“I’m a… a…” “A Lesbian!”

“Dyke”, was often sneered at me across the classroom when I was at school.  “F*ck off, I’m not a dyke”, I’m sad to say, was my normal response.

I had boyfriends in my teenage years when I was at school; I was lucky- they were all lovely, intelligent, good-looking, funny etc etc but… why wasn’t there that spark?

Actually, I knew why, and it wasn’t that I was fussy.  At the age of thirteen I realised I had feelings for my best friend- a girl.  I feel it’s important to point out they weren’t sexual feelings, but I’d fallen for her- I’d have done anything for her, I wanted to always be there for her (figuratively and literally), I listened to her- she was the only one who could make me feel better when I was feeling down, and I always wanted to be the one there to cheer her up when she was down…. you get the picture.  It was pretty unhealthy- especially as she always had long-term boyfriends.  She also seemed to be the girl at school who everyone fancied.  I pushed my feelings to one side, telling myself to be ‘normal’ or ‘straight’ like everyone else… but I couldn’t help it- every time she paid me a compliment or said my friendship meant something to her it meant everything to me.

I remember making a deal with myself at thirteen- if I still felt the same way at sixteen, three years later, I would tell her I had feelings for her.  That time came and went- I still had feelings for her but couldn’t tell her.

I’ve had conversations with people when they’ve suspected “So and so is gay… I don’t know why they don’t just come out”.  I don’t think they appreciate how hard it is to ‘come out’.  Yes, society is more accepting these days, but it is so hard when everyone around you- all of your family, your friends- are straight.  The expectation is that you are straight- you only have to ‘come out’ if, as a girl, you’re introducing a girlfriend rather than a boyfriend to your family.

If you are a lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans (LGBT) you are the abnormal- this is the message society sends out.  Not just different from the norm but weird.  This is the message conveyed every time someone says “That’s so gay!” in a derogatory way.

In Sex Ed at school it was assumed we were all straight- being gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans just wasn’t talked about.  Much of this was due to Section 28 (part of the Local Government Act 1988) which stated local authorities ‘shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality’ or ‘promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’- teachers were scared to talk about sexuality in case they breached this law.  Section 28 was not repealed until 2000.

I hadn’t reached the stage of being unsure of how people would react if I ‘came out’ because I was somewhat inwardly homophobic- it was fine for other people to be gay (not that I knew anyone who was gay) but not me.  I wanted to be ‘normal’- grow up, meet the love of my life (a man), work in a job I enjoy (!) get married (to the man) and have children (with the man).  Wanting to have a family was one of the main reasons I struggled to come to terms with the fact I might be gay.  I just couldn’t imagine not having kids.

 

So I continued to hope my feelings might subside, if only I could meet the right boyfriend for me and have those ‘sparks’.  For six years I bottled up my feelings, never coming out as gay and never telling my best friend how I felt.  Even when I accepted I was probably gay, I could never tell her how I felt- she had a boyfriend and what if it ruined our friendship?  I couldn’t risk that.

Those six years were some of the darkest in my life.  Bottling up those feelings wasn’t healthy and I ended up suffering with depression, having to see a councillor and taking anti-depressants for a year, which just made me feel flat.  Even then, I couldn’t come out.  I wasn’t ready.

With my feelings and sexuality bottled up, I was trying to be like everyone else- I couldn’t simply be me.

I had my suspicions throughout my teenage years that my Mum might have had her suspicions I was gay.  She always said things like, “Sam, if there’s anything you want to tell me” or “You know you can always talk to me about anything, right?”.  I, of course, in true teenage style, always replied, “Yeah Mum I know” and would run away.

After our GCSEs I remember kissing a girl (not the best friend!) during a party.  It felt amazing, finally all of the fuss made in movies about kissing that I had never experienced with guys was there- there were the sparks.  Unfortunately this moment was somewhat ruined when part-way through kissing me, the girl suddenly remembered she had a boyfriend and freaked out.  Our friendship was sadly awkward after that too.

The summer after A Levels I bumped into a friend, Sarah, who was the year above me at school, so had been away at Uni.  She’d ‘came out’ as bisexual when at uni.  She was the first person I knew who openly defined as gay, lesbian or bisexual.  It was inspiring, but I still couldn’t come out.  We started seeing each other that summer but I was conscious not to hold her hand in public in case people saw us.

The old best-friend and I drifted apart and I never told her how I felt, though she probably had her suspicions.

I went off to Uni and it was there I met more people who defined as LGB and T- It was amazing to meet people who had all been in the same boat and had surprisingly similar experiences.  There was even a LGBT officer, also called Sarah, who I chatted to and became friends with.  Though she was ‘out’ and in this role at Uni, she wasn’t out to her family at home in Northern Ireland.  It was Sarah who gave me the confidence to be more confident in myself and my sexuality at uni- I came out as a lesbian.  Well, at that stage the word ‘lesbian’ still sounded weird to me, gay on the other hand sounded much happier.  I was becoming more confident, and the weight was lifting off my shoulders.  After a year and at the age of nineteen I thought it was about time I ‘came out’ to my family.  My younger brother had found out I was gay through friends and questioned me about it on MSN- he was cool with it, but it was only a matter of time before the rest of my family found out.  I had other life-changing decisions to share with my Mum so now seemed like the best time to get everything off my chest.

