I still remember the exact moment I understood sex.
Sure, prior to that moment I always knew about sex, but I never really understood it. All I had was pure scientific information from my parents, and little anecdotes from movies, books, and video games. I always thought I understood sex until that precise moment when I actually did -- when the hormones kicked in and changed me forever.
I was eleven years old. I knew all about puberty. I knew how to masturbate, though I never had the idea to actually do it until that moment. But most of all, I knew that I was going to grow up to fall in love with a pretty girl and everything would be perfect and beautiful. Oddly enough, even though my parents had just broken up and I'd recently lost all my friends in a school transfer, this was before the angst of adolescence had actually kicked in. I was happy. Looking back on it, I don't know why.
Everything I thought I knew about myself was wrong.
There are some who insist there's a divide between romance and sex, and that it's possible to have romance without sexual attraction. I must have believed that when I was eleven. But all the confusion came afterwards; at the time, everything seemed to make sense. All my fantasies were about men, but I never gave it much thought.
It may surprise you to learn:
- I didn't realize I was gay until I was eighteen.
- I didn't even realize I wasn't straight until I was fourteen.
You hear stories about "us", and from "them", about how being gay is something you're born with, something innate and natural to people. To my eleven-year-old self, that made it seem simple. If I were gay, I would just know, right?
I still remember the little lies I had to tell myself.
You hear about how labels don't matter, but it's all bullshit. Labels are the basis of human communication. Even if you disagree, they still exist and they still mattered to me; as Ken Kesey said, "It's the truth even if it didn't happen." Some claim to have understood sex since they were three. I don't know if they're telling the truth. All I know is, I never even considered that I wasn't straight until a few years after I hit puberty. That's how ingrained the notion of heterosexuality was in my mind.
I knew I was straight.
Some fault may lie in my childhood crush. I started crushing on her in grade six, before I understood sex. I thought I was attracted to her for the longest time. In retrospect, it was just the juvenile, sexless type of crush that young kids have.
My first actual crush was on a boy I met roughly a month into grade seven. I'd recently changed schools (as previously mentioned) and he became one of my new friends. I adored him, even as I continued to adore the girl I'd known in grade six. It never occurred to me that I had a crush on him, and I never fantasized about him, because I knew I was straight.
The girl I tried thinking about all the time, but it always seemed forced. I just couldn't understand why I wasn't as interested in her as I was before I started liking boys. I had a romantic interest, didn't I? I must have believed that at the time. I know better now -- that the divide between romance and sex, if it does exist, doesn't exist for me.
This is all a long-winded way of saying:
- Sex is complicated. It doesn't always come naturally.
- Especially when you're an oblivious idiot.
When I was fourteen I labelled myself bisexual. I didn't tell anyone because I couldn't stop doubting myself. I told people on the internet (who I turned to for advice) that I was "100% sure that I was bisexual, but just couldn't stop wondering if I wasn't". It was weird. I was always utterly convinced that I liked girls, all because of the way I was raised and those stupid, confusing crushes.
I still remember lying awake all night to question myself. Sexual disorientation.
The fact that, once acknowledged, I never, ever doubted my feelings for boys -- that should have been a hint. Once I understood sex, I never crushed on any girls.
It was boy after boy after boy.
Shortly before my eighteenth birthday, I met up with that girl I'd crushed on since grade six and had a heart-to-heart. I realized pretty quickly that I did not have a crush on her at all. Not talking to her extensively since grade six had left the crush, cryogenically preserved, in my mind; it was ready to shatter once exposed to my adolescent, hormonal libido. And it did.
I met up with the boy I'd had a crush on in grade seven -- the one I never thought to fantasize about. And suddenly I realized just how sexually attracted to him I'd been back then, without even thinking of it. That was a real crush.
These two little chats with two seemingly unrelated and unimportant people made me realize:
- I only like men.
- I'm gay.
I knew it was true the moment I said it out loud, to myself, just to hear how it fit. Suddenly my whole sexual side made sense to me and I understood how confused I'd been all those years. I was angry with myself for being so stupid. Heteronormativity will do that to you. It's worth remembering:
Straight-until-proven-otherwise does more harm than you would expect.
As someone who does not particularly fit the stereotype of the effeminate gay man, I have to deal with this every day. Hardly anyone knows I'm gay until I tell them. And trust me, I don't enjoy telling people; whether the reaction is positive, negative, or neutral, it still changes something. Coming out is a lifelong process for everyone who isn't Ellen DeGeneres.
Shallow people want to be my friend so they look trendy. Being told you're only gay because it's cool nowadays -- that never gets old.
The only thing I can tell them is I still remember the exact moment I understood sex. I didn't do it because I wanted to; I did it because I had to. I did it because I'm not afraid of who I am. I did it because another day spent lying was another day I couldn't be free.
I did it because sometimes understanding yourself can be hard, but you just have to know.
And it took me eighteen years.