Seven Years: Why it took so long to come out.

The most lucrative aspect about college thus far is having freedom. I can go to Wendy’s whenever I want. I can decide when to do my laundry, what classes I want to take, and most notably how to present myself to others. No one is hanging over my shoulder to tell me what to do and how to act. I’m my own person, and it’s awesome.

Being my own person includes expressing my sexuality. I’m a lesbian, and trust me, I don’t try to hide it.

This liberty to express myself is partially due to the fact that I attend a very liberal university. After all, we made national news when we pulled a confederate statue off of its pedestal and into the mud. Nonetheless, I attend a university with like-minded students from different backgrounds. For years, this wasn’t the case.

It goes back to elementary school. I lived on Long Island, which separated school districts by town. Everyone came from the same area. All of my classmates’ homes were walking distance from my dead-end street. If someone was further away, I’d grab my Razor scooter and hustle over. In hindsight, I realize that particular areas and towns have similar incomes and political views. In New York, it’s no surprise that most of the people around me leaned left. It was safe to be different.

When I moved to North Carolina in fifth grade, it was the complete opposite. Each county had their own school district, with dozens of schools. They designated base schools to different neighborhoods, thus creating zones. Wealthier zones went to wealthier schools, and it was evident. I ended up with a majority of upper-middle class, conservative white kids. I had no idea how much it was going to fuck me up.

Conversations on the bus were the worst. I wasn't even sure what homosexuality was when jokes and slurs began bouncing around the backseats.

That changed when I was eleven. I stumbled upon a video of two girls kissing on YouTube (it was very different back then). My curiosity got the best of me, and I kept looking for more. I liked it and I didn't know why. Being turned on for the first time was confusing. It felt like a weird part of me had been unlocked. I didn’t know what was going on, and like every kid who has a question, I turned to Google.

After that, my Google search history tripled. Every night, I opened my Gateway laptop and clicked on the search bar. I started with the same question, the one that every gay kid searches at least 300 or so times: Am I gay? During the day, I would catch myself staring at girls and wondering if I wanted to be them or kiss them. I asked myself these questions while staring out the filthy, school bus windows. My headphones blocked out the slurs and homophobic comments coming from the back.

The kids at school convinced me that being gay was a bad thing. Fearing the possibility of being gay, I searched for all of the evidence I could that told me I was straight. When I asked "Am I gay?" I was actually looking for someone to tell me I wasn't. I couldn’t be. “Lesbian” was a dirty word. Something about it made me feel gross.

The Google searches continued:

Am I gay?

Am I gay quiz

How to know if you’re gay

How I knew I was gay video

10 ways to tell you’re gay

Cute girls kissing

Hot men that turn you on

Hot men don’t turn me on help

Emptyclosets forum (very helpful resource, fyi)

Am I a lesbian?

Am I a lesbian quiz

Am I gay even though I’ve liked a boy before?

That last search was what tripped me up the most. I thought that I had crushes on guys, both in real life and celebrity crushes. Especially with the latter, it was simple to convince myself that I felt more than affection for these men. The scarcity principle kicked in. We convince ourselves that we want something more when we cannot have it. Creating these “crushes” was the easiest way to deny that I was a lesbian, because if you "like" men, people assume that you can’t be gay.

I thought that these crushes were valid, so at 15, I came out to my close friends as bisexual.

Six months later, I got frustrated. Men still weren’t turning me on. I thought I was broken.

To avoid these thoughts, I stopped thinking about sexuality in general. I didn’t think about boys, and I didn’t let myself think about girls. The consequences of being gay were like a whirlwind in my mind. I didn’t want to be called the slurs, to be seen as “the gay girl” and not who I am as a person. Labels can be powerful, and they’re easy to make snap judgements off of, so I didn’t have a label at all.

When I was a senior in high school, I discovered “compulsory heterosexuality.” It sounds very Tumblr-esque, which made me weary, but I found that it was very applicable to my situation.

Compulsory Heterosexuality (to my understanding): A phenomenon experienced by many gay women; when exposure to a heterosexual society, with focus on the male when describing love and sex, causes gay women to believe that the concept of love is caring for men. The idea of being straight is romanticized, in which the concept of being heterosexual is more enjoyable than the act, which is the result of patriarchal language.

Example: When I was little, I fantasized about my future husband coming home from work. I imagined greeting him with a kiss, hanging up his coat, etc. That was my perception of marriage back then. Marrying a man seemed like a life goal and an achievement. Now, when I mentally put myself in that situation, I don’t find any real pleasure in it. If that scenario were a reality, I wouldn’t be happy or attracted to said husband.

I felt the compulsive desire to take care of a man because that was all I knew about romance. This idea was solely based on what I’ve heard and what I saw on television. I thought that was what it was to be in love. I felt like I had to like men. When it came to “crushes” on guys, I found that I was blurring the line between caring for guy friends and being attracted to them. I understood that care was part of love, but the butterflies mentioned in love songs were always missing.

For the first time, I allowed myself to think about women romantically. I felt giddy. I felt butterflies. My face lit up when I thought about kissing, cuddling, eating pizza rolls in pajamas, and going to school dances with a cute girl by my side.

At that point, the word lesbian didn’t seem so dirty anymore.

I came out to my friends shortly after. It felt like I had finally cracked the code. There was no hesitation in explaining how I reached that conclusion, and my friends would laugh and tell me how much sense it made.

The summer before college, I came out to my mother. I made the decision that I owe it to myself to be openly gay and allow myself to be in love. I’d come a long way, and it was time to embrace who I was born to be.

Now I’m here, and my first semester of college has come to an end. I have a girlfriend, and I love her. She has taught me so much about resilience, dedication, strength, and care. Most importantly, she is teaching me what love is. The words lovers say to each other are no longer just words. When I tell her I love her, it’s because she proves to me that I’ve never been in love before.

So, yes. The most lucrative aspect about college thus far is having freedom. After seven years of questioning my sexuality and refusing to accept myself, I’m finally finding the freedom to be gay.

I found that freedom by listening to myself, and evaluating my feelings without judgement.

So, if you’re trying to figure out if you’re gay, here are some points to let yourself think about. Figuring out your sexuality is a process, so you needn't rush. These are some pointers that helped me figure myself out:

1. If you are questioning your sexuality, listen to yourself. It’s so easy to look for answers confirming that you're straight, but before you do, listen to your intuition. What makes you think you might not be straight?

2. Does the same sex turn you on? It sounds obvious, but really, tune in to your body.

3. What about the opposite sex? When your friends talk about members of the opposite sex, are you really attracted to them, or are you agreeing that they are physically attractive? There’s a difference.

4. Do you find yourself wanting members of the opposite sex that you can’t have? For instance, a famous actor or a musician when they were younger. Imagine if they were sitting right next to you. Are you still attracted to them?

5. Imagine someone of the opposite sex coming to your ideal home and welcoming them back. Make them happy to see you. Do you want to kiss them, and if so, how does that make you feel? Do you feel the butterflies?

6. Do the same thing with a member of the same sex. What would you do then? Do you want to kiss them?

7. For all of the above, don’t hold yourself back. Don’t try to be straight if that’s not where your imagination is going. Consider how you feel. You’re looking for an answer to your question. Take care of yourself, and think freely, because being gay isn’t a bad thing and you are not a bad thing.

8. If homosexuality wasn't a topic of controversy, would you call yourself gay?

After spending so long coming to terms, I hope this offers some new insight and cuts the process short by a few years. Or seven.

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