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.
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