Right away, that was a problem. The narratives I saw and heard were all of people who had known they weren't straight for years, who had known even in childhood. People who came out young or who spent years in hiding, but people who knew.
I didn't know when I was very young. I didn't know because I wasn't really queer from a young age. I'm a woman, and as a child I started getting crushes on boys. In my younger teens I still continued getting crushes on boys, and being attracted only to boys. I think I was about 15 the first time I noticed a girl in a non-platonic way, and I shocked myself by checking out her butt. I was confused and uncomfortable, and dismissed it as some weird misplaced quirk of attraction. Isn't everyone is a little bit bisexual?, I thought. Over the next several years, I dismissed the other occasional strange "quirks," repressed any attraction that didn't fit with straightness, and continued on with my life.
It's only when I was 18 or so, and my social life exploded to include a lot of queer people--actually almost entirely queer people--that I started to really question my sexuality and sexual/romantic identity.
It started out slow, I started expressing that I was attracted to people who weren't men to some queer people I knew I could trust, and started referring to myself as not quite straight. I still felt like I was mostly attracted to men most of the time, so I must be essentially straight, right?
But I kept feeling attraction to women, and non-binary people, and people whose gender I didn't know, but was pretty sure weren't men. This wasn't going away, and in fact, as I started panicking less, and giving myself permission to feel attraction to whomever I was attracted to, I started finding myself noticing women more and more. It became clear that "straight," or even "not quite straight." just didn't cut it.
"I'm queer," I finally said. It was terrifying and a relief, all at once. Terrifying because I still felt deeply and completely that I just wasn't queer enough to be truly queer, that because I'd never dated or done anything sexual with a woman, and still wasn't sure if I ever wanted to, that I was claiming a term that didn't belong to me. I kept waiting with baited breath for the queer police to pop up and tell me I was a horrible person.
Yet that didn't happen. Instead, again and again, people said "are you attracted to people who aren't men?" Well, yes, I responded. "then you're queer." Over and over, by in person friends and online friends and followers on Tumblr, people kept telling me that I was queer enough, that I was enough.
It's recently occurred to me that because straight is such a default, because everyone is expected to be straight, it never has to be questioned and examined. It's assumed and pushed onto people to such an extent that it really just becomes a given, something forced on someone whether they want it or not. Because of this, any other identity then becomes something you have to prove, to both yourself and too often to others. It can feel like you have to be extra, super-duper queer to be REALLY queer, whereas any straight attraction at all is proof of straightness. There's a major double standard that I very deeply internalized, and that I'm still working through now.
When I was growing up, my parents made a token effort to mention sometimes that some men like men, and some women like women, but I still very much felt like my parents assumed I would be straight. None of their friends or close members of their communities were other than straight, so while they had a general there's-nothing-wrong-with-being-gay attitude, it wasn't something that was a really a part of their lives at all, or really something they thought about much, I don't think. I'm also pretty sure they didn't know bisexuality/polysexuality (the sexual and/or romantic attraction to more than one gender) existed. I certainly didn't for much of my life. I think that added to the confusion, since I felt like I have to just pick one gender, and if I was very obviously attracted to men, then that must be it. Anything else was just kind of a strange extra.
Coming out to my parents was more difficult than I thought it would be. My mother, at that point, was pretty well educated on a range of both sexual orientations and gender identities, thanks to spending a lot of time around queer and trans friends of my sister and I. She was slightly surprised, I think, but just basically said "oh, okay!" and that was that. With my father, I didn't know how he'd react at all. I just brought it up casually: "hey papa, I like guys, but I like girls, too." He's a person of few words, but I was left with the general impression that he was perfectly fine with that, and he just quietly started saying "boyfriend or girlfriend" when referring to me.
My grandma, on the other hand, got second-hand information from a distant relative who read a bio somewhere online that mentioned my sexual orientation, and said to me "so, I hear you're half gay!"
While having that sprung on me was slightly unnerving, her reaction was just so grandma that it amused me greatly.
It's only a year or so ago that it actually occurred to me I could, really and truly, date people who weren't boys. I know right? The fact I hadn't really, truly realized that in a deep way shocked me, too. I don't realize how deeply I've internalized so many heteronormative and homohobic messages until I find myself thinking or worrying about something and go wait, where the hell did that come from? or, in this case, how the fuck did I not realize this?
It's an ongoing process to become completely comfortable with my queerness, to believe whole-heartedly that this is okay, that I'm queer enough, and that I can become involved with any gender I want. I still struggle to express actual attraction to specific non-male people, even to the people I'm closest to who are either queer themselves or completely and totally accepting. It's hard. I'm reminded again and again how hard it is.
But it's getting easier. Bit by bit I'm feeling happier expressing myself openly, and talking about cute girls.
My narrative might not be one you see as often, but I'm coming to terms with that, and realizing that just because my experience has been different, that doesn't make it any less valid or real.
I'm here. I'm queer. And for the most part, I'm feeling pretty good about it.