The Girl Who Came Out

by Breeann Campbell

      “I’m not ashamed. ‘Never be ashamed’...” - Hagrid

            I’ve been different since day one.

            I was born at twenty-six weeks premature and developed a brain bleed after having to be put on one hundred percent oxygen, which then led to me being diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, a condition that affects body movements and muscle coordination. Growing up, I always felt like an outsider around my peers because I had to use a wheelchair, a walker, and later crutches to get around, so it was impossible to blend in and be like everyone else. On top of that I was quiet, shy and found it hard to make friends my own age, so I gravitated towards reading and writing as a way to escape my everyday life.

            One day when I was eleven-years-old and browsing the aisles of my elementary school library, I noticed a book with a boy on the cover who was clinging to a broomstick for dear life as it flew through the air at breakneck speed. The boy had messy black hair, green eyes, and a scar shaped like a lightning bolt on his forehead; and his name was Harry Potter. Little did I know when I picked up that copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone that fateful day that my life would change forever.

            From the very first page I fell head-over-heels and over the next six years, I fully immersed myself in the Harry Potter universe, growing up right alongside Harry, Ron, and Hermione as they went on adventures, battled the forces of evil, and navigated the perilous waters of friendship and raging hormones-all while trying to save the world. With each new book release, I was filled with joy at the chance to escape the humdrum reality of the muggle world and be transported to the magical and mysterious Wizarding World once again.

           When I wasn’t getting lost inside the pages of a book, I was busy writing my own stories and daydreaming about my latest (unrequited) crush. I’ve always been boy crazy, but I knew I was different in more ways than one when, in elementary school, I suddenly had the thought, “I wish I was a boy” not because I felt like I had been born the wrong gender, but because then it would be “acceptable” to think other girls were pretty. At the time I didn’t understand exactly what I was feeling, all I knew was what society had been telling me all my life: Being anything other than straight is weird or wrong.

            As the years passed and my crushes on boys intensified, I was relieved because this made it easier to bury my confusing and terrifying feelings towards girls. Once high school rolled around though, those feelings resurfaced when I met a college girl with exotic features and a dancer’s body. She was beautiful, talented, and kind; whenever I saw her I would get excited and nervous and I felt so special when she would pay attention to me. Looking back on it now, I realize that I was in deep denial about the fact that I didn’t just admire her and want to be her friend...I was also attracted to her.

            Around the same time when I was a sophomore in high school, I developed an almost immediate and intense crush on a popular, athletic, junior boy; the can’t-eat-can’t-sleep kind of crush, the kind that consumed my life for the next three years to the point that I thought I was in love with him...even though it was painfully obvious that he wasn’t interested in me at all.

            Somewhere in the middle of all those raging hormones though, I also developed a crush on another girl; a fellow classmate who I’d known since Kindergarten. She was a talented actress who I genuinely enjoyed spending time with and she gave the best hugs; she also exuded a confidence and joy that was infectious and I loved being around her everyday.

              I tried so hard to ignore my budding feelings for her and for a while I succeeded-until the day I broke down in the shower and told my Mom through tears, “I think I’m gay!”

          I can’t remember exactly what she said in response, but I think it was something along the lines of, “no you’re not, it’s just a phase” and she sounded just as worried as I was.

            We didn’t talk about it again after that until one day when my Mom was helping me with my Health homework and the topic of sexuality came up. She asked me, “have you ever had any doubts?”

            I immediately became increasingly nervous and uncomfortable, and I couldn’t bring myself to look her in the eye as I mumbled, “it’s complicated…” and that was that.

            Similarly, whenever the question of sexuality would come up on medical forms, I felt anxious and conflicted as I checked the box marked “straight” because on one hand, checking that box meant I could continue being “normal” in at least one way like I so desperately wanted, but on the other hand, I also felt like I was lying to myself and everyone else.

            By the time I graduated high school in 2007 and then began attending college the following year, I was much happier with lots of friends, but I was also struggling with anxiety and depression, made worse by the fact that I was feeling incredibly homesick living on my own for the first time in the dorms, ready to crack from the intense stress of classes, and still wrestling with my attractions to women.

