Coming out is not a singular ‘ah ha’ moment where you realised that you desire queer bodies but an ongoing awareness and acceptance of that attraction.
I wanted Nancy to like me so badly. I liked her handwriting, I liked the way she smelled. She always had the best snacks at breaktime, which she graciously shared with me. I loved to touch her skin, and she had the prettiest hair in the entire stream. She had deep dimples and I loved telling her jokes just so I could see them when she laughed. She had a weird tooth that she was ashamed of and would hide it in public but never when we were together. [I found it charming] She would invite me for sleepovers and would always sleep in the same bed. Long after she had fallen asleep I would lay next to her but never touching, acutely aware of her warm body. I would wonder how it would be if I put my arm around her and held her as she slept. I never did though, because even at a young age I was perceptive enough to know what would happen if I broke ‘the rules’.
As we grew older, our tastes did not align. She went through puberty and the boys did not hide their attraction. This inspired unbearable feelings of jealousy and I would throw tantrums whenever I saw her giggling with them, tantrums neither of us understood. These did not get any better once she started ‘going steady’ with a boy from whom I could not hide my disdain for. She got fed up and we got into a horrible argument witnessed by all our friends. He backed her up and got the forming crowd riled up…after a while the chants of ‘lezzo’ filled my ears and I began to cry, which only led to more jeering. She did not say anything, whether she couldn’t or wouldn’t I don’t know. Maybe it was both. I was 12.
Oddly enough it never stuck enough to be a long-lasting nickname, but I never forgot and I never ever forgave.
Being a millennial growing up in a privileged home with internet access exposed me to pornographic material sooner rather than later. Initially the internet was a rude shock, bombarding my adolescent mind with an unfiltered array of images — a case of beginners folly as I would simply type in ‘porn’ and peruse the first few links. After a while I honed in on my preferences and proceeded to scrimp and save and steal just to buy airtime for dial up to indulge the powerful urges I had. I would end up watching videos from sites with confusing underlying messages … sites that claimed to expose men who were ‘tricked’ by hauntingly beautiful Amazonian women — the trick being that they were trans — but would still have sex with the women anyway if they promised to be silent about it … of lesbians going to shopping malls, parks and other public places, picking up straight women and fucking them all afternoon only to send them back to their boyfriends in disgrace or with a condescending ‘you’ll be back’… there was always some sneakiness or deviant behaviour involved in non-heterosexual sex. Already the act of watching pornography was taboo by normal standards but I already knew that my tastes would raise a few eyebrows.
I printed out mages of my favourite moments and kept them under my bed at home. I would lay awake looking at those pics, black and white on paper but in full colour in my brain. I fabricated backstories for the women in my head, turned them from trickster to something more complex, gave them names, lives. Ii breathed life into them and in turn gave myself life, but only behind my locked bedroom door.
I managed to avoid suspicion [to the best of my knowledge] in high school, I denied it and learned early on how to play the role that was expected. I was an avid participant in the conversations over which man was attractive and which one wasn’t. Thankfully we did not have communal showers as I’d heard of in other schools, so that was an uncomfortable bridge I never had to cross.
I was friends with a few girls who were suspected of being queer but never in that way. I knew of their midnight trysts and mid term misadventures but not as a participant but from the grapevine like everyone else. I felt pangs of longing, of wanting to be included and of wanting the same for myself. When I didn’t feel any sort of special tingling after surveying the 500 plus girls in our school I told myself it was all just a phase. I read about the evils of pornography in chicken soup for the teenage soul and decided that that was what was leading me astray. I went to the chapel to pray for forgiveness and to try to find God but I ended up masturbating instead.
I distanced myself and didn’t say anything when ‘those girls’ were taken to the principal’s office to be ‘spoken to’. No one asked me what I thought and I did not give any opinion on it. I am still embarrassed when I think of them.
Mina was the first girl I kissed. After a bad breakup I was at a party trying to lift my mood but failing miserably. She told me to stop being foolish, told me how beautiful I was and basically cheered me up. In the middle of laughing at one of her jokes she pulled me close and kissed me on the lips.
