By Lena Sheldon
One of my earliest memories is being absolutely infatuated with Stephanie from LazyTown. It was one of those situations where people would joke, “Do you want to be them or do you want to be with them?” (but I did not realize that until much, much later in my life). As a child, I remember seeing girls and thinking they were cute, but I thought that was how everyone felt, you know? LazyTown played on the TV religiously in my house mostly because I thought Stephanie was cute and seeing her made my six-year-old heart happy.
My mom raised my siblings and I to be accepting of all sorts of people. She adopted seven kids including me, and has always taught us to love people of all different backgrounds and walks of life. I, of course, followed what she said … unless it was in regards to my own life. In middle school, my friends all started coming to terms with their sexualities and I was so happy and proud of them, but the second I started questioning if I liked women or not I would belittle myself until the thought went away––and it went on like this until I went to high school.
In high school, I got into my first relationship with a boy because I thought that is just what you did in high school. He was mentally and emotionally abusive, but the part that sticks out to me the most as I look back is how he would fetishize my sexuality. As a teenager I identified as bisexual and he would always send me links to lesbian porn, or try to get me to hook up with girls in our grade because, “It’s hot!” and, according to him, “It would be good for [you].” At the time, I sort of just took it because he was my boyfriend and I didn’t know what else to do. Despite the fact that I laughed it off, I was still young, impressionable, and internalizing everything. He made me feel like my sexuality was something I had to keep hidden in order to be treated normally. I did not want it to be a spectacle––I just wanted to be me.
After dating my ex and graduating high school, I continued to see boys. I did not have any real relationships that lasted because I was still dealing with the trauma from my abusive relationship, but they were monogamous, heterosexual relationships nonetheless. The boys I had been with were nice and their company was genuinely enjoyable, but it just didn’t feel right. Something was always missing―I’d see girls and think, “What if it had been them instead?” If I am being honest, I think I just liked the idea of being in a relationship and was ready to jump on any opportunity to be in one, even if it did not necessarily make me happy. When I used dating apps between relationships I would have it set so only girls would appear and, if anyone asked, I told them I just wanted to ‘make friends’. Yeah, right. Despite being openly bisexual, I chose to look past my interest in women beyond celebrities because it was not something I was willing to acknowledge.
During my last “relationship” (if I can even call it that) with a man, I became close to a new group of friends; we have since grown apart and do not talk much anymore, but each and everyone of them are incredibly caring, genuinely sweet people. They were all raised Christian, and I started attending Bible study and church with them because I wanted a group to fit into so badly. They were supportive of my uneasiness to throw myself into a religious community and always answered my questions as simply as they could, but I never felt … connected to it. I would sit and try to do my Bible studies in the library, struggling to find the answers to questions like “Describe your ideal husband.” I remember scribbling down the first answer that came to my head: “She’d be a woman.” An immediate wave of shame washed over me and I tore the page from the book and threw it away. At Bible study that week I claimed that my book came damaged, and my friends had no reason to question me. The crisis had been averted for now. The mentality of “praying the gay away” is sickening but, looking back, that’s what I was doing. My friends never once told me that they were not supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, but I felt like if I were to come out and date women they would not want to talk to me anymore. So I hid.
Part of the reason my Christian friends and I grew apart is because I moved away to do the Disney College Program. It’s been a goal of mine since I was five years old and getting the acceptance email was a dream come true. When I moved to Florida, I expected to meet new friends, but what I was not anticipating was meeting a new partner––a girlfriend at that. They were the first openly lesbian person I’d ever met and, they were so comfortable with being their authentic self, I started to think, “Why can’t I?” Of course I was terrified of talking to her and had convinced myself that she hated me when, in reality, it was the exact opposite. It was not until we had been home for a few months that we got close and I admitted my feelings, to which they admitted they felt the same way. We lamented over our poor timing for a while and danced around the subject of starting a long-distance relationship until finally, finally, she’d agreed to date me. We have been going strong ever since. I still have a hard time being open about my sexuality in public, and maybe I always will, but I have learned so many valuable lessons about living and loving as my authentic self in the years since I have started college. The beautiful thing about sexuality is that it is a spectrum, and can be anything you want it to be. There are, of course, people in my life who don’t understand––or do not want to understand––but that is okay. It is not my responsibility to conform to their heteronormative mindset in order to make them comfortable―I’d much rather be me.