Exploring your sexuality? Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline offer their expert advice

Illustration shows three young people on their phones and laptops. The text above reads: "You are not alone"

Who are Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline?

Switchboard is a support and information helpline who have given support to LGBTQI+ people for the last 45 years! It all started in the basement of Housmans bookshop in Kings Cross, London where they opened the phones for five hours a day. They now take calls, instant messages and emails from 10am – 10pm all year round (even through Christmas).

We spoke to Jordan, a listening volunteer from the charity, about the kind of support and advice that young people ask for when exploring their sexual identity.

What kind of things do young people need support with?

Being young isn’t easy, we’ve all been there! It can be a particularly scary time for those discovering their sexuality or gender identity. That’s where Switchboard comes in.

We’re an open, friendly team of volunteers – most of whom have been in that situation not so long ago. We’re only an instant message, phone call, or email away. We talk to all sorts of people with all sorts of questions and worries – and we take every one seriously, without judgement, and in total confidence.

Whether it’s about coming out to new people, questions about safer sex, gender identity, first relationships or coming out for the first time. We can help you talk through whatever’s on your mind.

What are some of the most common questions you get asked, and how do you respond?

The majority of people who call Switchboard contact us about themselves, but we also hear from friends, parents, and family members who are looking for some independent advice and support. Here are just some of the main questions we get asked.

Am I the only one who feels like this?

The feeling of being different can make you feel lonely, but you are not alone. We speak to around 15,000 people each year, and many of those are people like you asking the same questions and feeling the same feelings that you might have. Keeping things a secret and trying to work things out alone can be hard, it’s always good to talk and we’re here to have that chat. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel after talking to someone!

I fancy both boys and girls, do I have to choose? And do I have to label myself.

No you don’t, there are so many ways in which people identify, if that’s to do with who they fancy or what their gender is. Labelling can help you and others understand what you’re going through however your journey is completely your own, and if you don’t want to label yourself then you don’t have to.

There are lots of labels and it can be very confusing (even for people older than you!) for example we get a lot of calls asking the difference between being bisexual and pansexual. ‘Bisexual’ means a person who fancies people of two genders (boys or girls for example) ‘pansexual’ is a term for people who don’t see gender at all when they fancy people; they just find the person attractive however they identify. We know it can be a bit confusing, and if you ever come across a word you don’t know just chat to us and we can talk you through it.

Being young is hard enough but it’s really important to remember that you’re under no pressure to label yourself as any one way.

What does Queer mean?

That one’s not so easy to answer because it means different things to different people. It used to be a word used to bully gay people, and recently the LGBTQ+ community have taken the word back (or reclaimed it) so that people can’t use it to hurt us. Being Queer usually means that the person is on the LGBTQ+ rainbow and doesn’t want to define themselves anymore than that.

We speak to a lot of young people who experience bullying, so we know it’s a big issue. Like the other issues that we’ve mentioned we’re just a phone call away if you need to talk.

I’m being bullied at school because I’m LGBTQ+, what should I do?

Being bullied is a horrible situation, and many of the volunteers here at Switchboard have been bullied themselves so we know how it feels. It’s important to know that it is not your fault, you’ve done nothing wrong and you don’t have to suffer in silence, speak to your favourite teacher after class one day and let them know what’s happening. If you’re being bullied online make sure you take screenshots or save the conversations. Telling someone takes the power out of the bully’s hands and like we’ve said before it always helps to talk about things and not keep things in.

How do I come out to family and/or friends?

Coming out can be hard, and you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. But it can feel great to be around your friends and your family and be your true self without hiding your sexuality. If their reaction isn’t what you first expected, don’t panic! Remember they may need time to think about things.

It can be scary to come out for the first time, so it may be easier to come out to someone you trust first, like a best friend or a sibling that you’re close with who can then be with you if you decide to come out to other people.

If you’re struggling, please remember you’re stronger than you know, and things will get easier. Switchboard will be there to talk things through with you 10am – 10pm every day on 0300 330 0630, or you can chat online at switchboard.lgbt or email [email protected]

If you’re looking for support with your sexual identity…

If you’re facing any of the issues raised in this interview, know that you’re not alone and we’re here for you. As well as the wonderful team at Switchboard, The Mix have a range of services you can contact for free and confidential support.

You can also read our articles on how to come out, and exploring your sexuality.

Do you have any more questions about sexuality and relationships? Join our expert chat with Jordan on our discussion boards until 28th February!

Next Steps

  • Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline offers a range of help services for the LGBT community, including message boards and a helpline. 0300 330 0630
  • The Albert Kennedy Trust supports LGBT people aged 16-25-years-old who are homeless or living in a hostile environment. AKT has offices in London (call on 020 7831 6562), Manchester (0161 228 3308) and Newcastle (0191 281 0099).
  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
  • BlackOut UK is a not-for-profit social enterprise run and owned by a volunteer collective of black gay men. They celebrate the diversity of experience and views among black queer men in the UK and offer support and advice
  • Stonewall campaign for the equality of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people across Britain and abroad.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

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Updated on 20-Feb-2020

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