Earlier today, I wrote a letter to a 13-year-old lesbian in love with a 13-year-old straight girl. It shook me into the reality of being a gay teenager, and these memories just started pouring out.
The first time I really crossed a line with a straight friend, I was about ten years old. I was at a slumber party, and I grabbed her hand while she was sleeping. Of course I got caught. Are you kidding me? It was a nightmare. I learned then that if I wanted to hold another girl’s hand, I just needed to keep it to myself. In northeast Texas, in the ’80s, there wasn’t a lot of “no, thank you.”
From then on, I thought I was a total freak of nature. Two and a half years later, the idea was reinforced to me when I met another lesbian for the first time. It got real, fast. I learned that you could lose your job just for loving women. I learned that gay people were thought of as pedophiles (though this is changing- it was 1990 at the time). I learned that being married to a woman was just as complicated and wonderful as being married to a man.
But even then, you couldn’t say anything. Back then, you had to play the pronoun game. The pronoun game is something that all gay people use when people are asking them about their lives and they don’t want to reveal that they’re gay via conversation. Every same-sex pronoun is changed to opposite; eventually, you’ll slip up one too many times, and by the time you tell everyone you’re gay, you won’t get the reaction you’ve been expecting.
They already knew. They saw you hiding it and just didn’t say anything until you were ready to have the conversation.
It always bothered me that I knew I was gay when I was a child, and yet, there are still people in my life that would call me a sinner; I am. I know I am. But not about this. They attribute characteristics in me to a global conspiracy instead of looking at their memories of me and deciding, “hey… wait a second… she’s been gay the whole time.” When I came out as a lesbian, I did not grow three heads or anything. I was just a normal kid.
I don’t think very many people saw that. I wasn’t born late enough to get the benefit of gay marriage being so out and forefront in people’s minds. When I came out, it would never have occurred to me to ask if I could get married, because I was a sinner and I knew it.
I carried a lot of weight on my shoulders due to the time in which I was born. Being a lesbian was akin to trying to find the Underground Railroad. Someone that knew a path to bring you to safety. I had that person; many of my friends did not. In those days, some of my gay friends were homeless, kicked out for no reason except loving people of the same sex rather than opposite.
It feels like I have an amazing amount of emotional scars from my childhood, and as I work through them, I realize the miracle that the generation after me is going to be.
I was shunned and isolated, but let us all hope that from this day forward, we all have the ability to be inclusive. I can’t imagine what a difference it would have made in my life if being gay just felt like a part of life instead of a sin equated with adultery.
As a child, I believed that I was caught. I was going to have to live on the outside of society, peering in, for the entirety of my life. Now the pendulum has shifted; the things I believed would get me killed are now perfectly normal and I’m still reacting like my 13-year-old self. I would like to think that I react in the same way that those in the Depression horded pennies for years afterward. At the same time, though, I don’t want to feel old. I don’t want to feel like people are going to react to me the same way they did when homosexuality was generally thought to be some sort of disease. Some claimed you could even cure it!
Until now, I’ve lived in a pretty small comfort zone. I get wild, crazy, loud, etc. when I’m with my friends at parties and such, but it takes a lot of self-confidence to feel comfortable. Most of the time, I’m just a tender, quiet geek who’d rather type to her readers than try to gather the energy to go out.
As one part of a lesbian couple, “out there” has always felt a little bit intimidating. Now I know that it started in my teenage self, and even though I need to keep working on what I need to do, I can give myself a break.
I come by my flaws honestly.
If you hear nothing else in this essay, hear this: help the gay children around you to just be kids. Stop discrimination when you can, and model for your straight children that being gay is no different than being straight. It’s the modeling part that’s hard. Say it all you want, but your actions have to line up.
Otherwise, gay children will continue to be afraid of the world around them… because it’s scary to feel that you are a mistake.