Stephanie Eely (she/her/hers) identifies as a lesbian somewhere on the grey-asexual spectrum, though usually she describes herself as a queer woman because it’s much more all-encompassing. Today she shares her story about deciding to go back into the closet after coming out at age 16, and how that decision was the best thing for her mental health at that time.
Figuring Out My Identity
I first came out as bisexual/asexual at 16. I realize now that I unfortunately used bisexuality as a stepping-stone to coming out as a lesbian because I “expected” to be attracted to men (compulsory heterosexuality is real!). I spent a lot of time on the internet in my teens and found the term asexual really clarified my feelings, or lack thereof, especially in comparison to all my friends. I always felt different because of my lack of sexual attraction to people, so having a word to describe it was really affirming.
I feel that there’s always room for change where my identity labels are concerned – who’s to say I won’t fall in love with a man in the future, or have a partner come out as trans? That’s part of why I’ve started to prefer the term queer, because I feel like it doesn’t limit me but still defines me as being not-straight.
After I first came out as bisexual, I had a bit of backlash from the people around me, so I crawled right back into the closet until I was maybe 24 or 25. When I finally decided it was time to come back out as a lesbian, it was because I couldn’t stand feeling like I was living a double-life. Having to smile and nod when extended family asked about any boys in my life, people assuming I was dating all my male friends, etc. Try bringing a male friend to Thanksgiving dinner and explain that to your family when you’re not out!
In any case, it was National Coming Out Day in 2017 and one of my friends made a post on Facebook about coming out as trans. I thought “If he can do it, so can I!” and so I made a big, long-winded post and then closed Facebook for the rest of the day. When I opened it back up, I had an outpouring of love and kindness from friends and family alike, and it was so heartwarming! I’ve never looked back, and everyone in my life supports me wholeheartedly.
I wouldn’t change anything about how I came out. As much as I wish I hadn’t gone back in the closet at 16, I also see it as a lived experience, and it was better for me at that time to just tell people that I fully trusted. I had an unwritten rule that I would come out to new people that I met, so I did have a community of queer college friends that I’m super grateful for.
I’m fully out now, but unfortunately have to come out all the time still! I’m pretty straight-passing so people make assumptions.
Advice on Coming In and Out of the Closet
There’s nothing wrong with going back in the closet if your safety/wellbeing is at stake. You don’t have to “pretend” you were straight all along, but you’re also not required to talk about your sexuality if you don’t want to. I essentially just avoided the topic if I felt unsafe or unready to have the discussion and I think that had a positive impact on my mental wellbeing. Once I finally loved myself enough and knew that I had enough support, that’s when I made the leap to come back out.
If you live in British Columbia and would like support understanding your identity or sharing that identity with others, Tricia McGarrah is a queer-identified Registered Clinical Counsellor who offers online sessions to adults (18+).