Coming to terms with my sexuality
Coming out is difficult for everyone. I’m very lucky that I come from such an open and accepting family, so coming out to them wasn’t an issue for me. However, coming out to myself is one of the most difficult things that I have ever done, and I feel like I’m now in a good enough place to share my experience.
Growing up in a Heteronormative World
Since childhood, females are unknowingly coerced by societal conditioning into viewing relationships with males as something to strive for. I would spend many a school lunchtime with my friends discussing the boys we liked and what we could do to impress them. We would read teen magazines, intently scrutinising the advice columns on how to dress appropriately to get a boy to like us and other similar scenarios hinging on acceptance from those of the opposite sex.
Sex education in school was completely heterocentric. Every other sexuality was erased by the curriculum, leaving us to believe they were enigmatic and ultimately, taboo. When homosexuality was brought up it was only to ridicule it. For example, some kids would sit up the back in sex ed and put their hand up to ask a question. Sniggering they would say, “how do gay people have sex?”. The class would erupt in a sea of laughter. The word “gay” was a common colloquial playground insult. It may have seemed harmless however at such a young, impressionable age, it did nothing but add to my internalised homophobia.
It was the misogyny that surrounds the sexuality of women, constraining our lives to be controlled by our relations with men, that stopped me from realising that I was even in the closet in the first place. I was never even introduced to the possibility that I could be anything other than straight.
Realising my Sexuality
I obviously knew that gay people existed, but I was adamant that I wasn’t gay because if I was, I’d just know, right? Wrong. I never knew that sexuality was something that, for some people, just had to be figured out.
For all my life, I have been the kind of person who likes to question the way things are, who tries to fight everyone else’s battles. What I hadn’t done, I realised, was bring my own inner battles to consciousness so that I could fight them too.
I knew that I was never happy being in relationships with men. I also knew that society taught me that I should be happy with men. I would draw up this list of traits in my head of the “perfect man” and no man that I ever dated, or existed, would meet my unattainable criteria. I submitted to the fact that I had very high standards and was just terrible at relationships. I thought I was broken because I couldn’t imagine a future where I could be with a man and also be happy.
Eventually, I took some time to distance myself from the world. I allowed myself to soul-search, to question my thoughts and decipher what I was taught by society that I wanted versus what I actually wanted.
The sexualisation of women’s bodies is completely normalised by society. When I knew that I wasn’t attracted to men, I thought about a possible attraction to women. I knew that my attraction went beyond their objectification. I couldn’t talk about women in the hypersexualised ways that the boys and men around me seemed to be able to. This left me thinking that my queerness couldn’t possibly be verified unless I talked about women in this way.
However, giving myself that space to question my attractions gave me so much agency. I realised many things about my childhood and education. For example:
- Predominantly heterosexual relationships are romanticised in the media – the patriarchy insists on showing power-imbalanced male/female relationships in media, and that this was not what I wanted for myself
- My education was rooted around heterosexuality bydefault, which was incredibly restrictive on my perception of myself
Over time, I realised that the only reason that I thought I was straight was because heteronormative society teaches that as the default. When I stepped out of that restrictive box, I permitted myself to connect with a spectrum of sexualities.
When I realised my sexuality, it felt like a massive change but really the only difference is that the feelings have surfaced and they have been understood for what they are. I have always felt this way but I did not have the vocabulary or the media representation to place those feelings.
Realising my sexuality was just one hurdle, however. Heteronormativity goes a long way to alienate feelings which do not fit within the sexuality binary, adding to internalised homophobia. In a subsequent blog, I will discuss my journey to self-acceptance.
Caitlin is currently a Trainee Solicitor, working mainly in Immigration Law. She is a passionate advocate for many Human Rights causes, using her spare time to volunteer with minority groups as well as teach sexual violence workshops on university campus.