How to accept your big gay self

Where was my Alice Pieszecki when I needed her 11 years ago?

I first started to contemplate that I could be gay when I was 14 years old.

I would stay up at my Aunt’s house in Florida watching old episodes of ‘The L Word’ I had just ‘stumbled upon’ (that’s the excuse I had at the ready if a bleary-eyed, dressing-gowned relative were to catch me). The brazenness of each character — talking openly about women, sex… and well, actually acting it out (realistically enough to set my baby gay fire alight) struck a mix of excitement and fear in me. Why was I up this late at night watching this show — why was I gripped? Why did it feel secretive and sordid?

My Scene dolls: teaching children about their sexuality since the 00s (Disclaimer: not my picture).

Rewind even earlier and I guess the signs were there. I was always the owner of far more male dolls (MyScene and Action Men if you were a 90s child) than Barbies. I would cast my bleach blonde, stick-thin female dolls aside and sit there meticulously grooming each hair on the head of a my eunuch-esque male ones, choosing what outfit they would wear to go on their ‘date’ with a girl doll. Psychologically speaking, people far more competent than I would probably connect the dots on this one (and maybe could have saved me some angst)… some kind of association with the male form that has evolved into me wanting to sleep with women — but hey, I only took Psychology up to AS level (about aged 16/17) so I’m not going to even try to go there and pretend I know stuff.

All the signs may have been there — I mean, I my love for the discography of Tegan & Sara was no secret (still isn’t — haters gonna hate). I would lie in bed listening to ‘19’ like I had felt every feeling because a girl maybe looked at me once. I even got sucked in by Katy Perry’s claim that she had kissed a girl and really DID like it and bought her first album (oh, how naïve I was). I played every sport going. I secretly perused articles on AfterEllen (features such as ‘Top 10 Lesbian films’ proved very informative — shoutout to AE! RIP). By all accounts, I was full-on homo — but I didn’t fully connect the rainbow dots. I was scared to.

But then, it happened.

I first ‘liked’ a girl when I was around 16 — she was blonde-haired, blue-eyed, smart and confident. I was brunette, awkward and naïve, oh so naïve. I felt something different about her — when she would compliment me (the breeding ground for which was MySpace at the time, RIP MySpace) or touch me. I recall so vividly talking about her with a friend after she left our school and her saying “Well, you know E is bisexual, right?” and that feeling in the pit of my stomach. ‘Bisexual’ — I think she liked me, I think I liked her — am I bisexual? What does this mean for the life ahead of me, if anything?

She was blonde-haired, blue-eyed, smart and confident. I was brunette, awkward and naïve, oh so naïve.

Years passed, I realised I was attracted to women, but I also realised this truly terrified me. I was already uncomfortable with who I was so throwing my gayness into the mix felt like a bad idea — so I repressed. And repressed. And repressed. Cute girls came — I freaked out, and they left. I made myself lonely because I was so very, very afraid of being honest with myself — being lonely felt like the easiest option, even if I meant my depression, anxiety and self-loathing would run rampant for years and years. This seemed easier then the judgement that I feared my family, friends and colleagues would place on me.

It took around 11 years after those first tingles in the bottom my stomach when Jenny kissed Marina to feel comfortable with myself. To say the word ‘gay’ out loud and not want to hide under my duvet covers and drink the shame away.

Cherry carmex: really gay.

I first came out to a friend I had known since childhood when I was 20 years old. I then didn’t do it again for 3 years. (Disclaimer: don’t do that — its pretty much a terrible plan of action). In the run up my 25th birthday I attended Pride in London with my best friend — I was feeling better than last year as I had been swiping and clicking on girls online for nearly a year (this may sound silly but this did help with self-acceptance) and got my standard rainbow-mark on my cheeks to say to the world, “Hey look at me, I’m possibly a person okay with being gay!” (or just super supportive of the gay community). I digress… long story short: my friend ditched me and had to leave early. However the Christian mother-of-a-gay and group of beautiful gay men embraced me and made me feel part of something. Towards the end of the parade someone next to me turned and said, “Oh is that cherry Carmex? My boyfriend wears that all the time — I just love the smell!” I turned to the beaming face of a beaming picture-perfect gay man called Joe. He asked me what I was doing that evening and he invited me to sashay the night away with his boyfriend and friends. I did. And it was wonderful.

I was on a roll. A gay roll. I stumbled upon a local meetup group in my area for LGBT people. The fact my ultra-conservative, Middle England town is not renowned for flying the rainbow flag stirred up a mixture of excitement and anxiety. I perceived that the “Get up to what want you want, as long as its behind closed doors” sort of attitude prevailed, or maybe I just thought it did. But after 4 and half years of living here, the timing felt ideal. Like I had to go (and actually finally let go), however much I tried to talk myself out of it.

I clicked attending. I therefore had to do it — I mean, it would be rude not to if its there in words on the Internet.

The night of the first meeting I was so nervous, the level of which should only be reserved for going on a date with someone really cute you have been pining over for a long time. My housemate pushed me out of the door. I was doing this, I was saying, “Here I am, I’m gay. Hello world” (okay, maybe not the whole world, but 5 other people in a dark and slightly dingy boutique pub somewhere in Kent, England). I remember arriving mid-heated discussion, taking a few huge gulps of a rather giant beer stein (was I trying to prove my gayness?) and listening to the witty, intelligent and successful people surrounding me at the table. Where had all these wonderful people been the past 4 years I spent wiling away the hours feeling like the only gay person in this town? Weeks followed and I integrated myself nicely into the group as the gin-loving writer in a dress with a not-quite-decipherable accent who talked openly about all things Sapphic, as if she had strolled out of closet as if on a walk on a balmy summer evening.

Not to be dramatic, but I really want to be dramatic… meeting all these people in such a short period of time was a game-changer. At the time I was in counselling and on a light dose of antidepressants — both these things gave me the platform to change things, BUT it was going out in the world and finding people like me that really helped me reach a level of self-acceptance that had long eluded me.

So you, person on the internet — however much you don’t fit in with surroundings and however awkward you may feel right this moment, please know: this too will pass. It can get better, so very quickly. All you need to do is find your people and embrace them — we’re all here, some of us just take a bit more encouragement than others. Each of us wear the scars of our identity (although some people’s run deeper than others) so the onus is on us to all help each other heal on our own individual path to being the biggest, baddest, best gay selves. Then we can all sashay the night away together… Deal?

Thanks for reading.

Struggling with your identity or just feeling a bit lost?

Feel free to email me and I will help in any way I can, even if its just offering up some terrible humour or showing you cute pictures of dogs.

It’s a long shot, but… LGBTQ and living in or around Tunbridge Wells, UK? Really like the word ‘sashay’?

Join our crew… We’re fun. Especially when gin is in the vicinity.

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