Rachel Charlene Lewis
Updated May 05, 2016

I grew up in a pretty liberal and extremely diverse place, with thoughtful, political friends and parents who respected me and listened to my opinions. At my sleepovers, my best friends and I would talk radical re-imaginings of gender roles alongside conversations about cute boys and how to wear eyeliner. The only club I was a part of in high school was Philosophy Club, which, more or less, was where the weird radical kids would argue about things like the role of religion in society, the issues with political parties, and gay marriage. I did my senior project on Stonewall and the similarities and differences between the ways that the Gay Rights and Civil Rights Movements protested oppression. I spent many a class period arguing with my Republican teacher about why gay people deserved rights.

I was a giant gay rights ally.

Yet still, I freaked out when I realized I was gay.

All of the groundwork was there for me to not be straight and to be okay with it. I’d already had the battles about gay marriage with my family members and learned about the fluidity of sexuality with my best friends. And yet it was still an entirely terrifying experience for me to realize I wasn’t just fighting for people “out there” anymore — I was fighting for me. Suddenly, everyone who ever disagreed with me about the humanity of LGBTQIA+ people wasn’t just an asshole to argue with. They were someone who hated me. The issue felt too close, and I pushed it away. Suddenly, I didn’t want anything to do with it.

I was quiet about it for about a year. I had crushes on close girl friends, and I told myself I just wanted to be like them. Aren’t there always those girls we just all want to be? I told myself it was admiration, not affection. I told myself I didn’t need to do anything about it.

My sexuality just wasn’t a fully realized thing, and it couldn’t be because I didn’t want it to be. I wanted to keep being just the totally best ally ever. It was hard for me, too, because I couldn’t find myself within the usual narrative of queerness. I hadn’t known as a child. I hadn’t even known in high school. It wasn’t something I’d kept a secret forever out of fear. It was more like my sexuality was something that suddenly snuck up on me and wanted to make itself known.

My biggest fear, other than that my friends would turn on me, other than that my family wouldn’t have my back, other than that this theoretical issue would become my everyday, was that it was just a phase. I was absolutely terrified of hooking up with a girl and then changing my mind. I knew how people talked about girls who “went gay” because it was “trendy,” or to supposedly impress boys. We don’t leave much space in the conversation for these girls, and I didn’t want to be one of them. I didn’t want to be judged, and I especially didn’t want to be hated.

I also didn’t want to hurt anyone. My queerness grew harder and harder to keep quiet when a girl hit on me for the first time. I thought our first hangouts were just hangouts, and it took me weeks to realize they were dates. I learned about her history with girls who didn’t want to leave the closet, and though I totally respect people who choose not to (or simply don’t have the option), I knew I didn’t want to be quiet about who I was forever, especially not if it would mean that I would be hurting the women I dated.

Each day that I remained silent sent me spiraling. I was losing myself.

There was a shame around it all. Shame that I wasn’t being gay the right way. Shame that I was keeping secrets. Shame that I didn’t trust the people who loved me to be as good with my queerness as I needed them to be. Shame that I was keeping my feelings, and my relationship with someone quiet. I’d never kept secrets from my friends. That hurt the most.

When I came out to one of my best friends over Skype, I cried the entire time. I cried again when I told a second friend, and then a third. It was a process with a lot of tears, and one I realized would never be over. I would spend the rest of my life coming out, and it would always be so, so scary.

And I’m lucky. I’m lucky to so often find myself in spaces where people are, if anything, honored that I trust them, rather than disgusted, or worse, infuriated. Even when microaggressions tear at me and leave me feeling dehumanized, I know that I’m lucky not to be thrown out on the street or attacked. It’s awful, but it’s how things are.

My sexuality is an ever-fluid and ever-changing thing, and for me, that’s the most important part of all of this. I’m not static. I have the potential to change. There was once a version of me that was the biggest boy-loving straight girl my high school had ever seen. And now there’s this version — the politically bisexual queer person. I feel more freedom within fluidity than I’ve ever felt, because there’s room for change. I know that the people who love me will have my back if I end up with a guy, or if I end up identifying as non-binary, or if I come to identify as a stay-at-home lesbian mom with three kids, a picket fence, and a dog.

If I could talk to the girl I was five years ago, I would say that the scariest thing about embracing my queerness was realizing that all of the rules that had always applied to who I was and who I was expected to be would fall away — and that that’s the best part of all of it: being able to build my world and my relationships according to my own rules. The freedom of it is scary as hell, but it’s also the most empowering thing I’ve ever found.