Coming out is hard. Coming out as a lesbian after identifying as bisexual for six years is a complex, isolating experience.
Being gay and a woman poses unique challenges. But in my experience, declaring myself as wholly not attracted to men created more problems than I could have anticipated.
A gay girl in a straight world
This is not to say that bisexual women don’t face equally valid challenges, but some of the challenges we face are just different.
For example, one of the worst parts of the transition from a bisexual to a lesbian identity was discovering that many of my friendships with straight men were not real.
Once I came out, many of these men left my life, no matter how hard I tried to keep in touch. It turned out these friendships, which I saw as genuine and platonic, were based on the false assumption that they would eventually become sexual relationships. Being a lesbian ultimately denied them that fantasy.
I met one friend in my creative writing class during my first term at university. For over two years, we met for a drink about every other week to vent about our lecturers and let off steam.
When I came out, he admitted to me that he’d always hoped something would happen between us. After that, he never spoke to me again.
Digital Pride is the only global Pride dedicated to enabling everyone to be part of a Pride, whoever they are and wherever they live in the world. This year, we are focusing on tackling loneliness and isolation. It takes place on Gay Star News from 29 April to 5 May 2019. Find out more.
It’s an awful thing, realizing your friendships were never real and your friends never valued you the way you valued them. In retrospect, I understand that I was better off knowing their motives than not knowing. But at the time, I felt alone.
Rebuilding my self-esteem was a journey. In many ways I viewed myself in the same way they viewed me: as an object of male desire.
As much as I didn’t want to admit it, after I came out I still intensely wanted straight men to think I was beautiful. I think for many years I mistook this desire to be desired for genuine attraction.
In a world where this two-dimensional view of women is literally everywhere – in advertising, movies, TV, and on and on – I think women of all sexualities find themselves internalizing these views at some point.
Genuine and reciprocal friendships
The process of altering where I saw my value and where I sought validation from was exhausting. I learned to be more open with my friends and colleagues about when I feel insecure and need support.
Ultimately, the experience created space for more friendships that were genuine, reciprocal and unconditional.
For years, most of my closest friendships have been with gay men, but especially since coming out as a lesbian. I have experienced years of straight women accusing me of being uncontrollably attracted to them and straight men thinking they can ‘turn’ me.
By comparison, friendships with gay men are easy. There’s no assumption that any part of my existence is in some way ‘for’ them. They are based on the radical notion that we actually like each other.
Growing up in a conservative area and going to an equally conservative university, I didn’t have close queer female friends for a long time.
Most of my queer female friends now I connected with through friends, and friends of friends. Looking back, I think this is a common way for LGBTI people to find their communities.
Rebuilding a community
Even after my journey of rediscovery, I still felt isolated.
Coming out requires arduous work on your internal sense of self, but I had neglected working on the external: the environments I lived in and the people I surrounded myself with.
I accepted who I was, but enduring a homophobic workplace and a violent relationship eroded away at my self-esteem. It made me realize that self-acceptance is not enough: you need to surround yourself with people that love and value you as well.
So I left. I found a new workplace that valued me as a person, as well as an employee. I left the girlfriend that didn’t.
Outside of work, I also discovered a sense of belonging and acceptance in new social circles and hobbies. My LGBTI friends invited me into the spaces where they were free to be themselves, so that I could be too.
Through all of this, what I discovered was simple and seems obvious. You only find true friends by being your true self. This is how you build a community around you that appreciates you for who you are. You just need to find the courage to be yourself.
The opposite of isolation is community. For those of us who have reached this promised land, we need to open our spaces up for LGBTI people who still feel isolated. If you haven’t found your community yet, ‘it gets better’ is a cliché. But it actually does.
Follow Matilda Davies on Twitter at @mattmodavies
What is Digital Pride?
Digital Pride is the online movement, by Gay Star News, so you can take part in Pride whoever and wherever you are. Even if you are from a country where being LGBTI is criminalized or leaves you in danger – it’s a Pride festival you can be a part of.
In 2019, Digital Pride is tackling loneliness and isolation with articles and videos connecting LGBTI people. Join us by reaching out to someone who needs it. The festival takes place on Gay Star News from 29 April to 5 May 2019. Find out more.