This is probably a cliché start to the typical story of “How I Discovered My Sexuality,” but please bear with me anyway.
The earliest I can ever remembering thinking about someone of the same gender in a romantic way is when I was 9 years old in the third grade. There was a new girl in my class that year, and I remember thinking that she was so pretty, and I really wanted to hold her hand (you know, typical elementary school crush things). After thinking those things about my female classmate, I remember stopping myself right in my tracks because, what? This was a girl we were talking about. I had never had crushes on a girl before. Boys? Sure. A few of them, in fact. I had a new crush every year in elementary school- but up until that point, it had always been a boy.
Keep in mind that I grew up in a family of conservatives from the deep south, so I knew next to nothing about sexuality. I know that there was gay, lesbian, and straight. I didn’t know that there was an entire spectrum that I could fall on. I thought I had to box myself into one label, and I knew that I wasn’t a lesbian because I had liked boys before, and I still liked boys while I was liking girls. So what was I? I pushed the issue to the back of my mind and didn’t worry about it until years later. In the 7th grade, when I was 12, I had just recently moved the year before and finally felt comfortable with the small group of friends I had at my new school. One day during gym class one of my friends pulled us all aside and said she had something she wanted to tell us. She told us that she was bisexual, and that she hoped we would all still accept her. I was confused; what was bisexual? I know, I know, I sound like such a naïve kid- and I was. In terms of sexuality, I was a very sheltered child. My friend quickly explained what bisexuality is. Suddenly it clicked. I had a label for what I was. It was an incredible feeling.
Of course, after coming out to my friends my life did not suddenly fall into place. I still struggled for years with it. Now, however, though I am not yet out to my family, I am out to my friends and I feel very comfortable in my own skin and with my sexuality. I am happy that I know who I am.
Not everybody is able to feel this way. There are many kids who struggle for years with their sexuality because they are not exposed to things that explain the different possibilities there are. This is why representation is important. In literature, in television, in film, and music- it is important for all of these to have LGBT+ representation. If there had been more shows on television like Glee or The Fosters when I was 9 or 12, I might not have struggled with my sexuality and wondered what was wrong with me for so many years. It is important for young kids to be exposed to shows like these, or read books with LGBT+ characters, and know that they are not alone with their feelings. Seeing yourself represented can have such a big influence on young people, and if they are able to see that people who are in the community live happy, healthy, normal lives, it can have a huge impact on their way of thinking. It can maybe even make someone who was intolerant a little more understanding, or help someone who was struggling find out who they are and feel comfortable with themselves. Being exposed to LGBT+ characters can be the first step for many in discovering who they are- and that is part of what makes them so important.