I missed all the signs that I was gay, but I finally understand who I am

I grew up with a gay aunt. I was raised to be accepting and supportive of everyone and to know that love is love, plain and simple. As I grew older and made friends with LGBTQ people, my support for the community grew and grew — I passionately and firmly believed that those in the LGBTQ community deserved the same rights and treatment as everyone else. Sexuality doesn’t define a person. When I was still single at age 18, my mother asked if I might be a lesbian. I thought nothing of it, said no, and carried on with my life.

Then, when I got into my first relationship at age 20, with a guy – let’s call him Luke – I knew something wasn’t right. He was a nice enough guy, was incredibly sweet to me, and eventually told me he was in love with me. But for me, there were no sparks. It was fun hanging out and yeah, it was nice having someone shower me with attention. But I felt no connection to him beyond friendship, and I wasn’t sure why. I worried maybe I was just not meant for relationships, or that I was destined to be a crazy pet and craft lady. I broke up with Luke — my only regret was that he was hurt.

A few months after breaking up with Luke, I got into a long-distance relationship with a good friend; we’ll call him Zack. At first, all was well. We were great friends already, so we got along really well. He was more than kind to me, he showered me with affection, and I couldn’t have asked for a kinder boyfriend. Two months in, we spent one of several full weekends together. After a day, I started to feel incredibly uncomfortable. I felt awkward around him, like I didn’t want him to touch me. I did everything I could to avoid him touching me, and I felt like I wanted to go back to being friends. This time, I didn’t know what was wrong.

I was heartbroken that I’d somehow brought another guy into what was proving to be a messy love life. I felt like I was leading him on, and was conflicted for the rest of his visit. After he left, I talked my feelings through with a friend and did a lot of thinking. Was it relationships in general that weren’t right for me? Was I picking the wrong guys? Was something wrong with me? I went through every possible scenario until I finally realized that it wasn’t the guys, and there was nothing wrong with me.

I also realized that am gay. I am a lesbian.

When I realized this, I was overwhelmingly relieved. Relieved that there was nothing wrong with me; that I wasn’t incapable of being in successful relationships or falling in love. But I was also surprised and a little disappointed in myself. There had been signs, over the years. I’d had what I thought were “girl crushes,” but had convinced myself I just wanted to be great friends with another girl when really, I was attracted to her. I had crushes on guys but I couldn’t genuinely see myself in relationships with them. I got excited about cute guys but never felt it, not deep down. As a woman, I felt bombarded with the notion that I had to end up with a man. The movies we see, the shows we binge watch, the books and magazine articles we read — they tell us how to find a man, how to appeal to men, and it goes on and on. Maybe I was so overwhelmed by society’s idea of what a woman was, that I thought I had to be straight.

It was also surprising that I hadn’t picked up on all the signs I wasn’t straight, after all those years of being an LGBTQ ally, strong supporter, and friend. How did I deny myself the opportunity to realize my identity for so long? It’s almost like I wasn’t letting myself be gay. For 20 years, I thought I knew who I was. So every time I had any doubts about who I was before, I pushed it down. I kept myself so far in the closet that I didn’t even know I was in one. So when I ended the relationship with Zack and allowed myself to actually accept that I was gay, I felt very at peace. Confused, relieved, happy, exhilarated, scared, but peaceful.

The thing is, no matter how kind we are to others, we are often our own worst critics. We comfort others when they make mistakes, but we’re super hard on ourselves. In my case, I strongly supported LGBTQ people and their rights, yet I pushed down any hints that I might be gay, until the signs were too loud to ignore.

There’s a huge transitional period that occurs after a realization like this. With it comes a lot of emotions and adjustments. In a way, I’m glad I came to this realization at this time in my life, a time when I know at least part of who I am as a person. I’ve boosted my self-confidence and am happy with who I am. But a part of me wishes I hadn’t been so hard on myself when I was confused. I wish I’d given myself the freedom to explore the real me earlier, to save both myself and the guys I went out with the heartbreak and confusion. I wish I hadn’t tortured myself by telling myself I was straight, by falling into the box that society had set out for me.

For me, realizing I was gay wasn’t easy. It’s been a good thing and I wouldn’t change it, but I had to work to let myself accept who I am. It meant standing in front of the mirror and saying to myself “I am gay.” Repeating that over and over in the shower or as I felt asleep at night. Listening to “She Keeps Me Warm” on repeat. Doing all these things until finally I accepted it. It wasn’t like I was choosing it, and forcing myself. These were steps I had to take to let myself realize it was okay, I was okay.

The message from all of this, to me, and to you, is to be easy on yourself. Don’t put yourself in a box, let yourself figure things out. It’s easy to grow up thinking of yourself as being a certain way. But if it doesn’t feel right, just follow your heart. Trust your gut. Remember that nobody has all the answers. That sexuality is something incredibly difficult to decipher and define. And most importantly: whoever you are, whoever you love, it’s okay.Tallulah Cardno is a Hufflepuff-Slytherin hybrid and a writer from New Zealand. When she’s not writing, she’s watching Disney movies with her bearded dragon, quoting Gilmore-isms because it’s a second language to her, or having a blast working with the kids and teens she works with. She is passionate about reading, unicorns, YouTube, feminism, animals, education, human rights, dark chocolate, birthdays, and Harry Potter. You can find her at her blog or on Twitter.

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