By Riley Summers
“My friend says I should date a boy to know for sure if I don’t like them.”
“Am I a lesbian?”
“Everyone around me knows…”
The words that came from this young person were uncertain, even scared.
My opportunity had arrived, but I had to be careful how I worded it. On the Lifeline, we aren’t allowed to tell someone what their identity is — we don’t and will never know them well enough to do so. But it was also a chance to tell this youth that no, they didn’t have to go on a date with a boy to know they didn’t like them, and it was also okay that they didn’t know yet. Even more, it was okay to be a lesbian.
I’ve been a Lifeline Crisis Counselor for a couple of months now, and this was by far the most healing call I’ve had. A few days after the conversation, when my therapist asked me why it was healing, I had come up with my answer. No one ever told me that you don’t have to like boys.
I knew for years that girls could like girls, thanks to my high school best friend’s off-and-on relationship with a girl. Yet, due to a lack of exposure, it never fully crossed my mind that girls could like only girls.
My straight phase is one that many lesbians can relate to – “liking” boys throughout high school, going on a handful of dates with men in college, and imagining myself married to a man in the future, which was admittedly hard to do. This phase was a result of compulsory heterosexuality, also known as comphet. Comphet is the theory that heterosexuality is assumed and enforced upon all in our heteronormative and patriarchal society. Combine it with poor body image and self-esteem, and it’s no wonder I struggled for so long.
It’s funny, because there were many signs of my gayness throughout my childhood: My obsession with Jennette McCurdy in middle school chalked up to, “She’s just really pretty!”
Writing in my diary at 13 about how I thought I was bisexual.
Joining the high school cross team because my friend talked about how hot the boys were while running shirtless, and being extremely disappointed.
The date I went on with a classmate my senior year of high school – somehow, I completely forgot that when I went through a brief period of wondering if I was just straight. The confusing feelings I had for an attractive freshman college professor. Identifying asexual in late high school and early college, because imagining a boy naked was disgusting (and learning from friends it isn’t supposed to be like that), yet not having those same feelings when thinking about a girl. In fact, I was not sure if I liked girls. I had never liked a girl so how could I know for sure?
It took a pretty girl laughing and innocently touching my leg when I studied abroad in Thailand in 2018, to realize I was absolutely not straight.
And it took close to another year after that experience, plus my insistent-but-patient best friend, and a really bad date with a guy, to realize:
Maybe I DID like girls and ONLY girls.
Maybe I didn’t HAVE to like boys. At. All.
Maybe, just maybe, I was a lesbian.
Finally, after ten years of questioning, a string of horrible dates with men, feeling confused and broken, I could point to the label LESBIAN.
Finally, I understood who I was. I began to piece together my childhood, my teenage years, my early college years. After years of nothing making sense, suddenly everything made sense. I had always felt different from others, normally rules never quite applied, and I finally, finally understood why. (For those wondering, yes I absolutely am referencing the chorus of “Into the Unknown” from Frozen 2.)
That summer and fall, my confidence grew in a way I never imagined. I chopped my hair off in August, a rite of passage for many baby gays, and looked at the world in a totally new way. I was a totally new person.
Of course, it hasn’t been totally easy. Dating is something I haven’t quite accomplished. I worry that no one will want to date me at 26 because of my lack of experience, and I grieve the lost years thinking I was into boys while wondering about the what-ifs.
I have also since learned that historically, lesbians have a complicated relationship with gender (a different crisis for me). Lesbianism also inherently includes attraction to non-binary people who are comfortable being included. In fact, many of the lesbians I’ve met are non-binary themselves.
But I am proud to be lesbian. I am proud of myself for making it through my journey, no matter how difficult it was at times. I am proud of myself for finally being able to come out to myself.
I am also, of course, incredibly grateful for the cheerleaders I’ve had by my side as I went through my journey, especially my best friend who knew from the start and never left my side as I questioned and fretted and wondered before finally putting the puzzle pieces together for good.
So, to this youth questioning their identity and every youth alongside them: You don’t have to date men to know you’re lesbian.
And even more importantly, it is okay to be lesbian.
A Fellow Short-Haired, Flannel-Loving, Button-Down-Wearing Lesbian
Riley Summers (she/they) has been a writer for as long as she can remember. In fourth grade she started her first book, Fourth Grade Disaster. Since then, Riley has started numerous novels (including completing her first in eleventh grade), written countless stories and poems, and is working on a new novel. In addition to writing, Riley enjoys running, lifting weights, drawing, cuddling with their cats, and talking on the phone with their best friend.