How do you know you are gay? It’s a strange question I get asked a lot, and it’s one that I don’t have an answer to.
It can often take a long time for someone to realize if they are gay because society normalizes heterosexuality, forcing it on people at young age. I, like many kids, was raised to think I was supposed to be straight. Realizing I was attracted to women made me feel guilty because I wasn’t raised to be attracted to the same gender. I was terrified to come out to my family because I wasn’t sure how they’d react.
When I came out in eighth grade as a lesbian, most of my family, but not everyone, was very supportive. Not feeling wholly accepted by others made it harder for me to accept myself. It took me about two years to overcome the ups and downs of loving myself for who I am.
Coming out is a different experience for everyone. Everyone in the LGBTQ community does it differently, mainly because we aren’t taught how to do it; there’s no “right way” to reveal this vulnerable part of your identity to others.
In my experience, most of my family wasn’t surprised when I told them because of how I acted, dressed and talked when I was younger. The members of my family who remain unsupportive are mostly in denial. Coming to terms with the fact that people who are supposed love and support me unconditionally are also the ones who judge me for who I love isn’t easy.
There were times my friends or peers treated me unfairly or poked fun at me once they learned about my sexuality. This actually happened long before I came out because of the way I presented myself — how I dressed was more masculine than any other girl I knew. I was treated differently no matter where I went or whom I interacted with because even if they couldn’t tell I was gay, they already had heard I was from someone else.
In this way, being gay makes a person feel isolated and different. I never understood how it could affect how people view you until it started happening to me.
Despite the negative backlash at times, being part of the LGBTQ community has really changed my life in a positive way. Being surrounded by people who can relate to my experiences makes me feel less alone, and knowing there are people who support me and accept me for who I am is validating. They have taught me to be comfortable with who I am.
I have made a lot of friends through the LGBTQ community and have helped some of my peers overcome their struggles with accepting their sexuality, just as others helped me. Although the public can sometimes be cruel and discriminatory, we will continue to help and support one another in those difficult times. No one should ever feel alone or unloved.
To anyone struggling with their sexuality: Be open with someone you can trust unconditionally through all of the ups and downs, and most importantly, trust yourself. You are wonderful exactly as you are.