How I was forced to come out in my all girls’ school and why it changed my relationship with my sexuality forever.
What I would class as my defining moment was realising that I had a crush on a girl in my form, C. I first confessed to my best friend that I thought I might like girls while on a trampoline one late summer’s evening (and, to be honest, if you didn’t have a life-changing heart-to-heart on a trampoline, were you ever really 14?). She was unequivocally amazing, and to this day I can never thank her enough for being so calm and understanding. I eventually told my closest friends, all of which were supportive. Sadly, this is hardly ever the event I reflect on when I think of “coming out”.
Midway through my first term of year 10, I got a text (in a very different fashion to Love Island). One of my friends, S, had told C that I fancied her. I sat on the floor of my bedroom, clutching my chest, experiencing what I now know to be my first panic attack. Afterwards, C was polite, but distant. I was no longer invited to sleepovers. For Christmas, I got her a music box that played her favourite song, Hey Jude, but I slipped it into her bag without a note. When she picked my name out of the hat for Secret Santa, she immediately put it back.
I could deal with this, however; I was 14, and still trying to understand myself. The world wasn’t coming to an end because a girl didn’t like me. Cut to the first day back from Christmas holidays – I was sitting in maths class with a familiar crawling feeling on the back of my neck. My friend R put her hand on my arm. “Everyone knows,” she said, in a low voice. I blinked at her. She shook my arm. “They know.” I turned, slowly, in my seat, to find most of the room’s eyes on me. I ran from the classroom, my friend giving an excuse to the teacher that I couldn’t hear.
S had told some of our classmates about my crush. As things are wont to do in small schools, it hadn’t taken long for the news to spread. Dyke was whispered to me as I got onto the bus. My form tutor told me that someone had requested I not be allowed in the changing room. In the grand scheme, these things were small, but it made me realise: my life, though mostly unchanged, was, and would always be, different. I would always be different.
Even later, when the dust had settled and I was able to breathe a little better, I was still the token “gay/bi/whatever” (in someone else’s words). I had to explain and even justify my sexuality – which at the time, I didn’t understand any more than anyone else, and, to this day, I am still trying to find a label I am comfortable with. People asked me what my “percentages” were between girls and boys; they asked how many girls I had gotten off with, how many boys I had fancied, as though my numbers were what defined me.
When I came to university, I was unapologetic about my sexuality, but I also felt uncomfortable attending LGBT groups and, though it is my New Year’s resolution every year, I have yet to attend a Pride event (thanks corona). Fear and uncertainty in myself prevented me from reaching out.
Looking back, however, I am trying to focus on my positive coming out story: the people I love, who were kind, and supportive, and refused to treat me any differently. I hope that, one day soon, I can stop placing such emphasis on labels and justification, and enjoy being me.
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon