Written by our social media intern, Audrey Bowers
Childhood / Junior High
Growing up, there was a narrative that I heard time and time again. It began with the damsel in distress story. Then it continued as my older cousins married opposite-sex partners. As I started adolescence, my mom constantly reminded me she expected me to go to college, find the right man, and have her grandchildren. As a child, all of this made sense because of heteronormativity. I was attracted to boys, yet a certain part of me wanted to object to these notions placed upon me by my family and society. The idea of going to prom with or getting married to some man made me uncomfortable. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it was what the world expected of me.
I don’t remember the exact moment when I realized that I liked girls, but I believe I was born the way I am. I do remember having some feelings toward the opposite sex as early as 6th grade, but I repressed them. They were just girl crushes, I told myself, and everyone has girl crushes. In the small world I lived in, gay people didn’t exist, unless they were drag queens on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
I tried coming out to my mom for the first time during my senior year of high school. We were in the Macy’s of the college mall, near an escalator. “I think I’m gay,” I told her, sobbing and shaking because I was terrified. It didn’t seem to register with her until we got in the car, where I was basically became trapped and couldn’t ignore her criticism. She yelled at me, asked me a lot of questions, and voiced some of her opinions. “You’re just confused.” “Don’t you care what other people think?” “Good luck getting a job!” “Don’t you want a husband? A family?” In those moments, I sunk back into myself and realized that it wasn’t safe for me to be out of the closet. Being gay meant accepting the possibility of losing everything.
As a fairly popular, white, Christian, poor female, adding the word ‘bisexual’ to my identity construct could have meant changing everything completely. My youth group pastor might have tried to talk me out of ‘being gay.’ My mom might have kicked me out of our single bed apartment because of it. Everyone at school might’ve decided to hate me for it. They sure seemed to have unfavorable opinions about the only gay couple at school. I didn’t see any positive consequences other than getting to be who I was. At that moment I didn’t feel queer enough because I still liked boys too. In the spring of my senior year, I started dating a boy and tried my best to be straight. I didn’t mention my sexuality again and didn’t feel the need to because I was so caught up in my first relationship. What I didn’t completely realize, was that I could still identify as queer even though I was dating a member of the opposite sex. Dating that boy didn’t make me any less bisexual, even though it made it easier to pass as straight. At our senior prom, we were voted Prom King and Queen by our fellow classmates. Looking back at that moment, I wonder how prom might’ve been like if I were dating a girl. I doubt I would’ve been crowned Prom Queen. In some schools, we wouldn’t have even been allowed to go to the dance together.
During my freshman year, I felt as though I couldn’t be Christian and gay at the same time. I joined a community of Christians. They made me feel less alone and made the college experience easier to navigate. The fear of losing my new friends was greater than my fear of being my whole self. I didn’t truly accept my sexuality until my sophomore year of college, the year I came out to my Resident Advisor. Eventually, I came out to everyone else and to my mom once again at the beginning of winter break. I almost didn’t tell her out of the fear of not having a place to live during breaks, but proud of myself for not pretending to be someone I wasn’t.
I got to a point where I realized I needed to speak up for myself and my community. Staying silent felt like I was feeding the oppression that surrounded me. I felt angry about having to come out in the first place and tired of the way that those in and perceived to be in my community were treated. I didn’t want someone else to feel like an outsider because of who they were or how they chose to present themselves. During my junior year, I still guarded my sexuality but continued to learn how to be proud of myself. During my first semester, I wrote an essay about coming out. Even though I didn’t care if anyone knew, I still feared they might not see me as a smart, kind, and competent young professional. It was a side effect of growing up in a non-accepting community, one where my uncle’s greatest punchline was about carpet crunching lesbians. I continued trying to be visible as a queer person during my second semester. I am particularly proud of coming out to the entire campus through an op-ed published in the university’s newspaper about the movie Love, Simon. I wrote about how great it was to see gay representation in mainstream media.
Now, as a senior in college, I am not as afraid to be gay. I don’t feel shameful or like a giant disappointment anymore. It’s still challenging at times because many people would like me better if I were straight. Sadly, homophobia still persists. There is a lot of work to be done so coming out is not difficult or even necessary.
The percentage of American adults identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) increased to 4.5% in 2017, up from 4.1% in 2016 and 3.5% in 2012 when Gallup began tracking the measure. While this is not necessarily a high number, there’s a good likelihood that you know someone that identifies as LGBT+, whether they are in or out of the closet.