Growing Up Gay: 21 Things To Do Before You Turn 21

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 1.58.12 PMTwenty-one is really the last milestone birthday you get before you start feeling the weight of time (turning 30, 40 and 50 likely won’t be nearly as exciting). And it’s a mark of transition from adolescence into young adulthood.

Still, your early 20s are really one mistake after another, so there’s no need to feel like you need to have it all “figured out.”

Scroll down for 21 things you might consider trying before you hit the big two-one.

1. Fuck up

Let’s face it, you’re going to fuck up. Maybe this should be get comfortable with fucking up. Breaking out of the teenage years and into your twenties is almost like learning how to walk all over again. And you will fall down. A lot. Getting used to that and realizing it’s not so hard to get back up will save you a lot of hurt later. Recognize when you screw up and learn from it.

2. Fall in love

Young love is a beautiful thing, full of hope and excitement. Who cares if it’s inevitably going to come back around and sting you? Your heart is a muscle and it needs to be exercised.

3. Do drag not just in your mom’s closet

One of the great things about growing up gay is the freedom to explore nonconforming lifestyles. Getting dolled up in drag is just plain fun, like playing dress-up when you were a kid except so much better. You may think it takes serious balls — and it does — but once you’re out in your fierce look, you may discover a confidence you never knew was there.

4. Quit smoking cigarettes 

Do yourself a huge favor and get this nasty habit out of your system early on. Quitting while young will make it that much easier to skirt temptation later on. The LGBT community struggles with cigarette addiction at a higher rate than the rest of the population, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We get that smoking has its appeal when you turn 18, but what starts as a fun thing to do with friends very quickly turns into a physical and mental addiction that could ruin your life.

5. Pick up a musical instrument

I don’t care if it’s a harp or a bongo drum, commit to learning a musical instrument for at least six months. Maybe you’ll suck, and maybe you’ll hate it. But you just as easily won’t suck, and you just may love it. The likelihood of starting to play music after 21 is pretty low, so give it a shot while you’re young. Who knows, maybe you’re the next Sam Smith or Jared Leto.

6. Campaign for Hillary in a swing state

Assuming, of course, that you support her. But let’s be real — chances are if you’re reading this, you already do. If you have free time on your hands, getting involved politically can be rewarding and might even open a door or two for you down the road. Take advantage of the fact that you aren’t fully career committed and help shape the future.

7. Find a hobby that has nothing to do with academic/professional success

There’s so much pressure on young people to “set themselves up” to succeed. Activities in high school are often adopted based solely on how they’ll look on college applications. All your careful planning may bring you all the material success you’ve ever dreamed of, but if you don’t have hobbies that bring you joy, it’s really all for naught. Doesn’t matter if it’s hiking or jewelry making.

8. Hold down a job

This is a practical one. Love it or hate it (more likely hate it), you’re going to have to support yourself very soon (if not already). Getting used to the idea that you need to show up places on time seems simple, but you’d be shocked how people who don’t learn this early on never seem to fully grasp it.

9. Explore a fantasy 

It’s an amazing time to be gay. By the time you’re 21, you may have already been out for four, five, six plus years. That’s incredible! If you’re comfortable with who you are, you can be honest about what revs your engine. You certainly don’t need to feel rushed to try anything new, but a simple Google search or two hundred can’t hurt.

10. See a play

Plays are like movies, except instead of a screen there’s a stage with actual people. It’s shocking how few young people go to the theater, but the experience of seeing a truly good play is irreplaceable. And it’ll make you sound smart on dates.

11. Watch Angels In America and The Normal Heart

Speaking of plays, these are two brilliant ones that have been made into fantastic movies. And they will teach you how lucky you are to have been born when you were born. They’ll also give you a foundational understanding of the blood, sweat and tears the gay community has shed to get where we are today. After you watch them, read more about gay history. Learn what Stonewall is, find out about the Mattachine Society, watch Milk and We Were Here.

12. Travel more than 100 miles from home

If you can, leave the country. If that’s not feasible, take a trip as far as you can. Travel can open your mind to new possibilities, and will change your perspective on the world. Watching the Travel Channel doesn’t count.

13. Go camping

Friends, camp fires, stars and no cell phones. These are the things life is all about.

14. Smoke pot and inhale

If you’re over 18, you’re old enough to experiment (safely!) with marijuana. Hey, it’s nearly legal after all. If you hate it, don’t do it again. It’s that simple.

15. Read books that aren’t assigned to you in school

Find books that you love. It’s amazing how not having to write a five-page paper on a book lets you enjoy it a whole hell of a lot more. You could try one of these. Or these.

16. Send someone a handwritten letter

Texts are convenient and all, but there is nothing better than receiving a thoughtful handwritten letter from someone. And you’ll be amazed at how fulfilling it is to write. If you put in the relatively small effort, not only will you brighten up someone’s life, but you’ll get what I mean after they respond in kind.

17. Have meaningless sex

Before everyone freaks out, this is obviously based on personal preference. If you’re saving yourself, go right ahead and save yourself. But if sexual exploration is on your radar, just remember that everything doesn’t have to mean something. Sometimes the experience is all the meaning there needs to be, so have fun and don’t feel ashamed.

18. Have meaningful sex

On that same vein, the revelation that sex can be physically pleasurable while also being so much more is powerful to say the least. Learning the difference between the two early on can make things a lot easier later.

19. See your favorite band perform live

Concerts will never lose their charm, but I will never forget the unbridled elation I felt seeing my favorite bands play when I was younger. For me it was Jimmy Eat World when I was 16, Radiohead when I was 18 and Paul McCartney when I was 20. Is it expensive? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes. If you can’t afford the big name venues, see smaller shows for $10-20 a pop. I’m embarrassed to say how many times I went to see Dashboard Confessional play tiny clubs as a teen, but at the time it was everything.

20. Read The New Yorker or The Economist 

Attention spans are at an all-time low. Exercise your brain and enhance your understanding of the world by reading entire articles (not just the first 2 paragraphs) from one of these magazines.

21. Find a physical activity that you enjoy doing

It’s astounding how little movement people get as they get wrapped up in life. And among those who do manage to exercise regularly, most of them hate it and bitch about it constantly. You’re young and spry, and I hate to sound like Debbie Downer, but you won’t always be. If you find a physical activity that makes you happy early on, you are exponentially more likely to keep it up as you get older and your schedule gets more complicated. Try out lots of them: Yoga, swimming, running, rock climbing, racket ball. Find one (or more) that gets you excited.

h/t Oscar Raymundo