Unlike many queer teens and adults, I didn’t know I was gay until I was seventeen years old. I am currently nineteen.
A common experience I hear about from LGBT+ teens and adults is that they first knew they were queer when they were kids, and either came out early on or stayed in the closet until they were older. Knowing one’s queerness from an early age seems like an important part of many folks identities in the LGBT+ community, something they can tell stories about or that helps them sympathize with others’ experiences in the closet as a kid. It is good to know oneself, and having that sense of identity from a young age is really powerful. It took me a long time to find this part of my identity.
I grew up enamored with everything in the media and pop culture. I called myself a tomboy but I also liked a lot of typically “girly” things too, like playing with Barbies and American Girl Dolls, wearing pink, and playing the part of the princess in made up games with my friends. I internalized all the gendered expectations of society, and was mostly content going along with what I was “supposed” to do for a long time.
Movies and TV shows in particular affected my views on relationships and what was expected of me in that regard. Nearly everything I watched growing up had some sort of heterosexual relationship in it, whether the main or secondary plot point. Even G-rated movies, especially Disney ones, often depicted a boy chasing after a girl, or vice versa. These movies (and TV shows) depicted heterosexual relationships as magical, exceptional, and more important than any other relationships the characters had. They were something to be desired, something life changing — so of course, I wanted this sort of relationship in my life too.
I sought out heterosexual relationships portrayed in every movie, TV show, and book I could find until the middle of high school. Since I wasn’t in a relationship in real life, I escaped into fictional worlds to get my dose of romance each week. I watched every chick-flick with a female lead, read every Young Adult romance book in the library, and was satiated enough absorbing these storylines and imagining someday when my prince charming would finally find me and sweep me off my feet. But what I didn’t realize, for a very long time, was that I was craving a relationship that I didn’t even really want to be a part of. I just didn’t know it yet.
Around sophomore year of high school I started noticing some things about myself and paying more attention to what, and whom, I actually desired. I’ll spare you all the complicated, messy details of my questioning, but I essentially realized that I actually liked girls a lot more than guys. In all the relationships I watched and read about, I really cared most about the female partner being happy and getting what she wanted. While my friends were enamored with the men in the relationships we saw, I quietly obsessed over how amazing the women were. My favorite actors were women, favorite characters female, and even my truly favorite relationships, if I could admit it to myself, were ones where two women were close friends.
When I started questioning my sexuality, I became much more observant of my interests as well as of how society depicts romantic or sexual relationships. I thought about all the popular movies and relationships I’d watched growing up, and realized that there were very few, if any, homosexual relationships depicted in the mainstream media that had been shown to me. When I started paying more attention to my feelings about girls, I had to actively seek out books and movies that portrayed LGBT+ characters in order to see that they existed, and that their love was very much real. When I found such relationships portrayed (in less mainstream media), I felt an immense sense of happiness and belonging. I identified with these characters in queer relationships in a way I never had with characters in heterosexual relationships. It felt amazing.
After a lot of time spent overthinking every little thing about myself, and searching for gay characters in movies, books, and TV shows, I came to terms with my sexuality. In doing so, I also came to terms with the fact that I was going to have to actively defy my heteronormative society simply by being. Part of what sparked my passion for writing was a desire to portray the characters I hadn’t seen growing up. With accepting my identity came the responsibility to fight for more equal representation of LGBT+ individuals in the media, to hopefully help other queer kids and teenagers who hadn’t yet found themselves portrayed in the world, feel a sense of belonging and community.
The most life-changing realization I’ve had in my life was the realization that I’d been brainwashed by society to crave heterosexual romance when really, I didn’t want this at all. When I actually paid attention to myself and saw LGBT+ relationships represented, I realized that I am not attracted to men, like society thinks I should be. I am attracted to women. And this is a valid, amazing, thing.