Recently, my dad gave me an odd compliment: he told me that I had interests outside of being gay, and that he had bragged to other people about this.


I wasn’t sure what he meant at first. But he explained that, when I was a teenager, “everything had to be rainbow” and all I ever seemed to think or talk about was being gay. And now, that’s not the case.

He’s not wrong. I don’t solely talk about being gay, and yes, I realize the irony of saying that on, but hear me out. I used to be WAY louder about it.

I was a teenager during the 2010s and I was highly active on Tumblr during… well, pretty much all of the 2010s. If you’ve ever wondered what’s wrong with me, that’s it. I did honestly spend a good chunk of my days thinking about being gay. I mean, who didn’t?

There was my obsession with pirating lesbian movies. I would watch anything I could find that had the word “lesbian” somewhere in the description. At one point, I watched Lost and Delirious, having barely skimmed the description and thinking it was a comedy. About two-thirds of the way through, I got really confused as to how they were going to bounce back from… well, if you know, you know.

The poster for Lost and Delirious (2001). Three teenage girls are on a bed. The text says "Friends, Roomates, Lovers." Starring Piper Perabo, Jessica Pare and Mischa Barton.
A poster for Lost and Delirious (2001)

It wasn’t just the media I was taking in, though. It was what I was putting out. My pride was loud, indignant, and excessive. At my all-girls Catholic school in Louisiana, I would talk about gay rights at any chance I was given. Even if I wasn’t given a chance, I made one. I would shoehorn LGBT issues into every school subject possible. This was back in the day when we had final presentations on controversial social issues like abortion, euthanasia, and homosexuality. Guess which one I picked.

I even spearheaded an attempt to create a vague Gay-Straight Alliance of sorts, revitalizing a proposal for a previously-shuttered “diversity club” that had ceased to exist after my first year of school. It was rejected by the administration, who said even if they did bring the club back, we could not “discuss sensitive topics such as homosexuality.” But I was proud of the attempt.

At school, I was big on being very, very visibly gay. I made myself a little rainbow flag out of an index card that I took great care to display openly on my school ID at all times. But at home, I avoided the topic. My previous attempts to bring my sexuality up had not gone well. I’ve genuinely blacked out most of it. I only tried to tell my mom, who rejected the idea so soundly that I never brought it up with my dad. He, of course, still knew, since they talk about everything.

So what happened? What changed? Why am I content as a straight-passing lesbian in my mid-20s when my teenage self would have been absolutely offended by the thought? I’ve considered it for a while and come up with a few reasons.

The word GAY in all caps written in chalk on concrete.
A rather inspired piece of chalk graffiti I made in high school.

Firstly, it didn’t feel like people would respect my sexuality unless I defended it. It felt like it was up for debate. When I was a teenager, gay marriage was still illegal (at least where I lived). The only lesbians on TV were the straightest women you’ve ever seen, and even they were seemingly being hunted for sport by the writers of their shows. While the supposedly lesbian Irene Adler was flirting with Sherlock on the BBC, I was getting called homophobic slurs at school. Title VII didn’t include sexual orientation, so you could easily and legally be fired for being gay in the early 2010s here in the Bible Belt.

Now I live in a bigger city — still a conservative, Southern city, but bigger. It’s 2023 not 2013, so while some people may be homophobic toward me, I can at least tell them off for it these days. Things are easier for me now (though I recognize that’s not the case for everyone).

The main time that I feel like I still have to speak up to avoid being trampled on is when I think about my fiancée’s work. She’s a middle school teacher, and while she can no longer be legally fired for being gay, she’s still placed in a more precarious position than her straight coworkers. Parents can be distrustful of her just because she’s a woman with a short haircut and a men’s polo.

Speaking of the love of my life, I also used to be very out and proud because I was trying to get a girlfriend. I needed every girl to know I was gay, in case any of them were also gay and single. Now I have the coolest fiancée in the world, so I no longer need to broadcast my lesbianism.

Flying under the radar has been an interesting experience – for the first time since I was about 13 years old, some people are actually surprised when they realize I’m a lesbian. It used to be that a person could look at me and know pretty instantly. I was one of about two girls in a class of 250 with a short haircut. Now, I can lie to strangers and tell them I have a husband if I’m so inclined. I don’t, because it hurts my future wife’s feelings. But my knee-jerk reaction to do so does bring into question how safe I actually feel, even now. Sometimes I don’t feel like dealing with the potential fallout of strangers realizing that I’m engaged to a woman. Probably nothing bad would happen, but the risk-to-reward ratio doesn’t make it seem worth it to constantly come out.

Another reason I talked more about being gay as a teenager was that I didn’t realize I was just a lesbian at the time. I went through a whole cycle – first as a lesbian at 12, then gynosexual transgender man around 15, polysexual nonbinary around 17, nonbinary lesbian around 19, and eventually, just… lesbian. Sometimes I laugh when I realize I was right the first time, and that it took about a decade to realize that.

Because I was so preoccupied with finding more and more specific labels for my sexuality and gender, I overestimated how many other people felt the same way. I was big on bringing awareness, as if I needed to sound the trumpets for everyone to explore the hundreds of possible combinations of self-identification. I sincerely believed that a good 90% of the population was some form of LGBTQ and just didn’t know it yet. I was proud to explain to people what combination of new words they’d never heard of, that I identified as.

I don’t feel the need to do that these days. I don’t really need to explain myself – most people get what a lesbian is. I’m a woman and I love women. And I’m happy to let people have their own journey, on their own time. I no longer have the youthful arrogance that made me feel like some sort of prophet of queerness.

Looking over how far I’ve come, I think I’ve gained a bit of empathy for the cringey kid who never shut up about “everything rainbow”. Some of it was arrogance, sure, but a lot of it was fear. My teenage self now seems like a small, cornered animal, trying to look as intimidating as possible. I’m not even sure any more how much of the danger was present and real, but it felt real at the time.

I’d like to say that I’m not afraid anymore, but I’m not sure if that’s entirely true.

When my dad says it’s great that I now have interests outside of being gay, I want to take the compliment, but maybe my obnoxious teenage self had a point.