When I was a little girl, I thought I was a boy.
By Evelyn Platel
Why was I thinking of myself as a boy? I do not know. I cannot explain it. It was natural to me. As far back as I can remember, in my psyche, I thought and acted like a boy.
I did not mind being in dresses but I felt good in pants, and I still remember that I liked that wide leather belt that went so well with them. My best friend was the boy upstairs. We liked playing with his toys, and we would play football and tennis and for a long time, it did not occur to me that there was a physical difference between him and me.
He was a bit older than I was so even though we went to the same school, we were not in the same class. In my class my best friend was a girl. She was tall, strong, and afraid of nothing, while I was more discreet and shy. However, we found the right balance, and we liked the same games. I would not have paid any attention to any of this if I had not had a twin who was quite different. She was all girly, and like quiet, girly games. She liked playing with dolls and her favorite was, of course, Barbie. I did not care about her Barbies at all, and I never wanted one for myself.
Instead, I liked boy’s toys like Big Jim action figures. They were strong and muscular and came with all kinds of adventure clothes, weapons, cars, and bikes. I think I was projecting myself into those action figures. When I was watching movies, I was always the guy while my sister was admiring the ladies' outfits and beauty.
Things changed when my body started to transform with puberty. It had never occurred to me that I would have breasts one day and when this started to happen, I remember watching in disbelief! I clearly remember becoming aware of the fact that I was becoming a young girl and this did not thrill me at all. I was sad inside, although I do not think I ever mentioned it. I hated the way my chest looked and I think for a while my mind managed to ignore this change. When Mom told me that we had to go shopping for some bras, I did not want to go and it made me angry. Why did I have to wear those silly things?
It is around that time that my twin and I left the school we were attending in our small town to go to a big school in the city. Life was so different there, and the kids were different too. I lost contact with my best friend at home, and at school, the boys were not interested in having me on the team. I was too shy to impose.
It was a difficult time for me. I did not understand what was going on with me and I could not find whom I was. I was dressed in black all the time, not wanting to buy any other clothes. I wonder what kind would I have bought anyway. I was also feeling sick and stressed all the time. Of course, I had friends but I was feeling different from them. They were clearly starting to pay attention to boys, finding so and so handsome and attractive, but I was feeling nothing. I was not pretending though. I do not know how I managed it but I did not give in and pretend to be interested in talking to any boys in my class or on the playground. I would say that overall, I was just weird, and once that personality established I was accepted as such. Well, I suppose that is true if accepting means bullying for being shy, a bit overweight, and wearing glasses. This lasted for a few years, and when I turned fifteen, things became a bit easier for me. I started to find my personality.
I immersed myself into songs and discovered country and folk music. The sadness spoke to me certainly, but the light side of this music brought me joy. I guess the fact that I was from a small town going to school in a big city made me feel like a country girl. I also liked the cowboy look, I started wearing jeans and cowboy boots, and strangely enough, I started feeling myself and not paying so much attention to what the others were saying. This Catholic school was full of middle class and upper middle class kids all dressed up in expensive clothing, and I was enjoying playing the rebel one. Finally, I began feeling accepted as such by my group of friends…really accepted. Some of them started flirting at this period. I started trying to feel what they might be feeling, looking for any sign that I might start being attracted to boys but it was not On the other hand, I became aware that I was more interested in checking out women. If a new teacher announcement occurred, I would wonder what she would look like and such.
It was a very slow process since at the time I thought I would eventually develop crushes on boys. I was telling myself that I was just a bit slow and that eventually I would become like my friends so I over looked what was happening with women, and how they were when I was around sixteen, I started paying extra attention to my English teacher. I sucked at English. I had not intended to be able to speak a single word of this foreign language. My grades were disastrous and all the English teachers I had treated me with the same disdain I had for their discipline, but not with her. She wanted to understand why I was not doing better, took extra time to explain when I was lost, and was always supportive when my grades were not improving. Little by little I started looking forward to my English classes, started doing my homework with more conviction, and when the end of the year arrived I felt sad because I was not going to see her again. I felt such happiness inside when she told the class that she would be our teacher the next year too!
