Photo by Kilian Seiler on UnSplash.
Doc martens, iron-on patches, flannel shirts, and rings are just some of the things I filled my closet with when I first came out. Some part of me hoped that if I dressed stereotypically ‘queer’, I wouldn’t constantly doubt my sexuality and others would realise I’m not ‘faking it’. Ironically, I was using my closet to try and convince everyone that I was well and truly out of it.
I tried to like boys. Until the age of 12, I was fully convinced that I was going to date guys then eventually marry one and have his kids, just like society had taught me too. But let’s be honest, many of us are overwhelmed by these archaic, heteronormative norms… right?
“I always felt uncomfortable and anxious about the path that seemed to be chosen for me—that path being that I will date guys and have kids. But I don’t want either of those things.”
Whether it was my dad making jokes about not letting me date or distant family members asking if there’s a ‘special boy’ in my life, I always felt uncomfortable and anxious about the path that seemed to be chosen for me—that path being that I will date guys and have kids. But I don’t want either of those things. Even now, I get anxious when someone talks to me about my future and casually slips in ‘your husband’, as if I’m obviously going to have one.
Meme by carol-cigarettes-furcoats.tumblr.com
I knew I wasn’t straight, so I began identifying myself as a ‘bisexual’. But something still didn’t feel quite right. As a 13-year-old, I would frantically lie awake at night, stressing out over the idea of dating men. I would have fleeting thoughts like: What if not conforming to heterosexuality means that people will look down on me? Why am I so anxious about dating men in the first place? But I pushed these thoughts to the side, determined to ignore them.
So I continued to use the term ‘bisexual’, and life went on. I told my friends that I found both men and women gorgeous. However, while I was trying to be a picture of calm, inside I was spiralling. What if I’m faking it? What if I don’t actually like women? What if I just made this all up for attention? I can imagine myself dating a guy…right? Spoiler alert: I can’t.
My days had become an endless cycle of what if, what if, what if.
After two years of this inner turmoil, I took the time to look inwards and reflect deeply about my sexuality. I came to the conclusion that I actually don’t want to date guys or marry them or have their kids (I don’t want to have kids full stop… but that’s another story). But I do want to date women. So what does that make me?
I decided it made me a lesbian.
Still from Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013) sourced from: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/did-a-director-push-too-far
I still remember that moment, trying out the word ‘lesbian’ in my mouth for the first time and feeling disgusted. Although I go to an extremely progressive high school, for a long time the word ‘lesbian’ felt like nothing more than a porn category. The overwhelming majority of movies and TV shows I watched when I was younger depicted heterosexual narratives, contributing towards the erasure of LGBTQIA+ folk in media. Seen many Disney movies with queer characters? Me neither. And in the rare instance where there was a female queer character, that character would be hypersexualised. An example of this is the controversial 2013 film Blue is the Warmest Colour, which has been criticised for its inaccurate depiction of lesbian romance and its clear prioritisation of the male gaze.
As a result of such wildly inaccurate media representations, in my mind the word ‘lesbian’ became associated with sexualisation. I knew that’s how I wanted to identify, but I didn’t know how to tell people and was worried about how I would be perceived. This is why authentic representation for LGBTQIA+ folk is so important! Being portrayed as complex characters rather than flat stereotypes allows society to see us as real and nuanced people. The recent coming out by Scooby Doo character Velma is a step in the right direction, but it’s still a long journey towards equal representation of the LGBTQIA+ community in media.
Velma from Scooby Doo pictured with the lesbian flag.
Now I’m fifteen years old and the word has grown on me—I openly alternate between ‘lesbian’ and ‘queer’ to describe myself. But some aspects of coming out haven’t gotten easier, and I doubt that they ever will. I still get anxious before telling somebody my sexuality, especially if they’ve known me my whole life. I don’t want to shatter their perception of me by announcing that—surprise!—they’ve been spending time with a lesbian all along.
This is why I try to make myself look like I’m obviously gay—so I don’t actually have to tell people. It’s exhausting to explain myself to people over and over again. Yes, I ultimately sport my flannel shirt, scruffy Docs, short haircut and crystal necklaces to indicate to the world that I’m a raging homosexual.
“This is why I try to make myself look like I’m obviously gay—so I don’t actually have to tell people. It’s exhausting to explain myself to people over and over again.”
While dressing up in this way makes me feel like my most authentic self, there are days where the response it can bring about from others makes me feel ashamed. For the most part, I’m happy that I’ve figured out my sexuality (good god, imagine if I was trying to date men right now). But there are still the what if’s flying around in my mind. There is still the little voice of heteronormativity, whispering things like, “What if you’re making this all up for attention?” and “What if you just want people to think you’re mysterious and ‘different’?”
Marsha P Johnson and friend, Christopher Street Liberation Day, NYC, 1976 (Credit: Biscayne/Kim Peterson)
However, I’ve discovered that I can suppress this voice by acting as gay as humanly possible and unabashedly embracing my queerness. Even as I write this I’ve got my annotated Oscar Wilde book beside me, pictures from Stonewall taped up on my wall (along with my pride flag), Lover by Taylor Swift playing dangerously loudly (Taylor’s Reputation era was a significant part of my lesbian awakening, I can’t deny it), and I’m fiddling with my layered necklaces and rings trying to figure out how to put into words the tumultuous emotions raging inside me.
It turns out that nearly every single queer person I’ve spoken to experiences similar feelings of doubt. I’ve had these conversations at 3am with my gay friends, draped over couches after eating too much sugar. So many of us feel like we’re just making it up for attention, especially when we’re still young and coming to terms with our sexuality and gender identity. I’m writing this to tell all the queer and questioning people out there that you are not alone and that you are definitely not faking this for attention! You are not alone in experiencing feelings of uncertainty, so rest assured that this is all normal.
“You don’t need to convince yourself that you are more or less queer. You don’t need to dress a certain way to ‘prove’ your sexuality to people—queer people are all different.”
I can promise one thing to young queer people out there who find themselves tangled up in a web of similar worries. I promise you that you are not faking it or making this up for attention. You don’t need to convince yourself that you are more or less queer. You don’t need to dress a certain way to ‘prove’ your sexuality to people—queer people are all different. We’re not faking it—we never have and we never will.
SASKIA DE LEEUW KYLE
Saskia (she/her) is a writer and aspiring journalist based in Melbourne. She loves to write and read fiction (especially YA romcoms and fantasy). You can find her work through the Wheeler Centre’s ‘Fantasy Fiction’ evening for emerging writers or as the winner of the 13-15 2023 One Teen Story competition. Saskia loves film, literature, languages, and travel and she aspires to be a teen author. When she’s not writing, you can find her listening to Taylor Swift or Lana Del Ray or binge watching romcoms.