CW: Internalized Homophobia
I grew up trying to please, sitting criss-cross-apple-sauce with my back upright and ready to hang on to every word that came out of my teacher’s mouth. When I asked my mom if I could marry a woman – after all, the curly-haired British twins in our class had two moms – she told me that women didn’t usually marry other women, because if there was no man they would never be able to carry the groceries into the house. Because marriage was between a man and a woman, I was reminded time and time again as my mom squealed words of disgust when the TV showed two women kissing on the lips, or when my uncle said that Netflix should get rid of their Lesbian and Gay genre because it would influence the kids.
But they didn’t have to worry about me, because I was a good girl, I was taking AP classes and didn’t waste my time on frivolous things like hanging out with friends or going to after school peer support groups, because I was busy studying, of course. I wore clothes that covered my legs and pretended that cramps didn’t hurt and counted calories and straightened my long, dark hair every day, because I was a good girl, not like those rebellious girls who would bleach their hair and chop it short and burn their skin with tattoos and eat what they wanted and talk about what they really felt. I chose to be a good girl. I chose not to be gay.
I still remember when my friend and I spent the whole Sunday afternoon at her place, painting our nails and curling our hair as she confided in me about the boys in her life. When it was my turn to share, and when I showed her a journal entry I had written about losing someone I considered one of my closest friends in high school. I remember her peals of laughter as she read, each one like a slap in the face. “It sounds like she was your boyfriend and you guys just broke up or something!” she shrieked in between fits of giggles, and I pretended to laugh along with her, as if I had written the whole thing ironically, as if I didn’t know deep down that I was in love with her and that was the real reason we couldn’t be friends anymore. From that day I understood that sharing the real me was like that recurrent nightmare where you’re stuck standing in front of a crowd of people naked, vulnerable, and exposed.
When I was twenty, my uncle asked my parents if they should start looking for a man for me. They seemed to have already planned out a ten day, elaborate wedding in Jaipur with camels and obnoxiously shrill flutes and intoxicated uncles and aunties. When I came back to visit my high school friends and the only thing I could share about my college experience was school, they told me that they needed to find a man for me. When I tried to tell my mom that I might be only attracted to women, she told me that I was just going through a phase, that I was too young to know my romantic orientation for sure. I was twenty-two years old. For the longest time I felt that the only way to please the people around me was to find a boyfriend like all the other girls around me. I tried to choke back the revulsion at the thought of being intimate with a man. I tried to convince myself that was what I wanted.
It wasn’t until I was in my last term of college that I began to wonder why I cared so much about making other people happy and why I wasn’t extending the same kindness to myself. I realized that if I didn’t take care of myself, no one else would. I realized that it was okay to say no to things that I didn’t want to do, and I didn’t have to put up with people who brought me down rather than building me up. I didn’t have to try so hard to protect the feelings of people who didn’t think twice about mine. I will apologize if I say or do anything that hurts someone else, but I will no longer apologize just for being who I am.
Sometimes I wonder if my process of coming out would have been easier if there was someone in my early life to tell me that sometimes girls like girls and boys like boys and some people like both girls and boys, and some people are born with a set of chromosomes that don’t match their identity, and that all of these people are simply born that way, not because they chose to be rebellious or promiscuous. Or that sometimes you might love someone with all your heart and they will never feel the same way, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you – all it means is that they aren’t meant for you. That feelings of attraction are natural, normal, and feeling them towards a woman doesn’t make you any less of a woman, or less beautiful, or less deserving of love and acceptance for who you are and not for who others want you to be. That there are women out there who might have the same feelings for you that you have for them, but that there’s no rush to try to find a partner, and it’s okay to devote time to caring for yourself and investing in your future. These were the things I wished someone had said to me, and the things that I am finally learning to say to myself.