- Shraddha Datta
Perspective: Coming Out to Myself
I did not think I could ever possibly like women. I knew other people liked women. I knew men liked women. Later in middle school, I found out there were women who liked women. Now I know that there are all sorts of people who like women. But I assumed I only liked men from the get-go. How did I decide this? I kissed a girl in high school while playing truth-or-dare and I didn’t like it. I never thought about how I probably didn’t like the kiss because I didn’t like the girl, and not because I didn’t like girls. Couldn’t it be possible that I never came across a girl I thought I really liked? There were girls who I thought were pretty, girls who I would really want to be friends with, but wasn’t that an experience that straight women also had? All I knew was that straight women liked men, and I was certain I liked men too.
Growing up we all start to learn about what is considered normal. As a child, I grew up watching TV shows and movies that only ever told stories about heterosexual couples. The love interest for the female protagonist was always a man in every TV show that I watched during the 2000s—Zoey 101, Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place, Suite Life of Zack and Cody, iCarly, and Victorious to name a few. I loved fantasizing about dating people I saw on TV, and since I was a girl who liked boys, I would often replace myself with the girl in the couple and imagine I was dating the boy. I assumed, as most are expected to, that it was the only plausible form of romantic love. I learnt that this was untrue later through social media, but my self-perception was still ultimately affected by the normative values I was initially exposed to.
What I saw around me reinforced these beliefs. Most of my friends who had married parents had one mother and one father. As a kid, I only ever attended weddings that had both a bride and a groom. If I hung out with a boy a lot during recess, my classmates would start teasing me about being his girlfriend. By the time I reached puberty, I learnt that romantic love was only possible between a boyfriend and a girlfriend. A bride and a groom. A husband and a wife. However, upon self-reflection as a young adult, I remembered that I was very passionate about many fictional female characters such as Kim Possible, Meg from Hercules, Ariel from the Little Mermaid, and Silvermist from Tinker Bell, but at the time I never thought anything of it. In kindergarten, there was a boy I was certain I had a crush on, but there was also a girl I really liked being friends with more than the other girls.
I forgot about how I might have liked other girls, and because society constantly reminded me of how women are only supposed to like men, I focused on men for a long time. I never thought about liking anyone else other than men. I suppose it is a privilege to be able to like someone without any opposition from a heteronormative society. I suppose that’s why I never felt marginalized during middle school or even high school, because I could still love who I wanted to love. At least, who I thought I wanted to love. Plus, if I was anything other than straight, then I somehow was able to forget a part of who I was with great ease.
The reality is, though, that I didn’t choose to consciously forget the possibility that I liked girls. I was just taught early-on that I was only allowed to like boys, and for as long as I tried to stick to what I was allowed to do, I whole-heartedly believed I was straight. I had many queer friends in high school who had figured their sexuality out (or, at the very least, knew they were not straight) earlier than I had. I thought the time for me to realize my true sexuality, if it were anything other than straight, had passed, especially since I really did like men. My friends, who were likely to suspect if someone was not entirely straight, never questioned my sexuality either. My self-perception influenced other people’s perceptions of me which further reinforced my own: I believed in my straightness so much that everyone else believed it too.
It was only when I suspected that I might not be neurotypical—that I have been struggling to conform to social conventions all my life, that I did not think, speak, or act in the manner society expected me to—that I even bothered to think about potentially liking girls. When I started to research what neurodivergence meant, my life flashed before my eyes. All my life, I strove to be a hard-working, good-hearted person because those were ideals that I thought characterized neurotypical people. I didn’t realize that “good” was a relative term, and I had been swapping “normal” with it. I wanted to be a “normal” person and would try my best to live by the rules that society taught me. Even if I didn’t impose the idea of normality to others, I constantly applied it onto myself because I would try to fit in in whatever way would permit my existence in a prescriptive and judgmental world. I badly wanted to believe that I adhered to social norms myself, in all aspects possible, even though I did not care whether others did or not. I kept trying to fit myself into a mold that was never meant for me in the first place. In essence, I hadn’t come out to myself yet in more ways than one.
I took my first step towards radical self-acceptance by understanding that I cannot attain a distinct sense of self by measuring how well I adhere to rules, norms, and conventions of any given culture. I am not any less bisexual for liking men. I am not any less bisexual for liking women. I am not any less bisexual for liking people. The existence of a more familiar conception of sexuality such as monosexuality does not mean that other conceptions are invalid. I am not any less part of the LGBTQ+ community for having realized my identity much later, and for having worn my “privilege” of erasure as a badge of so-called normalcy in the past. Sexuality is fluid, and as are the interactions between different intersections of our identities, so much so that they can become intertwined, making it hard to separate them from each other. To me, radical self-acceptance means being proud of who you are in all your complexity. I am not one-part straight and one-part lesbian. I am not one-part neurodivergent and one-part bisexual. I am wholly me, in all my entirety.