An incomplete journey of identity and self-acceptance

Jessica Wong

TW: Homophobia; internalized homophobia When I was 12 years old, my mother told me to unbutton my collar because I looked like a lesbian. She assured me only a moment later, after I had undone two of the buttons, that it wasn’t bad to be a lesbian — I just […]

TW: Homophobia; internalized homophobia

When I was 12 years old, my mother told me to unbutton my collar because I looked like a lesbian. She assured me only a moment later, after I had undone two of the buttons, that it wasn’t bad to be a lesbian — I just shouldn’t misrepresent who I was. Years later, she would call me a “d*ke,” but I would laugh it off and pretend it didn’t haunt me all the way into adulthood.

When I was 16 years old, my grandmother asked my mother if I was a lesbian because I had never had a long-term relationship with a boy. My mother assured her I was no such thing; I was just focusing on my grades. I didn’t have time for a relationship – I was trying to get into a good college, and that required most of my attention. 

Growing up, words like “gay” and “lesbian” were never intrinsically linked with being “sinful” or “amoral” despite my Christian upbringing and eight-year attendance to a Christian school. But those words were treated as something you shouldn’t say, something you should never assume about someone. They were treated as the ultimate marring of character, but never a sin. That is to say, I was never told I was going to Hell nor that I would be disowned, but it was still thought of as an unfortunate affliction. It was still something to feel shame over, not take pride in.

I truly believed that I hadn’t grown up in a homophobic environment because I knew my family wouldn’t kick me out for being different — and don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly privileged in that way. I am incredibly privileged to know that my parents would still accept me no matter who I loved. But, that being said, I’ve still spent the last several years of my life trying to come to terms with who I am and trying to unlearn the harmful words that my family used around me during my adolescence.

I was 15 years old when I first started questioning my sexuality. My best friend of 10 years had just come out, and he’d explained to me some of the experiences he’d had. I found myself relating more than I thought I would. The way he described his feelings towards girls was exactly the same feeling I’d had toward boys my whole life: this utter lack of desire to have any sort of romantic or sexual relationship with them. But I had also convinced myself that I felt the same way towards women. I hadn’t even thought about the possibility of being attracted to women — I also don’t remember seeing a wlw (woman-loving-woman) couple on television, in the books I was reading or in my real life until late into my teenage years. And any same-sex relationship I had seen was treated as something different. Something other. Something I knew I needed to avoid for myself. 

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