Valentine’s Day is a day to acknowledge all the love in our lives, but one aspect of love that is often overlooked is self love. Ellen Page in her speech at the Time to Thrive Conference on Valentine’s Day for the Human Rights Campaign talked about working in an industry that demands a perfection that so few of us can ever achieve. She spoke of how much better the world would be so much better if we all strived to be kinder to one another. “But then it can be the hardest thing,” she pointed out, “because loving other people starts with loving ourselves and accepting ourselves.” And in a move that put the audience on their feet, she announced that she was there because she was gay. Many of us at The Geekiary applaud Ellen for her bravery and the LGBT staff members decided to put this article together, sharing our own coming out stories and our thoughts on Ellen’s decision.
Sarah: I grew up in the Bible Belt, a region of America not known for acceptance. I had a difficult upbringing because my parents constantly moved us around, so I was always the “new kid”. And what’s more, I was a tomboy (and still am somewhat). I wasn’t very comfortable with my developing body, so I wore loose-fitting clothes to try and hide that. When I was about to start the eighth grade, my family moved yet again to a tiny town in East Texas, which shall remain nameless. But it was here that I had my first encounter with bullying. My tormentors were two boys in my Pre-Algebra class, and they would verbally abuse me every single day, calling me slurs such as “d*ke” or “he/she”. One of my most vivid memories was of one of them pretending to write out a list entitled “Gay People in Our Class”…and guess whose name was at the top? Now growing up in the Bible Belt, that word “gay” had a negative connotation for me. Gay people were sinners and going to hell, right? So I bucked against that label being put anywhere near me.
High school was less than idyllic for more reasons that one. I was still being bullied, and as if that weren’t enough, my family went through a personal crisis, resulting in my father being incarcerated. My mother, longing to escape from the stranglehold of bad memories, packed up our trailer, abandoned it, and moved us back to her childhood home and my birthplace in Arkansas. There, I experienced a brief reprieve. The people in the school where I finished ninth grade at left me alone, one girl even becoming my friend. But it wasn’t long before we moved back to that tiny town, Texas paying nurses much better than Arkansas. And the bullying picked up right where it started off. I was forced to change classes my junior year because a group of guys would torment me in my English class by placing signs on my back. By my senior year, I had developed a thick skin and put off an air that made people finally leave me the hell alone. Still uncomfortable with my body, I wanted to wear dress pants and a blouse to prom instead of a dress. But there was a strict dress code where girls had to wear dresses and boys suits. So when I went to the office to ask if I could wear something different, I was told I would have to bring my outfit up there to be approved. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and when I bizarrely won two prom tickets in the school raffle, I picked them up at the office and went out to the front of the school, selling them for cigarette money. (Don’t fret, dear readers. I’ve since quit that habit, although I sometimes struggle with it.)
It wasn’t until I was about twenty years old that I began to explore my sexuality. I had developed an online friendship with a girl named Mandy, who has become one of my best friends, and whenever I would look at her picture, I would get that warm rush…the same rush I’d get when I saw a hot guy. I kept it to myself for the longest time, but over several months and countless Yahoo!Messenger sessions that spread into the wee hours of the morning, I began to realize that I wasn’t totally straight…and that wasn’t such a horrible thing after all. The day I came out to my mom as bisexual I had been up all night chatting with Mandy, her helping me come to terms with this aspect of myself and bolstering my courage. I knew that my mother would accept me, having always been a very open-minded person, but I was still so scared. She worked nights, so I waited up for her to get off work, having texted her earlier that we needed to talk. By the time she got home, I was shaking and close to tears. We sat down in my room, and I explained what Mandy and I had been discussing. When I finally said the words, all my mom had to say was, “Okay.”
I have since become very open about who I am, and I don’t allow people to make me feel bad for it. I may struggle still with my self confidence, but I’ve come a long way from being that miserable teen in Texas. When I watched the video of Ellen Page coming out, I couldn’t help but cry and be reminded of that scared kid I once was. Ellen was right: loving ourselves for who we are is tough, especially when we’re living in a world of “no”. But we can do it. I hope that anyone struggling with themselves sees Ellen’s story or reads mine and takes away that even though they’re going through dark times, there is hope and light at the end of that tunnel.
