I am terrified of writing this post.
I am terrified that my family will read it and confront me about it and tell me I shouldn’t have written it. I am terrified that there are people who will probably never speak to me again because of it. I am terrified that it will change the way some of my friends view me. I am terrified that people will berate me for not telling them in person.
I’m really, really scared. And I started writing this post in November after thinking about it for months, and last night when I couldn’t sleep I was writing it and rewriting it in my head until long past two in the morning – and only now do I have the courage to post it. I made a New Year’s Resolution to be more truthful, honest, and open. This is one stage of that. “New year, new me,” people say. But for me, it’s simpler than that: “New year, true me.”
A lot of my writing friends and book bloggers often start the year with a post about the books they’re looking forward to that will be released this year, and while there are a few of those, I want to talk about something else that’s coming out: me.
Let me tell you a story. I wrote a post a little while ago explaining which Les Mis characters I identify with and why, but I missed out something very important: the one way in which I resemble Marius Pontmercy.
In November 2012, I met a girl just once (admittedly having known her online for three years), and I fell in love.
I mean, I didn’t know it then. I was still heavily in denial about the whole thing, and while questions had crossed my mind, I didn’t even let myself consider the possibility that I had feelings for my best friend. It wasn’t until the end of January that I sat down, thought about it, and came to a conclusion – I’m queer.
I’m writing this post because quite often on this blog I want to talk about LGBTQ issues, but I’m doing it from the point of view of an ‘ally’. What I really want to do is say to you, “Look, I’m sick of your heteronormative fiction!” from the point of view of someone who lived twelve years without ever coming across a queer character and is sick to death of heterosexual love triangles in YA fiction. I want to tell you why Holly Black and Cassandra Clare and Maggie Stiefvater are close to my heart as writers – and point out how telling it is that I can only name three authors who have bothered to represent people like me.
I’ve been building up to this post, mentioning in my recap of 2013 the struggles and identity crises I went through last year, refusing to use gendered pronouns when talking about my relationships, but hints aren’t enough. Let me start from the beginning.
In January 2013, I mentioned in a blog post that I was ‘probably heterosexual’. Which wasn’t entirely true. I’d gone my whole life not really understanding why I didn’t feel attracted to guys in the same way as my friends, but in the last couple of months I’d become increasingly confused and was vehemently in denial about the whole thing. I had a whole bunch of issues relating to faith and upbringing that stuck around for months, but my denial wasn’t actually due to any sort of internalised homophobia. I’d been supporting my LGBTQ friends for a couple of years already, even when it got me into difficulty, and I’d written several queer characters. I was passionate about diversity and acceptance.
No, my fear was simpler than that: suddenly wanting to kiss somebody you’ve known since you were a baby is disturbing no matter what gender they are, because it just feels incestuous. The easiest thing to do is just pretend it’s not happening, because… ugh. And once you ignore that, you’re once again ignoring all clues that you might be interested in girls.
That was October. By the end of January, as I’ve mentioned, I managed to admit to myself that I was probably in love with my best friend and, after a few days, I confessed to her. Within another fortnight, I actually told my parents, who didn’t take it brilliantly and told me not to tell anyone, to keep it hidden. I don’t think they realise how difficult and painful that was; I told my close friends, but I always felt like a part of myself was forbidden, locked away. They’ll probably be mad that I’m writing this, but I’ve spent long enough in the closet. I told my brother, too, and he called me at 1am and I cried over the phone.
Gradually, I told a few friends, and the overwhelming reaction was, “Well, it was only a matter of time,” or “I knew it.” Which confused me. A lot.
The overwhelming theme in queer narratives and something I’ve heard from many of my LGBTQ friends is that they ‘always knew’, and it only took them this long to come out because they needed to work up the courage. Others had a realisation at about the age of twelve, when they hit puberty. But I didn’t. I legitimately had no idea until I was almost seventeen, and then it just kind of hit me:
Man, I like girls.
So I began to wonder if it was even legitimate, or if I was imagining the whole thing. I mean, surely I should have been aware since, like, forever? I could retrospectively analyse my behaviour and see occasions where my admiration of other girls pushed the boundaries of straight (and technically my first kiss was a dare at a sleepover with another girl, but I don’t think it counts), yet other than that, I’d had no clue.
