Because this is a pretty personal post, and I know not everybody in the world is as loving and open-hearted as my friends and family, publishing this got me a little worked up. Sometimes it’s terrifying to be so open and honest about yourself because you’re making yourself so vulnerable.
I’ve written this post because so many voices are left unheard. I don’t believe there’s any such thing as too many people standing up and being courageous but I do believe in challenging yourself when faced with fear. Not too long ago when I needed strong examples, the Internet provided me with a community that helped me be proud of who I am.
Plus, why should anybody be scared to tell their story?
So here goes…
It’s February 2013 and everything is great, but something isn’t quite right.
I am in a year long relationship at this point and we’re living together in my shared house. It’s the last stretch of university with graduation in sight. I have a job I love at Lush, friends I adore and all in all there’s nothing to moan about. Except the fact that I know something isn’t right. This lovely life that I’ve dressed myself in doesn’t fit properly, it doesn’t suit me, but I’m desperately trying to avoid figuring out what it is that’s wrong. I have no idea at this stage that it is my sexuality. In retrospect it was very obvious, but at the time I just knew something was up.
It was around this time that I applied for my internship at Wanderlust, a travel magazine based in Windsor, around four hours journey from where I was currently set up in Cardiff. I have since realised that I tend to run away when I know something big is happening, whether I’m aware of it or not. Now, when I say run away I don’t just mean figuratively. I mean literally. When I had a huge bust up with a friend a few years back and was heartbroken by the whole thing, I ran away to Italy. When I knew I wasn’t happy in Cardiff, I subconsciously started looking for ways out and this materialised itself in applying for jobs in the London area and planning a trip to Australia. “Just for six months!” I told myself at the time, but I, and many of my friends, knew it would be a whole lot longer. (ps. you don’t have to say I told you so!)
I had never felt like I fitted in anywhere. I got along with most people just fine and had groups with shared interests and some of the best friends a girl could ask for, but I never felt like part of something. I often told myself that it was silly of me for so desperately wanting a ‘niche’. Why did I need a label to validate my identity? Well of course the answer was that I didn’t, but I think part of me just knew that there was somewhere I belonged and that I hadn’t found it yet.
I had known I was attracted to women for a long time, since my mid teen years. I also had a longstanding group of gay friends, although almost exclusively male. It seems obvious to me now that I surrounded myself with gay friends because I instinctively felt at home with them. It also seemed obvious to me as I sit here as a 23 year old that the reason I hadn’t realised was tainted by my idea of gay women was butch women and I was as ‘girly’ as they come. I couldn’t possibly be queer, girls like me just weren’t.
In my first year of university I was again surrounded by more gay friends and, as before, these were almost exclusively male. I took a brief foray into thinking I was a crazy party girl but that ended after about a year, that wasn’t me either. I went to gay clubs with my gay friends and we giggled about their gay hookups. I was attracted to girls too, but I wasn’t gay. It wasn’t until a girl asked for my number and text me after a night out that I got hit by the big G-Bomb myself. I went home to my friend Amy and cried and cried and cried. I had realised I liked girls in a very real way. Not in just a physical way, but in a ‘I can imagine myself in a relationship with a lady’ way.
I wasn’t crying because I was sad about it. I was crying because I felt such a relief. I was 20 years old and felt like a kid again. I was crying because my shoulders felt physically lighter with the weight of this realisation. I felt free and I felt at ease.
My life is full of open-minded and beautiful people, so I told my closest friends about my Big Realisation. I was sure that I was still attracted to men though and was equally sure that I preferred them to women. I was still too afraid to get serious about a girl. I think part of me knew that were I to connect with a woman, it would be a whole other kettle of fish.
Nine months after this big G-Bomb I was still happily single and ready to go travelling. I used my savings to take a trip to visit a friend in Hong Kong. I won’t share all the details but we ended up as a couple. The first six months were long distance, Hong Kong to UK, and the next six months were living together in Cardiff. It was my first adult relationship and I think I was a little caught up in the newness of it all. Ultimately, there was something amiss and we both knew it, although I was in complete denial about it.
I got the internship at the travel mag and moved to Windsor in May 2013. I distanced myself from my old life in a big way. I was finding myself. I was alone in a sublet room in an upper-middle class family’s house in one of the most conservative parts of England. I was working full time Monday to Friday for free and weekends in Lush to help pay the bills. I made new friends and still kept in contact with those I left behind. All I could think about was moving on. All I could think about was moving out and going to Australia and being this whole new shiny person with nothing holding me back.
I re-watched the L-Word for the umpteenth time and it slowly dawned on me. I know, I know. You’re thinking this is a giant cliché! Well the show didn’t make me realise I was gay, it just made me realise that the community I’d been so desperate to be a part of was the LGBTQ one! What an unprecedented mix of beautiful, strong, diverse, QUEER women. It really happened very quickly from there on. I think it was a mixture of freedom, solitude and unquenchable potential that allowed me to be very honest with myself. I didn’t have to act up for anybody. I didn’t know who I was and it was okay that I was figuring that out, because nobody here knew who I used to be. I didn’t feel pressured to label myself and I think being allowed to discover myself at my own pace made all the difference.
I pitched and wrote articles on LGBT travel destinations in the office and confided in my new friends from my weekend job that I liked girls. I could be this whole new person, nobody knew me here. I have always been somebody interested in queer and feminist rights so the topic wasn’t new to me. The feeling of being utterly vulnerable was. And I had a new found respect for those who were so open and unapologetic. It was easy for me to campaign for equal rights, but it was more difficult for me to open myself up to personal criticism. I wasn’t as fearless as I thought. (Luckily, it got a whole lot easier as time went on and now I’m writing this post which is about as unapologetic as it gets…)
I think I was very privileged in this period of self-realisation, the first step of which lasted around three months. I knew I had the support of my friends who weren’t the sort of people to judge me if I had told them ‘I think I might be gay’ and who wouldn’t try and label me while I was still trying to figure out what my label was and if I even wanted one.
I told some friends of mine, some of whom were a little surprised but then actually maybe not so surprised after all, and some other friends who told me that that was okay, they were happy for me and they were there for me if I wanted to talk. Nobody had a bad reaction. Nobody at all.
Great! I thought, I’ve realised I’m gay! I like ladies!
But do I look gay? Do I act gay? What kind of ladies do I like? What kind of ladies like me? How do I meet other queer people?
And then a mini identity crisis started.