Photo by Isi Parente on Unsplash
I first came out when I was 16, the words “I like girls” were muffled through loud sobs as I sat opposite my very confused-looking mom. Finally accepting and understanding that I was in fact, a Lesbian took me a while and it’s still something that I can struggle with. Realizing that I was never “Team Jacob” but instead watched Twilight purely for Kristen Stewart felt like a very big life adjustment at the time.
For so many blatant homophobia has been instilled in them from an early age, due to religion and social conditioning. But not me, if I’m honest the worst homophobia I ever felt was walking out of class when I was 12 and someone shouted “LESBIAN” at me. I fiercely defended the comment telling them that I wasn’t. I knew what a lesbian was and although I didn’t see why it was a bad thing, I certainly didn’t want to be called it. But that was it, the area I lived in wasn’t overtly homophobic other than that one incident… and to be fair (although I didn’t know it at the time) maybe the guy shouting lesbian at me just had an excellent gaydar. But despite no active preaching about the sin of homosexuality it took me years to come to terms with the fact that I might be a lesbian and even now I can feel some shame attached to being gay. So what was it? Why did I feel shame for something I had never even been told was wrong?
Somehow some scary subliminal messages had managed to creep into my mind, telling me to be afraid of being gay and at first I had no idea where they had come from. The first time that I even realized that being gay could be a bad thing was when I was nine. I told one of my friends that my uncle had a boyfriend and she read me a verse in Leviticus, from a bible in our classroom. I remember it saying “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination,” although the Bible never mentions being a lesbian, it was obvious to me that being gay wasn’t allowed according to the bible. I remember it making me feel really sad and confused as to why something saying this was even in the classroom, and why our teachers were using a bible that said that to teach us lessons.
However, I remained a staunch ally of the LGBTQ+ community. Before I came out I had a few gay, bisexual, and pansexual friends and I even had three gay uncles… yes that’s right three. My younger brother was bisexual, although he didn’t come out per se he would gush over Thor’s abs in the new Marvel movie until we got the hint. I went to pride, and I clapped for everyone in the parade but when it came down to thinking I might be gay it suddenly felt very scary.
When I got into my early teens and realized that I might have a crush on the girls I sat next to in English. I tried to convince myself that I was just making up the fact that I might like girls and that I might even be able to train myself to like men, (but newsflash straight girls don’t live in fear of being gay). Despite knowing many gay guys I didn’t know any lesbians and so the whole thing felt like a very large and treacherous unknown. Saying that I was a lesbian felt like jumping off the bridge in the middle of the night, having no idea how deep the water was, dramatic I know but at the time it’s truly how I felt, completely terrified.
It wasn’t that I was ever taught that it was wrong to be gay, I was just taught that it was right to be straight. The silence of LGBTQ+ representation in mainstream media sent a very loud message to me, that I wasn’t normal. The tropes of gay people in the movies and shows looked nothing like me even when they were there, whether it was camp men going shopping or butch lesbians fixing cars. The little representation there was I clung onto like a lifeline. How does the saying go? “We’re Queer, we’re… not really here because no one in mainstream media wants to represent us…” Anyway, perhaps what was more dangerous than the lack of representation was the harmful representation and perpetuation of stereotypes.
Even in pitch-perfect (one of my favorite movies), the token lesbian character Cynthia Rose felt very problematic. Her character was predatory to the women in the acapella group she was in. Cynthia gropes her female co-stars and when she stays in a tent full of other women she remarks “I hope the sun never comes up.” I watched Pitch Perfect with all my friends at a sleepover and I can’t tell you how uncomfortable it made me feel. The thought of making straight women feel uncomfortable is unfortunately a universal experience for lots of queer women. I was so worried about my friends thinking I was being predatory or even thinking that I liked them that it hindered my coming out process immensely. The thought of “would they do this if they knew I was gay?” plagued my thoughts. I always turned my back when we were in the changing rooms, or even changed in the loo, I had very guarded relationships with some of my friends where I shied away from hugs or holding my friend’s hands on the way into town. I always thought that the shell I had grown around me was just the way that I was, but it wasn’t, I just didn’t want to be seen as Cynthia Rose.
It is these struggles that are characteristic of the queer experience but it is also why coming out is still a big deal and it is ok to feel that. I felt very pressured to feel as though my coming out wasn’t important because “nowadays that stuff is normal,” at school I was berated for wearing a rainbow shirt because being gay wasn’t special. People asked me why I was proud of my sexuality. Of course, there are a million other things to my personality than being gay but it is still a big part of my identity, mainly due to the societal barriers that I have had to overcome and how that has impacted me. Being gay completely inverted my expectations for what I had in mind for my future and for what the people around me had in mind and that can be hard whether people choose to acknowledge it or not.
Knowing that there were people that might hate me for who I love often lead to me hiding who I was, whether that was at work or even with someone on a bus who I got chatting with and they asked me if I had a boyfriend and I all I said was no, despite the fact I had a girlfriend. Although there is a difference between protecting your safety and being ashamed, I find that hiding my sexuality can lead to feeling shame even though I do not need to feel that way. It is ok to be proud of being gay because releasing and accepting your sexuality can be a big deal and sometimes that’s something that people outside of the community don’t understand. Homophobia isn’t always as clear-cut as being told you are going to hell, it is often worse knowing that the world can often just feel a bit uncomfortable with the way you are. I wish it wasn’t this way, but we truly have a way to go and so if you want to have a dramatic coming out and wear rainbows everywhere or if it takes you a while to accept who you are that is valid. Because at the end of the day no one was more homophobic to me than I was to myself.
Something that helped me release some of the internalized homophobia, was getting involved with the LGBTQ+ community. I joined an LGBTQ+ youth group near me and started one at my school and it helped me realize I wasn’t alone and how much of my experience was shared by others, I also met one of my closest friends. My LBF as you will (lesbian best-friend). And with support, I was able to come out and be who I really was and it was one of the best things I have ever done.
I promise you this though. It’s ok to be gay.