I’m gay, but when I look for ways to describe myself to my peers, my sexuality is never the first thing I come up with. Because I’d much rather be defined by my personality or interests than my sexual orientation, I often try to underemphasize what my sexuality means to me within the larger community. However, on the inside, my sexuality means so much more than I’d ever let on.
When I was first struggling with my identity, I started to realize that I had strange pockets of internalized homophobia within myself that I never expected to have. Despite my being fortunate enough to live in a time and place where my identity is accepted by most people I interact with on a day-to-day basis, I’d continue to find myself feeling shameful or guilty for who I was and trying to deny my identity. What made accepting myself even harder was that I felt guilty for feeling guilty. I thought I was magnifying my struggle and shouldn’t be having such a hard time, since all the straight people I knew had no trouble accepting me. It’s hard to navigate one’s own minority identity within a wider community where few have really been through the same experiences and struggles as you have.
This is why it’s important to me to take part in the LGBTQ community. To know that I’m heard and supported by people who’ve had similar experiences as I, and undoubtedly understand my struggle makes me so much more comfortable with myself than the mainly-heterosexual communities I’m a part of ever have. Among other queer-identifying individuals, I don’t have to explain why I feel the way I do and care about the things I care about because, despite our other differences, we all share the experiences that come along with our queer-ness. So many of the artists, writers, musicians, and actors I admire are queer, and it’s not just because I like to see my identity represented in mainstream culture; it’s because among all their work, there are emotions and ideas I recognize now as being instilled in me because of my sexual orientation and can so wholly relate to because of it.
Finding a community where I know I’m allowed to be myself and be understood has been crucial in turning me into who I am today. Without access to other LGBTQ-identifying individuals, I wouldn’t be so comfortable with my identity and wouldn’t be able to understand what my sexuality means to me. Everyone has something that sets them apart from their family and their friends. To take part in a community of others who share that same difference with you is an incredibly valuable experience.