The Journey and Complexities of Coming Out
Rain Marie (She/They) // Columnist
There was a stillness in the air as my eighth-grade class huddled onto the frostbitten grass of our school field. Our PE teacher was trying to suck the last few drops out of outdoor PE classes before the harsh Alberta winter would force us indoors. It must have been well into October — I can still feel the wind stinging my skin through my thin gym clothes. She had lent me one of her sweaters since I had forgotten mine at home. The sweater itself was nothing spectacular: it was an old oversized green hoodie that probably said something across the chest at some point, but it was her sweater. The one that she wore almost every day. The scent and feel of something so close to her on my body was almost all-consuming. Although I knew that the sweater meant nothing to her —and that we would spend most of our class time joking about the obvious crush she had on one of our male best friends — my heart sped up in a way it never had before, and I finally knew what it meant to crave the feeling of being close to someone.
The isolation one feels as a Queer youth is quite unlike any other experience in the world. It is a disorienting and lonely experience. Gender and sexuality are subjects rarely taught to kids. Despite who we feel we are and who we fall in love with being such a fundamental part of what makes us human — kids rarely have the vocabulary to express anything other than what they mimic from their friends, family, and the media. When talking about my experience of coming out, I feel both like I was very lucky in some elements and like it’s a battle I am still fighting today.
From the beginning, like most queer youth, I knew something was different with me. I just wasn’t sure what. From the fourth to fifth grade I sat with the same girl every single morning on the bus ride to school. She was a year older than me and knew everything I didn’t understand about romance. I remember thinking that everyone would just talk about their crushes because they felt they were supposed to, not because they wanted to. I disliked romance in stories and music as a kid; I felt it was cheesy, overdone, and that no one felt that way. I didn’t know my own romantic and sexual exploration would branch further than the heteronormative standard. I was made to believe that those all-consuming romantic feelings that every piece of media seemed to revolve around were something fictional that never would be mine.
I wish I could sit here and share some huge self-affirming story of a first kiss or experience where I instantly knew who I was and what I wanted, but unfortunately, life is not that straightforward. Most of my ‘firsts’ came from truth-or-dare, parties or hanging out at friends’ houses. They weren’t particularly thrilling or romantic, but they did show me that there was more to explore than the default of heterosexuality.
Although there wasn’t a large community of out 2SLGBTQQIA+ people at my small Calgary high school, we did have a tiny Gender and Sexuality alliance — or Gay-Straight Alliance, as it was called at the time. The alliance was set up by some grade 12 students who already had a good understanding of what the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community was, and who were already dealing with their own anger towards an unaccepting community. I joined the alliance knowing only that I didn’t feel like the other girls in my grade — I was pretty sure I was attracted to women.
Everyone in the alliance seemed so sure of themselves. They knew exactly who they were and how they identified. They were everything I was not. I found myself in over my head, drowning in a world where I knew nothing. I spent most of my time there listening, terrified to say something or do something that would get me thrown out of a community that I was just starting to find my place in.
I left the alliance knowing three things: I was definitely attracted to women, despite feeling uncomfortable with my gender (I wasn’t going to touch that issue with a ten-foot pole), and it was important to me to find my group at my school.
I quickly adopted the word ‘lesbian’ to identify myself. That became one of the first things people knew about me at school. I felt like owning that would mean no one would take it from me or make me feel wrong for it. For the most part, it worked. Throughout high school, I began to interact more with the generally accepting arts and theatre people. However, despite my new-found identity and a group of people who accepted me for who I was — I was still that same little kid who was both thrilled and terrified to wear another girl’s sweater.
Your identity shifts and grows with you, and exploring elements of who you are can be difficult, if not nearly impossible. It’s because of the community around you, where you are in the world, the perceived rules about how you should be living your life, and the rules you’ve created for yourself. Everyone’s coming out story is different. It can be a lifelong journey or something you’ve known your whole life. Circumstances and environment play an extensive role in the safety you feel in exploring these feelings. No matter how or when you go about this journey, discovering your sexuality and gender is a valuable and beautiful experience that belongs to you — and you alone.