Culture  When I knew what to say

Stories from queer students about coming out at different ages

Twenty-one, surely, was too old to come out, I thought when I turned 21.

At 9, my mom asked me if I had a crush on any of the boys at school. “Or girls,” she added. “Or you can like girls.” That tiny clumsy Boolean statement, that tripwire. That true or false question, so well meant, had managed to gum up the system for so many years.

I did have a crush on someone at the time. His name was Stefan, and our parents took turns picking us up from after-school drama class together.

At thirteen, I swayed awkwardly with boys at middle school dances, bodies carefully arms distance apart. The point was to gigle about it at the all-girls sleepover afterwards – attention, stories, not pleasure.

At 15, after my first kiss (with a boy), I watched one of the girls on the track team stretching. Why not kiss her? I wondered about which girls I would date if I were a boy. These were thoughts I did not articulate. Crushes on girls were dismissed as the cutesy phemonon of “girl crushes” – shorthand for admiration, instead of jealousy. I handed in high school creative writing assignments about hooking up in the back of a boy’s VW-bug. I watched Winona Ryder kiss Jennifer Aniston on Friends, and felt jealous; Zack Braff kissing Sarah Chalke on Scrubs and wanted to be Zack.

At 18, I made out with girls at parties, under the pretense of attention-grabbing. At twenty, I shivered when a sales girl at Lush started touching my arm.

Feelings, like water, don’t just compress or dissolve under pressure. One night last August over two-for-one pints of beer at Gerts, I relayed a story involving breasts to my friend.

“Are you sure you’re straight?”

And there it was: permission. I started crying, in the middle of the campus bar – luckily, you’re never too old to cry.