*All names have been changed*
Brittany grew up in a small, conservative town in a Christian family, where there wasn’t even a choice to be gay. She had no chance to explore her sexuality in her teens or even early 20s. She went from living in a Christian household, where any suspected same-sex attraction was immediately squashed, to living in a Christian sorority house in college, where her friends would not have been supportive of her sexuality (and weren’t when she did come out to them later in life). Luckily, when she broke free from those surroundings and went to live on her own, she was able to broaden her group of friends. These friends were part of the LGBTQ+ community and helped Brittany to realize that maybe the reason things never worked out with guys was because she wasn’t straight.
“I started off thinking maybe bisexual. I tried dating/liking guys at first. They were fine to talk to or whatever but past that, it never really worked. I would make out with them occasionally, but it didn’t really do anything for me. I started dating women and whoa. That’s what I was missing. I don’t know how to describe it but it just felt like everything clicked in places that it didn’t with dudes.”
Signs from the Past
Looking back, Brittany realizes there were a lot of signs that she was a lesbian from her younger years. “Thinking back on it all now, I feel kind of silly like DUH! It was right in front of you the whole time.” “I LOVED women. I thought they were so pretty. I always focused on them in movies, tv, real life. I just always assumed I wanted to be or look like them…but being where I’m at now, I realize that was probably part of the time but definitely not always.”
She had a best friend in high school that she wanted to be with constantly. “I remember staring at her a lot, admiring her, again thinking it was because I wanted to be like her…I would get upset or jealous any time her bf was around.” They would have sleepovers every weekend, and Brittany would purposefully make the house colder so they would have to cuddle. “Tricky and I didn’t even realize it.” Her mom must have sensed something because she started getting weird about them hanging out and even accused Brittany of being a lesbian. After Brittany went off to college and her best friend stayed home, they grew apart and eventually stopped talking altogether – it was her first heartbreak and she didn’t even realize why it had hit her so hard until many years later.
Denial and Confusion
From age 18-22, Brittany either lived in the Christian sorority house on campus or in an apartment with people from the Christian sorority house. She tried and tried to date guys, because that’s all she knew. Dating girls wasn’t even on her radar. At the age of 23, after finally parting ways with her college roommates/friends, Brittany started working at a local business that was owned by distant family. She became very good friends with the owner, Chelsea, a bisexual woman in her late 40s. “She was so personable and bubbly. We worked a lot together and became really good friends.” Brittany felt so comfortable with Chelsea that she was able to open up about her past with her best friend, and also how hard it had been for her to try to date men.
“One day she just came out and asked me if I was gay. I told her no. Definitely not.” However, Chelsea’s question really made Brittany start thinking about it. “I thought about it that day/night and for a week or two after, trying to work through different feelings and what she had said.” Brittany hadn’t been offended at all by the question and their relationship continued on the same as it had always been. “A couple weeks later, she brought it up again. I told her, ‘No. Well, maybe. I don’t know. No.’ I started thinking more about it and looking back on past stuff and things started to connect or click in my head ‘Oh. Well that would explain that. Or maybe that’s why this was this way.’ I struggled back and forth because of the stuff I had learned growing up, knowing how my parents felt about it, struggling with my own beliefs and feelings about it.”
After all the thinking and processing, Brittany finally confided in Chelsea that she thought Chelsea had maybe been right, maybe Brittany was gay. Chelsea was very supportive, as were other coworkers. The first family she came out to were her sisters. “I eventually confided in my sisters, telling them I think I might be gay and why. They were SUPER supportive.”
Meeting the Love of Her Life
Once Brittany came to terms with her sexuality, she tried out some dating apps, but didn’t have any luck. After complaining about it to a co-worker, who also happened to be gay, the co-worker set her up with an acquaintance, Shannon. By this time, Brittany was 24. The co-worker had known Shannon’s mom, who incidentally was also gay and had come out much later in life after being married to a man and having three children. Brittany and Shannon hit it off right away!
“I feel like I was still working on fully accepting myself when I first started talking to Shannon. She helped me through it though. She was so kind, understanding, encouraging, and supportive. She never pushed me to do anything I wasn’t comfortable with. She never made me feel guilty for not disclosing our relationship to all my friends or family. She ALWAYS comforted me when I was upset or confused or angry. She made the whole process more bearable and honestly all those things are part of why I fell in love with her. She was the sweetest, goofiest, and most accepting person I had ever met. I also knew the first time that I kissed her, there was something different and that she was going to be around for a long time. There was a spark/chemistry that I never experienced with any guy I had dated.”
Coming Out to a Conservative Mother
Despite the initial support from coworkers and her sisters, coming out wasn’t easy. Though most of her family was accepting (her grandpa actually said, “Well yeah. I could’ve told ya that”), her mother was angry. “She was so HATEFUL when I told her. She was seething. She yelled at me. Told me I was going to hell. Interrupted me trying to explain myself. Forced me to listen to her and what she thought because she was ‘right.’” This was at Halloween time and it was just the first tough interaction in a string of many. They weren’t on speaking terms at Thanksgiving and then there was another huge blow up at Christmas.
After their family Christmas celebration, Brittany was leaving to go spend time with Shannon’s family, when her mom blew up. “She got irrationally angry and started being hateful and throwing stuff down. We argued a bit, but I eased off because I didn’t want to argue on Christmas and I was running late. She couldn’t let it go and eventually, I left the house while she was screaming at me. I got in my car and she physically stood in my way so I couldn’t leave. She kept yelling at me to open the door or window so we could ‘talk’ some more. I refused. Eventually my grandma came out to see what she was doing and made her come back inside.”
Things began to improve over time, and her and her mother began talking again. Her mother even allowed Shannon to come to family functions. But when Brittany and Shannon decided to get engaged, all the progress that they had seemed to make with her mother vanished. They both decided to be present when announcing their engagement to Brittany’s parents, and it was probably good they were there to support each other. Brittany’s mother flipped; she yelled, told them it was wrong, and told them that they couldn’t do it. Her father stayed mostly quiet, looking sad and just repeating that he loved her no matter what. As her mother started to calm down, she hugged her. “She said she loved me too but whispered in my ear over and over again that she would NEVER be okay with it.”
Though her father also didn’t believe it was ‘right’ to be gay, he was not outright mean like her mother. “He has never ONCE been hateful towards me. Confused, maybe disappointed, and wanting to know more/why. He’s always embraced me with love whether we agree or not.”
Things once again calmed down. The couple attended family functions together and Brittany’s mom even bought Shannon a present at Christmas time. But as the wedding approached, Brittany’s mom devolved to quiet disapproval. “When we got to all the wedding stuff though (shower, rehearsal, and actual wedding day), she showed up physically and was pleasant enough, but I never really felt excitement, encouragement, or even really acceptance. She kind of just sat there staring off with a salty look on her face. I suppose that was an improvement but not what I envisioned my wedding day to be like with her.”
Thankfully, since then, things seem to have improved for good. Not only does she include Shannon in everything and talk to her, but she will also hug her and ask how she is. “I still feel like she’s not 100% okay with everything but I appreciate how far we’ve come.”
Sharing Her Story
Originally, I began asking Brittany questions as part of my ‘discovering sexuality later in life’ interviews. However, as she answered my questions, I realized she had a story to tell, a story that deserved its own post. I’m hoping that through sharing this that other people might read it, identify with it, and realize they aren’t alone in their experiences.
“It’s cool and a bit sad sometimes to get to look back at where it all started and where I’m at today.”