I came out in a Facebook post on June 28, 2017, which was funny because June is Pride Month, but also made sense because June is Pride Month.
You might think that coming out makes life a little easier over time. I figured I’d no longer feel the need to hide at least the gay, or, more specifically, “not straight”—as I stated it—part of myself. But I came out right into another kind of closet, one that I never thought I was in in the first place.
Coming out made things harder. It wasn't because my mother first reacted by calling me a “disappointment” among other things, while my father quoted lines from the Bible (even though we never actually went to church or read the Bible growing up). People congratulated me for expressing myself, which felt good in the moment, and I was extremely grateful for some people I’d gone to high school with coming to my defense in the comments of my post. But after not getting the attention and support I desperately craved from the people closest to me in the days following my post, I started to rethink this whole gay thing.
I came to college with the plan to reinvent myself, in a sense. Gone would be the shy and quiet girl of the past 17 years. I would start fresh, as a regular person who could engage in small talk and strike up conversations with strangers. I knew that my only options were to do this or have no friends, because I was coming from Augusta, Georgia, and I wouldn’t know anyone in Philly.
“…you see, I have anxiety. More of the social variety…”
I did just that, I think. I made friends. During the first few weeks here, a group of us were hanging out late one night, but I got tired and went to bed earlier than everyone else. Little did I know that I would wake up to find out that one of our friends had come out during a game of truth or dare, and I hadn’t been there to let everyone know that I too was gay. So, I took it upon myself to create an intimate story time, during which I took forever (one of our friends fell asleep) to tell everyone—which at this point was only the four people still awake—the story of how I wrecked my father’s green 1993 Pontiac Bonneville. The gay part of the story was me trying to impress a girl I loved, but I don’t think I ever impressed her.
“…but will whoever comes across these words after me understand the way I felt when the girl walked into the room dressed in that red sweater…”
I’m sure the story was poorly told, as I struggled through many a long pause and felt my rapid heartbeat in response to the thought of anyone knowing the feelings I had and rejecting that part of me, but it was something I knew I needed to do if I really wanted these people to be my friends. I’d done the same thing over a phone call with my best friend in high school and she’d loved me just the same, so I went for it again. Considering there’d been a coming out the night before, I didn’t have much of a fear of rejection because of my sexuality, but I’ve simply always been afraid of sharing parts of me because no one ever seems to stay for long.
This whole “coming out” session with my freshmen friends happened before the Facebook coming out, and in between the two there was at least one more coming out, or maybe a few. But those were more “I think I have a crush on this person and it’s affecting my concentration because I don’t know if I actually have a crush, or if I’m just becoming insecurely attached to them because I don’t know how friendship works.” This, unfortunately, happened several times.
Often, I catch myself wondering if I simply long for an unconventional life. I’ve always wanted to be different, to fight against the system (or maybe more so against my parents), and against what is expected of me. Life seems to teach you that it’s not okay to be different, but at the same time, people who defy expectations and who act differently than others are the most successful and memorable. When I’m sitting and reflecting on my actions, I wonder if I am attracted to women because I was taught not to be—“you like boys right?”— or if I only think that I’m attracted to men because it’s what society expects of me.
“He has a girlfriend, but where there’s a will there’s a way. But I’m not sure I know the way and on top of that I’m gay, so is this real? How I feel? Or did society imply that it needed to be at a certain age and now I crave to be un-different and he’s the best man I know…”
I expected the whole coming out thing to make life easier for me. I thought I would no longer have to deal with arguments about gay characters in children’s shows between my father and sister, or sly homophobic comments made by friends or family around me, even if they didn’t mean any harm. I thought people close to me would be more conscious of it all. “Hey, LaKeisha’s gay, and she’s pretty cool. Maybe gay people are like us.” I don’t know why I expected that, really. But I didn’t expect that when I fangirled to my friend about Normani from Dancing with the Stars, telling her how I think the singer and dancer is doing well with her career, it would mean that I automatically “have a crush"—which my friend freely tells another friend as we sit at the movie theatre about to watch Crazy Rich Asians.
“I live with a constant worry that I could have said something better, could have done something differently…”
So I decided maybe it’s not okay to talk about women in any way, shape, or form, because someone might think I’m into these women, and I don’t want anyone to think I’m gay—even though I came out to the internet (and, by extension, to the world) almost two years ago. But this made me wonder to myself, why am I suddenly developing this internalized homophobia? Has it always been there?
I can’t seem to call myself bisexual. The label doesn’t feel right. I won’t call myself a lesbian. It feels spiteful on my tongue. I really hate labels. In a pinch, I’d go for gay, a safe umbrella word that even sounds okay. But I think fluid really fits best. I like to call myself water.
“A Gay Woman. A Black Woman. And Love is Fluid. And Life is Fluid.”
LaKeisha Henley is a junior from Augusta, Georgia studying criminology in the College of Arts and Sciences.