Growing Up Gay
By Elizabeth Henk
â€śIâ€™m a lesbian.â€ť
For some reason, those three structurally simple words were impossibly difficult for me to say out loud. I tried, but I just couldnâ€™t manage it. I probably posted somewhere in the vicinity of twenty to thirty advice threads on several different forums and accounts, begging complete strangers for advice. But in the end, the immense weight of having to state my sexual tendency to intimate friends and family (it sounds awkward enough in theory) fell completely on my shoulders, and thatâ€™s because when it comes to coming out, one size does not fit all.
The process of coming out to friends and family is different for everyone. Unfortunately, it is true that some people face bullying on a daily basis with no support from friends or family. However, others are accepted and embraced by those they love and care about. There are those who come out with ease and grace, and those who are forced to slowly tell one friend at a time, as though the process is physically draining and a brief recharging period is needed after each step towards the goal of complete out-ness. I personally struggled with doubts, despite the wonderful people around me. I wondered if my parents would be disappointed or if Iâ€™d lose friends, and above all else, I was utterly terrified of my closest gal-pal refusing me any sort of physical contact for the rest of our lives out of some sort of misguided fear for her chastity.
Retrospectively, none of them were based on reason or logic whatsoever.
I know now that my mom has nothing but a bottomless pit of pride and support to offer me. Every last one of my friends were great, whether I broke the news sitting in a booth at McDonalds during a lengthy conversation about butts (no, really, female butts are superior) or through a game of hangman, and each and every one of them supported me in their own way. Aside from the occasional well-meant lesbian joke thrown my way, Iâ€™m treated just the same as I always was, and my best friend hasnâ€™t refused me a single hug since the day I came out.
I could write a full novel describing how much happier I am being out to friends and being openly lesbian in situations which concern other (really cute) open lesbians. But no matter how elaborately I describe where I am now and how dreamlike it is, it wonâ€™t read as anything but tales of a possible future for closeted readers, a hazy spot way out there on the horizon, fogged up with doubts and worries and endless possibilities. I was there once, after all, and I remember reading LGBT testimonials like they were inspirational prose. Because really, thatâ€™s what they are: I know for a fact that no matter what you do, you wonâ€™t have the exact same experience I had.
Thatâ€™s not the end of it, though. Thereâ€™s an experience, even if itâ€™s not mine, out there waiting to be had. Not to parrot the words of every well intentioned support forum advice giver, but if thereâ€™s any one role you suit best as a person, itâ€™s yourself. There may be people that wonâ€™t accept you, that much is true. But for every one person who turns their back on you, thereâ€™s a huge mass of supportive LGBT friends out in the world waiting to welcome you with open arms. If you want to come out, then you should do it.
And no, there is no one way to do it. I used to delude myself into thinking that itâ€™d just happen one day, or that I could get a girlfriend first and then worry about introducing her to friends, effectively outing myself in the process. I came up with elaborate shortcuts around the problem and I continued confusing myself and backtracking progress for two yearsâ€”it may sound like a trifle of time, but these are two years of my teenage life I spent stressing out and really, seriously wanting to chase skirts. You wouldnâ€™t be surprised to know, either, that after all those silly plans hatched in my head, I still came out the simplest way, telling each of my closest friends face-to-face and then changing my Facebook status.
It was uncomplicated, but it wasnâ€™t easy. It helped setting a deadline for myself, but other than that, I have no advice to give, other than: do it. Although my face was drenched in tears of relief and pent-up anxiety, I left my closest friendâ€™s house after coming out happy and ready to face the world. Youâ€™ll have a moment like that too, if you search for it. I canâ€™t hand you a roadmap, but I can promise you at least that much.
Elizabeth Henk is a high school senior living in Northern Illinois.