Angel: I grew up in California, which is generally pretty liberal , but I grew up in the very politically conservative Orange County. My high school had a protest “against gay people.” A guest speaker who was telling seniors about her career in theater casually mentioned her girlfriend and the next day parents showed up with signs loudly proclaiming “keep homosexuality out of our schools.” This was my senior year, just two weeks away from graduation, and I’d already been forced out of the closet since freshman year by bullies. For me it was just a matter of making it until graduation and being set free from it all, but for the students I was leaving behind an already toxic environment had become even more hostile. Friends of mine had tried for three years to start a GSA and kept getting excuse after excuse from principals and teachers about why they couldn’t start it. I encountered homophobia when I dated a girl and, while I wasn’t aware of the term at the time, faced extreme biphobia when I dated a guy. I had things thrown at me, slurs slung at me, and was generally shut out of many social groups (I eventually found my place with my fellow nerds anyway, but that’s another story). Once my interest in women was discovered there was no winning. I’d become someone to pick on. I did make it to graduation and went off to a college where my sexuality wasn’t a big deal, but I’ll never forget those last two weeks of high school for how much more dangerous everything suddenly felt.
I grew up on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so while my sexuality wasn’t safe in the intolerant world around me, I felt personally validated when Willow came out. I felt like my existence was finally acknowledged somewhere, even if it was in a fictional universe. The generation before me had Ellen Degeneres, who had much the same effect for many people and had the added benefit of being a real life figure instead of a fictional character. The generations that are coming after me have so many people coming out both on and off screen that I have high hopes that most of them will have a much more welcomed environment to come out in. Ellen Page is the most recent and certainly one of the most high profile people to come out recently. She’s not the only one, though, and she won’t be the last.
While coming out is a very personal decision and I’d never ask a celebrity to do so before they’re ready, I’m eager for more to do so as Ellen Page has done. People need others to look up to. They need to feel validated and feel that they aren’t alone. I found that with a fictional character in my youth and many will find that with Ellen Page now. I’m proud of her and I’m happy that others might find the validation they need because of her decision.
Nancy: It all started with Rocky Horror Picture Show. That movie was my first exposure to anything queer. I remember looking at Tim Curry for the first time and feeling a surge of yearning. The line “As it [the satin dress] clung to her thigh, how I started to cry. Cause I wanted to be dressed – just the same.” That was how I felt about Tim. I wanted to be that glamorous, and that strong, and that dominant. I had no idea it wasn’t what everyone else wanted. My cousins and aunts screamed with glee and shock over Tim in his get up, nothing truly hateful, just the squirm and shock of something that challenged everything they’d been brought up to know about gender and sexuality. But I never forgot their jeering and laughter.
I didn’t know, as a child, that not all girls felt funny in their tummies about certain women. I knew that some part of me loved the part of Rocky Horror Picture Show when they were all in the pool, kissing. I liked watching Columbia dance and jiggle everything she had. I had no idea, no idea at all, that this was unusual. My parents never imposed strict rules on me in regards to my behavior or my gender/sexual expression. I honestly had no idea at all that I was different until the end of high school.
Because I liked boys, I assumed that I was straight. Because I liked boys, so did everyone else. It wasn’t until art school, where I met other queer girls, that I realized that perhaps it wasn’t so clear cut for me. There were beautiful girls at art school with long hair, curves, beautiful eyes, wild minds and wicked senses of humor. I had a friend there who opened my eyes to the queer world, he was like a Papa Bear to me in a way. He told me that he wasn’t completely gay, but that he didn’t dare ever say anything about it while hanging out in the queer community. I muddled through those days at school, feeling exhilarating flushes of attraction for the girls I knew, not knowing the first thing about expressing interest to girls (despite being one), and for a particular man in my class who, as far as I was concerned, was the most gorgeous man I’d ever seen.
It all came to a head when I went to a dress-up dance held by the art school with an old friend from primary school. When I had last seen her, she was gangly as most twelve year olds were. Now, now she was tall, slender, graceful, elegant, with ivory skin, freckles, deep brown eyes and a cascade of midnight black hair. I felt attraction and I was terrified. I was terrified people would find out. I was terrified people would think that we were a couple (I’m not sure why). It was outside of the bounds of art school, at my house, in my life beyond bohemian exploration and I felt out of control. The intensity of my attraction scared the hell out of me, and I felt ashamed and guilty because she was straight, and she trusted me as a friend. I felt like I was betraying her trust somehow, that I was a dykey Trojan Horse, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. To this day, I still feel that way sometimes when I’m around beautiful women that don’t know me.
