Families can be tough. It is not always easy explaining sexuality to them. I recently had a conversation with a family member of mine and I left the conversation feeling misunderstood. My family member told me that they love me, they just want me to be happy, and that my sexual identity is just a small part of me. I am very appreciative of their acceptance and unconditional love, but I would not say that is a small part of me. I have been struggling with how to explain myself ever since the conversation.
Before I go any further, I just want to clarify that my experience cannot speak for others. Although I consider my lesbian identity as a core piece of me, not every LGBTQIA identified individual does. I consider my lesbian identity such a big deal because of my own personal struggle to come to terms with my identity and how it affected my life.
I lived my life for twenty-one years before I was strong enough to come out to myself. In middle school, I started noticing that I was different. Instead of confronting my feelings, I repressed them. I would not allow myself to even think about why I felt different or why I never noticed boys. In high school, I could not avoid the fact that I was drawn to my girl classmates and preferred their company over my male classmates. I just rationalized it. I was just a girly girl and I kept checking out all the girls in my high school because I was comparing (yeah, right). It is silly now that I look back on it. This denial came from my desire to make my family proud. I was going to go to college, find a nice guy, settle down, and lead a normal life. A life where I did not ruffle anyone’s feathers or challenge what is acceptable to society (now, that sounds horribly boring and soul crushing).
My story gets a little dark here so I’m going to skip over most of the sad parts, but I do need to mention that I started to slip into a depression. By the time my junior year of college rolled around, I was at the lowest point of my life. I experienced severe depression. The fall semester of my junior year, I finally admitted it to myself. I love women. This was not easy by a long shot and it took a while (and me asking for help) before I was ok. My grades for that semester reflect my mental state. I had to tell myself that it is ok and that I would be a disgrace to my family. I had the old heteronormative ideas of a respectable life stuck in my head. I felt like my family would no longer be proud of me and that I was a freak.
The process of coming out to myself resulted in me being shattered. I had to rebuild the pieces and put myself back together. I used feminism as my glue. I no longer focused on what I thought my friends or society thinks of me and I choose to live my life for me. By questioning society’s perspective on queer identified individuals, I discovered how wrong society was on the subject. Now I started to think about how wrong society could be on other subjects. I started questioning everything. I questioned whether pot should be legal, the patriarchal and racist history I had been taught (seriously, everyone needs to go read American history from a Native American perspective, a woman’s perspective, and any person of color perspective), tattoos, piercings, my faith and much more. I feel like I have become a better critical thinker by coming out and I no longer blindly accept societal standards. My new feminist and independent way of thinking has really made the world look completely different to me.
Not only do I have a new outlook but also I am facing discrimination for the first time. Although as a woman I have received some discrimination, it has always been subtle. Society as a whole does not accept blatant discrimination against women (even though sexism is present everywhere. People just do not notice). I am a white, cisgender, middle class, and Christian girl from the suburbs. I never worried about discrimination before. But now that I am an out and proud lesbian, I’ve been blatantly discriminated against. I often pass as straight but I still encounter it. Strangers usually just stare, some whisper to their friends. I developed a thick skin against that kind of stuff over time. Once a guy yelled dyke to me from his truck as I was walking in west campus but I just thought that was ridiculous (seriously dude, I already know I’m a dyke. What were you trying to accomplish?). I have lost friends over coming out. I also discovered that many of my friends think it is ok to condemn me to hell for being fabulously gay. For the most part however, love and acceptance received my coming out process. I will forever be grateful for that.
After facing this discrimination, I have become more open to hearing how others struggle with discrimination. I have become compelled to stand up as an ally for other causes. I will not let racist, sexist, classist, or any hateful speech go by without me speaking up. When I faced the discrimination, I finally understood what it means to be part of a marginalized identity. Instead of beating me down, this discrimination has open my eyes up to the issues within society and has made more of an accepting ally to groups of marginalized people I was not willing to really listen to before.
I just want to convey to my family and friends that do not understand that my lesbian identity and the process of coming out to myself and others has changed my life in a profound way. Not only am I happier than I have been in a long time, but my way of thinking is much more independent. I am more open to understanding the importance of fighting discrimination in any form and recognizing privilege. My queerness has made a stronger ally and more accepting to other communities. I will not just accept the social norms but instead fight them. I am going to dedicate my life to making this world a better place. I do not know how but I will. I want to work in social justice particularly I want to work with queer issues. I hope that at the end of my life, people will be able to come out without facing the discrimination or struggling with self-hate. So yes, my sexuality may just be part of me but it has influenced my whole life in a dynamic way that cannot be ignored.