             I knew by that point that I wasn’t straight (even though I refused to admit it to myself) but I wasn’t gay either, so then...what was I exactly? I don’t remember when or where I first came across the word bisexual, but the moment I did it was a revelation.

            What it means to be bisexual differs from person-to-person, but I connect most to this quote by Robyn Ochs from the Bisexual Resource Center: “I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge in myself the potential to be attracted, romantically and/or sexually, to people of more than one sex, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”

            Once I was able to finally put a name to the complicated mix of emotions I’d been feeling for most of my life, I felt immensely comforted but I also still felt the crushing weight of shame, guilt, and fear (fear of ridicule, of rejection, of myself), whenever I let myself acknowledge my attractions to women. For years, whenever thoughts as small as, “she’s pretty” would cross my mind, my stomach would immediately twist into knots and I would mentally chastise myself, “no, stop! You can’t think that way!” and so the vicious cycle of suppression and denial would continue.

        At some point my secret became too much to bear on my own, so one night while talking to one of my best friends over Instant Messenger, I finally spilled my guts to her, shaking and sweating the entire time, terrified of what her response would be. What I wasn’t prepared for however, was this: “It’s okay! I’m bi, too.”

            I was definitely surprised, but just knowing that there was someone else out there who not only accepted me but who also identified the same way I did was incredible.

            Now that I knew I wasn’t alone in my newfound identity, I wanted to find more people like me, so I turned to the internet where I read dozens of articles and watched just as many YouTube videos of people who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or somewhere else on the spectrum (also known as LGBTQ+). The coming out videos were my favorite because each person approached their story in a different way; some with fear, some with shame, and some with unbridled joy. The thing that all the videos seemed to have in common though, was that by the end each person seemed happier, lighter, freeer, like the weight of the world had finally been lifted off their shoulders.

            I also began reading books and watching movies and T.V. shows with LGBTQ+ characters. The ones that have stuck with me the most are: Ash by Malinda Lo (a lesbian retelling of Cinderella), The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (a bisexual lord falls in love with his best friend and doesn’t give a flying fuck what anyone thinks), and the movie Love, Simon (“Simon Spier keeps a huge secret from his family, his friends and all of his classmates: he's gay. When that secret is threatened, Simon must face everyone and come to terms with his identity.”)  I relate so much to all of these because I see myself in each of the characters and the intense emotions they feel are the same ones I’ve felt. The best thing these books and movie had in common was that despite the hardships each character faced on their journey to self-acceptance, in the end they all got their happily ever after, showing me that it was possible to be different and still find happiness.

            The more I learned about other people’s experiences within the LGBTQ+ community and saw what my life could look like out of the closet, the more I wanted to come out to my family, but I was still paralyzed with fear at what might happen once I did, so...I waited. Until one day when my secret became too much to bear once again and I broke down and told my younger sisters. To my immense relief, they both accepted me wholeheartedly, taking me totally by surprise when they said, “we kinda suspected.”

        Later I came out to my cousin, who also accepted me without question and said, “being straight is boring anyway.”

            A few years after that, I discovered The Potterotica Podcast (now known as Fangasm), a comedy podcast where the hosts read Harry Potter fan fiction. The Facebook group connected to the podcast was so fun, loving, and supportive, that no one batted an eye when I came out and I met even more bisexual people. I received a further push of encouragement when a friend and fellow member of the group proposed a challenge to be true to ourselves in honor of Pride Month 2018 and that’s when I knew: It’s time.

            Now that I had a strong support system (both online and off), I finally felt ready, at twenty-nine-years-old, to come out to my parents, the two people I’d been most afraid to tell (and thought that I never would). On June 17, 2018, I went to my parents’ house for dinner and was a ball of nervous energy the whole night. For some liquid courage, I drank a can of Mike’s Harder Strawberry Lemonade and after dinner I sat on the couch next to my Dad while my Mom looked on from the kitchen and started to say just above a whisper, “so June is Pride Month, when LGBTQ+ people learn to be proud of who they are…” but I was so scared that I couldn’t get the rest of the words out and left shortly after.

