I was 15 and lying on living room sofas. 5 foot 3 and a bottle of vodka down, I was lost in my own inhibitions. A different weekend, a different boy to make out with. But something didn’t feel right. So each weekend I would find a different boy in the hope that the feeling would go. But it didn’t. Something was always missing: I assumed that I just hadn’t yet met ‘the one’. I couldn’t determine whether it was me, or the Hollywood expectations of romance that was the issue.
But I continued to get drunk, and I continued to be found crying black mascara tears in the bathtub as this feeling of estrangement took over. I felt isolated from everyone else around me who seemed to find this so easy. How do you find this so easy? I would be screaming inside.
It took me a long time to admit to myself the acronym ‘LGBTQ’. I remember looking on Wikianswers, aged 11, at answers to “do I like girls?” I buried the question and ignored the signs. I internalised the blame for not being able to reciprocate feelings to boys that showed me interest. I felt like I was the issue, and that my feelings and sexuality was a contamination I was allergic to; it was something I had to fight, and I wanted to be free of these feelings and just fit the norm.
Almost six years on from those parties in dark lit suburbia, and how far have I come?
Last year, I was in my first relationship with a girl. Soon after first getting together, I began suffering from anxiety and depression. The longer I stayed in the relationship, the worse I became. I was having multiple anxiety attacks a day. I would get home from university, and would instantly get into bed. Depression would sneak its creeping fingers around me and pull me into its clutches of mindless oblivion. I had meal deals for lunch and dinner for up to six days in a row because I couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed and make food. I would have them lined up on my desk next to my bed, always within arm’s reach.
At the time, I didn’t see the connection between my relationship and my anxiety. It’s only now, a year on from the events, that I can see the connection between the two.
Growing up queer in a heterosexual world means that your very being becomes political. In a world that is telling you to be straight, is an act of transgression. When you grow up without a single LGBTQ role model, not knowing that gay people existed until you were 11 years old, being surrounded by images of heterosexuality everywhere you go, your sexuality is something you have to discover, and have to actively choose to accept. Something that I have heard multiple queer women discuss is how they came to terms with the fact they were gay not by accepting their feelings, but by getting with guys, and the uncomfortableness, and the trauma this caused. Indeed, sometimes you don’t have the strength, or the ability, to transgress.
After being shag-free for months, my (heterosexual) housemates have been on a tinder hype. I join them as they sit swiping over candles and garlic-infused camembert in our lounge. We’re laughing. We’re happy.
But then comes the dreaded question: “why don’t you get tinder?”. I am paralysed. How am I meant to say no? How am I meant to explain that tinder represents every fear I have in a single app? The fear of relationships, the fear of sex, the fear of opening myself up, the fear of being honest. “It’s just not for me”, I say instead, shying away.
Being straight passing, first and foremost, has allowed me to stay firmly rooted within this heterosexual performance. Why bother taking the plunge and overcoming your struggles, when you can pretend that they don’t exist and live the life of someone else? I have the act of performance nailed down like the best of them. I am Audrey Hepburn as she exudes care-free existential superiority in her black turtleneck. I am Summer Finn as I say, ‘I don’t believe in romance’. I am that existentialist with wire framed glasses who thinks it’s all over-rated. People believe it; they think that my apathy towards relationships is a choice. They don’t realise it’s all a carefully crafted performance to hide the burning anxiety the idea of ‘relationships’ causes me inside. Six years on, and from time to time, I still find myself back in those dark-lit bathrooms, complete with the mascara tears. I’m running: and I don’t know why.
While my mental health is currently in a stable position, I know that this is conditional; I am walking bare-footed around shards of glass. If I am ever placed in a position where I am confronted with my sexuality, I find myself running again. I run, and I spiral. It is only when your sexuality diverts the norm, that you realise quite how central it is to our lives.
I never got my teenage whirl-wind romance. I never got the all-consuming first crush; butterflies in my stomach as I made out with someone up against a wall. All I got was guilt. But one day I’ll find someone else in a black turtle neck, who also claims that romance is overrated. I’ll know what they mean. I’ll know the signs.
Art by Ella Morris