I Didn’t Know I Was Gay Until I Was In My Twenties

As you probably know from firsthand experience, a whole lot of things start to happen during puberty. Your hormones rage, your boobs grow (well, mine didn’t, but that’s beside the point), you enter into womanhood by way of that glorious monthly visitor called a menstrual cycle. And you start to notice the opposite sex. Right?

I mean, I guess I noticed them – boys, with their ill-fitting pants and dirty fingernails and dopey laughs. But my girlfriends noticed them in a decidedly different way. By the time we were in fifth grade, all of them were gaga over Nick or Jeremy or Thomas or James. It was “cool” to be boy-crazy. It meant you were mature. Sexy. Alive.

The author at age 14. / Photo courtesy of Sarah Hinson

The author at age 14. / Photo courtesy of Sarah Hinson

I don’t really remember feeling anything towards boys. I envied them, because they got to be crude and funny and I wanted to be crude and funny.(I was anyway). But I never really cared about them the way my friends did. In an effort to fulfill those small-town societal expectations, I picked a boy and tried to “like-like” him. And by “like-like,” I mean “tolerate.” I thought: This is what I’m supposed to do, isn’t it? Fake it ’til it feels right?”

Honestly, it never really felt right. I dated guys briefly through high school, my longest relationship lasting a couple months. This is how it went down: I would decide to like a guy, and if he reciprocated, I would recoil like a startled snake. Then we would date. He would kiss me, and I would kiss him back, and I would laugh at how absolutely awful it felt. Like swapping spit with your cousin.

I talked to my closest friends about my discomfort and misery, and they all agreed it was lack of experience. “Once you date him for a while,” they assured me. “Once you have sex a few times, you’ll feel better.” I grew up in a middle-class, conservative town where abstinence-only education was the norm. This was kind of a bummer since abstinence-only education is a load of garbage (not abstinence, of course – just the idea that not being a virgin on your wedding day is undesirable and wrong, or that safe sex isn’t an option. /rant). But it was also a blessing. It meant I could be abstinent and proud.

So I successfully avoided dick throughout high school and college. Not because I cared about saving myself for marriage, but because the idea of a penis was about as sexy and compelling to me as a snail.

Somehow, I never thought I could be a lesbian. I know, I know. It’s so painfully obvious. Trust me, I see all the signs now, looking back: I was enamored with every semi-attractive female teacher I had, starting in pre-K. The first time I saw soft-core porn, it was between two women, and I felt things in my body that I had never felt before. When I was 14, I stopped eating meat and started listening to Ani DiFranco and Tori Amos religiously. All the signs were there, my friends. I just wasn’t ready to see them.

The author at 16 years old / Photo courtesy of Sarah Hinson

The author at 16 years old / Photo courtesy of Sarah Hinson

One of the reasons I was so blind to my sexuality was the fact that I believed, deep down, that being gay was wrong. Sinful. Shameful. I was a product of my environment, plain and simple (remember: conservative town, churches on every corner, no diversity—you get the idea). Even though I was lonely and “defective,” that was better than being gay. The possibility had never even entered my mind.

Then came college. I went to a liberal arts school that was chock-full of LGBTQ+ folks. By this time my own mother had asked me, repeatedly, if I was gay. My friends had asked me. Heck, even one of my teachers had asked me. My response was always the same: “Ew, vaginas? No way!” I no longer thought being gay was a sin, but I didn’t think it was me.

As the years passed, I started to notice queer women in the same way my middle school friends had noticed boys for the first time. These women liked women, and they owned it. They weren’t ashamed. They were mature. Sexy. Alive.

Oh, I wanted to be them. I wanted to date them and be them at the same time. I wanted to know what it felt like to hold a girl’s hand, to run my fingers through her hair, to wrap my arm around her waist. To kiss her. Among other things. How to begin? I had never been in love, or had sex, or anything close. Here’s what I learned: you start where you are, and go from there.

So, I asked a girl out on a date. The first time I had sex with her was in the back of a Subaru on the side of a mountain. (Could that sentence be any gayer? No, it could not.) Finally, for the first time, I let myself go. And it felt so good. I experienced all the heart-pumping, crazy-making feelings I never thought were in the cards for me. I stood naked on the side of a mountain and watched the sun come up and welcomed it.

That night led to a yearlong relationship, followed by a few shorter-lived flings, followed by another long partnership, followed by singledom (c’est la vie). Here’s the important part: after thinking I was irreparable for so many years, I’m finally able to be intimate with my partners – emotionally as well as physically – and feel, well, right. I’m also incredibly lucky because my family and friends love and accept me unconditionally, no matter who I’m with.

The author today / Photo courtesy of Sarah Hinson

The author today / Photo courtesy of Sarah Hinson

But I don’t want you to think I have it all figured out simply because I’m “out of the closet.” There is no such thing as having it “all figured out,” or even being completely “out of the closet.” I come out every day – to strangers, to acquaintances, to myself. Living and loving is a process, no matter how experienced or how sure you are. We are all “coming out” in our own ways, after all.

As far as sexuality – boy, is it a funny thing. One thing I love about younger generations is that they’re much more clued into the fact that sexuality is a spectrum, and labels don’t really matter in the long run. Hopefully you already know this, but I’m going to say it, anyway: Being gay, or lesbian, or queer, or transgender, or asexual, or bi, or whatever, is not wrong. It is not sinful or shameful or inferior. Neither is being straight. What you can call these things is human. Beautifully, fundamentally, undeniably human.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t still struggle with my sexuality. But I’m so, so glad I gave myself permission to explore and discover what my heart really wanted all along. Wherever you are in your journey, I hope you’ll do the same.

You can follow the author, Sarah Hinson, on Instagram.

Can you relate to this story? Do you have a coming out story you want to share? Let us know in the comments.


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