I froze, terrified of what was to happen next. And then suddenly I wasn’t. It all came to me like second nature. In that moment I wasn’t afraid, I wasn’t carrying a giant rock on my neck, I was giddy and thrilled and every sense was magnified. We talked every day for a few weeks, and soon I fell in love with her. One day when I was picking out a gift for her she sent me a message saying that she was now in a relationship with another man, saying it had nothing to do with my feelings for her and that she hoped it wouldn’t change our friendship.
She remains to date the only girl I have ever kissed while sober.
Remembering the years between high school and finally coming out is painful. I am not proud of the ways I both sought out and denied myself intimacy. I know it now as internalised queerphobia but back then I had no language for it.
I was always opposed to the idea of girls nights out, due to the likelihood that someone would very likely suggest a game of truth or dare. The thought of someone half drunkenly admitting to never having kissed a girl filled me with dread because of the likely scenarios that would arise. Sometimes it was the bolder [or drunker, depending on how you look at it] of the group who would also admit the same and they would experiment together, other times it was the girls who had experimented when they were younger who stepped up to the plate. I hated both types of women. I wanted to volunteer as well, to take that step but I didn’t trust my suppressed feelings… in my worst moments of anxiety I imagined myself unable to stop, that several years of suppressed angst would turn me into a rapist. I resented the experienced girls because they had a confidence I never knew as an adolescent girl. I hated myself for having these feelings and would dig my nails into my palms and try not to pass out in fear. After a while, I cut off ties and avoided girls nights as much as I could.
I instead turned my focus to men, seeking the intimacy and touch I had denied myself from the women I really wanted. I would go out almost every weekend [and then every night] looking to hook up with…really whoever. I was quick to initiate sex and had no qualms about ‘body count’ or ‘soul ties’ or all that bullshit. To my enemies I was a slut, and to my friends, well probably they thought the same, but I seemed sexually liberated and [said I] practised safe sex. I wasn’t, and I didn’t care. I’d always close my eyes during sex, insisted he never say a word and leave my body behind to be assaulted by irrythmic pounding. My favourite position was doggystyle mostly because I’d be able to put my head in a pillow and tune him out. I would go through my mental slideshow picking scenes either from my own few chance encounters or my vast memory bank of erotic clips. I’d had several years experience of this and I’d climax more often than not. Every single one of my relationships with men has been formulated on this lie.
My ‘final coming out’ wasn’t an event, but a wearing down. I was exhausted from effort it took to maintain this facade. Even despite seeming like an extroverted vivacious person I was miserable and frustrated. I wanted so desperately to experience life freely and stop hiding my real self behind alcohol and substance abuse.
So I told myself every day who I was. I would stand in a mirror and tell myself I was queer. At first, I cried and tried to break the mirror like a dramatic pop star. Eventually the tears stopped flowing and I did it with pride. I stopped pretending not to look when a woman passed by. I joined Tinder, then left it, then joined it again. I wrote erotica and stopped changing the characters to ‘he’. I have female friends. We go for girls nights at least once a month. I wish there were more. Sometimes we have sleepovers, and I get to be the inner spoon.
At first, I believed accepting these hard truths to myself would be the end of that. I was not prepared for the great amount of panic that often comes, when I am convinced I’m going to ‘go back to being straight’. I sometimes feel like an impostor, unable to reach out to fellow members of the LGBQTI community. I came out when I was involved with a cishet male partner [for real this time] I love him deeply and I am sure he feels the same. Does that make me lose some sort of queer credibility? I know I’m interested in women, but which ones? Are the ones I pursue or picture in my head as ‘ideal partners’ projections of myself or who I really want?
But there is no happily ever after, I have not yet ridden off into the sunset with my queer partner, I do not even KNOW if I want to ride off into said sunset. I’m not sure if I’m going to fall in gay love and get gay married and take gay vacations. What I do know is that I am learning about myself, meeting a version of myself that even I don’t know, and that’s the person I’m most excited about falling in love with.