Advice for my 20-year-old self
Your early 20s are a steep learning curve for everyone. You’re starting to really live in the world as an adult, and you’re making significant choices about your life, possibly for the first time. You might be studying or starting to build a career. You may be considering a tattoo.
If you’re a guy who’s into other guys, you might also be dealing with a lot of unknowns and questioning things about yourself that not everyone around you will understand.
One of the great things about getting older is experience – you know increasingly more about yourself and the world. We spoke to some guys who have left their early 20s behind them (some further than others), and asked them to give us a little wisdom for their former selves.
Names have been changed to protect privacy.
What the guys said
“Get out of that job you hate and go back to study. You’re going to struggle for a few years but you’ll end up doing what you love.”
“I wish I’d been more open to trying things. I was so worried about getting it wrong, I now feel like I missed out on things. So yeah, my advice would be to say ‘yes’ more and stop worrying what people think.”
“Love your body – you don’t realise how beautiful you are. And stop smoking, you idiot.”
“Get out of your hometown sooner. You can find everything you worry about leaving behind somewhere else and more. You will also be able to form your own life and identity, not one that you are expected to have.”
“I had phimosis (tight foreskin) which started causing problems in my teens and then on into my twenties. It really ruined those first years of my sex life. If I had advice for my 20-year-old self it would be: don’t ignore the problem, it’s not going to get better. Just go and get circumcised.”
“Travel. It’s the best thing you can spend your money on.”
“Start saving up and buy property. You won’t be able to afford it in 10 years.”
“I grew up in a country town and after I came out, I spent a lot of time in my 20s showing everyone that I wasn’t that sort of gay. I was always checking that I dressed and acted like a ‘normal’ guy. Looking back, it’s shocking to me how much time and effort went into that and how stressful it was. It makes me sad – what a waste! If I could tell my 20-year-old self anything, it would be to just be whatever sort of gay you want and let everyone else sort themselves out.”
“Stop chasing straight guys. They don’t want what you’re selling.”
“Stop listening to people at your church. There’s a light inside you and you will shine it with new people who understand and know there’s a different plan for you.”
“You can be into guys and girls and it’s not something you need to get therapy for.”
“Stop worrying about losing your hair. You’re going to look great with a shaved head.”
“Don’t go home with the tequila guy!”
“Be loyal to people who are loyal to you and don’t waste your energy with people who aren’t. Your friends from school are all going to do different things and it may not seem like it now, but you’ll have great people in your life.”
Making sense of it all
If there was a common theme with all the guys we spoke to, it was to expect yourself to make mistakes – that’s what your 20s are for after all. There’s no ‘right’ way to do it, and making questionable choices is all part of the process. There are going to be times when just getting through life is overwhelming and it will feel like there’s too much to learn and not enough time.
That’s why some of the best advice we’d give is to know how and where to get support when you need it.
There is a lot of fantastic support available if you feel like you’re not coping or you need someone to talk to. Emen8’s Partner Network is a great place to start, with organisations offering support around HIV, sexual health and wellbeing.
There are also dedicated LGBTQ+ support services in every state, who can help with everything from counselling to finances, legal issues and housing.
You can also talk to your doctor about starting a mental health plan — if you’re eligible for Medicare, it will cover up to 20 visits to a mental health practitioner per year.
(While you’re there, why not get an STI test and talk to your doctor about how you’re managing your STI and HIV risk? That’s one piece of advice your future self will definitely get behind.)
While we can’t promise you’ll have no regrets, we hope these little pieces of wisdom mean you’ll have fewer of them.
And speaking of regrets – tattoos really are forever. Choose carefully.