I was in Year 5 when I started thinking about my sexuality – about 9-10 years old. One of my older friends came out to me which really made me start thinking about feelings I had toward people of the same sex that I’d always brushed off until then. It’s almost as if it became more real to me once my friend opened up to me about her sexuality.
The first person I reached out to about my sexuality was this same best friend. I knew I could trust her and that she would accept me no matter what and thankfully I was right, she gave me so much love and support. Once I came out to her I felt ready to start coming out to my close group of friends in high school and everyone ended up being equally caring and understanding. I was a little more apprehensive telling people in our wider circle, though – before this point, they’d often make jokes about how it seemed like all the musicians I thought were attractive “looked like women” despite being men. When I eventually did come out to them, they said things like “well, it’s fine as long as you don’t flirt with me”. It felt good to be accepted, but at the same time what they said kept me in the closet a little bit. I told them that it was just this one girl that I had a crush on, knowing inside that I was just denying my true feelings; both to them and to myself.
Although these moments were challenging times in my adolescence, my biggest challenge was admitting my sexuality to myself. I was in denial for a long time, and I just didn’t feel completely willing to accept it because I wasn’t 100 per cent sure if what I was experiencing was actually “real”. A lot of my friends would speak about having ‘girl-crushes’ and comment on how attractive certain women were so I thought that my feelings were part of this same ‘girl-crush’ category. However, they then said that they’d never actually want to date women whereas I would think: “Wow, I’d love to be with such an amazing person,” whether they were female or not. When I thought of the people I was attracted to, I wondered what it would be like to go on dates with them and how it’d feel to hold their hand or kiss them – regardless of their gender. That’s what eventually made it click that what I was feeling went beyond a ‘girl-crush’ or what you’d normally feel toward a female friend.
Talking about these feelings became a lot easier post-high school. One of the first adults I spoke to about my sexuality was an older student at university. Because I had such incredible support from my friends when I was younger, a conversation that would have once been really hard for me to have with my peers was suddenly something easy and casual.
It was much harder opening up to my family than my friends because I was born into a South-East Asian community which generally upholds more traditional/conservative values. I would often think about my extended family (of which there are over 300!) and I couldn’t think of a single relative who identified as LGBTIQA+. Outside of that, when growing up, Queer representation in South-East Asian culture came to me largely as insensitive jokes and judgements about trans-Thai people. I didn’t have any real context or understanding about what it truly meant to be bi-/pansexual. Even now, when I meet new people, there’s times when people tell me that they haven’t met any Asian women who identify as LGBTIQA+ before.
So when it came time to come out to my parents, I was naturally terrified about how I was going to convey who I am and who I’m attracted to. I knew I wasn’t ready to fully come out to my parents yet and decided to see how they would react if I asked them general questions about gender and sexual diversity; things like “What do you think about people who are same-sex attracted? How does it make you feel?” I expected my mum’s reaction – very supportive and kind yet still holding the belief that it wasn’t something that would exist in her household – but my dad was always the more conservative one. He just never fully understood how people could possibly identify as gender- or sexually-diverse.
I eventually got through to my dad by using what I had learnt as a student teacher at university. In one of my weekly readings, the article mentioned a book that told the story of two male penguins who raised an egg together. This book was eventually introduced into primary schools in the UK to help explain same-sex attraction to students. I thought this was a great way to break the ice with my dad and get him to understand a little bit more about how things like this exist and that sometimes we can’t help it, it’s just who we are. Although he’s now supportive and accepting of me, there’s definitely times where he’s still very confused about gender and sexual diversity.
Then came time to properly come out to my mum. I always knew that she had suspicions about my sexuality, although neither of us would talk about it in frank and open terms. However, I knew that of both my parents, she would be the one with a better understanding of LGBTIQA+ issues as she was involved in social work for 16 years. When I told it to her straight that I was in fact not straight, her first response was just “you’re too pretty to like girls”. After more discussions about it, she’s fairly accepting an understanding of my sexuality, although she does tend to fixate on the fact that because I’m bi-/pansexual, I’m still attracted to men, and tells me if possible she’d like it if I only showed attraction to males.
At the end of the day, though, my parents still accepted me for who I am despite their cultural and personal beliefs, my close friends were fully supportive of me, and my brother didn’t even bat an eyelid when I told him. I feel extremely lucky and privileged that my coming-out journey wasn’t filled with the terrible experiences that so many young people have faced and are unfortunately still facing today. Although I can’t pretend to know exactly how every single LGBTIQA+ young person is feeling and what they’re going through, I really want other people who might be in a similar situation to know that there’s nothing wrong with questioning your gender identity or sexuality. You’re not alone and it’s just part of growing up – even if it turns out that you’re not sexually- or gender-diverse, it’s completely normal to have periods of your life where you question these things. It’s important to stay connected with those who are close to you and you can trust support you no matter what. When you face these battles alone, that’s when you can start to get lost.
I’ve had a number of mental health challenges whilst growing up; most of them completely unrelated to my sexuality. However, headspace helped me through some of my hardest times and the counsellor I was seeing at my local centre was coincidentally also same-sex attracted. I felt a lot more comfortable knowing that if I ever did want to talk about issues related to my sexuality – which ended up popping up occasionally – then they would understand. headspace made me realise even more that there’s nothing to be ashamed of when talking about my sexuality to the important people in my life. There’s always going to be times when I’ll be nervous to speak on it, but over these past few years I’ve really come to be okay with who I am and share it with others.