As you may have gathered from my introduction (unless you inexplicably believe Heather is a boy's name), I am gay. I suppose, technically, being a woman who finds other women hot, I am a lesbian. However, I have always referred to myself as gay, so whatever. I reserve the right to choose my own society-given label. Thank you very much.
Anyway, the point of this is that I am gay, and that lots of other people are gay. However, a lot of these people are young and in the closet. And the thing is, a lot of the stories on the internet are absolutely terrifying to hear for a young person who may be considering telling their parents they prefer a person with the same plumbing as themselves. Getting kicked out, losing friends, suicide, what have you – I know I was scared to come out. But I did, and I am so much better for it.
So, here is my story.
The first inkling that I may have a slightly different sexuality than most people came when I was about 11 or 12. To be honest, I'm not sure. You see, around that time, people were starting to get crushes. The girls were atwitter about boys and the boys were busily pulling the girls' pigtails. However, when I looked at boys, I felt nothing.
I didn't have crushes on anybody. No boys, no girls. 19-year-old me would have wondered if perhaps I was actually asexual (which means, for you lot who don't know, that I wouldn't have any sexual desire at all). But 12-year-old me came to the terrifying conclusion that perhaps I was a lesbian.
A lesbian. To my pre-teen ears, even the word sounded horrible (Sadly, this is actually what led to me referring to myself as gay, and not a lesbian, later on). I was scared. I was so, so scared. I don't think I can begin to explain to you the utter terror that gripped my body at the thought. Thinking about it now...to be honest, I almost want to cry. No child should ever feel that fear. In fact, no human being should ever feel it. I was already different enough, I thought, I was quiet, shy, sarcastic to a fault sometimes, and I liked to read more than anyone I knew. In this one thing, why can't I be the same?
So I pushed it away. I pushed it down. Sitting on my school bus, staring out the window, I decided that no matter what, I would marry a man. I would fall in love and have sex with and marry a male human being. I couldn't be gay.
I decided all of this at the age of 12.
Now, before I continue, I should let you know that my family is quite the possibly the least homophobic people you will ever meet. No, really. Even back then. My aunt is a lesbian. Some of parents' best friends were gay. It was never presented to me by my parents as something that was wrong. I cannot imagine what it would be like if your family wasn't accepting of you. Because all of my fear stemmed from society. I was scared because heterosexual was the norm. That is what society teaches kids. It is still teaching that. Every time you hear the phrase “gay quota” to describe a TV show that has reached its “maximum limit of gay people because god forbid there's more than two.” Or “That's so gay” to describe something stupid. “Faggot,” “dyke,” all of those kinds of words. They hurt, and they hurt kids who are questioning their sexuality so much more.
All of that, however, is for another day to rant about.
My decision to remain rainbow-free came with a few interesting results. The first being that I forced myself to have a crush on my best friend at the time. That didn't last however. He was my best friend, and that's all I saw in him. Second, there was guy when I was in the seventh grade. At 13, I picked him as my next crush victim. I forced myself to like him. So well, actually, that I might have succeeded. At the time, I celebrated internally because I honestly thought I had a crush on him. And who is to say that I didn't? Sexuality is fluid, after all.
Then I met Sally (For the record, actually, I'm changing all these names, just in case).
Now, this is interesting. Sally is currently a very, very good friend that I don't get to see very often. At one point, she was my best friend. She is also the first girl I had a legitimate crush on. Now, I have no idea whether or not she will read this. And if I had my choice, she would never find out about my crush on her. Even with the name change, she's smart enough to figure it out. But I can't in good conscience leave her out of this story, because she is such an integral part to me finally, finally accepting who I am. So, Sally-you-know-who-you-are-right, if you are reading this...I am sorry. I feel like I've betrayed you slightly by never telling you this (though honestly, I wonder if you suspected. You always were good at telling if someone liked you), however please understand that your friendship has been so, so important to me, and I just couldn't risk losing it, even if I didn't have those feelings anymore. Please know that now, in the present, I think of you as a sister, and I am truly over any romantic feelings I had for you. Also, I suppose I should thank you, because you did help me come to terms with my sexuality, though you didn't know it at the time.
