How did you figure out you were gay?

An essay by Emma Briggs

Well, I didn’t kiss a girl, but I already knew I liked it.

For starters, a straight 11-year-old wouldn’t have watched that Katy Perry video 934 times on her iPod classic. Fast forward several years of teenage brooding and nothing could have prepared me for what it would feel like when a girl actually kissed me, not any of my expectations or anything that I’d seen in a film or any dream that I had ever dreamt. There was no one to show off for, no prying eyes to watch trying to take my sexuality away from me and make it theirs. One second I was asking her if she wanted to go back inside and before I could even register what had happened she’d kissed me. My mind stalled and all I could hear was her breath over the sound of my heartbeat in my ears, as if there wasn’t a deafening party just a locked door away.

When you grow up with the litany of living in a small town you have a lot of time to daydream, and a lot of time to question yourself. But it was in that moment that I knew for sure, with no doubt in my mind, that I liked girls. Someone who doesn’t like girls doesn’t melt into a puddle of goo when a pretty girl smiles at them, or touches their hand, or says anything in their general direction.

When I was 16 I had a classmate that sat in front of me in all our lessons and liked to flirt with me. She had a crush on my friend that sat next to me, but she had fun making me blush, and I really enjoyed the attention. I didn’t even care that the only reason she was doing it was to show off to my friend, because she was really fit. So, I made the conscious decision to sit next to him in every lesson that I could. The older I got, my attraction to girls became even more consuming and I developed what can only be described as minor schoolgirl crushes on several women that involved me trying not to stare, and awkwardly avoiding interaction. The French teaching assistant, the new blonde girl at the co-op, the airport employee that always seemed to be working my gate whenever I went on a trip…

However, even though I’ve been identifying as a lesbian since I was 15, I was never entirely sure that I wasn’t attracted to boys. I was never opposed to experimenting, but out of some kind of need to feel control over my self-discovery process I decided that I didn’t want to do anything with a boy that I hadn’t already done with a girl. It took a while to get out of the sticks and actually be around other gay people, but I was 18 when I started experimenting with boys. Most of the time it was under the influence of alcohol and only if there were no girls around that were into me. Kissing is fun, it was nice, and maybe even arousing sometimes. However, through all the experimenting, not a single boy made me feel anything close to how girls made me feel, even when one of them so seductively went to all the effort of putting my hand down his trousers in the smoking area of a Wetherspoons. All it made me do was go home, watch Grease, and dream of tight leather trousers.

What made me question my sexuality most, as a child of the social media age, was the innovation of internet pornography, now more accessible to teenagers than ever before. I didn’t really watch lesbian porn, because lesbian porn tends to make me press my thighs firmly together while I watch someone put razor sharp acrylic nails in and around the genitals of another woman. Equally off-putting is the rest of the general absurdity found in lesbian porn that’s been plucked straight from the fantasy of a straight man who’s not entirely sure exactly what lesbians do when they have sex. Why is she deepthroating a stiletto? Am I expected to believe she’s had 5 orgasms in the span of 3 minutes?  The big problem I had with it was the lack of authenticity, so I mostly ended up watching straight porn, which I didn’t dislike. If I didn’t like it then I wouldn’t watch it, I just don’t 


necessarily think fantasies translate into a real desire for me to have sex with men.

So, what does it all mean? Am I, on some level, sexually attracted to men?  Is sexuality more complicated than we could ever fathom, and sexual arousal doesn’t always correlate with sexual attraction? It’s a lot to think about, which is why I’ve decided not to. I’m still open to the possibility that I could fall in love with someone of any gender, but maintain my decision to identify as a lesbian. However, in the back of my mind I always wondered if I was allowed to call myself a lesbian, if I was “worthy”. “Can you be a lesbian if you’re not sure you’re not into guys? If you like making out with boys in clubs sometimes and get off to straight porn?” I wondered. I also have a friend who started falling in love with a boy after thinking she was only attracted to girls, and while telling me her fears she asked, “What if now that I’m with a boy people will think I’m not queer enough?”

It made me ponder the definition of “queer”, and most importantly, who’s enforcing it? Who gets to decide who’s gay and who’s bisexual? It ultimately led me to conclude that there’s no point in wasting any time or energy worrying about the definition of a label. Labels are at our disposal for us to use them however we want or need to describe ourselves, but there are only a limited number of labels to describe a countless number of individuals with their own unique way of interpreting thoughts and feelings. In short, one person’s bisexuality may very well differ from someone else’s, and neither one is in a position to tell the other that they’re wrong.

If there were to be a grand lesson or takeaway from my experience as a small-town girl living in a heteronormative world that I could impart onto others, it’s that we can choose to worry about the dictionary definition of bunch of words, or we can be happy, carefree, and secure in who we are. 


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