Things were coming into place for me. This woman was helping me learning this language and at the same time, she was giving a sense of worth that I had never had before. After years bullying, I had the chance to meet someone who was teaching me to fight, to improve myself and now I was able to understand all those Dolly Parton songs. That was definitely a plus.
My friends started questioning my sexuality then. We were all around sixteen and I was never talking about dating. Since dating meant dating a boy, I was still not ready. This started to
make me feel uncomfortable. On one hand, I was thinking that I was still young, that I had plenty of time and on the other, I started to suspect that it would never happen. Just the thought of holding hands with a boy seemed so weird to me and devoid of any sense. Kissing was gross and as for having sex, it was plain disgusting. No, I would wait, that sounded safe. I had absolutely no one around me who was gay. I had no role model, no positive image. Homosexuality, rarely discussed at home or anywhere else, had me doing my own research with
the little possibilities that I had. There was no internet at the time, so I began looking for mention of it in books and magazines. The image of gay people was not a happy one, often described as being tortured and unhappy, and the stories would have a sad ending.
However, not all my researches were in vain. I started reading about the feminist movement and it was very empowering. I was still struggling to reconcile my inside male identity with my feminine body and calling myself a feminist helped me for a while. I thought I had found an answer to what I was. I was a feminist and wanted no submission to any male. It sounds a bit farfetched now, but at the time, it was the best answer I had. One day a friend asked me if I was bisexual. Now that was something! It was so important for me on so many levels. First, it meant that it would be okay for my friends to have a bisexual woman in the group and it opened for me the possibility of being something different from simply straight. The idea made its way in my mind and I started playing with the idea of being with a woman. I was far from wanting to act on whatever feeling I might have for a woman but I remember clearly that I allowed myself to fantasize about being with a woman. It was so sweet and pleasant and it felt right, yes, it I had forced myself to picture me with boys, thinking that in the end, it would work and I would feel OK with the situation, but ended up with a knot in my stomach each time. Now I had this little fantasy world where I was myself and so sure that was where
I belonged. Well almost, one problem remained. In this world, I was a man and if at first it was okay, it became clear after a while that I had a serious problem on my hands. For a few years, though I let it at that, since I had not come up with any solution.
During my last year at school, I made a huge step forward. I admitted to myself that I was attracted to my teacher. Seeing her and working hard to improve my grades was my everyday life and I was happy with it, even more so since I had decided to go to university to study English and that I would go to the United States for a short stay. Things were going exactly the way I wanted and it gave a sense of harmony. The sexual aspect of my newfoundidentity would soon disrupt this harmony. Questions kept coming Am I a lesbian if I have never slept with a woman? What do I do with this feeling of being a man sexually? What will I do if I never meet anybody like me? I had to find answers, so since I am an intellectual I looked
for the answers in books, of course, not in France though. My twin had spent ten days in London the previous year. She told me that I would love it, so we went. I had taken information about the Gay London, I had addresses for gay stores, and especially a bookstore
called Silvermoon, I will always miss this wonderful place. It was my first contact with the lesbian world. It was overwhelming because there were so many books about lesbians, magazines,and videos too. I was like a child in front of the Christmas tree. I bought my first lesbian novels there. The reading was a bit laborious, I was just starting reading whole books in English, but it added to the thrill of reading my first love scenes between two women. I also bought magazines and I started putting pictures on what other lesbians looked like. I was attracted to some, I found a reflection of myself in others, and some put me off completely.Bringing all those books and magazines home were a challenge, and I am not talking about watching any videos. I was in my early 20s, still living in my parents' house, and I had never mentioned anything to them. How could I have talked about what was going on in my head when it was already so complicated to understand it myself?
I hid my books the best I could, reading them at night and watching the videos when everyone was asleep with the sound turned low. It was a lot of stress but the world I was discovering
was like a drug, and I found refuge into it. It was where I was really me. For some time, I was happy with this situation. I had my little secret world where I was learning who I was, what I liked, and did not like. Nevertheless, it could not last forever and I started feeling very isolated. I had a bunch of friends but none of them was gay. I started to wonder again how I could say that I was a lesbian if I had never slept with a woman. Was I even sure that I was going to like it? What would happen if I remained single all my life?
