Growing up in a small, culturally conservative, Christian town in middle Georgia, I felt obligated to convince myself that I was straight, even though I knew that I had an underlying conflict with my sexuality that stemmed from getting caught in a same-sex experiment with a girl in my neighborhood when I was 7.
While her family responded to the incident with outrage, mine responded with mere shock and discomfort ― passing it off as a one-time experience between two friends. I attempted avoiding my sexuality after this experiment, though I constantly found myself suffering through elementary school crushes on girls. This led to me continuously returning home holding in this secret that slowly began to unfold ― I was into girls.
With no outlet in my household or community to become vocal about my sexuality, I used social networking as a gateway to reveal my secret. I felt that I could never come out to my friends or family in my town, so I began to spend late nights on avatar-based networks such as IMVU ― a metaverse that allows people to interact with others through the use of 3D avatars ― changing my sexual “status” to lesbian, bisexual, or questioning whenever I was alone.
It was relieving to finally feel like I had an outlet to express my sexuality ― even if no one I actually knew was aware. I was 10 years old when I found the website called KidzWorld, a social network for kids. I began to use this in the same manner, changing my bio to state that I was bisexual and leaving it up for extended periods, even when I was not online. I knew the increase in time I left my status up correlated with my unconscious need to reveal my sexuality.
During the summer of 2013, when I was 11 and rather active on KidzWorld, I met a girl who soon became my virtual friend. She told me she was going through the same thing that I was. It was a relief to find someone just like me, even if she lived miles away. Seeing her be so comfortable with her sexuality helped give me the courage to begin coming out to my real-life friends.
Right before the end of that summer, I decided to tell my best friend first, who to my surprise offered calming support. My swift experience with her lifted a weight off my shoulders that most kids didn’t have to carry. I began to tell more friends ― some joked and bullied me for the revelation, while others convinced me that my sexuality didn’t change the way that they perceived me.
Though I was still too humiliated to come out to my family, my fear of rejection was shadowed by the acceptance I’d received from friends. This was a sort of liberation for me ― I had a new sense of confidence that I never had as a closeted child. I figured that there would come a time that I would be confident enough to come out to my family.
That time came that fall, and not by choice or because of my confidence.
A friend from school, who I would often hang out with, left her computer screen on at her aunt’s house as she was logged into her KidzWorld account, or so I was told. Her aunt was snooping through her friend list and came across my page, which flaunted my sexuality. Her immediate reaction was to tell a first cousin that I had been “saying that I was gay.”
This set off an information trail throughout my family. It began with my cousin telling her mother and my uncle, who came over to our house and told my mother as I was sitting next to her at the kitchen table. Initially, my uncle approached my mother saying, “Do you know that she’s saying that she’s gay?” He initially did not reveal who told him, but eventually came forth and admitted he’d heard it through my cousin. I felt a sudden invasion into my personal life by those I trusted the most.
I was outed to my entire family against my will and just sat there and watched my life crumble into pieces.
Initially I denied it, and I couldn’t look my mother in the eyes when she asked me if it was true. She told me that I could be honest with her, but I could not bring myself to come out to her. I was outed to my entire family against my will and just sat there and watched my life crumble into pieces. No. I promise I’m not gay. I burst into tears ― the fear of rejection overwhelmed me again. She was gentle that night, reassuring me that she would love me regardless of my sexuality. I knew I was going to tell her the truth eventually, but shamefully, I still couldn’t admit it.
Later that night, my sister took me outside to sit in her car and talk about the situation. Somehow, she found a way to relieve the stress that I’d built up. She told me that if I were to walk back into the house with my head high, telling the family my story, then I could reclaim the dynamics of coming out. I was still crying because I was still afraid of being rejected because of my sexuality. It wasn’t until she hugged me that I realized I had one family member on my side already.
I finally gained the strength to come out to my family on my own terms.
There was a drive to my aunt’s house, phone calls, acceptance speeches and a world full of tears. I somehow found a way to nod my head when asked if it was true, soaking everyone’s shirt whenever I was held. The most significant moment was my mother holding me, repeating the statement that she would love me regardless of my sexuality, that I was still her baby. So, this is what it’s like to come out. There was disappointment, there was love, there was acceptance. Though I was outed to my family involuntarily, I was also given the opportunity to come out to them as well. In one night, I lost and then reclaimed the identity that I’d been trying to understand for years.
Since experiencing being outed and coming out five years ago, the lines have begun to blur. The dynamics of each experience has taught me to accept myself ― even when there is the possibility that others will not do the same. I am now 16 years old, and through being open with myself and those around me, I have come to identify as pansexual, which means that I can be sexually or romantically attracted to someone regardless of their sex or gender. I have also found myself adamant in my role as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, something I continuously denied years ago.
I have collectively become closer to my family because of being outed and coming out. In high school, I have been in relationships with girls and have been able to immediately tell my family about them. I have even found myself lying on my mother’s lap and ranting to her about crushes ― regardless of gender. There was definitely a bit of discomfort when initially referring to my sexuality, given that it was a significant portion of my character and I’d chosen to hide it from my family. Realizing that my family is so accepting and hurt that I waited makes me regret isolating a really important part of me from them.
I don’t resent the adults who outed me. They don’t understand how I feel about this, and I don’t know their intentions in what they did. Still, I deal with the sense of invasion because I was stripped of the opportunity to come out on my own terms. I’ve since found ways to cope with being outed, such as constantly informing my family about aspects of the queer community, even using the outing as a reference to channel my feelings. Though it’s taken a few years, I’ve been able to fully reclaim my sexuality and demonstrate to others what it means to be me.
In the reclamation of my sexuality, I’ve realized that it was always mine. Through the entire process, it has all been a journey to understanding that only I can define who I am. In all essence, I am still on this path to finding out the rings of my sexuality and how to control the dynamics of my personal image.
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