In part I of a 3-part series, Susie Edmonds relates her experience of growing up as a young gay woman and the long journey to coming out.
The story of coming out is part of a journey that shaped my life and still continues to do so. It is personal and at times it is painful to think about but I found the process of retelling it quite cathartic. I no longer have to feel ashamed. I hope others can relate to it or even take some strength from it. This is my story.
My life feels like it was lived in two parts, the first part before coming out and the second part after coming out. Before is incredibly painful and although there are happy parts it still feels like a life unlived. In truth I’m still trying to come to terms with so many lost years. I have always known I was gay even before I knew what it meant. I clearly remember standing on the playground in infants school repeating what I knew was the right thing to want in life. I would get married and have two kids but somehow, even then I knew that wouldn’t happen. It never fails to surprise me that people imagined their weddings and looked forward to them for many years. I never began to imagine the white dress or the wedding; that was for other people. I just couldn’t relate to it. I had a pact with my best friend that we wouldn’t get married and we would live together forever instead. When we got to about 11 she said, “you know that’s not really going to happen? We will get married” and I remember feeling really betrayed by it. I know that we were only young but even then it felt like I was on my own with this secret.
Senior school was a bit harder. I had boyfriends but I really wasn’t that interested. I played the game but deep down I always knew. I remember having some kind of class where the topic of homosexuality was brought up; of course everyone was joking and laughing about it and saying it wasn’t normal. I remember doing exactly the same but inside I didn’t understand what the problem was, it felt totally normal to me. Whilst others were having more serious relationships I was beginning to feel more pressure. I used the age of consent, which was 16, to try and ease the pressure off me a bit, at least then I felt I had some sort of excuse not to want to commit yet. I wanted to feel normal but instead I was beginning to feel a strong sense of isolation.
Growing up, life always surrounded me in some kind of chaos with my brother’s descent into drink and drugs. He caused so many issues and I didn’t want to cause any more. I remember my mum being grateful for the fact that my brother was a drug addict and not gay. The pressure just kept on growing. My family were not open minded, we didn’t think outside of the box, we all lived firmly within it. Difference was not seen as positive but fitting in and not rocking the boat was. I was on a mission to be “normal”, there was no other option.
My life during this time was filled with various crushes and an intense fascination with anything vaguely lesbian. Tennis players were the only visible lesbians I knew and although I was fascinated I still didn’t recognise anyone who was really like me.
My life began to spiral when I went to college. All my good friends went elsewhere and other people I knew weren’t in my classes. My confidence was at rock bottom, I had terrible sleep problems and I just couldn’t foresee a future for myself. I could barely think and barely breathe I felt trapped and I had nowhere to escape to. Secrets eat away into your soul, they take all your energy. Your very being begins to suffer and break down when you know the very last thing you can be is yourself. I had little energy to concentrate on my studies and I didn’t believe I could have any kind of positive future. If I met with my friends they used to try and set me up with dates which I found excruciatingly painful. I would then have to make excuses which I found unbearably awkward. I didn’t fit in and I couldn’t and wouldn’t accept who I was. I didn’t know or see anyone like me. It was easier to retreat from my friends and the world, where everything was safer and less painful. I truly hated my life and myself and it seemed there was just no escape. But there is nowhere to run when the person you are really trying to escape from is yourself. If someone could have waved a magic wand and made me straight I would have given anything in the world.
I had attempts at forcing myself to date. There was a lovely guy I went to school with who had always liked me. If you had asked me what I wanted in a boy he would have been it: kind, thoughtful, sporty, intelligent and fun. It could have been the perfect match. I was around 17 and I remember driving home from his house after yet again deciding that he wasn’t for me. I remember wondering what the hell was wrong with me. He was a great match what more did I want? The problem was I wanted what I couldn’t have.
I plodded on through life, I got myself jobs that weren’t really going anywhere. I didn’t feel able to have ambition because I had zero confidence in myself. I couldn’t seem to live life like everyone around me appeared to be doing. I was self-destructive and I blamed myself for everything. I avoided social events, just the thought of them made me panic. I was in my early twenties and I had my life ahead of me but I felt like I was wading through mud. It was hard to see a way out.
When I was 23 I got chatting with someone from a website. I responded to something she posted and we began to talk to each other. It wasn’t a gay site and it wasn’t something that came up at all but we began to confide in each other. I remember describing my life as if I was always on the outside, looking in. She said it was the first time that anyone described exactly how she had felt about life too. We instantly had a connection and so it progressed to phone calls and then a meeting. I knew I loved her before I met her and all that meeting did was confirm it. There was no great thunderbolt moment that said this is what I’d been looking for. It just seemed like the most perfect thing in the world and for once in my life I didn’t agonise over it. That missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle had just slotted right into place like I always knew it would. She phoned me on the way home and asked if I was ok and if I regretted anything. I surprised myself at how calm I felt. I reassured her that I had never felt more happy or more OK in my entire life. A few months later I did what any good lesbian would do, I found a job, packed my life up and moved 100 miles away to be with her.
I had what I had always wanted but I was still firmly in the closet.
Photography from Susie Edmonds.
This article was originally published on Susie’s blog, Stargazer.