Elessar Younglove (they/she)
I am sitting in therapy, explaining why I haven’t come out to my parents. “It’s like when you knock over a vase,” I say. “You’ve broken something. It’s shattered over the floor and you can’t fix it.” I’m well aware of how damaging this metaphor is, but the only thing that stops is the steadiness of my voice when I wipe my eyes. “But if no one ever finds out it's broken, they can’t be mad at you. I don’t want to tell my parents about the broken vase. I don’t have anything to lighten the load like, ‘Hey, I’m bisexual but at least I aced my exam.’ I need to ease the blow of the broken glass. So, until then I’ll just… stay in the closet.”
Phew! That takes me back. Oh, boy. The pressure is on everyone. I feel like I’m writing a memoir to every queer person. But of course, I am writing from my perspective as a genderfluid, bisexual woman, so my coming out is viewed through that lens. There is a lot I could say about growing up in a Catholic school. I could talk about the quiz that our priest gave us, where question number eight asked, “Do the Catholic Church and God support gay marriage?” I could talk about a group of girls and I choosing to risk our grades to defend queer lives. But we don’t have time for everything I’ve seen in my coming out experience. However, there is a lot I wish I had known before I came out. I don’t blame myself, of course. I was just a baby gay. But Rose, and all readers, here are 12 things I wish I knew before I came out.
1. There is nothing wrong with you.You’re not too much or a burden. You’re not gross. You’re not a predator. You don’t have to have some deep psychological reason for your sexuality. Do not, I repeat, do NOT force yourself to try and like someone to appear straight. You don’t need to “earn” your parents’ acceptance. You don’t need to reach a certain GPA, a certain weight, a popularity level, anything like that-- you are not the wrong child. You are not a disappointment. You didn’t “fail” at being cis or straight, you just are neither of those things. Your sexuality doesn’t determine your worth. You are not greedy for liking more than one gender. You’re not a slut for liking more than one gender. You’re not looking for attention by being queer. You’re not dirty or wrong.
2. You can be more than one identity.
I spent so much time agonizing over whether I was asexual, lesbian, or bisexual. I had always thought it would be too much trouble for everyone if I was bisexual, not to mention genderfluid. You can have more than one identity. You’re allowed to be trans and gay and disabled. And hey, crazy thing that you’ll have to yell at the media about-- not only white people are gay! Remember that when you ever into an argument with someone about how there’s no way someone can be not white and gay and trans. Note to the homophobes, transphobes, and racists: Queer people can actually look like anyone! Crazy, I know. You don’t owe anyone a certain identity, and you definitely don’t owe them only having one identity so as not to complicate things for them.
3. It’s okay to be upset about homophobia, biphobia, and/or transphobia.
After coming out of the closet I felt a lot of pressure to accept anything and everything. I went to a school which taught me that being gay was a sin. “Well, that’s part of the experience.” You don’t owe your life to fighting oppression. It’s tiring and hurtful. But you don’t have to hide how you feel either. It can be hard to openly discuss homophobia with friends and family after coming. I was always worried about sounding “too gay” or “too opinionated.” But you’re allowed to be angry when people mistreat you because of your sexuality or gender. You don’t have to suck it up to appease those around you. It’s hurtful and you’re allowed to be hurt by it. Don’t live in fear of being yourself. Don’t doubt your own voice, or you’ll never use it.
4. You might not like every gay stereotype.
If Lady Gaga just isn’t it for you, then that’s it. There is no one way to be queer. Be fabulous, be effeminate or grungy or a gym rat or literally what you want. You don’t have to act a certain way because you’re gay. But also, you don’t have to prove yourself by adhering to gender stereotypes. “Oh, you’re a gay man so you must love pink and hate physical labor.” You don’t have anything to prove. You can be as flamboyant, butch, androgynous-- whatever you want. You also might fit the occasional stereotype. Listen, when Britney Spears comes on the AUX cord sometimes you just gotta jam. Don’t beat yourself up trying to appear straight. “But I’m still me! I’m not that kind of gay. I’m a normal gay person who doesn’t make everything about my sexuality and you can be friends with me in spite of it--” Nah. Cut that mentality out of your head. You don’t have to be every gay stereotype, but you also don’t owe anyone a lifetime of trying to be “normal.”
5. You don’t have to come out before you want to.
This is a big one. Coming out is a personal experience and not something you owe anyone else. Coming out can take a hundred pounds off of your chest. But don’t endanger yourself. I didn’t come until my second year of college. I went to a catholic school and had already endured a lot of bullying after switching from public school. I did not feel safe coming out in that environment, so I didn’t. I know there is a lot of pressure to “be yourself” and “live your truth.” Some people say it's best to come out as early as possible. But living authentically doesn’t have to be traded in for personal safety and security. If you truly want to come out while in high school, then that’s fine. If you want to wait until a more independent time in life that’s also fine. Coming out is a very personal decision and I can’t tell you how to make it, but come out when you feel it is safe and are comfortable doing so.