It was driving me crazy.Then I met the woman who would become my first lover. I had found a job that summer and I was doing some small chores for a woman who I rapidly suspected was gay. She confirmed it when she started talking about her partner, a partner with whom she was not living. I was rather pleased with it, of course! I was finally meeting someone like me! That was huge. We were rather comfortable with each other, even though she was older than I was, and had a crazy side that I had not, she brought lightness into my life that I certainly needed. So when she offered me to go on vacation with her for a few days I accepted. Was I naive enough not to see what would be coming next? I do not think so. I know now that somewhere inside me, I knew exactly what would happen between us and I so badly needed a first time that I did not care about the partner or the age difference or anything. I also know now that I was not attracted to her, I was just looking for some experience, and I took the first opportunity that crossed my path. I was lucky with my choice. This woman proved to be a terrific lover. She gave me the answers I so badly needed at this point in my life. Being in her arms felt instantly right, and that was wonderful. There was no disgust, no fear, no question of what I was doing, and no more question of who I was. I could be both feminine and masculine, and that was just fine. Since that day, I have never wanted to be a man again. Back home from the vacation we started seeing each other every now and then. I got addicted to being with her. I was proud to think that I had a girlfriend and the sex was great. On rare occasions, we would spend the night together, and I would systematically wake up in the middle of the night thinking I had heard a door opening and it would be my parents or a complete stranger discovering us together! I knew that I would have to come out and it was nagging at me. The first person I was able to come out to was my twin. She already knew, but I wanted to tell her that I was dating a woman. She was okay with, it but not ready for the drama it would create if I came out to my parents. I told her that I was not ready either. Even if our relationship was rather new, soon my "girlfriend" admitted to her partner that she was cheating on her, and after almost a year we broke up. I knew that was the best thing to do, but for the young woman that I was, it was very painful and I became very depressed. Fortunately, I had a friend at university I had come out to who took good care of me. She would invite me to every party she was giving, and I was able to talk openly with some of her friends. It was at one of those parties that I met a nice couple and they gave me the best advice ever. When I told them that I was not out to my family and that I did not know any other lesbians, the guy told me that it was not good for me to He said, “Look for a lesbian association downtown. You cannot stay like this. It's good to have friends, but you need some lesbian friends too."
I was terrified to do it and equally terrified by the idea of staying alone, so I looked for some associations and found one in town. I easily found the telephone number and with the energy of despair, I called them. A nice woman answered, explained to me how the association was working, and told me that if I wanted, I could meet her and she would explain the functioning of it all.Around that time, my twin told me that she thought Mom was suspecting something. She had actually found an issue of Curve magazine in my room and asked my sister about it. I took it as a sign that Mom was not ready to confront me directly, and this did not help. My sister told her to deal with me, so I got no help from my sister either. To tell the truth, my Curve magazines were in plain view because I was not hiding them anymore. I was getting tired of hiding everything in my room and in my life. My sister was dating someone and it was getting serious. They were moving in together and the family was talking about it a lot. They were happy about it but I was not. I had my own struggling going on inside, nobody knew about it, and I felt like I was on the outside looking in while everybody had their own life that seemed so easy.
For me, part of the problem was that since I was not out, so people would assume that I was straight. My grandma knew that something was wrong, and she would tell me that I too, would find a nice guy and that I just needed a bit more time. She sure thought she was helping while she was just deepening the wound. The secret I had became almost unbearable. I started hating myself for being single, for being in the closet, and for everything and anything. It became clear that I had to do something about it or I would go insane, and the easiest thing was to stop hiding my books and magazines. It was like an emergency call and it worked. I had told myself that I would come out when I had a real girlfriend,someone I could present to my family, with whom I was really in love etc…, but things were becoming too heavy so I seized the opportunity to come out.
