Growing up knowing I liked girls from a young age was hard. The earliest memory I have of these feelings was early in primary school. I’d constantly wonder why, when talking about High School Musical, my friends would only talk about Troy, and not Gabriella as well. I had crushes on both of them. I find it funny now because most of the queer women I know also went through the same thing. As if it were a rite of passage.
So, whilst it’s something funny to look back on now, and talk to other queer girls about, at the time it was really confusing. I didn’t understand why it seemed like I was the only one who felt like this. Even in the movies, the girls always liked the guys. I decided to just ignore my thoughts. Push them to the back of my mind and get on with whatever it is that little girls do. I still found boys attractive, so I thought my feelings for girls was just a bump in the road. I was wrong.
What is compulsory heterosexuality?
Of course, at the time, I didn’t know why I was so adamant about hiding my feelings from everyone. It felt like this huge secret, and for years it was. Now, after whole-heartedly embracing who I am, I know that compulsory heterosexuality had a huge impact on my life. For readers who don’t know what compulsory heterosexuality is, Adrienne Rich popularised the term in her 1980 essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.” Rich argued that heterosexuality is ingrained in individuals from birth, and thus individuals are assumed to be heterosexual until proven otherwise. The assumption that heterosexuality is the default enforces patriarchal and heteronormative ideas in society, and deviation is seen as unfavorable.
Discovering the word “gay”
As I grew up, I started to hear the word gay a lot. However, almost every time I heard this word, it was derogatory. It was also always boys calling other boys gay. So I started to wonder if gay was only a thing for boys. I remember being home one evening after school, I grabbed my iPad mini and googled ‘gay.’
Lots of results came up, and then I saw the word ‘lesbian.’ I clicked on it. Looking back on it, I’m shocked that I wasn’t just shown floods of porn at ten years old. Seeing as queer women are still fetishized for the male gaze – but that’s an issue for another time. Instead, I just saw women kissing women. I decided to open Instagram. This was the early days of Instagram when the logo was blue. I was around ten at the time. I typed in lesbian and clicked on the hashtag, and it was just the same. Lots of women hugging or kissing each other. They looked just like the boys and girls in the movies, but this time, it was just two girls.
I remember coming across a post of two girls holding hands with text on top of the picture saying, “I came out to my mum after prom, as my girlfriend and I walked out of the venue holding hands.” After scrolling for probably an hour at this point, ten-year-old me pieced together what ‘coming out’ was—telling your parents, or someone, that you were gay. I seriously considered telling my mum I was a lesbian that night. It was an odd feeling. It felt like a big deal, but it also didn’t, seeing as all these people I’d seen online had done it. But, I also felt like the term lesbian didn’t fit me. So I closed down my iPad and deleted my search history, still feeling some sense of shame around the topic.
Around a year later, after my investigative Instagram night, my family went on holiday to France. I was around ten. We were walking past all these yachts, pointing out which one we would buy if we had the money. My mum said to me, jokingly, “just marry a rich man or woman.” While to my mum, it was just a joking comment, it was the first time someone I knew had talked about the possibility that I can like girls.
Figuring out who I am
Fast forward about three years, I’m in secondary school. I have taken every “am I gay quiz?” known to man. I feel as if I am living a double life. I spend all my free time on social media following an abundance of LGBTQ+ accounts on a private Instagram account I made so no one I know in real life could find out. To me, it still felt like I was alone. I didn’t really know anyone personally who identified as part of the LGBTQ+ community. So I embraced this online community, where I felt just less alone, my sexuality almost felt fictional – as if it only existed validly online and not in real life.
I came out to close friends and my parents the day after the Pulse Nightclub shooting. It reminded me that people do hate me for who I love, and people would kill me if it. For me, it was some sort of act of rebellion to come out when it became so apparent that LGBTQ+ people were nowhere near equal to their cishet counterparts.
My close friends and parents were all very accepting, but something still didn’t feel right. I still had no ‘weight off my shoulders’ as I thought would happen. I still felt like I had to conceal a lot of who I am, and I rarely spoke about women I had crushes on for about a year after I came out. Deep down, younger me was still terrified. Younger me still thought I was weird and the anomaly.
There was even a period of time where I tried to ‘turn myself straight.’ I loathed my sexuality and felt very unhappy with who I was, but this was also a side effect of the depression I was going through at the time. One day at school, I remember hearing two boys, mid-conversation, saying “I would burn all the f*ggots in the world”. I winced. They didn’t even know I could hear, and they probably didn’t know I was queer anyway. However, it was still another reminder that the world still has a problem with me, and people like me.
So, what can we do?
Compulsory heterosexuality is really damaging to young LGBTQ+ people. Cishet people will never understanding what it feels like to grow up with a deep sense of shame and alienation from your peers. You feel like you don’t belong, but for a long time you can’t even put your finger on what’s making you feel this way. I still rarely see LGBTQ+ people on mainstream TV. If I do, it’s this massive deal and most of the time the characters enforce stereotypes. Plus, this media is for the consumption of young adults. LGBTQ+ characters need to be in children’s shows. To ensure young children just like me don’t go through what I went through. We need to dismantle our heteronormative society for the sake of young LGBTQ+ people everywhere.