story & photos by Emily Campbell
One of my clearest memories from kindergarten was when kids were gathered around talking about their imaginary friends. At the time I didn’t have one, but I wanted to fit in and I felt like I was missing out on an important part of childhood by not having one, so I created Sarah on the spot. I continued to have an imaginary friend for years, but it always seemed forced. Looking back I wonder if I only had an imaginary friend because I thought I was supposed to. I don’t regret it, I was just a little kid playing, but now I think it’s a great example to explain why I thought I was straight for so long.
I was raised in a very heteronormative environment. I didn’t even know homosexuality existed until I was older. Everything in media followed the same boy meets girl formula for happiness. I didn’t realize that having female friends that I absolutely worshipped and would do anything to make them like me were typical schoolyard crushes. At the same time when everyone was constantly talking about crushes on boys I joined in. I was very methodical in choosing these heteronormative crushes. I would mentally list the pros and cons of the boys in my classes and decide who would fill the position best. When I bring this up to people now they find it hilarious, but at the time I assumed it was normal.
It wasn’t until middle school when I started to realize I wasn’t straight. I had been told what to expect from puberty from my parents, books, and school and was ready to start feeling new feelings for boys. I was not prepared to find myself instead drawn to my female classmates. I remember sitting in class and looking over to see a girl doodling flowers in the margins in her notes and feeling this strange warm feeling in my chest. I don’t know if I would say she was my first real crush since I was so scared I didn’t allow myself to crush on her. I avoided her like the plague. I was so deep in denial I wouldn’t let myself think about why I was avoiding her.
Still, I found myself increasingly attracted to women. At some point denial just wasn’t working. It’s hard to put into words how scared I was. I knew the world was harder for gay people. Everything in the media had taught me that the way to be happy was to find my Prince Charming and start a family with him. I didn’t know if I could ever have a happy family or even be happy at all. I had a moment when I wondered, “If I will never be happy what’s even the point in living?” When I think back at those thoughts, it scares me how easily it could have been for my path to have gotten much darker.
It’s why I often say if it weren’t for queer representation I don’t know if I would still be here today. I watched queer YouTubers talking about their life and being happy, watched movies and TV that showed happy gay couples, and connected with the LGBTQ+ community online. People try and say that being gay is a choice, but I can assure everyone it wasn’t for me. I never would have chosen to be gay, which is why it’s a good thing that I didn’t get to choose.
Now I am so thankful to be gay. Pretty much all of my friends have been made through the community, I love being involved in UofM’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance, and this year I’m even serving on the board as the Education and Development Coordinator. I’ve become involved with LGBTQ+ activism and I have an amazing girlfriend and supportive family. At times being a lesbian is hard, but now instead of thinking of my sexual orientation as being the problem I realize it’s that society still has a lot to learn. I hope I can help teach them.