Finding The Rainbow
By Hope-Elizabeth Darris
Hope-Elizabeth is a rising sophomore at Swarthmore College. She is intending to major in Sociology and Anthropology. In her free time she loves to dance, read, act, and continuously rewatch The Office.
Every time June rolls around, I get unbelievably excited. The reason is because June is Pride month.
Pride month, is one of my favorite times of the year. The warm weather, mostly sunny days, and the celebration and acknowledgement of the LGBTQ+ community fills me with love. For the start of this Pride month, I kicked off the celebration by attending Buzzfeed’s Queer Prom. It was one of the few times I was in an environment surrounded solely by queer people, and I thrived. There were numerous times during the night when I felt like crying because I was so moved by the love and positive energy that was in the room. It reminded me just how far I’ve come in my own acceptance of my sexuality.
I realized that I wasn’t straight when I was around 12 years in my sex-ed class in middle school when my teacher talked about how some people like others of their same gender. I remember being so confused because all I grew up hearing was how women are attracted to men and vice versa. I thought back to how in elementary school when I clearly had crushes on girls but at the time, thought nothing of it because I didn’t think it meant anything. However, my sex-ed teacher’s simple statement made me realize that I wasn’t as “straight” as I thought I was.
I accepted this part of myself surprisingly easily, but I wasn’t ready to tell anyone. I kept quiet for about 2 years until the day before my middle school graduation when I told my best friend at the time (who came out as bisexual a few months earlier) that I might possibly, maybe, but probably not, be bisexual. She said something along the lines of, “wow join the club” and that was that. Hearing that response was such a relief. I spoke the words out loud and even though I was nervous and feeling doubt, I knew it was my truth and my friend did too.
When I started high school, I wasn’t actively hiding my sexuality, but I wasn't being completely open about it either. I didn’t openly acknowledge that I was bisexual until junior year when I came out to my best friend in a rushed way which didn’t leave her any time to process the information. Everything about coming out in that way was the opposite of intimate and not exactly how I envisioned myself doing it. I regret putting my friend in a weird position like that but, she responded positively, and I couldn’t have been happier.
Aside from coming out to my best friend, I was very open about my sexuality on Tumblr, Instagram and Twitter, where the LGBT+ community is very vocal. As I became more active on social media in my senior year, I also became more informed. I learned that there are more sexualities than just gay, straight and bisexual, which were the only sexualities I was aware of. I began to learn more about pansexuality, the ace spectrum, and gender identity/gender dysphoria. It was all a lot to take in, and the more I learned the happier I felt.
Gaining all this new information, made me realize that the term bisexual didn’t fit for me. Pansexual (elating to or characterized by sexual desire or attraction that is not limited to people of a particular gender identity or sexual orientation) seemed to fit me more comfortably. By the time I graduated high school, I identified as pansexual.
Pansexual felt correct for a while, until I took a Gender/Sexuality class in my second semester of my first year in college. To start off the semester, we read books that pertained to the three
Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), and their relationship with homosexuality. One author wrote about how even though a big part of sexuality is sex, it’s also about love, compassion and intimacy. I feel silly for never thinking about such an obvious aspect of sexuality because I had only equated sexuality with sex and what genitals a person is attracted to. Upon realizing that sexuality is deeper than just sex, I realized that I wasn’t a pansexual either, I was gay.
I’m not going to lie, I had a complete and utter meltdown. If this whole story is confusing, it’s because I was confused.
I felt like a fraud because I had identified as bisexual first and then pansexual fo bout 6 years of my life. It took months for me to even get to the point where I could admit out loud that I was gay to myself or to my closest friends. The moment I finally admitted it to myself was when I was in church listening to a guest pastor preach a transphobic sermon, how ironic.
I came out on my personal Instagram first, then to my sister and one of my best friends via text. I was so relieved, but I knew I took the easy way out sending a text. I was and still am scared about what it means to be a black gay woman.
Even now, more often than not, I get uncomfortable saying “I’m gay” or “I’m a lesbian” out loud. I can type the words so easily right now, but saying the words out loud makes it real and sometimes I’m just not ready to face reality. The few times I’ve said it out loud, I’ve felt euphoric. My parents know I’m queer (they accidentally found in an interview where I openly talked about being queer), but I’ve never said the words, “I’m gay” to them directly.
It’s been a confusing and slow process, but I know I’m getting closer to accepting my sexuality. A clear example is during the NYC 2018 Pride Parade, where I danced on my high schools’ pride float wearing an obnoxiously large rainbow boa gifted to me by my mom, as glitter and sweat covered my face. I wore a rainbow belt, pink and red flowers in my hair to mimic the lesbian flag. I allowed my outfit to say all the words I was too scared to say out loud. It may take some time to get to the point where I can comfortably and openly talk about my sexuality, but those small and large moments of Pride celebration and acceptance make me feel like my 7-year struggle with my sexuality is worth it.