            I began to  cry as I drove home on my scooter, furious with myself that I hadn’t been brave enough to speak my truth. By the time I got to my apartment I was openly sobbing and finally just said, “fuck it” and took out my cellphone to send my parents the following group text at 11:13 PM, shaking and sweating the entire time: “Hi Mom and Dad, in case you don’t know, June is also known as Pride Month, when people who identify as LGBTQ+ take time to celebrate and be proud of their identity. I know that this might seem sudden and out of the blue (I wanted to talk to you tonight in person but I was too scared and knew that if I started talking I would probably start crying) but I’ve had a lot on my mind lately and I want to share it with you now. You’ve always said how I can talk to you about anything and because it’s Pride Month, I want to take the opportunity to be completely open and honest with you now and say that I identify as bisexual (which means that I have the capacity to be attracted to both men and women). I know this might come as a shock to you and I understand if you need time and space to process this information. I want you to know that this doesn’t change anything about me and that I’m still the same person I always was. The only difference now is that I’m learning to be more honest and to embrace a part of myself that I’ve been hiding and ashamed of for way too long. I love you guys so much and I’m here whenever you’re ready to talk and to answer any questions you might have.”

            The moment I hit send I was filled with dread as I waited with bated breath for their response. Then, after what felt like an eternity, my Dad replied: “I had a feeling something was on your mind earlier. We can talk more about this next week when I am back. We love you and will always be here to support you.”

            When I read those words, I was filled with a profound sense of relief and somehow I knew that everything was going to be okay. The next day, I came out publicly on Facebook (much to the chagrin of my parents who were—understandably—worried about the possible backlash) and was overwhelmed by the amount of love and support I received, feeling completely seen and accepted for the first time in my life.

            Since coming out, my mental health has vastly improved and I’m a much happier person overall, but it hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows; in the following days, my Mom had a lot of questions such as, “how do you know you feel this way if you’ve never dated anyone before?”           

            There were also a lot of tears, especially on my part, because of how flustered and frustrated I would get when I couldn’t come up with a good answer on the spot, which is one of the reasons why I decided to write this piece. I also wanted a chance to tell my story the best way I know how, by writing it all down in a way that I hope enlightens those who might not understand people like me. The LGBTQ+ community has faced a multitude of hardships for decades: Discrimination, harassment, abuse, and even murder-all because we want to be honest with ourselves and the world about who we truly are. We deserve kindness, respect, equal rights, and to love who we want without shame or fear, just like everyone else. In the words of Lin Manuel Miranda, “love is love!”

            My goal with this piece, and since I came out, is to be a source of comfort and support to the LGBTQ+ community as well as to educate others who might not understand why some of us choose to be “loud and proud” about our identities. Secrets are like poison; they can eat you alive from the inside out until there’s nothing left. That’s how it felt when I was living life in the closet; like I was filled with poison, like I was a prisoner locked up in Azkaban, drowning in fear, shame, guilt, and self-loathing as my secret continued to fester deep inside me. Meanwhile, my anxiety and depression grew worse, like dementors swarming around Hogwarts castle, sucking up all the light and happiness from everyone around them.

            Thankfully, the moment I started to be honest about who I am, first with myself and then with others, the better I began to feel, like I could finally see the light at the end of a very long, very dark tunnel. So, the next time someone asks me why I’m so outspoken about my bisexuality and other LGBTQ+ issues, I’ll say this: Visibility is so important and so liberating, and if I choose to say silent in order to make other people comfortable or to avoid making waves, then it’s like I’m going back into the closet, back into Azkaban, back into darkness and despair, and I refuse to go back there now that I’ve seen the light, now that I know how wonderful life can be on the other side.

            To my friends and family, I hope you have come to understand me better after reading this. I realize now that while I’ve been on my journey to self-discovery for years, you started your own kind of journey the moment I came out. Thank you for being open-minded enough to listen and learn, even if you still don’t understand everything yet. Your continued love and support means the world to me!

            To anyone who’s still in the closet and afraid to come out, I’ve been where you are so I understand how scared and alone you must feel. At the risk of sounding cliche, it really does get better and I hope this piece has given you some measure of comfort. Even though it might feel like it right now, please know that you’re not alone and that I’m here for you. And remember: “If Harry Potter taught us anything, it’s that no one should live in a closet”.