Like many people reading this, when I was growing up, being gay was practically portrayed as part of a scandal in the mainstream media. I’ve lost count of how many soap drama storylines I’ve seen featuring a LGBTQ+ character hating themselves and hiding their identity.
As part of the #YoungerMe campaign by Just Like Us, the charity for LGBT+ young people that I volunteer with, I’ve decided to open up about my experiences growing up and figuring out that I’m a lesbian.
From a very young age, the media around me instilled this idea in my head that being LGBTQ+ was something to hide. I’ve just recently learnt that that’s not the case.
For a while before I came out, I thought I was bisexual as bisexual women were always presented as being ‘feminine’ and, since I fit that image, I figured that was my identity. It took me a long time to realise that the media
When I came out as a lesbian age 16, I turned to the internet for help. With no mainstream media coverage of life as a lesbian, I struggled to understand my feelings.
I remember searching endlessly and all I could find were images of ‘stereotypical’ lesbians – shorter hair and masculine. While butch representation is brilliant, it was everything I was not.
Nothing reflected my experiences and so I began to question if my sexuality was really valid. I didn’t fit neatly into the stereotypical tick box. I remember thinking ‘I can’t be gay because I don’t look it’.
Adding to this confusion, most media representations of ‘feminine’ lesbians nearly always portrayed them as having affairs or flings with women rather than being in a serious relationship with them. This led me to believe that, as a ‘feminine’ lesbian, I wouldn’t be able to have a serious relationship with a woman.
What saved me were YouTubers like Rose and Rosie who showed me that ‘feminine’ lesbians are valid and accepted and that I didn’t have to change.
And as I realised that there were other femme lesbians out there, I began to embrace my identity and feel comfortable in myself.
While I was feeling reassured internally, I started to notice people’s confusion about my identity. I was faced with the hurdle of people not believing I was gay because I didn’t ‘look it’.
I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve heard ‘you just haven’t found the right man yet’ or ‘but you don’t look it’.
That’s the main reason why I became an ambassador for Just Like Us – to demonstrate that there is no one way to be gay. I now speak in schools about being LGBTQ+, helping to make education more inclusive.
Younger me would’ve been so relieved to have Just Like Us ambassadors speak at my school, letting me know that being a lesbian is actually incredible.
Through volunteering, I’ve met so many people with so many different identities. It’s taught me just how diverse the LGBTQ+ community is.
Yes, I proudly tick the lesbian box but I now know I don’t have to squeeze myself into any stereotypes.