Updated: Nov 22, 2020
It all started when I first kissed a girl at a house party in year ten. Not to get all ‘Katy Perry’ on you, but I liked it. A lot. However, fifteen-year-old-me had no idea what bisexuality was, and in my middle-class, majority white, straight and cisgender school, that term wasn’t about to be introduced to me anytime soon.
Fast forward two years and I find myself in a new city, at a new college, with a new best friend. For the first time, I was exposed to a community of people who didn’t fall into heteronormative categories and many, I soon discovered, were quite happy floating in the in-between, just doing them; loving who they love, wearing what they want to wear, kissing who they want to kiss.
My emotions were solidified after the events of a particular party in the heat of summer 2018, but one year later and to confuse myself some more, one boyfriend later, and after months of explaining that “girls can have sex with girls”, I’m sat in my bedroom in university halls at half one in the morning, still contemplating who I am and what it is that I want.
I’ve been thinking about what I want out of life a lot recently. Being stuck in a small room for the majority of my day and barely socialising within university (thanks Covid), I’ve not only become well acquainted with myself – as I’m sure most of us have after months of staring at ourselves on zoom calls – but I’ve also felt the most anxious I have done in a while. Having had this mind-numbing amount of time to sit and think, I came to realise that much of the stress I’d been feeling recently wasn’t because of external factors – it was me. I hadn’t been loving myself in the way I should do, but more importantly, I had been seeking external validation in order to make up for my own self-doubt and lack of self-assurance. I decided that it was about time I started to love myself.
Self-acceptance is tough. It’s not something that’s achieved overnight, and as you begin to discover more about yourself, your perspective on reality is irrevocably changed which can be an incredibly destabilising feeling. When I first realised that I liked girls, I constantly questioned whether my emotions were valid, whether I was gay enough. Of course, sat here today, I’ve got no doubt about liking girls, but you only need to ask my best friend how many times we sat and unpicked our sexuality, to understand that for many people, coming out is a process – not a singular event.
In a society that loves labels, categories, and boxes, it’s no wonder that self-acceptance is a gruelling process. We’re not encouraged to grow and explore our identity; just look at the backlash Harry Styles has gotten recently for simply wearing a dress.
There have been times that I’ve downplayed my sexuality because of this. During my last relationship, which was with a guy, I well and truly buried my attraction to girls, and it stifled me. Similarly, when asked by a friend at university what my type of lad was, I gave an incredibly vague answer because my type of lad is a girl. However, the second I started investing in who I really was, was the second I became more confident and ultimately, happier. I died my hair pink, got a nose piercing, and started wearing blazers. For the first time in my life, I wanted people to know the real me.
But finding the confidence to declare who you really are, both to yourself and to others, is a challenge, and it’s not an equal challenge. I’m incredibly privileged to have a supportive network of family and friends around me, but I’m aware that for others, they can only dream of having that. Putting yourself on the line isn’t simple and deciding to stand on your own two feet sometimes takes incredible courage. We live in a society that constantly tells us that we need external validation; I’ve put myself in some dangerous situations trying to achieve that validation, but here’s the secret: the only person you truly need to seek validation from, is yourself. Yes, it is much easier said than done, especially when we consider how contexts such as sexuality and gender identity conflate and ultimately, complicate, self-love and acceptance from yourself and others. But no-one deserves to lead a double life and life is certainly far too short to live a lie.
A few weeks ago, I hit a low point. An experience that made me feel like I wasn’t good enough, coupled with pressures of family stresses and the pandemic, led to me doubting myself and where my future was headed. Drinking in a park with my flat mates at half eleven at night, feeling like a fourteen-year-old again now that pubs are shut, I found myself overthinking and lost deep in negative thoughts. It was at this point that one of my best friends and flat mates, looked at me and offered an incredibly simple, yet significant piece of advice: “Kate, we don’t have long on this earth.”
Suddenly, it hit me. We really don’t have long on this earth and in danger of being cliché, life genuinely is too short not to put yourself first. I’m not advocating selfishness, but I am advocating self-love; learning to preserve your energy and surround yourself with people who uplift you, as opposed to drain you.
Putting yourself first means setting boundaries. It’s exhausting constantly investing your energy into people who don’t invest in you. Stop being so nice! Did a girl lead you on? Don’t waste your energy making sure she’s okay; save that energy and tell her that next time, she should be honest about her emotions from the get-go and not use people to satisfy her own desires and confusion at the expense of your feelings. Did a friend let you down? Explain why you feel hurt and if they don’t at least attempt to understand your emotions, walk away. Did a family member disregard your identity? It’s tough but try stand your ground and never compromise who you are. Whether it’s the girl who led you on or the friend who let you down, remember that you’re whole without their validation. You. Deserve. Better. To quote Florence Given, “stop settling for crumbs, you deserve the whole damn cake.”
Setting boundaries and standards for yourself and the tribe you build around you is at times, uncomfortable, but you deserve a tribe that loves you for you. For me, coming out in the middle of a pandemic was a lonely experience, because I didn’t have the opportunity to meet other gay girls and find that ‘tribe’. But family is who you make it, and you’ll find your family in sometimes the most unlikely of people and at the most unlikely of times.
I found family in one of best friends and flat mates, Max. For the last two weeks, we’ve been watching ‘Pose’ nearly every night. If you’ve not already seen it, I highly recommend watching the series on Netflix, because behind the voguing, lies a poignant story about community and self-identity. It might just be a Netflix show, but it’s taught me about the importance of loving yourself, uplifting those around you, and fighting for what’s right. Now whenever we feel down, we put on our vintage fur coats, inspired by the fashion on ‘Pose’, stick on some 80s music and badly dance in the kitchen, because life’s too short to care about what others think and to not be the love of your own life.
So, what now? Wake up, put on your favourite outfit, and feel good about yourself. No more self-deprecating talk. Enjoy the importance of the little things, the slow days, the small wins. Preserve your energy for the people who deserve it, and don’t waste your time on time wasters.
You might not feel ready to tell the world exactly who you are right now, and that’s okay. But when you are ready, know that there are people who are excited to accept you, love you and help you grow. Above all, take time today to treat yourself right. Life doesn’t last forever, and you deserve to be unapologetically vocal about who you are.
Learn to love yourself, and I promise that life will fall into place.