struggling with how they should define themselves to get out, explore (safely), and come into their full, dynamic self.

    Find Your Place in the World

    After personal growth, the second most common reason for students to take a gap year according to annual surveys done by the Gap Year Association is to travel: 

    For LGBTQ+ and questioning folks, travel offers particular benefits and considerations. I don’t want to fall into the narrative traps of implying that LGBTQ+ people need to “escape” the bubbles of their upbringing to find acceptance – or that travel is inherently something that will help us unpack our biases. Traveling is a privilege that is not available to all, and I have met many people that travel extensively who still seem to lack a basic understanding of the world and themselves.  It is also worth acknowledging that travel to many parts of the world comes with dangers that are specific to the LGBTQ+ community.

    That said, there is something special about the place of displacement, where we are pushed outside the comforts of the familiar and into the foreign, that can spark transformation for LGBTQ+ and questioning youth.

    As the travel writer Pico Iyer writes in Sun After Dark: Flights into the Foreign: “We travel, some of us, to slip through the curtain of the ordinary, and into the presence of whatever lies just outside our apprehension.” As any LGBTQ person will tell you, pieces of ourselves are sometimes the things that feel most difficult to apprehend. A gap year of intentional immersion into new environments can help unlatch doors to previously hidden parts of yourself, and open windows to understand where you want to be in the world.

    Develop Your LGBTQ+ Community

    Each gap year trip I have led over the past two years has had between 30 to 50 percent of students that identify as LGBTQ+. It’s no surprise really. The benefits that gap years offer LGBTQ+ and questioning youth result in many deciding to take the plunge, which in turn provides one more reason to join them: finding people who have similar experiences.

    I cannot promise you will make great friends on a gap year – and, really, though it might be a concern of yours, I hope making friends is not even one of the reasons you decide to take a gap year. If your year is going to be productive, it will be challenging you as an individual. It will get you to interact with people that are very different than what you are used to. But an added plus to that exposure to very different types of people is that you are almost certainly going to interact with plenty of other LGBTQ+ students who – just like you – are on a journey of self-discovery.

    You may find a life-long friend. You may even find a romantic connection. You might find people that you find unbearable.  All I can say for sure is the diversity of people you will experience will be good for you to understand that you are far from alone.

    Take it from someone who waited until he was 28 to come out of the closet – if you know you need to give yourself time and space to become fully comfortable with your gender and sexuality, the earlier you make time to tackle that uncertainty the better. A gap year is certainly not the only way to come to terms with these important questions about yourself, but there are a lot of reasons why unpacking them while still in a school setting can be more difficult. Take the leap, give yourself a year to face it head on. Your older self will thank you for it – I promise.

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    Andrew Ryan

    An inclusive experiential educator and international guide for Carpe Diem Education.