note: I received The Times I Knew I Was Gay as an e-arc from the publisher.
cw for the book: lesbophobia, use of the d slur, disordered eating. body image issues
cw for the post: discussions of lesbophobia
I didn’t realize I was a lesbian until the summer before my junior year of high school. I was 16 (but calling myself almost 17), and at that point, there was still hope in my family that I might one day get a boyfriend. (Three years later, it’s quietly accepted that if they asked about my relationships they might get an answer they won’t like by all but the youngest members of my family.) A running joke for my entire high school career up until that point was that, well, I was lesbian and one of my best friends was a gay man. And this joke continued no matter how many times I told my friends I ID’d as bi. But beyond the fact that seemingly everyone I met thought I was a lesbian, I had never even considered it.
That changed that summer. About a month before I realized I was a lesbian, a certain author wrote an essay saying that a certain character couldn’t be a lesbian since that would be a harmful stereotype. Now, I’m a bit ashamed to admit this, but I was still active on Tumblr back then (which would stop soon after I came out on there as a lesbian and realized how unfriendly that website was to lesbians), and I saw the hurt this caused lesbians at the time. More importantly, the conversation afterwards introduced me to a term I’d never heard before: comphet or compulsory heterosexuality.
I won’t be defining the term here. Because what matters is that I learned about the term. I read academic sources on it. I read firsthand accounts of it. (I never did read the Sacred Texts.) What matters is that I dug and dug and read and read about experiences that felt closer and closer to my own. What matters is that something finally clicked, and I found an identity that fit me.
Reading the Times I Knew I Was Gay by Eleanor Crewes, a graphic memoir about Crewes own lesbian discovery process, I was brought back to then. My experiences echoed the ones shown in the book and I felt seen in a way that only two books (both, coincidentally, 2020 releases just like The Times I Was Gay) before had made me feel. It was a cathartic feeling. And it was a bittersweet feeling too.
Drawing on her own experiences, Crewes touches on the ways that we can latch onto characters and those characters tendency to end up being a lesbian or bi with Crewes obsession with Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She touches on the way that lesbians just pick a boy to a crush on when we are younger or, when we are older, how we pick men to be attracted to. She touches on the ways that even if we decide that we ‘like’ a man, we look for ways to pick them apart and the smallest things turn us off them. She touches on the way that lesbians always feel a little different from our peers in a way we can’t really reconcile. She touches on the ways we are expected to change ourselves and hide who we are in order to fit in.
And it’s all painfully relatable. And it’s like a warm mug of coffee on a cold, autumn day. And it felt like an acknowledgement that what I’ve experienced is normal, at least to a small group of people.
I imagined, vividly, how having this book to read when I was a young teen or even a kid would’ve helped. No matter the technical issues I had with the art style, this was a book that spoke to me, reflected myself back at me in a way only another lesbian could do. And that’s powerful. And that would’ve helped me immensely if I had been given this when I was questioning.
It’s something I think about often but even in 2017, no resources on lesbianism were particularly available to me. I had to dig for them. I had to find them myself. It’s not like I was a stranger to the LGBTQ+ community when I first thought I might be a lesbian. For five years, since I was 11, I knew I belonged in the community. I had seen countless resources over the years but never about realizing you are a lesbian, about picking apart the ways society tell people raised as girls that they like men.
And I know I realized I was a lesbian when I was young, that I realized I wasn’t straight even younger but I think there’s something tragic in the fact I lost spent so many years with only a partial understanding of who I am. I hope, I desperately hope, that a book the Times I Knew I Was Gay can help lesbians discover who we are without having to read theory and actively learn to dismantle the ways we have been taught to conceive of womanhood all on their own. I hope it can make them feel a little less alone in this incredibly isolating process. I hope it gives them something to point to and say “Yeah that’s what how I feel” and use it to point themselves in the right direction.
That, I think, is the value of lesbian memoirs and lesbians sharing their experiences in general. They have the power to make us feel less alone. They have the power to show us things about ourselves we might not even realize. They have the power to push us towards the community we will find a home in.
buy the book*: https://bookshop.org/a/13798/9781982147105
*this is an affiliate link. I will earn a small commission if you use it.