I was in early high school the first time I realised I wasn’t only attracted to guys. From a rural country area where all of the schools that weren’t considered ratty were religious, I’d been to a Catholic primary school and was attending a Christian high school when I first admitted to myself that I wasn’t straight. But I was raised by a relatively progressive family who had taught me that there was nothing wrong with liking the same sex and I didn’t really have a lot of friends, so I wasn’t particularly worried if my newfound sexuality made the other kids at school think I was weird. But despite these reassurances, coming out wasn’t as easy as I had pictured in my head and there have been many things along the way that hurt me.
- I was forced to tell my mum
I wasn’t afraid of coming out to the one girl at school who I considered at the time to be my best friend. I told her that, at the time, I liked girls and boys. And she was fine with it. Except with my confession to her came an unexpected pressure to come out to my mother, on my friend’s orders. To be perfectly honest, I wanted to tell my mum, but at that point in time, I certainly wasn’t ready. But when the only person you feel you can be open with tells you that you have to tell your mother your big secret, or she will, you end up feeling like you don’t have much choice.
- Bisexuality isn’t real
So I went ahead and came out to my mother, late one night while she and I were just sitting in the lounge room watching T.V. I told her I was bisexual*. She smiled at me, but then she told me that bisexuality isn’t real. ‘People either like boys, or they like girls. And you have always liked boys,’ she said. And I was so crushed. In my eyes, this woman had been the pillar of progressive thinking in our family up until that point. She had been the one to teach me that there was nothing wrong with loving the same sex. But when I came out to her, she told me, as many tell their same-sex attracted children, ‘It’s just a phase. You’ll grow out of it.’ She went as far as to forbid me from telling anyone else about it, because it would be ‘social suicide’ (just in case the fact that she wouldn’t let me shave my legs when all the other girls at school did wasn’t already a central topic for bullying**).
- No apologies
A few months after that conversation, I got my first girlfriend. I decided not to tell my mum (and thankfully my so-called best friend decided not to force me this time, considering the reaction she had to my coming out). But I suppose when you have the same girl (who very openly identified as lesbian) over to your house multiple times a week, a mother would start to get suspicious. Anyway, after some poorly thought out Facebook privacy settings on my girlfriend’s part, and some stalking on my mother’s part, we got busted and I got my head ripped off for having a girlfriend behind her back. My reasons for not telling her meant nothing in that conversation and seven years later I have not received an apology for her reaction to when I came out, or her reaction to discovering that I had a girlfriend.
- My daughter isn’t a lesbian anymore
My dad did a pretty good job of being accepting that I had a girlfriend, but he still has a lot to learn. When my girlfriend and I broke up, his reaction was ‘So, my daughter isn’t a lesbian anymore’. I sort of just slammed my head into a wall. While I know the comment wasn’t malicious or intentionally dismissive, the ignorance still hurt. I’d never claimed to be a lesbian, even if I was in a relationship with another woman. And that break-up in no way marked the end of my feeling attracted to other women.
- You’re dating a guy, so you must be straight
To shift away from the high school days, I’ve now been in a relationship with a boy for several years. Unfortunately, despite these happy circumstances, people now assume that I must be straight. This is not only an assumption of my sexuality, but also of my boyfriend’s gender identity, which isn’t exactly cis anymore (though that isn’t public knowledge). I can’t express my frustration at having my sexual identity erased by people who make this heteronormative assumption based on what they see. I don’t think anyone has the right to assume somebody else’s sexual orientation or gender identity and I think in 2016 we’ve moved far enough away from homophobic and heteronormative dinosaur attitudes to know better.
Neither of my parents have acknowledged that I am still anything other than straight, and I doubt that my sexuality will cease to be erased while I’m in a seemingly heterosexual relationship. But that doesn’t make any of these things okay. It doesn’t stop them from hurting me. And it doesn’t stop them from hurting the masses of other people who are trying to come out, or have come out, as anything other than straight and cisgender.
Words by Rebecca K