When I came out at 17, I was the only gay person that I knew. It was the summer of 2015 and almost overnight, something inside me snapped. I had got to the point where I physically couldn’t pretend that I liked men anymore, or more importantly – I couldn’t hide how infatuated I was with women.
From a young age I knew that I felt differently than my friends did. I’d never had a crush on a male celebrity (but Anne Hathaway was the wallpaper on my phone), and I wasn’t bothered by the teen boys who hung around my friendship group. Then in college, I got a huge crush on one of my female teachers and for the first time, I understood what all the fuss was about. With butterflies, stuttering and blushing, it was a pretty rude awakening.
Coming out was equally as revolutionary for me as it was terrifying. I didn’t have to hide who I was anymore, and it felt like the world had been lifted from my shoulders. But almost straight away I had to confront stereotypes about what kind of life I would have, and whether I would meet anyone. As free as I felt, I was anxious about other people’s reactions and there was a part of me that hoped it actually was a phase.
But when I met my best friend Belle on my first day of university, the fact that I was gay was basically the first thing she knew about me.
A group of us on the same course had been chatting on Facebook and decided to meet up. Walking over to the pub, someone asked if we had boyfriends. Belle replied that she did, and I said something along the lines of, “Well, I actually just like girls.” It was a huge moment for me, as I hadn’t ever told anyone I’d just met so easily before.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want them to know, in fact I’d been excited to go to university so I could be open about who I was. But immediately after I said it, I wondered if I’d told my new friends too soon. I was nervous about how they would react. I tried not to think the worst, but my mind flashed with worries that the girls would think I fancied them and keep me at an arm’s length, and the boys be awkward around me. Luckily as it turns out, neither of those things happened – my comment landed without reaction. I’d picked a good bunch from day one.
As freshers drew on, Belle and I got closer. We went to lectures together, had movie nights, went clubbing and shared more bottles of white rum than I think either of us want to remember. We came as a duo – where she went, I did too.
Although the anxiety surrounding my sexuality had subsided a bit, it was still there lingering at the back of my mind. I hadn’t come out to my parents yet and as time went on, it hung more and more over my head. One night, I kissed one of my male friends – much to their surprise. It was a moment of panic, a test for myself that didn’t work. I left the bar straight away and met up with Belle, sobbing as I told her how I’d been feeling, realising that this was really it.
Belle is straight, so I wasn’t sure if she would understand my reaction. After all, I really did know that there was nothing wrong with being gay. But I’d never met anyone who felt the way I did before – about any gender – so I had no idea what my life was going to look like.
Without missing beat, she said that she understood where I was coming from. But I needed to accept that I was gay, because I’d do more damage to myself in the long term trying to pretend otherwise. It wasn’t like that night solved everything, but having someone sympathise with how I was feeling was a huge flood of relief.
There is no doubt that having LGBTQ+ identifying friends is important for queer people and today, I’m lucky enough to have many. But realistically those friendships are few and far between when you're growing up, as people realise they aren't straight at different ages. Just like I was, young queer people are often forced to rely on those who don’t really understand what they’re going through when coming out and how their sexuality affects their lives. But great allies, like Belle, want to learn about queer experiences. They don’t tell you what matters and what doesn’t, they listen to what you tell them, do their own research, they recognise their position and truly don’t treat you any differently because of yours.
When my first relationship with a woman ended in 2017, of course Belle was right there. My ex and I had been going out for about a year and to say that it ended badly would an understatement. I quickly spiralled, unable to cope with the breakdown of the relationship and the same insecurities that had followed me around at 17 reared their head again.
By this time, Belle and I had been in each other’s pockets for over a year, and had seen each other at our best and worst. With this, I was quickly reminded of three things about her; she is fiercely loyal, unimaginably selfless and, admirably, has absolutely no time for bullshit.
So while she picked me up off the floor, surrounded me with positivity and post-break up support - when I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel, she made me pull myself back together. There would be no languishing in self-pity in our house. And I learnt an important lesson. A friend that holds you up in a particularly dark time is lifesaving, but a friend who helps you come out of it stronger and encourages you to be accountable for your own happiness really is one in a million.
Over the past five years, Belle and I have been there for each other at every milestone. Navigating haphazardly through our early 20s together, we’ve stayed as close as we were at 18 and have continued to be each other’s first point of call - whether that's in a crisis or, thankfully more often, simply to arrange plans at the weekend. I know that our friendship has helped me gain the confidence to be who I am unapologetically, and I will never undervalue the impact she’s had on my life.
Every day this week, to celebrate International Women's Day, we're sharing another story of the power of female friendship. See below for more.
Follow Grace on Instagram.
Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.
You Might Also Like