Tag Archives: Maya Angelou

Life Outside the Closet

Maya Angelou once said that “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you” and I must admit that, when I first heard this, I couldn’t help but apply it to my own experiences. Growing up as a gay teenager, at times it felt like I would never be able to express what was going on in my mind. Though in some ways I am lucky to have been born in an era when homosexuality isn’t illegal, and attitudes seem to be changing for the better, it’s the way some gay people regard themselves that is the real problem.

At fifteen, I started to realise that I was ‘different’. Though it sounds cliché, I really can’t think of any other way to put it. While other girls in my class were getting excited at the thought of Alex Pettyfer in Stormbreaker, I didn’t understand the hype. It wasn’t that I was overtly attracted to other girls; I just wasn’t interested in boys. When the majority of people experience a certain thing and you don’t, it can feel scary. I thought there was something wrong with me. I thought that perhaps I just wasn’t built properly, that maybe I was just a person who wasn’t meant to feel things other girls did.

It wasn’t until I had my first real crush on a girl that everything started to make sense. I rejected the idea that I was gay immediately. One of my overriding memories of being a teenager is whispering to myself as I fell asleep ‘I’m not gay’ over and over again. Just saying the words terrified me. I prayed to not be gay even though I’m not religious. I was desperate to return to a time when I believed wholeheartedly that I was straight. But of course, things are never that simple.

In order to ‘soften the blow’ to myself (and to my mum who would be the first family member I’d tell) I decided that I was probably just bisexual, and maybe there was a chance for me to live a ‘normal’ life after all. You know, with a husband and children and a nice house in the country, because that’s what normal meant to me. You don’t watch Disney princesses marry their princes without wanting it for yourself when you’re a little girl, at least on some level.

This is in no way undermining bisexuality. It’s a legitimate preference. But that’s a discussion for another article. I think people, society as a whole, are more accepting of bisexuality because it’s in the middle of the ‘spectrum’. It means that whilst you can be attracted to someone of the same gender, you’re also able to be happy in a heterosexual relationship which, of course, is the norm. Apparently.

It’s hard for me not to be cynical, though my experience was really made difficult mostly by my own feelings towards the matter. I didn’t really face any bullying, except from a girl who called me ugly which obviously bears no correlation to sexuality. One day, however, she called me a dyke. I didn’t even know what the word meant, but something about the viciousness with which she said it told me that being one was not a good thing. The dyke incident happened even before I realised I was gay, so you can imagine my confusion. Did I act a certain way to make her say that? Was it my clothes? My hair? Still now, at the age of 21, I’m very conscious of not appearing overtly gay, whatever that might mean. People should be able to wear whatever they like, style their hair however they want to. But, if I think I look too much like a stereotype then I won’t be able to sit in public comfortably, without feeling like people are judging me. Perhaps a message for high school bullies would be to think about the long term consequences your words might have.

There is absolutely a stigma against members of the LGBT community and we face this negativity even before we’re sure of our sexuality. For progress to happen, it has to start with young people. Generations have to start being taught to treat everybody as equal. We can’t keep living our lives based on old-fashioned views. That being said, on the whole, my family and friends have all taken my coming out very positively. I have been absolutely shocked by some reactions, because it’s easy to remember comments made by people when they aren’t aware of who they’re talking to. I have been overwhelmed by the support offered from people I haven’t spoken to in years. There’s no doubt in my mind that I am very, very lucky.

I know people whose families wouldn’t talk to them or acknowledge their partners after they came out. If people realised how awful it is to keep a secret inside of you for years then I think they’d be a little more understanding. I’m fortunate to be in a position where nothing has changed in my life because I came out, but the fact we live in a world where people are killed, or bullied to the point of suicide because of their sexuality makes me both sad and angry.

Sometimes I ask myself whether I’d be happier if I’d stayed ‘in the closet’, but I can honestly say that it’s a lonely place so I’m glad I made the decision to tell people. I hope that, in years to come, people won’t have to come out as anything. I’ve been asked in the past “when did you decide to be gay?”, and would always answer with “when did you decide to be straight?”. That usually shut them right up. It is ridiculous that in 2014 we should still have to reveal this information about ourselves. No straight person I know has ever had to announce their straightness.

If children of age 12 are taught that it’s OK to be whatever you want to be, to fall in love with whoever you want you’re meant to fall in love with, then maybe they wouldn’t kill themselves. It’s very easy to hate yourself when you live in a society which promotes a lifestyle you don’t fit into, but if we all loved one another, then the world would be a far happier place.

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