I met Sally when I was 15. She had moved to our school a year before, and then was in the same class as me in the ninth grade. She was friends with my two best friends at the time, and she was sort of adopted into our group. There is no defining moment when I realized I liked her. Not that I remember, anyway. I remember hearing her sing for the first time and being mesmerized. I remember fighting my feelings for her tooth and nail. I remember lying to her when she asked me if I liked anyone. And I remember accepting that she was the one I had a crush on. Again, there was no defining moment. My heart beat faster when I saw her, I stumbled over my words in front of her (at least, I thought I did), and I thought her the most beautiful girl I had ever met. I had never felt anything like it before, and after a while, I just had to accept that I was not only attracted to her, but that I was very deeply in like with her.
I figured I was bisexual at that point. And I decided to keep it to myself. All through Grade Nine, I said nothing. Eventually, she became one of my best friends (puts a twist on the old falling in love with your best friend thing, eh?), but the feelings didn't go away. In fact, at the beginning of Grade 10, I remember being somewhat of a bitch to her, something she called me out on rather quickly (I'm sorry!). I have learned, since then, that when I'm truly crushing on someone in a major way, it's for a long time. In fact, there have been three girls in total that I've had huge crushes on. I think of them as the Big Three, because I've had smaller crushes on other girls, but nothing like those. So, the crush lasted for a while. Longer than I like to admit to myself, honestly.
All through this time, though, I was learning. I found this wonderful thing called fanfiction. Specifically, femslash. For those who don't know, femslash is when two women from a particular TV show, movie, or book are paired together romantically. And upon finding myself flustered and somewhat turned on after reading a...raunchier fanfic, I decided that there was no doubt I liked girls. I also found, through these fanfics, a group of other women who liked women. And it seemed like there were a lot. Out of all the things that made me feel like it was OK for me to be gay, I think the fanfic is what helped the most – it showed me that I wasn't alone. That these feelings I had were normal and that it was going to be OK.
And that brought me to Grade 11. Caught up in a whirl wind of what I can only refer to as drama that year, I found my liking of Sally slowly diminishing. She was becoming, instead, simply my best friend. In chemistry, the two of us would often sit together, even though our assigned seats were not. I would just draw my chair up to her desk. It became the norm.
But I still hadn't quite shed my crush. And one day Sally wasn't in chemistry. So I found myself sitting next to my friend Julie.
I fully believe that in another life, Julie was a politician. Or some kind of Roman Orator, a la Marc Antony. She has the ability to convince people to do things, and to get information from them. Fortunately, she uses this ability for good. Or at least in my case she did.
“So, who do you like?” She asked me.
I rolled my eyes and gave the same bullshit answer I gave anyone who asked.
“No one,” I said wearily. “Honestly.”
“I don't believe you,” she said flatly. “Who is it?”
“Seriously. No one.”
“You're lying! Who is it?”
“Even if I did like someone, I wouldn't tell you.”
“Because you would just sit there and make fun of me.” Truthfully, I was scared she would simply reject me. Julie and I used to have debates about religion when we were 14, she being on the religious side and me being on the “well maybe but eh I dunno” side. More specifically, we once had a debate about gay marriage, which she said was undeniably wrong. Fortunately, her views have since changed.
“I won't. I promise,” she said. “Please tell me?”
“So you do like someone!”
“I didn't say – whatever, I'm not telling you who it is.”
“Tell me! Please?” She begged. “Come on, just tell me who it is.”
I refused to meet her gaze, choosing instead to look at my chemistry work. Tears were starting to build up in my eyes.
“Heather?” Julie's voice sounded vaguely concerned.
I looked up at her. She was slightly taken aback at my pained expression.
“Heather, seriously, why is it so hard to tell me?” She asked, voice lowered.
I turned to face straight ahead. And with that, I said the most difficult words I have ever said in my life.
“It's not a boy,” I whispered, and tensed, waiting.
