I've been about to write a post here several times, but each time I was worried I might come across as dismissive of other people and their struggles (or revelations), and dismissing people is the last thing I want to do... but here goes anyway. Maybe I can stack the odds by using more words. Most of this is about me... sorry about that, but it's because that's who I know most about, and I needed some kind of starting point. This starting point is roughly 15 years in the past.
It's challenging, sometimes, and sometimes a lot more often than that, to be different, to deviate from other people's expectations, and all that. In the context of this thread I'm going to spare you all the "woe is me" stories from my time in school and focus instead on something that took me something like 17 years to figure out. Because for the longest time, stuff like intimacy didn't compute for me at all, and I had no notion whatsoever of physical attractiveness, except on an analytical level. All this talk about love everywhere? Didn't make any sense. Sex? Sounded kind of overly complicated, DIY and all that.
I guess it's easy to read things into the past, so maybe I'm wrong about all this, but I've come to think that it's difficult to feel things that you don't know exist. Strange feelings maybe still come up but they have no meaning to you. There's this vague physical sensation and that's all... a sensation without any meaning has little power. I've read somewhere that it's hard to distinguish being in love with a stomach bug if all the context is missing, and I can see a surprising amount of sense in that. To reach a little further, I've come to believe, quite strongly, that a lot of the way we are is down to the meaning we've made out of things.
So here's what happened, one day on my way home from school, in the tram. I have no idea what led to it, but I was puzzling over why I seemed to be the only person on the planet who absolutely couldn't relate to all this love stuff, to all this sex stuff, who could only see relationships in terms of friendship or family (well I didn't puzzle over that last part because I wasn't really aware that there was anything else). And then, more or less out the blue, I had this crazy thought: maybe I'm gay or something? Seemed quite ridiculous, though. Surely I would have noticed that. Right?
Nothing else worth mentioning happened that day. But a few days later, on my way to school, I suddenly noticed myself looking at guys differently. Some of them, anyway. There was this strange feeling, a mild tingle of who knows what, part apprehension, part excitement, part voodoo or something. And it just kept happening. I learned to look at the world quite differently during that time, and some other events that I'd thought to be quite innocuous started feeling a little different in hindsight.
You remember using words as a kid with some kind of vague, nebulous non-meaning in mind for them? Like, for example, the word "gay"? And at some point some adult explained how that's about men who love each other, or something like that, but that's really just a phrase that doesn't mean anything to you. Well, that changed quite a lot for me in those days. Armed with the power of ADSL, I discovered that there were quite a few real people out there who were gay, and somehow they were all quite normal (not, strictly speaking, all of them, I learned a bit later, but that's life).
Given all that, what in hindsight was a pretty big identity crisis just went up in smoke, and for a while I was quite a lot happier than I'd been in a long time.
I've never stopped questioning things, though. I have stopped questioning the core of my personality and all that (took a bit longer, though), but there are things I can't fully accept. I never really talk about this because it's so easy to misconstrue, but I figured, what the heck.
From all I've learned in my time so far, I've found that doubt is a terrible thing to have. I've also found that, more often than it might seem, certainty is every bit as terrible as doubt. I'll never forget a lady I talked to who one day said, "I have no idea how I could live without my eating disorder." Certainty feels a lot better than being completely at sea, but whatever it leads you to, it makes you stay there. I made it out of a later dark time of mine once I started learning to deal with less certainty in my life, and that was maybe the only thing I could have done. I don't want to over-romanticise it, though. The point is, I've come to appreciate that some things in life become open to change if you take away their certainty, and others are pretty good at continually reasserting themselves even if you take a very open-ended view on them.
Unlike some others, I believe it would be overreaching to assert that X is bound to be changeable and Y is bound to be fixed... but what I do know is that while there are some things I'd like to change about myself, and I'll never stop looking for ways to move on from various old things, I feel comfortable with myself in every aspect, good and bad (ignoring the odd unavoidable bad day or three). I've taken to using less labels, both positive and negative, and I now believe that, sometimes, if you focus on words, you miss the things that really matter.
