I experienced a second coming of age when I came out as bisexual

My first ‘coming of age’ felt inauthentic (Picture: Eleanor Noyce)

I always felt that I was a little bit different growing up. 

Watching my straight friends experience all those typical coming of age moments, I felt like a fake, and waited for something to click.

I wanted to embrace my love of queer pop icons but instead laughed along as my friends obsessed over various popular boy bands. I wanted to dye my hair blue, but instead chose highlights.

While everyone else embarked on authentic first dates, I felt attracted to boys, but something within me felt hazy, as though I hadn’t quite pieced something together.

Once, when I was 14, we played Spin The Bottle, and I kissed a girl: I kept the spark I felt quiet, and for years afterwards, I wondered whether I might be queer.

Detecting this spark made me feel dirty, unsettling something deep within. I had never considered that I might not be straight, and exploring my sexuality simply wasn’t an option. Living in a rural, Conservative area in southern England, there were no LGBT+ spaces: I buried these feelings, but they only resurfaced.

I began to seriously consider my queerness at 16. Every time I went out with friends to drink Lambrini on ‘the hill’, a typical haunt for teenagers from my small Hertfordshire town, I would find myself getting drunk, confessing my feelings to friends, and then forgetting I had mentioned anything at all.

It became a running joke that every time I consumed a sip of alcohol, I would proclaim: ‘Guys, I think I’m bi.’

All these years of confusion meant that I experienced my queer ‘firsts’ later than most. My first queer kisses, first queer dates, and first queer sexual encounters took place in my early twenties, having experienced these opposite-sex milestones as a teenager.

Though I was always attracted to boys, my inability to understand what was going on with my own identity tarnished these experiences. A part of me didn’t feel fully revealed, but I couldn’t understand what that part of me was.

Yet, an ex-boyfriend recently remarked that it felt that I ‘wasn’t being honest’ to myself about something, whatever that might have been. Many of my teenage relationships might have been more meaningful had I come to this realisation sooner. 

As a result, my first ‘coming of age’ felt inauthentic. In my experience, it’s a time focused on experiencing newfound freedoms and exploring identity, rather than encompassing the entire experience of adolescence.

Back then, I felt confused that this period felt more underwhelming than inauthentic. This wasn’t helped by my penchant for coming-of-age movies, but I felt bored by my decidedly mundane teenage existence. I had no mysterious indie boys (or girls) to kiss and no boomboxes to hold against the sky.

All I had was a Foster The People CD awkwardly handed to me by a boy outside GCSE French.

I officially came out to my friends at 18, and they laughed: ‘Ellie, we know’ (Picture: Eleanor Noyce)

As a teenager, I lacked community: I knew of a few queer kids in my year at school, but I saw the way they were ostracised, so I stayed firmly in the closet. 

The Office for National Statistics reports that in the UK, people in their late teens and early twenties are more likely to identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.

Among millennials, the average age at which people come out is 20, rendering it entirely possible that many have experienced the same second coming of age as I.

Eventually, I got to the point where I knew that I needed to be truthful, sober. It had got to the point where friends weren’t sure whether they could refer to me as bisexual or not, and I knew that this wasn’t fair.

I officially came out to my friends at 18, and they laughed: ‘Ellie, we know. You told us when you were drunk.’

My revelation wasn’t entirely ground-breaking, but it felt completely cathartic to utter the thoughts I’d suppressed for years out loud. 

After this, my life completely changed, and for the better. I went to Pride in London for the first time, and when I moved to university, my small-town self was introduced to other LGBT+ people who were colourful and diverse.

I eventually came out to my mum when I was 21 – again, to little surprise. Holing myself up in the living room for hours, I had made a promise to myself and my then-girlfriend that I would tell her that evening. 

I’d been putting it off for months. As she was about to go to bed, I blurted it out.

‘You silly sausage, I love you no matter what,’ she reassured me, as I sobbed into her arms. Twenty-one years of repression, regret, and worry fell away instantaneously. 

Coming out to myself was a watershed moment, and in many ways, I divide my experiences of youth between before coming out, and after.

Slowly dipping my toes into my new queer world at 20, I enjoyed my first proper kiss with a woman; my first queer relationship, and my first queer heartache.

I was experiencing all the typical teenage ‘firsts’ in colour for the first time in my 20s, and I owned it as my second, queer coming of age.

I was experiencing all the typical teenage ‘firsts’ in colour for the first time in my 20s (Picture: Eleanor Noyce)

For the first time, I felt free. Now, my relationships, both romantic and platonic, are more meaningful for having had the courage to come out not only to my family and friends, but to myself.

However, after coming out, I struggled to find my place in the local LGBT+ community. I felt that I didn’t fit into gay bars or straight bars, so my initial response was to explore LGBT+ media.

The first show with a cult queer following that I obsessed over was Skam, a Norwegian series following a group of high schoolers, and though I was almost 20, I joined younger teenagers in fangirling on Tumblr. It was like I was 14 all over again, but this time, I was relishing in my sexuality. 

Society loves to dictate what teenage girls should and shouldn’t enjoy, so I outwardly spoke of my love for Radiohead and Jeff Buckley. These weren’t a façade, but it seemed more acceptable than admitting I liked queer pop, too.

Now, my playlists are dominated by the queer pop I shied away from admitting I liked as a teenager. When Lady Gaga’s Just Dance came out in 2009, I fell in love, secretly downloading it onto my iPod Shuffle. I didn’t want to be labelled ‘basic’ or ‘gay’ for relishing in female pop artists while my friends fawned over One Direction.

Retrospectively, my second coming of age allowed me to explore my own queerness. For the first time, I learnt about LGBT+ history and queer culture, and all those years of hiding behind a mirage subsided.

I found my queer family; realised my love of drag, and even began to write about LGBT+ issues for the university newspaper. Even the way I outwardly presented myself changed, as my wardrobe shifted from dull clothes that drowned my curvy figure to the bright colours and patterns I’d always dreamed of wearing, but shied away from. 

I’m 23 now and coming out was undoubtedly the best thing I’ve ever done. Admitting to myself that I wasn’t straight opened me up to the second coming of age, which continues to impact my adult life.

The inauthenticity I experienced before acts as a reminder that honest, authentic experiences are what I want to feel as an out, bisexual woman.

Coming out is one thing; growing into your sexuality is another. Owning my queerness in my late teenage years is the most empowering thing I could’ve done. 

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