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 Izzie follows a disconnect with childhood due to her lesbian journey and roots in Ireland’s Roman Catholicism. Read all identity posts here.
Looking back, I never would have expected to become the person I am today. From an early age, I never connected with my friends when it came to boys or crushes. My female classmates would gather around and talk about their current crushes and how they longed for him to acknowledge them. My 12-year-old self, eager not to be dismissed as just “another girl”, snorted at this. I would have rather discussed the latest Hunger Games movie with my friend instead of hearing about how she and the class idiot had kissed on the football pitch. The other girls, stumped at how I never contributed in these discussions, suggested two of our male peers who they suspected I liked. I often answered with a non-committal grunt or urged them to change the topic. I began to accept that I probably did like one of them, as they weren’t as bad as the others.
However, I also told myself that I had my priorities in check, unlike the other girls. I would fall in love when it was the right time, not with one of my questionable classmates like my desk partner, who was infamous for stabbing our classmate in the eye. My lesbianism aside, this was a wise judgment. I now realize my lack of primary school romance was a healthy combination of internalized misogyny and raging homosexuality.
Intertwined with our education was our religion. The majority of Irish primary schools are run or supported by the Catholic Church, and you must be baptized in order to secure a spot. Although the country I grew up in had progressed significantly, it still had its roots in Roman Catholicism. Along with our native language, it separated us from Britain and was therefore valued in society. Though church and state were separate, the Church was still an impactful presence in my childhood. I never questioned the morals of the Church, and my family attended mass weekly. Every single one of my peers, and the vast majority of people I knew, made their Holy Communion and were guided by local clergy. The religious events we attended became more than just going to church–they were celebrations. I associate them with parties, bouncy castles, laughter.
Although many children in my year were not devout Christians, they still engaged in these activities. And although they didn’t attend church as often as I had, they still learnt Christian values and expected to marry. I expected to marry, to don a flowing white gown and walk up the aisle to my future husband. The concept of marriage and spending the rest of my life with someone I loved appealed to me more than this faceless man I pictured. I had such unwavering faith in this image that I never questioned my lack of affection for any potential suitor.
As I grew older and began secondary school, my lack of crushes became more and more apparent. I believe that the main reason I had not realized my sexuality sooner was not my religion stifling me, but me not realizing that women were an option for me. I had only heard the word ‘gay’ used at age 10 in a derogatory way, by boys desperate to confirm their masculinity. As a child, I had never heard of two men or two women as a romantic pairing. My parents didn’t hide the existence of gay people from me, the topic was simply never broached. I believed that I could learn everything from books, and yet I had never discovered this possibility.
I strongly support representation in mass media, as it was one of the main factors in my self-discovery and journey towards coming out. It holds so much power, and yet LGBT characters are neglected so much. Somehow, I discovered positive representation in Carmilla, and later, Supergirl. Neither are groundbreaking, but they meant so much to my younger self. 12-year-old Izzie was led into the web series on YouTube, and I was brought into a whole new world of possibilities. I was initially confused upon seeing two women in a romantic situation, and even mildly repulsed. This is upsetting to me, but not surprising given the lack of representation or mention of the LGBT community in my real life. This show became a comfort to me and I eagerly awaited each episode. At the same time, I kept this a secret from my parents, with whom I shared almost everything. I wasn’t sure why, but I felt guilty.
The same year, Ireland became the first country in the world to vote for marriage equality. Both my parents voted yes in the referendum, although one had to think about it in earnest. At age 14, I was almost sure I was attracted to girls (shoutout to Katie McGrath). I began dropping hints to my friends by only talking about female characters in any movies or shows we watched. I confidently thought of myself as bisexual. This was a comfortable label for me for a while. It perfectly described my attraction to women while simultaneously acting as a safety net- I could still fall in love with a man, just none I’d come across.
The next year, I came out to my younger sister, who had a positive reaction while still not giving a shit. This gave me the confidence I needed to tell my friends. Their reactions were a mixture of “Yeah I knew”, “Give me a hug” and “Do you have a crush on me?” but above all, they were overwhelmingly supportive. One of the best coming out experiences I had was with my best friend in an elevator. He turned to me, saying he had a secret to tell me. I told him the same, believing it was the same secret. He told me he was trans, and I told him I was bisexual. We laughed, cried and hugged, chatting all the way home. I happened to be extremely lucky in my choice of friends, as I frequently heard dismissive or derogatory terms towards lesbians from my year group. I have never taken this for granted, considering the amount of negative experiences others I know have had.
I decided to tell my mother, who I was extremely close with. I remember the day exactly. We went out for coffee in a local cafe, and as we walked back to our car, I nervously told her, scanning her face for any reaction. Her expression was neutral as we got into the car and calmly drove off. I was confused but relieved. The same night she laughed, saying that many people go through the same things. I might believe this now, but that could change. This essentially described a common experience for bisexual people- that it’s “just a phase”. Although this was not entirely negative, I felt hurt that she wouldn’t believe me. This affected me deeply over the course of the next few years, as I felt that I could no longer confide in her. Following this, I told my dad, who had almost the same reaction. He asked me who my male and female celebrity crushes were, and there was an awkward silence as I searched my mind for any males at all. One night, I heard him telling my mother in derision- “Yeah, she THINKS she’s a bisexual”. Following this, I had frequent arguments with my parents about my sexuality, but mostly about me as a person. This drove me to a low place in my life, which I have thankfully recovered from.
From listening to other coming out stories, I believed you were either accepted or not. I later discovered that it takes time, which I hope younger LGBT people take into consideration. Although I became aware that the label of bisexual no longer fit me, the community was warm and accepting. The concept of a found family was introduced to me and I became more comfortable with my sexuality and with myself as a person. Many teenagers spoke online about their individual experiences and how they too got told their sexuality was “just a phase”. In some cases, it is a stage to progress past and may not be a permanent label, such as my progression from identifying as bisexual to coming to terms with being a lesbian. However, it is essential for loved ones to be supportive regardless, as it is often an extremely difficult time for those of us who come out. Although my family didn’t initially “agree” with it, they have grown to accept the idea of a gay child. This is common for many parents who are not homophobic, but have never considered their own child’s sexuality being anything other than straight. My parents, faithful Catholics, had expectations of their daughter marrying her husband in a church. I never questioned this rosy picture and even anticipated it, despite the lack of attraction to any of my male peers. The option of romance with another girl simply wasn’t there. It takes time to change this mindset, for both the LGBT person and their loved ones. Thanks to online support and content, the previously wild idea of marrying a woman doesn’t seem so unrealistic anymore.
Describing myself as bisexual no longer fit me, following a multitude of female crushes and a conspicuous absence of any men. It took time for me to mentally remove my safety net of the label bisexual, which I clung to. The concept of identifying as a “full on lesbian” (which a classmate discussed with her friend in awe, right in front of my salad) almost frightened me. I struggled, and still do, with compulsive heterosexuality. I occasionally catch myself thinking that I’m wrong in how I identify, or that I convinced myself I was attracted to women based on the shows I watched. This is an issue for so many lesbians, which deeply saddens me as we feel as though we have to conform to society’s ideals. I still see the label being challenged and criticized for being too restrictive or constrained, while heterosexuality goes unquestioned. But I truly believe that it’s getting better for lesbians and bisexual women, and that the people you choose to come out to can change despite their religious leanings.
Izzie is a teenage overthinker from Ireland who’s entire personality consists of stress baking muffins and having red curly hair. She enjoys reading classics, crying over fictional characters and procrastinating. You can follow Izzie on Twitter.
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