There was a long, long, long moment of silence. So long. I didn't dare look at her, waiting for the inevitable backlash, the moment when she would quickly get up and walk to sit with someone else, the horribly disappointed look she would have -
“Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” Julie said. “So who is it?”
From that day forward, Julie became my confidante. I really hope she knows how much she helped me through those months, because they were exceedingly difficult. Finally being able to talk to someone about these feelings I had been having was amazing. My self-esteem skyrocketed that year. I had never felt so much like myself. I could finally just be who I was around someone without worrying about revealing too much. You see, any of my friends will tell you that I am girl crazy. Watching movies or TV shows, I am always the one to go “Oh, she's hot.” But I couldn't do that before Julie. I couldn't talk about who I found hot and who I didn't. It was incredibly liberating. I hadn't realized how much of a weight it had been, lying to everyone around me. And here I was finally free.
Well. Kind of.
At Christmas, I finally came out to Sally. To this day, she is mad that I didn't come out to her first, because “I'm your best friend! What the hell, Heather!” But I hope this provides some insight into why I didn't. As it was, when I finally told her, she grinned, kicked me in the foot, and made an “awwww” sound. For some reason people find it cute when they discover I have sexual or romantic feelings. It's like I'm some sort of animal that has learned to fetch.
When school reconvened, I told my other best friend, Joanne, to which she replied: “Oh, OK.”
All that was left was my parents.
I was driving home with my Dad when I let it slip to him. We were discussing school and my friends, when I let slip the crush I had on Sally. I looked at him fearfully. He said nothing.
“You do realize what I just told you, right?” I asked.
He shrugged. “I wasn't sure. You could have just had a minor girl crush.”
That was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. I'm sure it happens, but I mean, I knew by then that I really, definitely liked girls.
“No,” I said. “I like girls.”
“OK,” he said, and glanced at me. “You have to tell your Mom too. This isn't something you can just leave with me.”
“Will she be OK with it?” I asked.
“She should be - well,” he hesitated. “She's a littler more conservative than I am. But honestly, honey, you'll be fine.”
My Dad is super liberal. Like, “What do you mean, people still think being gay is wrong?” liberal. So by saying my Mom is slightly more conservative than him, he may as well have said she was the leader of the NDP.
So when I got home, I went upstairs to face the music. She was in her bathroom, putting on make up.
“Hey Mom?” I said.
“Hi, honey!” She replied, smiling at me.
I leaned against the doorframe to the bathroom and crossed my arms, trying to look nonchalant.
“So, um,” I searched for the right words, and finally gave up. “I like girls.”
She looked up at, one eyebrow raised and slightly confused smile on her face.
“Do you think?” She asked (this was not said sarcastically. It was an honest question).
“Yeah,” I said. And laughed. “I'm really sure.”
“Well, OK,” she nodded.
We then proceeded to start joking around rather loudly. Downstairs, my Dad suspected a disaster and raced to the bottom of the stairs to listen. My mother and I found him standing there five minutes later, looking petrified.
“What?” I asked.
“I heard yelling,” he said. “Is everything OK?”
“Yeah,” I smiled. “Everything is fine.”
I was lucky. I am still lucky. When I came out, I had an incredible support system of friends and family. They love and accept me for who I am, and they always will. I know how amazing that is. I am so happy, every day, that I can talk freely about being gay to my family and my friends. But I know that not everyone has that. I wanted to tell this story because a lot of coming out stories are negative. I just wanted to show that sometimes it isn't. And to those who couldn't have this, who know that they're parents would kick them out or reject them if they came out – well, someday, someone is going to come along who will love and accept you for who you are. I'm sorry it isn't your parents, and who knows? Maybe one day they will come around. But I know, I just know, that someday your Julie will come along. Someday there will be people who you can talk to, someday you will fall in love, someday it will get better. If there is anyone out there considering suicide, or hurting themselves, please, please, stick around. This world we live in is amazing. There are some terrible people in it, but there are also so many absolutely wonderful ones. I don't want you to miss it.