Navigating queer relationships : Life Kit The dating game can be hard, but navigating the dating world for the first time as a queer person can mean even more complexity – and a lot of room for creativity. Explore facing your dating fears, finding queer community and practicing comfortable communication while staying true to you.

Find freedom and create your own path in your first queer relationship

Find freedom and create your own path in your first queer relationship

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Kaz Fantone/NPR
Illustration of a person looking down at their chest and opening it up to reveal two silhouettes facing one another. The person looks calm and happy and is illuminated by sparkles and colorful light.
Kaz Fantone/NPR

Being queer doesn't come with a roadmap – but so many of us could really use one, especially when we're navigating our first relationships.

For example, I had my first queer relationship when I was 17. When we got together, it was exciting, amazing and terrifying. I was still confused about whether I was queer – or just "queer for her." In short, I was in denial and had trouble processing my feelings.

It took me another two years – filled with shame and fear – to come out to my friends and family.

"I think shame is so intrinsic to the queer experience because we grow up with the entire world really correcting us," says queer mindset coach Nathan Serrato, also known as your queer "fairy godmother." He says queer kids are constantly being told their behavior isn't appropriate: "Boys don't do that," or, "Girls don't do this."

"Queer people have learned to really calculate every move [and] everything that they say to fit within a heteronormative society," Serrato says.

Serrato helps people embrace their queer identities and themselves. "You do not have to act or present a certain way for the straights or the gays or anyone," he says. "Just be yourself, at the end of the day."

Ultimately, Serrato says he wants to help people attain the types of careers and relationships they are worthy of. Here's his advice on facing your dating fears, finding queer community and practicing comfortable communication in your first queer relationships:

Before you start dating other people, date yourself

First thing's first: your relationship to yourself defines your relationship to other people. "For many people, especially queer people, having a healthy relationship is the ultimate validation for your core identity," says Serrato. He explains that when you're able to let go of that need for validation, "then you can date more freely...because you realize you are actually whole and complete without [a] relationship."

So, before you start dating anyone else, date yourself. "Go ahead and learn about yourself first and try new experiences," says Serrato. Take yourself to yoga, an art exhibit or out for a nice dinner. Find whatever it is you like to do.

This will help you know your own wants and needs, which will help you communicate them to others.

Next, date your community – and keep your options open

Serrato says your next step is to become comfortable with the queer community around you. "Get to know different groups within the queer community because they are not all the same," he says.

By forming queer friendships, you're building a strong foundation to finding a relationship. You can find connections through groups online and local LGBTQ resource centers.

"Find safe spaces first," says Serrato. Then, expand your exploration: check out meet-up groups and city sports leagues, and get into non-queer-specific spaces. Queer people are everywhere!

Say you really enjoy birdwatching – join a birdwatching walk! "You never know who's going to be on these birdwatching walks – you may just meet the love of your life," Serrano says. "As long as you keep putting yourself out there and have that intention that you want to develop those relationships, you're going to develop them."

And, of course, dating apps are a great tool to meet people, says Serrato, especially when you're specific about what you want. Be direct when creating your profile.

Navigate triggers with open and honest communication

Relationships will trigger vulnerable parts of yourself, especially early on. Be honest with your partner about what you're feeling and experiencing. If it's your first relationship, but it's not theirs, understand that everyone has their own learning curve, and be accepting of your own.

Especially when it comes to sex, shame can be triggered in a lot of ways, says Serrato. "It can be triggered around body image, it can be triggered around...[participating in] the act that you were taught was the most shameful," he says. "So it's normal to feel nervous."

His advice for someone feeling anxious when having sex or exploring intimacy for the first time is to communicate those feelings with your partner and explore what you enjoy, and try not to take yourself too seriously. "It's okay to laugh," Serrato says.

Over time in a safe and caring relationship, you'll learn what you like and what you don't, and, "At the end of the day, the intimacy of doing anything like that with your partner is going to grow you closer together."

Distinguish what's "you" from what society thinks you should be

Explore what works for you in a relationship – try different roles and dynamics, and see what fits.

"We didn't grow up with many examples of what healthy queer relationships look like, and that's really the the beauty of queer relationships," says Serrato. "We get to define [the way our relationships look and feel] as we go; we get to create that."

"As long as you are being honest and true to yourself...you can't go wrong," he says. "Enjoy the journey."


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The audio portion of this episode was produced by Andee Tagle. We'd love to hear from you! Email us at or send a voice note to LifeKit@npr.org.