Growing up, I never knew that lesbians were a thing. As far as I knew, some gay men existed but the majority of the population was heterosexual.
Eventually I discovered the existence of bisexuality, but it wasn’t until I was nearly fourteen that I finally figured out what a lesbian was. In that moment, something clicked. The option for me to marry a woman was real? Suddenly, the concept of marriage didn’t sound quite so horrific. So… claustrophobic, you could say? Up until I met my very first lesbian, the idea of marriage — even a casual relationship — had always been tied to a man. Of course I still didn’t think that I was a lesbian. No, I figured I must be bisexual at most. But even then, something didn’t sit quite right.
My discovery of lesbians and bisexual women made a part of me feel relief, while the other part absolutely panicked. It was gradual, though. The panic didn’t all set in at once. It was more of a strain of thoughts, one long jumble of confusion and denial that lasted for several years. I had always assumed that my female friends held the same amount of attraction toward other girls that I did—that their girl crushes were just as frequent and genuine as my own, but their boy crushes felt like an obligation. I always figured no one else wanted to spend time with their boyfriend, either; it couldn’t possibly only be me who bulked at the mere thought of kissing a dude and avoided her boyfriend like the plague. Maybe in elementary school that was the case. But by the age of seventeen? At that point something seemed a little off.
At the age of this epiphany I got my first girlfriend and realized that no, I’m definitely a lesbian. I had come out of the closet as bisexual a few months before, so I slowly made rounds again to announce that I got it wrong the first time and I’m actually gay. The resulting happiness and feeling of freedom lasted about a year before I started yearning to be ‘normal’ again, i.e. straight or at least bisexual. Freshman year of college, after my first girlfriend and I broke up, I tried sleeping with a man. I thought that maybe if I saw what non-lesbian women enjoyed so much, I could be more like them. There was still a chance at normalcy for me. If I was bi I could force myself into a relationship with a man, a marriage, then I could forget that my sexuality was considered a spectacle rather than something valid, and I could live a normal life. And so I came out again as bisexual after all, confusing both friends and family alike with the thought that maybe I could be with a man.
This turned into a cycle that went on for years. I would date a man, abhor literally everything about it and break up with the guy, vow that I would never attempt to be something I’m not ever again, and then repeat the cycle about a year later. I have lost count of the number of times I have quietly tiptoed in and out of the closet, the number of times I’ve been asked in earnest whether or not I swing both ways. When people would ask me this it would be met with irritation and frustration on my end. It wasn’t their fault, though; they couldn’t keep my orientation straight because neither could I. My own internalized lesbophobia was confusing at best, but infuriating at worst. The conviction that I could someday wake up and become bisexual (I knew my attraction to women would never fade) to live a ‘normal’ heterosexual lifestyle was something I wanted so badly, it was literally tearing me apart.
This feeling that I was somehow abnormal would not stop digging at my brain, and each time I tried to become interested in men and failed it made me feel that much worse — that I was somehow not lesbian enough, because a real lesbian would never go through this much desperation to simply be gay. In my mind, I was both too lesbian and not lesbian enough: I exclusively liked women but I somehow wanted to like men, too. And why? Society, mainly. Disney stories, fairy tales, television shows, movies, couples walking down the street. Literally everywhere I looked was heteronormativity, and that was all I wanted. A lesbian wouldn’t want that life, that is the life that is almost always shoved upon her, until she’s finally old enough to break free and live her best lesbian life.
Breaking free of this self-hatred and confusion was all I wanted to do. The conflict was growing. It was daily, hourly, every time I was attracted to a woman but wished I was attracted to a man instead I would feel lesbian, but not lesbian enough. Until about a year ago, when I finally admitted what was happening inside my head. I’d had a fair amount to drink and my desperation culminated into an alarming breakdown. I ended up crying to my best friend that all I wanted was to want to love a man — any man — even though it sounded absolutely awful because that’s what normal women do. My best friend sat me down (okay, balanced me against a nearby sturdy thing because I was tipping over outside a club) and told me everything would be okay. On that drunken night she told me that my feelings of wanting to be straight were not my fault, that I am normal, and that there is no such thing as not being lesbian enough when I am, in fact, a lesbian. We talked for a while, we hugged, she cried because I was crying, and for once I felt free to love myself. She had faith that my sexuality was valid when I didn’t even believe it myself, and that was amazing. I don’t know why it took until that specific night for this concept to click in my head, but it finally did.
I am a lesbian. I have been for as long as I can remember, and it’s a wonderful thing. I am valid and I’m real, and there is no such thing as being (or not being) lesbian enough. Our sexualities are valid whether we are taught this or not. Whether we have been told that it’s not real, that it’s just a phase, that we don’t dress lesbian enough or act lesbian enough. No matter how many times we are fetishized, dismissed, gaslighted, or told that we cannot possibly exist, we will continue to be valid and we will always be enough. There is no measure that we must hold ourselves against. It took me way too long to realize something that society should have let me see a very long time ago.