You need to remember that I was brought up in a Christian household and while it wasn’t repressive or anything, ‘sex’ was very much something that happened after marriage and not before and woe on you for thinking about it. So I grew up without the slightest bit of interest in any of it, since it all seemed distant and far away and not something I even needed to think about. As a result, it simply didn’t occur to me that I could possibly be anything other than heterosexual.
All my support, all the impassioned speeches and blog posts and arguments with people – it had all been academic. It didn’t affect me. I knew exactly what I believed, and nothing tested that. When it started to impact my own life, it was a little bit harder. I struggled in church and with faith. I grew angry at a society that, having seemed so progressive before, suddenly revealed itself to be unbelievably heteronormative. Valentine’s Day, which came at a time when I was fragile and unhappy, was almost unbearable.
It took me until late November to explicitly come out to my sister. Earlier in the autumn, I’d said, “I’m not sure guys are my thing…” but hadn’t been able to say more. She didn’t have a problem with it, but I couldn’t phrase my feelings until then. When I started seeing a counsellor, it took me a number of sessions to bring up the topic, and despite it probably being central to several problems, I found it very difficult to discuss ever again.
I’m imagining, from what I saw of the media’s response to Tom Daley’s coming out video in early December, that you’re all thinking, “Miriam’s a lesbian!” (For those who missed it, he was reported as gay because he was dating a guy, even though he explicitly said that he still liked girls.) But I never said that I was homosexual. One of the reasons it’s taken me so long to say anything is because the labels just don’t seem to fit.
I’m working it out still, yeah, but I don’t know whether I like girls exclusively, or even whether I feel sexual attraction at all. I’m interested in a romantic relationship, but sex is an entirely different issue. It’s possible that I’m asexual, but then again, as I explained, I grew up with sex as a distant, unlikely other, so maybe I’m just not ready for it. I’m not saying that all aces are simply ‘not ready’. They know what they’re labelling themselves. I’m just saying that it’s possible with me, so I’m not going to claim that label yet.
I’ve toyed with a few. There are all sorts of categories (“homoromantic asexual” or “biromantic demisexual”), but after a while you get confused and think, “Why can’t we all just be people who like people?” Or, you know, don’t. As the case may in fact be.
But I’m the sort of person who feels the need to put a name to something so that I can tidy it away inside my head. For someone who hates being put in a box, I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to squash myself into one.
Only recently have I come to terms with the idea that I don’t know how to label myself, and there’s no point doing so when things can change so quickly. I spent nearly seventeen years thinking I was straight and then my worldview shattered. Things can be changed in just one burst of light – and what was right seems wrong, and what was wrong seems right…
The label ‘queer’ is one that I think suits me. It’s a strange word, because it went from a harmless adjective meaning odd or unusual to a derogatory slur, and has now been reclaimed by the LGBTQ community. If you’re straight, you need to be super careful, because unless someone specifically says to you that they identify as queer, they might still find it offensive. And while some of us use it as a catch-all term for all LGBTQ identities, some still view it as negative or exclusionary.
I’m all for the reclamation of potentially offensive terms. When I used to get called a freak or a weirdo, I’d wear that badge with pride.
‘Queer’ is much the same for me. It’s my way of saying, “I don’t care what you think about me.” It’s saying, “Yeah, I’m not ‘straight’, but just you try putting me in a box.” It’s me being fed up of the gay/straight binary that seems to exist. (As somebody once said on Twitter, it must be awful to be a bisexual ghost. People don’t believe you exist, plus you’re a ghost.)
So I guess that’s how it is. I’m … not straight. I know there are people out there who may struggle with this revelation, and going back to school next week to face my classmates might be difficult. There are people I know who firmly believe that being LGBTQ is ‘wrong’ or ‘sinful’. All I can say to them is this:
If an all-powerful God created me, then he knew what he was doing when he made me this way. I might not know what his plan is, but I’m going to trust that he has one. Living a lie seems to me as much of a sin as telling this truth.
New year, true me. Queer and still-struggling-slightly-but-working-on-the-proud-bit.
Oh, and if you’re wondering? The super-attractive potential student sitting in front of me at Glasgow University was female, yes. And the friend who broke my heart. And the (same) friend who kissed me in August, or rather, whom I kissed. I guess I don’t need to avoid pronouns anymore. That’s going to be a relief.
Here’s to 2014: truth, honesty, and no more living in the closet. I’m out and I’m staying that way.