When I was about eight or nine, I asked my mum what “gay” meant. She said, awkwardly, “it’s when a man loves another man.” At eight or nine, I already knew that I was different. That’s an experience common to many LGBT people. I didn’t know how to put it into words, couldn’t have put my finger on it even had it been within arm’s reach. But I knew. I don’t think I’m looking at the past and reading back into it what I want to see- I think it’s a memory, rather than hindsight.
I don’t quite remember, but I think it’s possible I knew before my mum told me what “gay” was, and just wanted to see if she’d tell me. This was around the time that Tony and Simon were a couple in Eastenders, and watching those episodes made me wonder about myself. What about me was similar to them? What was it that I was seeing, that was making me feel less alone? At the time, I wanted to be a boy. I knew people could have “sex changes”, though I knew nothing about the mechanics of it, and I wanted to have one “when I grew up.” This confused me even more- if I was “gay”, did that not mean I shouldn’t like girls? Around that time, I developed a crush on a boy at school, one of the only boy-crushes I have ever had. Looking back I’m not sure it was a crush- I wanted to be his friend, and I wanted to be just like him, and the only way I could express that to a friend was by saying that I fancied him. This offered me further proof that I was definitely gay.
One of my friends called me a “poof”. She said it in a friendly, curious way: “are you a girl now? Or are you still a poof?” That makes me laugh when I think about it. I think I said “no, I’m still a poof.” I don’t think I minded that at all.
Later, I learned what “lesbian” meant. I had a word that described a feeling I still couldn’t quite describe. I learned what “bisexual” meant, and tried to convince myself I was that, because it seemed less offensive somehow, more acceptable. Gradually I came to understand that the label I fit best under was “lesbian.” A lot of people hate labels. I don’t. I realise that some people fit outside labels, or need new ones tailor-made, but for me, being able to put a name to my feelings was one of the most helpful things in accepting them, coming to understand myself, and being able to express to other people what I knew within myself to be true.