Westwood Horizon

LGBTQ+ Voices: After Seventeen Years in the Closet

Becca Halaney, Reporter

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I never realized that I wasn’t straight.

Let me repeat that: there wasn’t any epiphany, no mind-blowing discernment, no life-altering discovery. I always just wasn’t.

Mom, I have to tell you something. ”

Indeed, I never had the stereotypical gay-awakening, often acclaimed by Hollywood and young-adult fiction–rather, I had nearly the opposite. Instead of finding out that I wasn’t like everyone else, I learned from books, movies, and radio programs that everyone else wasn’t like me. As someone who always knew she liked girls and boys just the same, learning that I was virtually alone–one of the only 1.8% of Americans who identify as bi–at such a young age was terrifying. Even though I didn’t understand the concept, I knew well enough that it was a secret that was not to be shared. My very existence was a taboo.

My mom chose to homeschool all four of her children, and I wear her reasons for doing so with pride; she wanted to foster a love of learning that she didn’t see in the families who chose to put their kids through public schooling, wanted us to question authority before submitting to it, and wanted us to learn how to be independent without instruction. Growing up in this environment, I took classes at co-ops, Real Education through Advanced Curriculum for Homeschoolers (REACH) , and online programs, learned from my mom, and taught myself from textbooks. Many families choose to homeschool their children for religious reasons, and though we were not one of them, I did end up taking classes at a parochial homeschool co-op as I neared middle school because of the academic rigor they offered.

Seventh grade also marked the first time I had a serious crush on one of my friends, and it ended up being a more nightmarish experience than most people’s awkward first with dating.

She had been my best friend of three years. I didn’t dare to get my hopes up until she came out as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community herself. I told her how I felt, and when I did, our friendship ended. I tried to text her to apologize for making her uncomfortable, and a week after, she sent me an email telling me to end contact with her. Days later, the other friends I had made at the parochial co-op stopped talking to me as well. The rumor that I was a “weirdo” and a “lezzie” had begun to spread. My ex-friend’s mom told mine what had happened. When my mom asked me whether or not I was a lesbian, I said no.

I started to isolate myself as well. That year was the first and last time I’ve ever failed a class. At the end of the semester, I told my mom that I wanted to switch into public school. So, at the beginning of ninth grade, I walked into Westwood knowing no one–and letting no one know my secret. In fact, I started hiding my secret from myself. I cut my capacity for endearment in half, pretending as though I had never had any romantic thoughts for girls at all. I started dating boys I didn’t have the barest scrapings of interest in just so that I could keep telling myself that it was fake, that if I ignored them long enough, the feelings I had for girls would go away. I wanted nothing more to grow out of it as people had told me I would. I remember thinking as a freshman that I would hide it at least until I graduated, until I had moved far away to where no one knew me. I found myself neck-deep in empty bargaining.

The only depictions I got of people like me came in the roles of the weird best friend, the stone-cold butches, the dripping-with-glitter femmes.”

Movies and books didn’t help. The only depictions I got of people like me came in the roles of the weird best friend, the stone-cold butches, the dripping-with-glitter femmes, and if you’ve seen me, well… you know I don’t exactly fit the bill. In ninth grade, I shaved my head and wore flannel with cargo shorts (yes, together) on a weekly basis. It didn’t feel right, and seeing as I stand at 4’10” only, I imagine it looked rather funny too. Sophomore year brought the full 180, and everything I owned became pink. I grew my hair out and started wearing a face full of makeup every day, despite how much I disliked it. That costume didn’t feel quite right either. It took me until very recently to understand that I don’t have to choose between stereotypes–I just have to be me.

This proved to be a struggle in more abstract ways as well when I started slowly telling a select few of my friends who also identified with the LGBTQIA+ label. I grew up Christian, but I had always been taught that there was absolutely nothing wrong with being gay; it wasn’t a sin. My faith is as much a part of me as my orientation, and I found myself in a cruel dichotomy: I couldn’t tell my church friends that I was bi, and I couldn’t tell my gay friends that I was Christian. Switching back and forth between two different guises depending on who I was with became exhausting very quickly. There was no environment where I could truly be myself, my whole self.

The promise that I wouldn’t come out to my family until after I’d left the house became more and more difficult to swallow the closer I got to actually achieving it. My anxiety about it grew to the point that thinking about a possible future pretending to be someone I was not reduced me to tears. I felt trapped between two undesirable options: either I could continue to wear a facade indefinitely, or I could face the truth and admit to myself and my family that my identity was not something that could be grown out of. I was terrified. Saying it would make it real, and that scared me most of all. I still wanted it to be a nightmare I could wake up from. My secret was a rope tied around my neck from birth that did not grow with me; it choked me. On a Wednesday night, this last August, I found myself reduced to weeping again over the future I couldn’t imagine. I made my decision, and after a very tearful conversation with a trusted adult, I drove home through the rain and spoke as soon as I’d opened the front door.

“Mom, I have to tell you something. I should have told you sooner, but I was scared. I’m bi.”

“You’re bi?”

“I’m bi.”

I stood there, sobbing in the kitchen, and she motioned me to sit down next to her on the couch. She hugged me, and I cried uncontrollably. Ten minutes passed with her simply rubbing my back before she spoke to me again.

“Do you think this changes anything?”

“No.”

“That’s right. Nothing’s changed.”

“Are you upset with me?”

“Why would I be upset?”

I couldn’t answer because I didn’t know. My family had always been openly accepting of the LGBTQIA+ community, and I had no reason to think I wouldn’t be accepted for who I was at home. Once my tears had begun to subside, she asked me with a smile if she could get back to the paperwork she had been doing before I’d come home. We had a good laugh, I got myself some ice cream, took a bath, and when I went to sleep that night, I couldn’t remember ever feeling so free. For the first time, I didn’t have to put on a mask at home.

We didn’t talk about it the next day, nor the next week after. It was a silent understanding that things were better. That Saturday, we decided to go bowling, and while we drove down the highway toward Highland Lanes, I had an odd feeling that she was going to ask something regarding the conversation we’d had.

“Why were you afraid to tell me?”

I’d always felt shame regarding my identity, a deep-rooted hope that I would grow out of it. The world around me had taught me to dislike who I am. ”

The feeling was correct. It took me several long minutes to think of an answer, because just like that night, I wasn’t sure. There had never been any hostility or intolerance in our house. I wasn’t able to answer until halfway through the bowling match, and the truth hit me hard:

I had harbored internalized homophobia for as long as I could remember. I’d always felt shame regarding my identity, a deep-rooted hope that I would grow out of it. The world around me had taught me to dislike who I am. It’s been nearly two months since I came out, and though it was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, I’ve come to love myself more every day that’s passed. If I hadn’t taken that leap, I fear I’d still be stuck in the cycle of self-deprecation and denial that was my closet. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.

I’m sharing my story in the hopes that those of you who have found yourselves in a similar situation will know that there is a light on the other side of that door, and that even though facing yourself and accepting what you see is frightening, the best person you can be is you.

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