I had a mental breakdown, as I had no idea who I was anymore. I had spent my whole life believing I was straight, and suddenly everything was up in the air. Labels and societal pressure wrapped me up in their tight grip. I didn’t want a heteronormative, gender normative suburban life with no hint of queerness. But I didn’t want to give up on my lifelong yearning to find a wonderful man to love. My queer friends told me I was a lesbian, my straight family told me that if I still liked men, then I was probably straight. Mainstream society and queer society were both constrictive to me. For years it was a hell I couldn’t figure out.
Rocky Horror Picture Show saved my life. I went to see it at a local cinema and fell in with a crowd of young people that wanted to re-enact the show in costume. I helped out and we established a troupe of performers. It was wonderful to meet people who loved the movie like I did. And during the after show parties, we didn’t dream it, we were it. I kissed girls, I kissed boys. I danced and I sang and I felt at home for the first time in my life. And I realized that I needed to feel attraction for both in my life. I needed to say, loudly and proudly, that I was bisexual, and it was okay.
Ellen Page had struggles worse than what I experienced. Her inner journey had to be shielded from the eyes of paparazzi, from those that would not understand. The huge pressure to be straight (which I felt most horribly through my own coming out process) is intensified with her role as an actress, as someone that people expect to be able to look up to. Being a beautiful, feminine-looking young woman admitting her homosexuality in Hollywood is a terrible crime in the eyes of some. She is denying her beauty and availability to men, and that is the greatest wrong an actress can commit in Hollywood. She is challenging that standard, and she is standing her ground for her own life, sanity, and health. It is a huge thing she did, and I feel much as I did when Anna Paquin came out. Us queer girls are out there, making art, building lives, being active and clever and loving with all our hearts. I am so very proud of Ellen Page, even though I don’t know her personally. She has put her career on the line, and she knows it. She has my deepest respect and thanks. I had Ellen Degeneres, and Xena Warrior Princess, and Rocky Horror Picture Show to fall back on, to use as touchstones, to be aware of my own queerness. No doubt there are thousands of girls out there that will see what Ellen Page has done and feel a deep sigh of relief, of hope, and comfort.
Undie: I didn’t really have a traditional “coming-out”. There was no big reveal like you see on TV. I mean I always liked girls. I liked looking at girls, I liked talking to girls, I liked thinking about girls. I just really liked girls. But I also liked boys, so I didn’t really have to think about it that hard you know? I think that’s something most bisexual people experience, being interested in the opposite gender stops you from even considering you might be interested in both.
But then I got into fandom pretty young (I was about thirteen), which introduced me to a whole world of things I had never considered, including some things I probably should not have been considering. By the time I was fifteen I had a pretty good grasp on my own sexuality. That’s not to say that I openly talked about it or even pursued relationships with people of the same gender. I just knew that I was an equal opportunist when it came to gender but I generally let everyone assume I was straight. It’s not like I directly lied to anyone, it just never came up thanks to our heteronormative society. You know how it is: straight until proven gay.
It sounds so strange when I write it out because it seems like I was comfortable with my sexuality, which I wasn’t. Where I live isn’t the worst place to be queer, but it’s not exactly a walk in the park. I remember a couple of girls came out when I was in high school. The girls I hung out with used to make fun of them relentlessly and I would just nod along. And “gay” or “lesbian” was often the insult of choice. So I knew who I was, I was just ashamed of it. And when I did come out as bi, I was accused of being an attention seeking teenage girl or a closeted lesbian. For the longest time I would tell people that I didn’t like labels, which was a complete lie because I already thought of myself as bisexual I just didn’t want to deal with the stigma that came with it.
Being rejected from both heterosexual and homosexual communities is a super fun experience. As is hearing people you love and respect saying that bisexuals were homosexuals in denial. Getting dumped, and harassed and abused because I was some kind of traitor to both teams, yeah, that was wonderful. I didn’t really have much to build my conviction on but there was one thing that had a profound effect.
I don’t really remember any queer celebrities making a huge impact on me – not in the way that Willow Rosenberg did. It wasn’t just Willow being attracted to the same sex that affected me, it was the way she was conflicted. The way she just didn’t automatically turn Oz away when he came back because her interest in Tara didn’t negate her feelings for Oz. That’s how I felt! That was my romantic and sexual desires summed up in one episode (along with some other stuff about werewolves, actually this may explain my obsession with Teen Wolf). Even though Willow was exclusively into girls after she chose Tara – that episode was my go to pop culture reference to explain my desires for so long.
