Two months ago, after watching Joe Lycett's Big Pride Party, and a week after visiting Queer Lit for the first time, I turned to my mum and said 'I think I'm queer'. She wasn't worried, she wasn't shocked but she replied with 'why do you think that?'. I was deflated, feeling like I needed evidence to support my queerness claims. Now, the obvious answer was that I don't only like boys, duh! After the sarcastic thoughts subsided, my second instinct was defensive but I simply said 'because I am'. And that was that. No more questions, no proving myself. It was like nothing happened. I was confused. Were we pretending it never happened or did it genuinely not change anything for her? It didn't matter. I was so relieved that nothing more needed to be said so I stayed up all night to binge the whole of Heartstopper. What a night to watch that for the first time. Naturally, I cried the whole time.
I was 22 and 10 months when I told her in June of 2022 but I knew around my 21st birthday that I wasn't a straight girl. So why, when the queer people around me had been open for years did I not understand myself?
Well I know it's a cliche but I knew something was… off… about me pretty much forever but never did it cross my mind that I was queer. Not until lockdown, when all you have is time and space for reflection in literal, painful, isolation. But, once I realised who I was, I had no one around me to make me feel real. Separated from both uni friends and hometown friends by a deadly virus, no job to meet new people and no events for people like me. I quickly felt like an imposter. A 21 year old bisexual girl with no real experience being with girls and no community of queer friends like every other queer person I knew had found. I'd forever be on the outside… I felt like I was stealing people's lived experiences and their truth to make myself feel more interesting in a deeply boring time. Of course this wasn't true. I started to tell friends via social media individually over summer. I didn't know if they would treat me differently because of it when we finally reunited or if they even believed me when I didn't believe myself. It still didn't feel real.
So how, after almost 2 years of knowing who I was but never trusting myself, did I manage to firmly and proudly state 'because I am.'?
After the summer of self discovery that was clouded by loneliness, I was called for Jury Service (please bear with me, it is relevant). Riddled with fear of venturing into the world with my new-found identity and of being in such an intimate group of strangers, I entered the courts. And after an emotional couple of weeks we reached a verdict and I left with a new friend and a new self confidence. Meeting somebody in this intense environment who had no predetermined perception of me and was fully open about who they were, was the starting point. (Telling a new person who you are with no reservations shouldn't be a big deal but alas).
They even took me to my first ever Manchester Pride event which was this year's Candlelight Vigil at Sackville Gardens where they introduced me to an amazing group of like-minded people. It was so moving, I got my camera out and took the most powerful photo I've ever taken., This photo alone motivated me to seek more creative opportunities and led me to where I am; writing this right now. Crazy what self discovery and a strong support system can do for the LGBTQIA+ Youth.
I reconnected with old friends- nobody treated me differently and we never missed a beat. I found a job and met another diverse new group of people. I went from completely alone to surrounded by characters. Once my anxieties were put to rest and I encountered more inspiring, confident queer people, it was confirmed. I never needed to prove myself to my peers, so, when I was finally ready to tell my mum, I knew I shouldn't EVER have to prove myself as a queer person. I. Just. Am.
Now I want to explain that I know not everyone is lucky enough to be surrounded by such understanding people and not everyone will be understanding when I eventually come out to my extended family (if you see this, surprise!). But it is always important to be yourself, freely and without judgement (even when that means saying goodbye to certain people).
Not everybody realises who they are in their teens which is the expectation. Puberty, hormones, parties… you think if I was, I'd know by now, right? Wrong. It is never too late to find yourself, we are ever-evolving as individuals (there wasn't one monumental incident that made me think 'oh, I must be bi') and our environment can enhance or suppress our growth, anyway.
So: to those who were always by my side while I figured it all out, those who taught me the power of self acceptance,introduced me to so many beautiful queer people, those showed me it was okay to openly be myself and everybody who never treated me differently once I was honest about who I was; I cannot thank you enough. You changed my life. I hope you never underestimate how important people like you are to me and every other confused queer person who needs a helping hand.
And finally, for everybody who finds themselves in a position like mine: I know you're reading this thinking it's impossible to get to the place of comfort I am at now… but all it takes is one small step; be honest with yourself. You will find your chosen family, and importantly, a family that chooses you too.