“You’re gay,” she said. “Just admit that you’re gay! I’d be happy. I’ve always wanted to have a gay best friend!”
The summer sun was drifting low in the sky, there was a smell of freshly cut grass, and she had a new boyfriend. Maybe that made her more enthusiastic than usual to define my sexuality. But it wasn’t the first time we’d had this conversation. My response was the same as it had always been.
“But I’m not gay,” I said. “If I was gay, I’d say so. I’m not homophobic, I wouldn’t be ashamed, I’d tell you if I was gay.”
What I didn’t say, what I could never say, was I’m straight.
“At the age of 35, it was like a light finally being switched on.”
People talk a lot about realising they were LGBT+. A lot of the time, that realisation is hard. It comes with feelings of self-hate, self-doubt, guilt, fear, loneliness, depression. I totally understand all of those reactions. Depending on where you are in your life, and where you are in the world, being “different” can be dangerous. It can lead to isolation, violence and persecution.
For me though, at the age of 35, it was like a light finally being switched on. All of a sudden, I knew who I was.
The biggest feelings I had were relief and regret. Regret because I felt like I’d missed out on so many years when I could have just been me. I look at other people realising this stuff at 16, 19, 23 years old and I can’t help feeling like I’ve missed out.
But I was relieved because I had a label I could use, and that meant I wasn’t alone. I was one of many.
“Claiming that label was a wonderful feeling. It’s about knowing who I am and knowing I’m not the only one.”
I know my reaction only proves that I’m privileged. I’m aware that I’m one of the lucky ones. I live in England, where my sexuality is protected by law (even if I’m not so naive as to think that makes me totally safe). I have a supportive, close family who I know for the most part will be happy for me when I decide to tell them, in my own time, because there’s no rush. I move in circles that are liberal in their views. I have a handful of very close friends who I’m already out to, because I already knew that they’d accept the idea without question.
Claiming that label was, and still is, a wonderful feeling. And that’s why, to me, labels are important. It’s about knowing who you are, even if you don’t say it to anyone else. It’s about knowing you’re not the only one that fits that category. There’s strength in numbers, and being one of a number – even a small number – is a kind of validation in itself.
A month ago, two or three years after that conversation, I sat in my car, in the blazing heat, with my windows wound down, and I sent a text message to that same best friend. The words were simple, but the meaning went right to the core of my being:
I think I’m bisexual.