For Lesbian Visibility Week, A Lesbian and Her Laptop will be releasing a series of 8 lesbian guest posts all week long! This post by Shira Jacobson describes a lesbian coming-out experience at a Jewish private school. Read all identity posts here.
Whenever people ask me if I’m religious, the answer is no. Well, yes. Well – sort of. The word “religious” has always felt like a heavy, close-minded word. I’m Jewish, and I check all of the boxes for being religious. Celebrating all of the holidays with my family? Check. Attending services every week? Check. Going to a Jewish private school? Check. And the cherry on top is that my mom’s a Cantor. If you know what a Rabbi is, a Cantor is sort of like that except that they also handle all of the musical aspects of a congregation. So, my mom is basically a Jewish minister. It sure sounds like a religious set up, huh? The thing is, though, that I was raised Reform, which is the most progressive sect of Judaism. My family is liberal, progressive, and they’ve always proven themselves to be very accepting people. So, this is not the story of when I came out to my parents. Luckily, that is a boring story; they were not very surprised, and they accepted me with open arms. This is not that story. No, this is the story of when I came out to my Jewish private school.
I’ve always referred to my childhood self as the elementary school slut. I definitely wasn’t sleeping around in elementary school, but I sure was kissing around. Starting at age seven, I was making all of the boys my “boyfriends.” By age eight, I was kissing boys in the playground tunnel while my friends stood guard. Even my sister, who was five grades above me, heard the rumors of little Shira Jacobson kissing Ben behind the school shed after class. Of course, I denied it when she confronted me in front of my mom. I had these boyfriends all throughout my school life until I reached middle school and something started to change for me.
First, it was my intense obsession with the singer Ariana Grande. Instead of putting up posters of the boys from One Direction like my friends were doing, I had posters of Ariana Grande plastered all over my walls. I thought she was beautiful, and I would spend hours watching videos of her. At the time, I had no idea that I found her attractive – I just thought I was a big fan. Then I started watching more TV and becoming obsessed with actresses; they were always women.
The summer before seventh grade, I attended a theatre camp where I made a new friend who told me that she identified as bisexual. That was a pivotal moment for me. Something within me sort of clicked the moment she shared her sexuality with me. I realized that being interested in girls was a real thing – it was an option. It could be me. It was me, and a part of me knew it. One thing led to another, and I stumbled upon WLW fanfiction for a show I had been watching. The pieces started falling into place. Two women could actually be together. It was all becoming very real for me, and I needed to share it with someone.
I didn’t, though, for a long time. I continued reading my fanfiction in private, trying not to think too deeply about what I was feeling. Finally, at the start of eighth grade, I came out to my parents. Their positive reaction led me to decide to come out to my class. My school was small; it went from pre-k to 8th grade, and there were only about 250 students total. My small class had only 20 students, which made coming out to my entire class an easier process. I know that some might wonder why I even felt it necessary to come out, but up until that point everyone assumed me to be heterosexual. I was constantly asked about boys, and it was starting to make me uncomfortable. Along with this, I was worried about what my religious school friends might think, so I wanted to make sure that I had the opportunity to come out on my own terms. I was becoming excited about my newfound identity, and I wanted to share it.
At this point, I had decided that I was probably a lesbian (not bisexual), though I switched back and forth between the two labels for a couple of years until I was certain (spoiler alert: I’m a lesbian). That’s a story for another time, though!
One Sunday afternoon, I came across a YouTube video by Ally Hills. It was a song about coming out, and she’d made it with the intent of it being a song you could send to the people in your life. It’s a song that basically goes, “Whoever sent this to you is gay – yay!” It’s pretty embarrassing looking back on it, but at the time it felt perfect for me! It really resonated, so I decided to send it to my entire class.
As you can probably guess, this was the moment that everything started going badly. It didn’t seem that way at first, though. All of my close friends responded positively, saying it didn’t change how they thought of me. A few others responded similarly. A handful didn’t respond at all, but I felt alright knowing that my best friends had my back. Their actions didn’t match their words, though.
To this day, I don’t know if it was entirely purposeful or if it was their subconsciouses at play, but I immediately started being excluded from everything. My best friends would have sleepovers during the weekends without inviting me, posting tons of photos on social media. They created new texting chats without me and slowly stopped talking to me. It feels small now, but it was intensely hurtful for a struggling 13 year old girl in such a small class. I started feeling ostracised and like I didn’t belong at all. It was an extra shock, as I didn’t understand why they were excluding me when they had said they accepted me for who I was.
Soon it felt like I had no one at all; I became a cliche, skipping lunch to sit on the floor in a bathroom stall to cry. I felt a little sorry for myself, for sure, but who wouldn’t? Sometimes I’d eat my lunch there, because it was less awkward than sitting outside where I felt like an outcast. Sometimes I’d spend hours in the bathroom; I shed more tears there than I’d ever shed before. The only way I got through it was by reading my fanfiction and chatting with others in similar situations online.
Besides losing my friends, the most disappointing part was the reactions of my teachers. Due to it being such a small school, the principal told my teachers what I had shared with the class so that they were aware. But there was no reaction. I was given no support from my teachers who had always supported me in every other area of my life. You have to understand that this was a tight-knit private school family – everyone was close, and everyone knew everyone. I deeply respected my teachers and looked up to them, and not one of them reached out a helping hand. I never got a, “Hey, I heard what you told your class and just wanted you to know you have support”, or even just a, “How are you doing?”. I got nothing. Maybe my teachers didn’t know how to react or what the right move was, and years later I still try to give them the benefit of the doubt in this way. Maybe they didn’t know what to do. What I do know, though, is that 13-14 year old Shira really needed the support of the adults in her life who she spent seven hours a day, five days a week with, and she never received it. Eighth grade was one of the hardest and loneliest years of my life. While trying to figure out my own identity, I was ostracized and excluded, and I didn’t yet have the tools to truly support myself and be okay. No child should be excluded for any reason or made to feel abnormal. It was incredibly difficult getting through my last year of middle school after coming out without any in-school support. To cope, I found new support systems and outlets on social media, and I tried to remember that I would not be in that exclusionary environment forever. I don’t regret coming out as a lesbian at a young age or to such an unsupportive environment, because it was my first step towards living my truth proudly. Due to that first step and many others like it since, I’ve been able to surround myself with fully supportive friends and am now comfortable in my identity as a lesbian.
Shira is a lesbian student of English and psychology who spends 99% of her free time playing with her three cats. You can follow Shira on Twitter and send her a few dollars for her work if you enjoyed her story!
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