WHAT age were you when you had your first real crush? Was it before or after the first time you had a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” for two weeks after your friend went across the playground to ask them if they’d go out with you?

When did you notice that fancying someone was no longer just thinking they were cool and wanting them to like you; you’d started imagining – really imagining – what it would feel like to kiss and touch the object of your affection?

Did you have those feelings when you announced that you were going to marry someone (probably your cousin) when you were old enough, or did that come later? And what about your first kiss – did you actually like it?

All of us will have memories of some or all of these milestones, but for LGBTQ people these moments can be more fraught. Experiences which are, in some ways, universal have for so long been presented through a purely heterosexual, gender normative lens that anyone who doesn’t fit this mould is likely to meet such youthful rites of passage with dread and anxiety.

While the treatment of (some) LGBTQ people has improved dramatically over time, even the most fortunate and cared-for children in 2020 Scotland will still have good cause to worry about speaking and living their truth in a society where difference is so often met with cruelty or social exclusion.

For example, a 2017 survey by LGBT Youth Scotland found that 71% of LGBT young people experienced bullying in school on the grounds of being LGBT.

Last week, #IFirstKnewIWasLGBTQ (originated by Stonewall) trended on Twitter as people shared stories from their youth and the circumstances in which they came out to themselves and others. The recurring theme was that most people knew, on some level, from a very young age, while many had tried to deny their feelings or at least keep them hidden for fear of how people would react.

This mirrors some of my own experience. I was 13 when I first knew I was gay. That’s when it became obvious, at least. Before that, there were the afternoons spent secretly fastwording through my parents’ Ally McBeal videos to watch the scenes with Portia De Rossi (talk about gaydar – this was before she was even out). Then there was the teacher I desperately looked out for in the hallways and thought about as I lay in bed. There were even the moments when, kissing my primary school sweetheart, I imagined he was one of the girls in my class.

But, such is the all-encompassing normalisation of heterosexuality, the penny truly didn’t drop until I saw two pretty Russian girls singing All The Things She Said and making out in the rain. “I’ll have some of that,” I declared. And the rest, as they say, is history.

If only it were quite so simple. There was still the small matter of everyone else to contend with. While I wasn’t actually in Russia, I knew well enough that walking into school the next day and announcing my newfound and all-consuming love for every woman and girl I saw would not be wise.

Like many others before and after me, I kept large parts of my inner life concealed from those around me. While my peers gibbered endlessly about “hot guys”, I said absolutely nothing – an approach which became something of an enduring habit.

When I did come out, I experienced everything on the spectrum from being told it was “just a phase” to being called “disgusting” and “unnatural”. And yet, I know that I was lucky. I was able to open up safely to family and close friends and I had people I could rely on to accept and support me. So many young people up to this day have far worse experiences than I ever had.

The same research by LGBT Youth Scotland found that only 57% of LGBT young people felt included in their own families. Meanwhile, 20% of LGBT young people and 29% of transgender young people who experienced bullying left education as a result.

It should go without saying that we want to create an environment where no child or young person has to grow up feeling like they have to choose between being themselves and being safe and included; an impossible choice, given the impacts on mental health of trying to suppress such fundamental feelings.

But, sadly, the manner in which this topic became the talk of the digital watercooler last week suggests we have a long way to go before this can be taken for granted.

The “what age were you?” conversation was prompted by a tweet by one of the founders of LGB Alliance, a UK campaign group which openly seeks to exclude the T from LGBT, but increasingly speaks out in opposition to any kind of LGBT-inclusive education or support for young people.

The tweet in question condemned a survey aimed at LGBTQ+ people aged 12-23 as a “safeguarding red flag”, insisting: “A 12-year-old is a child. Stop putting children in with adults and labelling them LGBTQ+. Let children grow up without adult agendas.”

It would be easy, perhaps even advisable, to ignore such anachronistic commentary altogether, but there is something seriously concerning about the increasing frequency with which such viewpoints are amplified on social media and parts of the mainstream media.

It may be a stretch to refer to George Galloway as “mainstream”, but as a former MP and self-proclaimed left-winger it was none the less unsettling to see his new pro-Union party Alliance for Unity claim in outrage that the SNP is demonstrating anal sex and rimming to children using Nutella.

Concluding, presumably, that they were on to a winner, Alliance for Unity proceeded to refer numerous times to “The NatAnal” newspaper. You can just hear George’s maniacal laugh ringing out in a darkened room as he hit send on that zinger. At the heart of this lies an attempt to use homophobic fearmongering for political ends, and the most worrying part is that there are people who buy into this.

The representation of anything relating to LGBTQ people as being sexually explicit and inappropriate for children by default is rooted in bigotry and double standards.

Children learn about romantic relationships and feelings from their earliest years: through what they observe in the people around them; in film, TV and books aimed at children; and in the implicit and explicit messages they are given about what to aspire to in their present and future.

Only with time do we start to fill the hollow frame of expectation with our own desires, emotions, hopes and needs. It is precisely because the expectations we are offered as standard so often exclude LGBTQ people entirely that so many people grow up believing that they – or others – are “wrong”.

The harm caused by this systematic erasure of LGBTQ people’s identities and experiences is what inclusive education intends to alleviate, and thanks to the efforts of the TIE campaign and others this will soon become a reality for Scotland’s children and young people.

In the meantime, as long as homophobia and transphobia exist, organisations that support LGBTQ young people will remain an essential service, just as they have been for decades.

Characterising efforts to acknowledge and cater for LGBTQ identities as a risk to children is, quite simply, a conservative talking point which belongs in the history books along with Section 28 and the other draconian laws it was used to justify.

The real risk to LGBTQ children and young people is pretending they don’t exist – wishing won’t make it so, it will only leave another generation of people struggling to accept themselves in a world designed to make them feel like they don’t belong.