How do you know? People sometimes ask me. How do I know that I’m gay and not straight? This question came up a lot specifically closer to my coming out.
I get it. We’re curious about one another and I have a certain experience that you may not have but the thing is our experiences aren’t different at all. It’s all very simple. I feel the same attraction you feel for someone of the opposite gender except I feel it for a woman. And I don’t feel that attraction for someone of the opposite gender just like you don’t feel it for someone of the same gender. My experience isn’t different from yours. But the idea that it is contributes to the struggle of accepting one’s sexual orientation and we start to ask ourselves: how do I know that I’m gay?
If you are questioning whether you may be gay or bi (or generally, if you’re questioning your identity), it makes a lot of sense that you would ask others about their experience. How did they know and figure it out– perhaps it’ll help me know. But if straight wasn’t the default and predominantly portrayed as the (only) ‘normal’ then we might not question this at all.
My direct surrounding never showed any signs of homophobia, but I felt like I had to be ‘normal’: to conform to the standard, usual, typical or expected. This appears to be a common struggle amongst people who identify as queer. In Wales, 90% of the girls in my football team turned out to be gay. Out of those only one person said she never felt the need to come out or faced that conflict over her sexuality. It seems quite common for people to often repress and stay closeted for a while, just like me.
The Netherlands has a long-running soap that airs for thirty minutes in the evening on weekdays. The first time I remember coming in contact with a lesbian interaction was when I was watching this when I was between 10 and 12-years old. At some point, a new female character was introduced in the show. She was easy-going, spontaneous and had a short, edgy haircut. She didn’t seem to connect with her female friends when they were talking about boys, but when she met one woman in particular; there was an unspoken tension between them. I didn’t fully realise what this meant until they kissed; it was the cliffhanger of the episode.
I remember the quiet music of that scene and their tense faces as they slowly leaned forward for the kiss. The episode froze on the image of their embrace; the frozen frame the sign of the end of the episode; and I remember playing the scene over in my head, thinking: ‘Wow. I mean–that’s… It’s okay if they want to kiss each other. I’m okay with two girls kissing but I would never–I can’t imagine that I would ever… No. Not me.’
When I came out as a lesbian several years later I felt a little ashamed of the slight sense revulsion I’d felt back then. However, it can be explained and is, again, pretty common amongst people who end up identifying as queer. It’s known as internalized homophobia, which means that people can involuntarily believe that the homophobic stigma in society (its lies, stereotypes and myths) are true and that there is a reason to feel repulsed by same-sex feelings or behaviour. Due to everyone’s exposure to heterosexist norms, it seems inevitable for most gay men and lesbians to take on some sort of negative attitude towards their homosexuality, which tends to develop in our early developmental years.
So how did I know then and how do others know? I think it’s just a feeling. Intuitively we always know and it’s just our thoughts (influenced from the outside) that complicates things. When I look at women I feel something whereas when I look at men I don’t. I know because my body language changes when I feel an attraction towards someone. And when that attraction is mutual my body takes over and leans forward to steal that kiss. Remember that unspoken tension I mentioned noticing between the two women on tv? It’s that. Words don’t have to explain.
Other posts on LGBT+:
Marching with Pride
My Coming Out Story
The Importance of LGBTQ Literature
Why do you need contraception? You’re a lesbian
There is a strong hetronormative default that assumes straightness in all unless otherwise specified. That it has to be reasoned why. So its great that it is more comfortable for you to just be you, but a shame that it needs to be a journey at all.
I’m quite hopeful that we’ll get there as a society. If we look back, so many things have changed relatively quickly over the last few dozen of years. I think it’s helpful if we all keep talking about it! 🙂
I was talking with my friend about how society says “you’re a boy ” or “”you’re a girl” and then as we get older it says. “Boys like girls and girls like boys”. And that was fine, but now we live in a world where thats not really the norm anymore and we need to start changing the way we introduce gender and what is “normal”.
I like how you answered how you know you’re a lesbian.
That internalized homophobia is still a struggle. I see it in my own fantasy writing…where I fight my desire for other women. I think it partially stems from my upbringing. My family always makes faces of disgust when two women kiss on TV. Or when an attractive man is portrayed as a gay, I tend to hear, “What a waste of such a good-looking guy?” Why is it a waste? Constantly being immersed in those mindsets throughout my life has made it difficult to own my sexuality and be proud of it.
Society instills fears of not being “normal.” Being “different” is almost like a disease to those who are “normal.” In a utopian world, things will completely change and those “normals” will not exist, but I think in our world, no matter how many changes are made, society will still imbue an idea of “normalcy.”
I think there may be some out there who take a long time to discover their own sexuality. I had a friend who didn’t figure it out until he was 50. But I think most know pretty early on. They may try and fight it for a while. But they do this in response to society and family. Hopefully soon those pressures will dissipate and people will feel free to be themselves. Stay safe!
Great post Ml – just reading Michael’s comment I have known of people who have a family and kids b4 they knew their identity. I am happy for u that you understand your own and also that you have come so far in being being able to express yourself- the perfectly wonderful individual that u are x
It is a shame that these questions are asked, but as you say, it is part of the conditioning of society. I agree that we have come far but there is still such a way to go. I am pleased to be part of an education system which is trying to challenge these norms and encourage expression but there is still resistance to change from some quarters. I am glad that you knew yourself and who you were so quickly. I was one of those described above who made discoveries much later and still continue to do so. Thank you for sharing your experience ML
Honestly hearing that you’re part of that education and make a change made me feel really happy. It’s so important and means so much. Thank you <3
Aww thank you ML
I grew up in a very conservative country, and hid the fact that I felt equally attracted to women than I feel to men. I felt ashamed, because I was a girl and surely I had to be attracted only to boys? I sort of wiped it under the carpet, and was in my mid-twenties when I first by chance learned the term ‘bisexual’. This was early 90’s and as always I was late to the party, as the term was around for some time then. I think because I brushed it under the carpet and tried to forget and deny my attraction to the same sex, I also ignored new terms. I don’t know; it’s too long ago. When I learned the term bisexual, it was a light-bulb moment, and I embraced it. Sadly with the wrong people at first.
That said, I find it strange in this day and age that people ask you these questions, but then again, like you said, if one is questioning how they identify, it might be something the ask others who have already learned how they identify. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, ML and reminding me of a bit of my history.
PS: I remember that scene in the soap 😉
I can imagine that if you’re bi it might be even more confusing? Because if you have feelings for men also, it might make even less sense if you have for women too? People sometimes say they dislike labels (which is valid and I do too in some way) but they can also be so helpful and I’m glad you had your lightbulb moment there.
You remember the scene?! When I told my dad he didn’t haha.
Lovely post ML. Body language is an interesting thing, I’m still learning. But your description on your tell tale signs of attraction has made me realise some of mine too.
Oh really? o: It’s funny how some or perhaps most? body language is rather universal and might therefore be similar when you or I are attracted to someone!
A great post ML. Interestingly the first lesbian kiss in UK television is often thought to have been in the soap Brookside in 1994 but it was actually 20 years earlier in Girl, a BBC drama. http://www.screenonline.org.uk/tv/id/1396805/index.html
It is terrible that there are still numerous countries where homosexuality and lesbianism is illegal.
Lovely post ML, you reminded me of the hundreds of questions that pet gets asked about being Bi. ‘No he doesn’t have a “preference” of one gender over another.’ He shouldn’t feel as if he should choose either. But like many that identify under lgbtqia the questions of why don’t end.
I’ve heard that so much, that if you’re bi you get asked these things. It’s so frustrating and uncalled for.