by: Shelly Phillips
In the midst of an anxiety-ridden evening last week, I realized exactly how much of my life has been driven by my sexuality. How my fear of others, their opinions and (ultimately) of myself has influenced much of what I do—and what I have not done.
In essence, everything completely changed one hot afternoon in August of 2001 when one of my female teammates smiled at me at a soccer practice—just smiled, for God’s sakes—and I felt something stir in me that I had never felt before.
Perhaps other people may have taken it in stride. Perhaps if I’d been raised in a non-religious, liberal, and tolerant household, I wouldn’t have reacted as I did. Perhaps I would have had the guts to face myself and even come out to others at a much younger age. Perhaps I wouldn’t have gone home that evening, collapsed on my bed, burst into uncontrollable sobs, and confessed to my mother that I thought I was a lesbian.
It is impossible for me to look at my teenage years and my twenties outside the lens of my (often glaring) sexual identity crisis. It has been my struggle, my crutch and my excuse. It has led me to write about how I wanted to take my brain out of my head and let it soak in a vat of acid. It has led me to loathe myself, judge, bitch, hide, run forward, hate, love, understand, and turn from my religion. It has changed me irrevocably and led me to live a life controlled by fear.
Often, I think, “If I weren’t gay/bi/whatever…”, “If this had never happened to me, then…,” “If I were just straight—just normal—then…” and so on and so forth. And from there comes a list of what I think I would have done or achieved had I not—well, been myself. Had I been someone else.
It’s endless, of course, and a dangerous road to potentially walk down, for who else can we be, really, besides ourselves, and doesn’t everyone struggle with one thing or other? And yet, the list is there—everything that fear (directly correlated to my sexual orientation) has kept me from doing:
1. Moving to New York City, Miami, or Argentina after I graduated from college.
2. Drinking until I was 21.
3. Going to gay clubs until I was 25.
4. Watching The L Word until I was 25.
5. Questioning my religious beliefs until I was 22.
6. Going to the beach.
7. Going to Cedar Point.
8. Going to the mall.
9. Making new friends.
10. Reading David Sedaris.
11. Going to bars.
12. Going to clubs.
13. Introducing myself to people I don’t know.
14. Entering certain career fields.
15. Going to graduate school in Denver or New York City.
16. Going to Florida on spring break.
17. Going to concerts.
18. Truly making efforts to befriend LGBT people.
19. Wearing bracelets on my right arm (it sounds funny, but in seventh grade, one of my friends said that lesbians wear bracelets on their right arms, so I’ve avoided it ever since).
20. Hugging female friends in public.
21. Going to football or basketball games in high school.
22. Going to prom my junior year of high school.
23. Traveling to Alaska, the Dominican Republic, Tahiti, Australia, or Fiji in high school even though I had ample opportunity to do so.
24. Going out in public, period—particularly in crowded places.
In some ways, I have made some significant strides this year—and in other ways, I am still hopelessly stifled and buried under decades of anxiety and fear. It’s all about keeping things in perspective, I guess—not comparing myself to others; taking baby steps instead of big, seemingly impossible leaps; celebrating accomplishments, however small they are, and not dwelling on the lack of particular accomplishments.
The whole coming out process is different for anyone, I have discovered, and can take years, even decades in duration. In some ways, it is freeing, and in others, it fucking sucks. A lot. And hurts like fucking hell.
But I yearn to one day not live a life determined by fear. To one day not cower from who I am, but celebrate it—and embrace it. To not keep it mum, or be in denial. To be true.
In the meantime, the excuses will continue to abound, I would think. Opportunities will be deliberately avoided, and isolation will stay a semi-present reality. But I will continue facing my fear. And despite the inevitable setbacks and failures, I will persevere.
Shelly Phillips is an Ohioan who doesn’t really care about the Buckeyes, but is just a little too obsessed with all things British. She also enjoys traveling, reading, Chai tea lattes, and late-afternoon naps.