Friday, 7 July 2017

LGBTQA+ But Not Proud

So June was LGBTQA+ pride month. A time where us members of the queer community get together to celebrate our collective queerness and to rejoice in the fact that we're all just as queer as each other. Pride though, it's an odd word choice to me. Growing up, we are taught to be proud of our achievements, our successes, even sometimes of our failures. Pride is a feeling earned. So is it really any wonder that I struggle to feel proud of my queerness? It's not something I earned or worked towards but rather something I And maybe in this time of celebrating our sexualities and gender identifies, that is a problem that I don't feel proud of my sexuality. Not quiet yet anyway.

I was around 12 years old when I first began to realise I just might like girls in the same way that I was conditioned to think I ought to like boys. I'm a girl, so society taught me that I should be interested in boys. It was an unquestionable fact, almost. Growing up, I never saw non-straight people. On the TV I watched, in the books I read, in the music I listened to or in the films I saw. I still don't very often but even less as a child. While my parents never hid the existence of gay people from me or my sister, they also never really taught us it either. The common but problematic idea that most people are straight and some people are gay or lesbian was the mindset in my household but even then it was never really discussed unless necessary, or heaven forbid the very idea that sometimes people struggle to define or deal with their sexuality. I was only made aware of bisexuality in my teenage years as that's how a few of my friends identified but wasn't aware of pansexuality, demisexuality, asexuality or sexual fluidity until I began exploring feminism online in my early twenties. I kissed a few girls during my teen years but never comfortable with the label of bisexuality. I guess I've always known I fall somewhere on the spectrum between straight and gay but I fell victim of the bisexual stereotypes and therefore shied away from that label. While I still struggle with settling on a label for my sexuality and find parts of pretty much every identity that don't match me, I guess bisexual would be the closest. Although at this particular point in my life, my preferences definitely lie with women.

My older sister started dating her first girlfriend around the age of 14 and has pretty consistently been in relationships with other females ever since. She's now 27. To my knowledge, she was never 'in' as such and being queer has always just been part of her. Growing up unsure of my own sexuality but seeing the confidence she seemed to have in hers was hard, that confidence manifested itself in her jeans and baggy tshirt, cropped hair and trainers where I believed that I couldn't possibly be anything other than straight cause of my penchant for floral dresses, make-up and high heels. She had always been authentically herself and I envied that. Sure, I had confidence in a lot of other ways, I wouldn't think twice about asking for directions or paying in shops while she shied away from it and I'd wear the highest of heels despite my 5'8" stature and rock bright purple lipstick on any given day. Growing up, we developed and showed our confidence in very different ways, her's was low-key and authentic, while mine was much louder and showier. Her's embraced her sexuality while mine ran away from it. But you can only hide behind being loud and showy for so long.

While I had confidence in a lot of aspects of my life, I never found that confidence in dating to properly explore my sexuality. I dated a few guys during my late teens and early twenties to various extents but never really got much from it or felt like it was right for me. I even told one that I thought I might also like girls and his reaction was so unaccepting that it left me terrified to ever tell anyone again. Up until maybe 2 years ago, I had began to accept what I believed to be a fact, that eventually I could talk myself into being straight, meet some guy, build a mediocre and borderline boring life together and spend my every waking moment suppressing my sexuality but blending into the background and fulfilling my lifelong desire to be normal. I'd never felt normal in my whole life and I knew if I did decide to come out, I would feel even less normal. I truly believed I'd just have to get by hiding this huge part of me and eventually, I'd learn to just be okay with that. I didn't know what I was but with time, I knew more and more that I wasn't straight, but with that, came the desire to define myself before I could ever even dream of sharing it with anyone else.

You could say I started to come out last year. Firstly online, because it seemed less real and almost less scary and if people had a problem, I could quite easily just avoid them. It's much easier to block Twitter followers than family members, friends and collegues. Nobody was surprised, or at least told me if they were. People were supportive and didn't make a big deal out of it. I guess maybe it's came with years of blogging that it's sometimes easier to share parts of my life with strangers before I feel comfortable enough to do so with those closest to me. The influence of people online played a huge part in building confidence in my sexuality. For example, I remember watching Ingrid Nilsen's coming out video and something in my brain clicked. I'd never seen or heard of her before but almost instantly I could tell, she's like me, she's feminine and likes makeup and fashion. But she also likes women and maybe that was okay too. People would never suspect she likes women but that doesn't make her any less valid as a queer person, right? I wasn't a stereotype either and for so many years, that had held me back but maybe it was okay not to be a stereotype. The more I ran with this mindset, the more I started to notice other feminine women and I gradually started to feel more like maybe it was okay. Or at least like someday I might be able to accept that it's okay.

I didn't come out to any of my family until after I started dating my girlfriend. I remember each instance so clearly. I told my mum in her car outside of our local corner shop. It was raining. She'd just picked me up from work and I was very hungover. I'd told her I'd been out for a girl I worked with's sister's birthday. I hadn't. She was surprised but supportive. I didn't feel the instant relief I thought I would. I told my sister via Facebook. At midnight. I was going back and forth, in and out of her conversation and a WhatsApp chat with my girlfriend. She called me 'a big gay' and told me she loved me. Then she asked about my girlfriend and I told her a few brief details, one of which being that she has a dog. The conversation turned straight to the dog and never really went back to the topic at hand. I told my dad in our living room. He was probably the most surprised of the three. I was wearing a floral dress at the time. He looked me up and down, laughed and said 'I wouldn't have guessed!' but got up, hugged me and said 'Well done mate!'. The friend's who I've told, I've told via Facebook or text or WhatsApp.

While I love my girlfriend and am so proud of the progress I've made over the past few years in even facing up to my sexuality, I still don't actually feel proud in itself as such of actually being queer. I don't know that I will ever really feel proud. Maybe it'll come with time. I don't know, I hope so. Pride is a wonderful time, and I'm so grateful for the wonderful, strong and powerful LGBTQA+ voices who truly are proud, who don't care what anybody thinks, who are unapologetically themselves, who's sexuality or gender identity is as much a part of them as their name or their eye colour, but at this moment in my journey, I'm not quite there yet. I wish so badly that I was, I wish I felt that pride to fully embrace the queerness but I'm just not yet confident enough to withstand the hate or negativity I may face. I don't yet feel safe or strong enough quite yet. One day I will though, I promise.

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