When LGBT people are asked, "how did you know you were LGBT?," a common response is that we just knew from an early age that we were different - we didn't necessarily know HOW we were different, but there were signs. Others say their knowledge of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity didn't hit them until they were in their pre-teens/teens or, in some cases, well into their adult lives. We are all different, and this post is about how *I* knew.
There were signs when I was young that foreshadowed same-sex attraction. In elementary school, I wanted to be assigned to classes with the prettiest female teachers. I was engrossed with their adult figures, beautiful hair, and bodily softness when I hugged them (yeah, I loved hugging teachers as a kid)! I remember paying more attention to these teachers and wanting to participate more in class so they'd like me. Sure, lots of kids want to be just like their role models...but this wasn't about trying to be like them...it was about my mindset that there was nothing better than a beautiful woman's approval. At 8 years old, I had no idea at the time this meant a thing. I was not a sexual being yet. When puberty hit at 13, more pieces of the puzzle were coming together.
I found myself looking at other girls my age with a fascination I couldn't explain. I wanted to stare, but didn't know why. All I knew was that when a girl caught my attention, I blushed and wanted to keep looking at her. I felt the same way with boys and recognized that as sexual attraction, but not with other girls - even though I reacted the same way when I found one cute. I simply thought that I was admiring them in a platonic way, not desiring them sexually. I was also friends primarily with boys growing up and did not have many interactions with girls; thus, I felt that my blushing and awkwardness around them was one way of proving I didn't know how to act around them. The idea of being sexually attracted to women was still not obvious to me.
I remember desperately insisting to my second boyfriend when I was 15 that I wasn't bi, I "just know an attractive girl when I see one." He didn't even think I was bi or try to insinuate I was. All I wanted was for someone to listen to my lies and believe me in the hopes that I'd eventually believe myself. I got sick of fooling myself and looked in the mirror one afternoon and finally admitted the truth out loud: "I like boys and girls."
I was quiet about my orientation for about a year before deciding it was time to come out. I had to make sure I really KNEW. I questioned myself fiercely to delay acceptance of who I was. The fight to destroy every last tidbit of denial did not end quickly. This was the beginning of a dark period in my life, where I resorted to cutting to "punish" myself for something that is neither shameful nor abnormal. The feelings of shame and dislike of my identity continued well after my coming out at the age of 16. I knew who I was and accepted my sexuality, but I didn't feel like I truly appreciated it until I was 20.
Looking back on the signs I ignored and resisted to accept for so long, I feel fortunate enough to acknowledge and embrace them today as parts of a beautiful, complicated story with a happy ending. Accepting yourself is always the hardest part of the journey. Once you are over that hurdle, you can certainly handle what comes next. You'll know when you're ready.