I could describe myself as gay, or as a smart person, or as a lazy person (can't be all good, I guess)... but those are all tiny shards of a whole, and I don't think of myself as the jagged edges on those shards. Those edges don't exist except by smashing apart the whole. I absolutely needed to understand what the words mean to relate myself to them, but I've stopped identifying myself -- or others -- with them. In fact I tend to cringe inwardly when I hear other people get described in terms of shards, and I don't really like describing people to others, either (often hardly know what to say). And the last thing I want to spend time on is taking people apart and judging them based on how jagged the edges of the piece I broke off are. Sometimes it's hard to resist the impulse, and I have a tendency to sometimes say strongly worded things I don't actually mean, though.
But anyway, change... I'm not really actively expecting I'll ever feel properly attracted to a woman, but it's a possibility I'm allowing in my mind, and I've maybe had a faint sense of it once or twice. I guess the idea is: there's a lot of things I don't know about who I am or who I'm not, but I'm open to learning more. I've talked to someone who wanted to know whether being gay could be changed. The party line is "definitely not", but I'm not that convinced. I shared a few ideas, allowing for the possibility of things changing. Given what I know I don't quite believe in a clear way in which you could purposely change someone's sexual orientation that isn't quite morally, medically or psychologically questionable or even dangerous, but a "definite no" seems like a bit of a stretch for me. That said, I'm not terribly interested in experimenting, either.
Anyway, that's the one side of the coin: dealing with yourself. The rest is... other people. This is another thing I haven't really talked to anyone about. I'm not keeping my gayitude a complete secret and I'm not exactly going out of my way to hide it, but I tend to keep it out of circles it's not already known in, for the most part. I'm not particularly great at defending my own person (except in hindsight, in my mind, where I deliver perfectly executed and personally engaging responses) and I remember certain aspects of my school days well enough that I don't like to potentially sour interpersonal relationships I can't get away from. (So basically I tend to be somewhat more likeable when I'm stuck with you, but fortunately this is the internet and so I can be a big meanie here.) It takes quite some time until I feel comfortable talking to someone about who I live with, or stuff like that. I guess there's this nebulous ideal of coming out to the whole world but I don't quite see the point, beyond maybe sending a message of sorts.
If there's one thing I'm completely committed to, it's that I will never judge people solely for who they are, or even who they think they are (where I live, I have some -- completely accurate, of course -- prejudices about people with certain career specializations: I tend to think that they get into their field mainly because of things they think they need to do or ways they think they need to be. And these thoughts are completely stupid and harmful and I will never encourage anyone to think them, but still I'm not gonna go and blame them for having those thoughts.)
So, there's one thing I want to say to everyone who's struggling with coming out or coming to terms with stuff: nobody has any business judging you as a person. Not even yourself, in fact. If you're confused about yourself, or if you're having having trouble finding your place in the world, you have my sincere sympathy. I can, with complete confidence and no white lies, say that I think you're okay, even though I've never met you and maybe know nothing at all about you. I think that way about everyone, and if it helps you if I say it about you specifically, well, here you go.
I know it's hard to be all alone with something new and/or confusing, and I know how scary it can be to get some support... but I can also say that there are always people who will be on your side, and there are people you can talk to in comfortable anonymity, which is a lot more helpful than you may think. Another thing that's going to help: in figuring everything out, think of yourself first. There's only one person who can always be on your side as long as you live, and that's you. No matter who you are, no matter what you can and can't do, you're entitled to doing that for yourself, and you'll learn to bounce back from everything if you actually dare to unconditionally support yourself. Everyone else's opinion and judgement you can take on a case-by-case basis. People who reject you for things outside of your control are clearly stuck in their own complicated world and it's not your duty to take it personally nor to help them figure it out. Not making it your duty will become easier over time, and it will free you from the tyranny of other people's misguided opinions.
Your life will still be more complicated than many other people's, simply because there are a lot of misguided people, but you'll learn to deal with it and you'll become a bigger person for it. Whenever things get difficult, look first for people who will be on your side, and forget about the rest for a bit. It's completely okay to do that (perfectly legal cheating, basically).
You can do this... even if you don't know yet what exactly "this" is going to be.