This is yet another personal post, which I said I would try to avoid. However, this is something I really want to talk about in a long-form post. I’m writing this mostly for myself, but it will be readable and not overly specific. Being in a new place and meeting many new people has awoken a feeling in me that I haven’t had in a while— that I have things to hide. This might sound like a non-issue that could easily be dismissed, but my entire lens through which I socialize is effected by my intense need to “hide” things about myself.
Most obviously, I hide my lesbianism. Even when I know for a fact that I’m in a safe and supportive environment, I will not reveal directly that I’m a lesbian or that I have a girlfriend.
Sure, I look very gender non-conforming as a woman, so most people automatically assume I’m queer in some capacity. People will often cautiously use they/them pronouns to refer to me as if they don’t believe the she/her pronouns that I stated. This is another problem outside of the scope of this post, but the point is that I’m visibly queer. I will even joke about that in certain situations, or allude to the fact that I’m perceived as queer. When people start talking about their experiences in regard to queerness or their partners, I shut down. A relevant anecdote about my girlfriend or ex-girlfriend might come to mind, but I won’t say anything. If it’s possible, I may say it but use the word “friend” as a substitution. My automatic defense mechanism to hide that I’m gay is quite complicated.
It started, of course, with a denial of my sexuality. I went from unlabeled and confused to bisexual when I was a teenager. I wasn’t really convinced that I had attraction to men in any serious capacity, but the word lesbian had such negative connotations for me, and frankly it still does. I was teased often as a kid and as a teenager for “looking like a lesbian.” and in some ways this word cemented itself in my mind as a slur. This is in addition to the societal connotations with the word, which from my perception were mostly related to pornography. Lesbianism was almost entirely a sexual thing in my mind for a very long time, and not an identity.
In part, this behavior was perpetuated because of the homophobic environments that I inhabited growing up. My parents aren’t necessarily homophobic, but they were never supportive either. When I was a teenager, if I would bring up my girlfriend at the time in conversation, I would just get dirty looks and the conversation would end right there. My coming out story is also quite messy, but we don’t need to get into that. The bigger issue was that my ex-girlfriend’s parents were homophobic. We almost always hung out together, and yes, had sleepovers, at her house. Her parents had no idea about us. Her mother was neutral on her view of queer people, but her father was homophobic. I had a crippling fear that he was going to find out and beat me up, or worse, shoot me. Can you tell I’m American by this part? All jokes aside, this fear of accidentally letting something slip or being visible has stayed with me ever since.
Next, we have my fear of confrontation. Even if someone is supportive, they might present a line of questioning when they find out I’m gay, especially if I’ve been hiding it. They may ask, why haven’t you told me sooner, how long have you been dating, etc. It is already hard enough to make a statement definitively that I’m gay or have a girlfriend, and this outcome makes me even more terrified. My personal history with my sexuality is not something that is appropriate for typical conversation. My relationship now is going quite well, but almost everything before that point would be too disturbing or sad for me to want to bring up in a conversation. If others are joking about their exes for example, I can’t simply say something like: “Funny story, I was worried my ex’s dad was going to shoot me!” Even if I do joke this way, it makes me panicked in the moment and relive unpleasant memories. Same goes with similar topics like coming out stories or having gay friends as teenagers.
My experience feels so alien from others, not just because there are simply not a huge amount of lesbians in the world, but also because of my crippling mental illnesses and stunted social development that I experienced in the years I spent in-denial, coming out, and dating an abuser. Even in an environment where this is safe and others are talking about similar subjects, I just feel too horrible to want to bring it up. I recently was texting my friends about my ex-girlfriend’s ways of making me jealous because it was relevant to the conversation. I’ve known them for over two years and this was the first they had heard of my ex-girlfriend. My current girlfriend doesn’t know that much about it either. It was a very anxiety-inducing experience.
I just feel like I have this weight on me. Even when something isn’t directly related to being queer, I still have to think about it because of how connected it has been to the struggles in my life. For example, some people I’m getting to know were talking about what they did during Covid, but I obviously couldn’t tell them what I was doing during Covid, because I was extremely mentally disturbed and I almost exclusively talked to my abusive ex-girlfriend.
It can’t really be understated the huge impact that this behavior and line of thinking has had on my life. I’m already a social outcast, and feeling alienated in many conversations certainly does not help. I have hope that I will improve eventually though. I just think it will take several years.
Thank you for reading this if you did— don’t feel the need to leave pity in the comments. I’m not on the edge of a mental breakdown or in a depression right now, I just wanted to deconstruct my thought process. Publishing this on my profile was very difficult, but hopefully will be part of my healing process.
If you have anything related to share, please do so. I would love to see if any of you have similar or shared experiences with me.