6. Having biological kids doesn’t make you a “good child.”
A common reason people fear coming out is their parents' reactions, and that can be for all kinds of reasons. “I just can’t wait for you to fill your dad and I’s house with grandchildren!” You don’t owe having biological children to anyone. Your body is yours, and these are your decisions. “I want grandkids.” What’s most important is raising children who aren’t slaves to their anatomy, or to societal expectations like having children. If you want to have gender reaffirming surgery, then have it. If you want to adopt kids, then adopt. If you don’t want kids, then don’t have kids. I cannot stress how important it is to not base your coming out around future children.
7. You will outlast anyone who mistreats you when you come out.
The church wasn’t “too easy” on you. Your parents didn’t “fail you” because you came out. You are a wonderful, beautiful person who deserves love and respect, and your identity and/or orientation does not change that. You don’t owe anyone a mental breakdown or a life of self-hatred because someone tells you to repent. You might have a cousin who’s uncomfortable with your new pronouns or an aunt who messages you online to mourn your “straight” self that she knew. You will outlast these people. I know it hurts and I know it sucks that you have to experience this, but it is very likely you will experience mistreatment at some point in your life because of your sexuality and/or gender identity.
8. You don’t have to be in a relationship to be queer.
Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals – all of us are single at some point, just like any other person. Don’t push too much pressure on having a relationship. It might sound weird at first but being queer is so much more than who you like. You won’t become a “real gay” with your first girlfriend, boyfriend, etc. You aren’t gay because you’re in a relationship with someone of the same sex. You just always are gay. The idea that you’re not really gay unless you’re in a relationship is unhealthy for you and your potential future partner. When I was a young queer, I told my therapist I wasn’t going to come out to my parents yet because I wasn’t dating anyone. I developed a huge crush on a girl who hadn’t come out to her parents, and who later switched colleges and moved away. I was heartbroken when she left. I went through months of depression. I cried all the time and even attempted my own life. Because I thought if I wasn’t dating a girl then I would never get to come out as bisexual. You do not have to be in a relationship to be queer.
9. “I’m coming out!” Again.
As annoying as it is, you’ll have to come out multiple times in your life. If and/or when you feel comfortable coming out, you have to come out to your parents, to your siblings, to your aunts and uncles, your cousins. You might be on a date with your girlfriend and have someone mistake her for your sister, but nope. You’ll move in and out of places and have new roommates who will set you up with the opposite sex and well… it’s a nice idea but it might not be for you. Hence coming out often. I’ve come out several times now. This isn’t a bad thing. It's just a fact of life. As someone who deviates from the norm, people will expect you to be in the box society has drawn. And sometimes you’ll want to specify otherwise.
10. Don’t assume everyone knows.
As a teenager I considered myself a master storyteller but, uh, guess what? Asking my mom for a rainbow planner for Christmas didn’t magically tell her I was bisexual. On another note, please do yourself a favor and don’t pretend to be straight or cis if you don’t have to for safety. You don’t have to wear dresses every day, to hide that you’re a woman attracted to other women. Coming out is an extremely liberating process but dressing the way you want to dress and saying what you want to say can make the “before” so much easier. Passing as straight or cis is mentally taxing. It’s an annoying process that either doesn’t work, or works too well, and then people ask you how you can possibly be anything but cishet. Spare yourself that headache if you can.
11. People don’t usually care as much as you think they do.
Obviously if the house has a sign that reads, “All queers burn in hell,” you should be careful. Probably best to avoid that house. But don’t live your life thinking that everyone will hate you because of who you are. There are a lot more queer people in the world than you think. We also have lots of allies! I don’t mean that you should throw caution to the wind. I mean, don’t live in fear of the infamous “if.” You can’t know how someone will react. But I can tell you right now that you aren’t alone.
12. You’re not alone.
Because it needs to be said twice. You’re not alone. I know it can feel that way. I know it can feel like there is so much pressure for you to just give in and conform already. But you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. There are people in the world who are just like you, people who understand you. Because sometimes you need to talk to someone with similar experiences. Allies are also everywhere. I promise they are, even if not in front of you. But if you don’t have someone who is also gay and/or trans and you don’t have a trusted ally, or you just want to talk to someone else, there are options. Reach out to online chat rooms, talk to a trusted friend, a supportive family member, your therapist, a call line. Online chat rooms (like the Trevor Project https://www.thetrevorproject.org) or call lines in particular can be great if you need someone anonymous or away from the situation to talk to; don’t be afraid to utilize them. I have personally called hot lines for mental health issues and/or queer issues. But it took me a few years to get comfortable to type that message or make that call. It takes courage to be a voice on the phone asking for help. You aren’t weak. You’re not taking away calls from people who need it more than you. Call lines and chat rooms can be a great way to talk about your life with a third party. And it doesn’t have to be about your sexuality or your gender identity. You can always ask for help. You’re not a burden and you’re not alone.