We sat down, the essential cup of tea in hand.   Mine was shaking.

“Mum, I’ve got something important I have to tell you”.

“OK, what is it?”

“I want to leave Oxford University”.

A long conversation followed, where my Mum was incredibly supportive and understanding, just wanting me to be happy and do what was best.  It was getting late and my Mum indicated that she was going off to bed.

“Wait Mum, there’s something else I need to tell you”

“I’m going to China in three weeks”

“What?!”

I’d been accepted onto a last minute placement as a volunteer, Teaching English as a Foreign language in China for the summer.  Another long conversation followed, with another round of tea, as all the details were explained.  As this wound to a close, my Mum indicated she was tired and off to bed.

“Wait Mum, there’s something else I’ve got to tell you…”

“What is it now?”

“Um well… it’s just… if I don’t tell you now, I’ll never tell you”

“What is it?” my Mum asked, literally on the edge of her seat.  My hands were shaking.

“Mum, I’m a… a…”

“A LESBIAN!” my Mum cried; I don’t think I have ever seen her look so gleeful.  We both burst out laughing, I didn’t realise it at the time but my Mum was probably just as relieved as I was.

I mumbled something about being possibly bisexual, I wasn’t fully sure and my Mum said, “Oh sorry, sorry, I’ve stolen your thunder, tell me again and I’ll roll around on the floor shouting “What will your grandparents say?!”.  That’s my Mum- she’s awesome.

Fast-forward five years on and I’m really, really happy.

I have the most incredible girlfriend, Emma, and she actually feels the same way about me- hooray!

I’ve had different experiences ‘coming out’- it isn’t a onetime thing.  Only recently I met a new colleague, she was talking about her husband and kids and I mentioned my partner.  She immediately responded, “Ooh are you a lesbian?  I’ve got friends who are lesbians- I bet she’s a lot older isn’t she?!”. Er, no.  That was bizarre.

I think my sexuality is an important part of who I am which I’m sometimes still working out (I see sexuality as more fluid than strictly lesbian, gay or bisexual- I think you can have feelings for someone regardless of gender) but equally my sexuality doesn’t define me.  I once had a friend who was introducing people, “This is Laura, Amy and Sam- she’s gay”.  Why? Why would you do that?  It’s not like I’m going to change my name to ‘Lesbian’.

I also once mentioned Emma to someone I’d just met and they blurted out, ‘But how do you have sex?’.  Seriously, would you have asked that if I’d mentioned a boyfriend?

One of the best reactions I had when I was first coming out was from a friend and work colleague, “So what?  You’re still Sam”.  Exactly.

I do regret, with my youngest brother, who was still in primary school when I came out, that I didn’t tell him.  My Mum suggested, with the best intentions, not to, as he might not understand, or find it hard being so young.  I agreed with her at the time.

Now, looking back, it seems really clear to say hang on a minute, it’s ok to let young kids see heterosexual relationships all around them in reality and in the media, it’s ‘normal’ to see a man and a woman kiss, but not to see two women or two men?! No wonder there’s so much stigma.

My younger brother ended up phoning me whilst I was at Uni, sounding upset.  My middle brother’s friends had taunted him, telling him, “Your sister’s a lesbian!”.  He stuck up for me.

I still remember his young voice shaking, as he said, “You’re not, are you?”.  I had to tell him gently that I was, but it was ok, it was a good thing in fact, that I was really happy and it made no difference to the fact that I was still the same old big sister.

There’s still a lot of stigma out there.  I have to ‘come out’ everytime I meet someone new as they automatically expect that you’ll be with a man.  A lot of men think it’s ok to sexualise lesbians and make disgusting comments they simply wouldn’t say if you were with a man.  We can get civil partnered but not married. ‘Equal but different’ eh?

I’ve been treated differently by some people after coming out, which is ok if they were friends- they’re not worth having, slightly more tricky if they’re colleagues.  But for every person who has been homophobic, there have been ten times as many who have been amazing and supportive.

For anyone reading this who thinks they might be LGBT or Q and is struggling to come out, trust me, I know how difficult it can be- there were days during my teenage years where I considered taking my own life because of the pain I was going through.  But stick with it, be yourself, maybe try to build up the confidence to go to a local LGBTQ youth/uni group and meet other people in the same boat.

I am now the happiest I have ever been.  And being gay doesn’t affect the part about kids being definitely in the future plan.  The best days are when I totally forget I’m gay.  I live with my partner and things really are ‘normal’ – though I suspect there is no such thing as normal.

I forget I’m gay, until I’m walking hand in hand down the street with my girlfriend and hear that sadly familiar, “Dyke! Or Lesbians!”.  Rather than denying it, these days I turn round and shout loudly, “Am I?! Gosh, I didn’t know that, did you Emma?! Thank you for telling us!” followed by a massive grin, and if I’m lucky, a kiss from Emma.  The informative stranger, without fail, always wonders off red-faced.

 


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