If that one episode was enough to help me through the worst then I can’t imagine what someone like Ellen Page coming out might do for young people that are currently figuring themselves out. Considering the fact that we still live in an overwhelmingly homophobic society, it was an incredibly brave and wonderful thing for her to do. Plus she’s Kitty Pryde. Kitty Pryde is my one true love.
Farid: I congratulate Ellen Page for coming out and showing her real self to the world. Coming out the closet isn’t something that comes easy to a lot of people. So, I can only imagine what celebrities must be going through, with the media on them, 24/7. I’ve read a lot of instances where celebrities were hesitant to come out because it would mean a disaster for their Hollywood career. Ellen is young and she still has a career in front of her. What she did was quite brave. Her announcement kind of reminded me of the speech Wentworth Miller (Prison Break, Resident Evil: Afterlife) gave. He talked about the pressures he faced when he was young. About how he was supposed to hold his wrist, walk, and talk a certain way, and how he tried to take his life, not as plea for help, but because he wanted to end things. Even though he came out at the age of 41, back in 2013, I was surprised to read about the backlash he got from some people in the LGBT community, saying that he should’ve come out earlier. So, apparently there’s supposed to be ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ time to come out? Nevertheless, I am happy to see the positive feedback Ellen has received from the LGBT community and allies. It might be because she is still young, but the positivity is still good to see.
As far as I am concerned, my sexuality wasn’t something I was ever confused about (or maybe I can’t remember, which would be odd because I’m only 23). I think it has a lot to do with how my parents raised me, and that’s saying a lot considering the country I live in. I never had a ‘coming out’ or something similar. There was no big surprise for the family. I remember my first ever crush, a girl who was in Grade 1 with me. We stayed together until class 5. I guess we really were girlfriend and boyfriend…ah! memories of your first crush!
But we grew up and went to different schools, you know, people move on, etc. I entered an all boys school when I started Grade 6 and that’s when I started getting crushes on boys (Thank Heavens none of my crushes were the boys I hung out with, because that would’ve gotten complicated). It wasn’t really anything surprising for me. Maybe deep down I knew I was capable of finding boys attractive. So, school ended, I entered an all boys college, had more crushes, grew up, went to university, and started to get crush on girls. I was 17 years old and newly admitted in the university when I thought of myself as bisexual. Before that the term didn’t exist to me; a person was either straight or gay. It’s a term that’s still not understandable to people in my society where the basic mindset is: Either you are straight and a man, or you are gay and thus, a woman, and you’re going to Hell and all that fun stuff. I was surprised that even the gay people (most of them closeted) I met didn’t understand bisexuality. To them bisexuality was a pitstop to gay town…I understand what you had to go through Undie!
I don’t know if it was because of my attitude, witty comebacks, or my willingness to get into a physical fight, if needed (though never happened), I wasn’t bullied at school, college, or even at university level. And that’s saying something coming from a boy who likes to draw, dance, write stories, do yoga, and has black hair a bit longer than Kira from Teen Wolf. A ‘Super Combo’ of all things considered feminine in my country (FYI: I started to grow my hair from a shaved head two years ago and there’s no stopping it. Very proud..sniff!_.
Living in the country that I do, I don’t hide my sexuality but it’s also not my ‘go-to’ topic when I talk to people. My family and friends know, and that’s all that matters to me. If someone asks who I find attractive, Halle Berry and David Beckham are always on the top of my list. The person who asked can make what he or she wants of such an answer, I really don’t care because I am who I am. There’s still a lot of progress to be made when it comes to accepting a person for who he or she is. I’m glad Ellen Page decided to do such a thing and become a role model that young girls and even boys can look up to. All the best to her!
The world is ever changing, sometimes for the good and other times…for the bad. And it doesn’t matter if your inspiration for coming out is a real person or a fictional character…if that person gives you strength and inspires you, then hold onto them like hell and don’t let go. Please feel free to leave your own stories or questions down below. I’ll end this article with a quote from V for Vendetta in the hopes that it will remind you that if you’re struggling and feel like there isn’t a way out, there is and there are people out there that do care about you. “I shall die here. Every inch of me shall perish. Every inch, but one. An inch. It is small and it is fragile, but it is the only thing in the world worth having. We must never lose it or give it away. We must never let them take it from us. I hope that whoever you are, you escape this place. I hope that the world turns and that things get better. But what I hope most of all is that you understand what I mean when I tell you that even though I do not know you, and even though I may never meet you, laugh with you, cry with you, or kiss you…I love you. With all my heart, I love you.”
Author: Sarah Sue
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