I stood stock still in the middle of my parents’ living room and felt dizzy and sick at the question: am I a boy or a girl? What am I?
I was seven. I don’t recall what brought the confusion on, and I don’t know how long it lasted afterwards. Well, I do know that: it lasted until I finally kissed another woman in my early twenties. I’d like to say I was a late starter, but as you can see, I wasn’t.
From a young age, I was a classic tomboy. I wore trousers, shinned up trees, played football with the boys in primary school and bombed around on my bike in the holidays. I didn’t mind getting muddy; I preferred Action Man to Barbie; I was forever building dens and learning survival skills. I even had an alter ego – a detective named John Fraser. That’s right: in my imagination, I was a boy.
In reality, I was a mini lesbian growing up in an evangelical Christian family, surrounded by clever, talented and gorgeous Christian girls. I used to dream about romancing them; kissing them; marrying them. I wanted so much to hold their hands, but instead I settled for writing my best friend adoring letters every week, and long torturous phonecalls where she’d tell me about the boys she fancied. And I would pretend to fancy boys, to fit in. It was a heartbreaking charade.
In those long teenage years, I lived a lie. I pretended to be straight. I allowed my Mum to buy me feminine clothes just to keep her happy, when in reality if I wore skirts and dresses, I felt like I was in drag. I hated my body: I did not want the features of a woman. I was scared of the attention from boys and men that it would inevitably bring. It was painful and sad and lonely, not least because I didn’t know that other people felt the way I did. My church taught me that homosexuality was a sickness that God could heal. If I wanted to, I could pray the gay away.
I didn’t want to. When I was 15, I had an epiphany: my church was sexist. I felt sickened by the fact women had to be subordinate to men, and I knew I could never accept that. I would never marry a man, and I would never be acceptable in the eyes of that sort of church. So why even try? I stopped going. It caused huge fights between my parents and I, and the process of disappointing them didn’t stop there. It took me to the age of 29 before I finally told my Mum that I was in a relationship with another woman.
How could she not have known? It was so obvious that I was a lesbian from an early age! My Mum and Dad’s determined blindness to my true identity was both a blessing and a curse. Yes, I felt very alone and scared and guilty a lot of the time. It would have saved me an awful lot of pain if someone had been a gay role model for me. On the other hand, I am glad they paid so little attention. They didn’t intervene. They didn’t tell me I was wrong, They didn’t try to fix me.
And so I found my own way. It took a long time, and was not the simplest journey, but I got there. I am happily a lesbian now, and still a tomboy. Looking back on the younger me, I wish that someone could have told me that there are lots of ways of being a girl, and that they are all ok. They are all valid. Turns out, boys and girls like tomboys as friends and as girlfriends.
So that is what I am telling you now: be the girl you want to be. It will get easier; be gentle with yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are wrong.English Teacher, 48, Yorkshire