When we were young, we came out online, to strangers, because the internet was the safest place we knew.
I’ve never met the first person I came out to. We’ve been friends online for eleven years now after meeting through a Wheel of Time forum roleplay game. Yes, we’re really nerdy. Yes, we really love Wheel of Time. Her main character and one of my three main characters fell in love in the game and there was much angst.
And sometime while planning our epic reunion for the two starcrossed lovers, she asked me how I was doing, and I said, “I think I’m in love with [one of my best friends].” And she said, “OH! Does she feel the same way?” And that was it.
My high school was conservative and closeted. While I know statistically, some of my teachers must have been LGBTQIA+ identifying, none of them were out in the school. There wasn’t a Gay-Straight Alliance. ‘Gay’ and ‘Lesbo’ were thrown around as slurs on a regular basis. People stuck their tongues through their V’d fingers at my female friends and I. It wasn’t safe.
But secrets are paralyzing and so incredibly heavy. They affect every part of your life. I firmly believe that carrying the secret and confusion of my identity and the wobbly lines between friendships and romances for me.
Being able to confide in my online friend was a gift, and a lifesaver. It never occurred to me that I should worry about coming out to someone whose faith is not particularly welcoming to the LGBTQIA+ community. Because she was welcoming to me, and continues to be generous, kind, and empathetic to this day. We talked about my interactions with the girl, analyzed them as closely as we had analyzed her crushes on various guys in her school.
When I went to college, I IMed her. “I think I’m going to come out here.”
She said, “Yay! I’m so happy for you! This is exciting!”
In Firefly, the ill-fated space western TV show, there’s a line that says, “When you can’t run, you crawl. And when you can’t do that, you find someone to carry you.”
The world’s a different place than it was when I graduated high school ten years ago. Gay marriage is legal. Gay celebrities aren’t caricatures or punch lines of jokes. They have TV shows that aren’t about their queerness but about them, as people. There’s been a national push for equality, and now for heightened awareness around people who make up the BTQIA part of the acronym. But still, in small towns and big cities all across the US, it might not be safe for a teen to come out. LGBTQIA youth have higher rates of depression, anxiety, suicide attempts, and suicides.
For me, I couldn’t run, so I crawled, for years, in confusion. And when I couldn’t crawl anymore, I found a community that was safe for me. That existed online in fandom, and with my friend Jules, who carried me until I could run again.
Katherine Locke lives and writes in a very small town outside of Philadelphia, where she’s ruled by her feline overlords and her addiction to chai lattes. She writes about that which she cannot do: ballet, time travel, and magic. When she’s not writing, she’s probably tweeting. She not-so-secretly believes most stories are fairy tales in disguise. She’s the author of TURNING POINTE, SECOND POSITION, and FINDING CENTER, available through major ebook retailers. She can be found online at katherinelockebooks.com and, always, on Twitter: @bibliogato.