I often feel disconnected from the LGBTQ+ community, and feel like I’m not allowed to belong. I didn’t realize I was queer until about 18, and I changed my labels so much that I didn’t fully realize I was a lesbian until recently, in my twenties. I feel like I don’t have the “right” experience, or that I somehow messed up my coming out story and that I’m not the “right” kind of lesbian. It feels like I don’t deserve to take up space in the community because I feel so new, and like my story doesn’t count. What can do I to combat this feeling, and how can I feel more connected to the community?
First off, I want you to know that your feelings are valid and understandable. But also your anxieties are lying to you. Or maybe some actual humans are lying to you. But there is no such thing as a “right kind of lesbian.” There are two main things in your question I want to address, 1) feeling disconnected from the community in general, 2) the feeling that your story doesn’t count. Because I can relate to both of those feelings and I’m here to call to you from the other side of the tunnel; there is an end to the darkness. And there are snacks.
I know that movies and TV shows often depict coming out stories happening in high school, and I know Gen Z is coming out younger and younger each year, but the truth is, there’s no right or wrong time to come out. And there’s no such thing as “too late” to find community. For example, I didn’t come out until I was 22, and I have plenty of friends that came out even later than that. And even after I did come out, it wasn’t until years later that I finally found myself with multiple circles of queer friends, and like you, at first I thought I just wasn’t going to fit in. What if I didn’t know all the inside jokes, or hadn’t seen all the right shows and movies? What if I didn’t look or act or dress “gay enough” to fit in? I’d go to gay bars and not connect with anyone and feel like I’d never find my place.
What I didn’t realize at the time, but seems so much clearer looking back, is that I didn’t find my little galaxy within the LGBTQ+ universe until I stopped trying to connect with people just because we were both gay. It’s something we tease straight people about — most of us have had someone say, “Oh I met a lesbian last night I should introduce you,” but they know nothing else about them besides the fact that they’re gay. But the truth is, a lot of us do it too when we’re first coming out. For some of us, being queer is such a huge part of our identity, especially at the beginning, that it makes sense that we’d use that as our beacon to find friends. And while that IS something that connects us, it’s not enough on its own.
I didn’t find the queer people in my life that mean the most to me now until I added one more filter to the search. Instead of trying to force a friendship with anyone under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, I started meeting people who were under the LGBTQ+ umbrella AND whose childhood was partially defined by Buffy the Vampire Slayer. People who were queer AND who loved livetweeting Pretty Little Liars. AND who loved Wynonna Earp enough to go to conventions about it. AND who wanted to play D&D with me. (Mine are all heavily nerd-based — but the AND can be literally anything else you’re passionate about!) People who have the same sense of humor, the same core values, who you just genuinely enjoy being around. That shared queer lens will help make the bond of that second thing stronger, but people’s interests and experiences are way too varied for our sexuality to be the only thing we have in common. We’re a marginalized community, and we’re considered a minority group, but there are still way too many of us for that.
It took some time but by talking to people on Twitter, through Autostraddle, via friends, slowly but surely I collected them like treasures until suddenly I had enough shinies to make a bunch of different rainbow constellations.
Ok! About having the “right” experience! Like I said, I UNDERSTAND those feelings, because I had them, too. But they’re lies. I also changed labels a few times when coming out — and honestly am still not sure what word is right for me, over a decade later. I had only ever drunkenly made out with sorority girls in college by the time I came out, and I had hooked up with boys; I wasn’t sure what was going to count for or against me. Even years later, as I started making more friends, I was nervous. But what I learned is this: the right people for you aren’t going to check your credentials. I’m 34 years old and I technically have never had a proper long-term girlfriend. The longest I’ve ever been with a girl is a few months and she didn’t want to put a label on it, and that’s the most I’ve got. I haven’t slept with all that many people, and I haven’t even gone on a date in years. But my friends don’t care. In fact, it doesn’t even come up all that much. There’s so much else to talk about, because we have more in common than just who we’re attracted to and like to date, so it’s not a hindrance on our friendship that I don’t have much to add in those types of conversations besides support (and opinions, of which I have plenty.) It also doesn’t stop me from being a “professional lesbian” as I sometimes jokingly call myself. I get paid to talk about my gay feelings on the internet and I’ve never had a girlfriend. If that’s not proof that experience isn’t the be-all end-all of queerness, I don’t know what is.
This community would be so boring if we all had the same stories. And there’s no such thing as the “right” queer story. You don’t even need a “good” coming out story, or a coming out story at all; since you’re a queer person, any story about your life is a queer story. And if your story is different from everyone else’s, that’s just more to talk about. None of my friends and I have exactly the same story; we all came out at different ages in different ways. And I’ve had plenty of friends change labels or pronouns since I’ve met them. No one expects you to have it all figured out, because the truth is, none of us do. You are enough, just as you are.
What it boils down to is that old cliché: Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. I know it seems overwhelming, almost like starting over, but it will all be worth it in the long run, I promise.
Your people are out there, and they can’t wait for you to find them.
You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.