I came out to my Mom first. One day I went to pick her up after work and on our way home, I started to talk about the magazine she had found. The car was the perfect place. Since I was driving I could not possibly looked her in the eyes. I cannot remember exactly what I told her, it is all blurry, but I told her that I would like to date a girl instead of a boy. I remember her asking me if I was sure. I also remember she then told me to think hard about it because it would make my life more complicated. She acted as if I had the choice! I did not choose to be gay. I did not choose to be different and there was nothing I could do about it, apart from pretending to be straight, and that is not what I was going to do. That is about all I can remember about my coming out, this and the huge relief I felt afterward. My Mom did not cry or make a scene, and more important she did not reject me.I only came out to my Mom, but my Dad and the rest of the family would have to wait. I was not ready for it. I had another task on my hands; meeting with the people of the lesbian association. Once I had overcome my shyness, meeting other lesbians became comforting. The realization that I was not alone gave me some strength and pride. I became good friends with some women and we would meet every week with the association, go to restaurants,and to Lesbian parties. I had never been a huge party person. Going to straight parties was of no interest to me. Things were a bit different with lesbian parties. The sheer fact of being in a room full of gay women was enough for me to enjoy the evening. I did not turn into a dance floor addict, nor a heavy drinker, but I felt at ease and proud to be there, able to enjoy myself at last.I went that year to my first gay pride in Paris. It was overwhelming and scary at the same time. Being able to be there, down the street with so many gays and lesbians instead of watching it on television, gave a sense of accomplishment. I could start to feel proud of myself. At the same time, I felt scared, and a little uncomfortable. Some people were too loud, too "in your face" and I was not used to it at all.
It was just the beginning of my journey. I had so many aspects of the gay and lesbian world that I had to discover. I thought I had to embrace the community as a whole and support every aspect of it. With time, I understood that there were things I would like and other I would not like so much, and that was fine. In this world, as in the straight world, I would have to find my place, affirm my personality, and learn to love and respect me first.
My Dad does not talk much and is a very reserved man. I do not remember when I actually came out to him, but I do have a clear memory of that day. I was going through a hard time. Despite having lesbian friends and many activities, I was still single and the few women I had had crushes on led nowhere. One day I was crying and I went to my Dad for some comfort. He asked me what was wrong. It was then that I spilled it all out. I told him that I was feeling lonely, and that I wanted a girlfriend and not a boyfriend, and that I was so tired of all this.
My Dad took me in his arms and told me that I would be okay. He said one of the strangest things I have ever heard him say when he told me that he understood me perfectly, and that he would not want to date a boy either. I took it as clumsy way to say that he was okay with me being gay. The most important thing to me at the time was that he did not reject me.
Fifteen years have passed since then. I have met a wonderful woman who is now my partner. When I met her, I completed my coming out, telling the rest of my family that I wanted them to meet my girlfriend. She has been welcomed everywhere. I guess that they already knew I was gay. That said we do not talk much about homosexuality. I do know that they love us, and that is what counts. I will admit that the status quo is sometimes bothering to me. Are they okay with my homosexuality or are they more comfortable ignoring this part Being born and raised in a family in which people don't talk much makes the situation more difficult but this doesn’t' mean that I am discreet about who I am. I am not in the closet anymore. When introduced to someone new to the family I present my partner as such, and not just a friend. If they are uncomfortable, it is their problem, not mine. I am not going to stay in the closet in order for straight people to keep thinking that the world is one-
dimensional. One day my brother-in-law asked me why I needed to talk about being gay. The reason is that if we keep quiet, if we never say that we are gay, if we never show that we are normal people, as straight people are considered norma,l then they would never learn.
It is our responsibility, or at least I consider it my responsibility to Is it hard to be gay? The answer is yes and no. What makes it hard is the way society handles it. It is the ways people make us think that we are less than, that we are different, and thus inferior.
There is a lot of hypocrisy in all this that will need to be addressed My partner and I have been insulted down the streets a few times. One time in Disneyland, Paris two guys who thought it would amuse their girlfriends pushed us around! I do not always feel safe holding her hand or kissing her in public. Nevertheless,this love is worth any of this. I like being gay, I would not change it if I could. Loving a woman is the most beautiful thing I have
ever experienced. So yes It has been a hard road and the fight is not over, but as the world slowly opens up its mind and as the fight for equal rights everywhere gains momentum I'm proud to be a woman, I'm proud to be gay, and I'm finally proud to be me.