The Cass Identity Model states that there are six stages to identifying and coming out as one or more of LGBTQ, namely identity confusion, comparison, tolerance, acceptance, pride and synthesis. As with all linear models, there are problems. People like me are problems. I had my first (heterosexual) kiss at thirteen and was so unmoved that I immediately decided I was gay. But I wasn’t about to go and tell the whole world because I was already being bullied to the limit of my tolerance and was in fact dangerously close to a psychotic break – I believed that my teachers had implanted electronic bugs on me and were sitting in the staff room laughing at all the stupid things I said, amongst other pretty dodgy and illogical scenarios. Other than the boy from another school who had thought I was pretty enough to kiss, I was quite convinced that it didn’t matter who I fancied, because there was zero chance of anybody with functioning eyes finding me attractive. Girls, boys, what did it matter? I was toxic to my peers.
At eighteen I was well enough for it to boil to the surface again. I lost my virginity to a female friend quite spontaneously and happily when I’d backed away (sometimes literally ran away) from numerous similar opportunities with high school boyfriends. Then, of course, I confided in a new friend from college who I knew was bisexual and had experienced mental health problems in her adolescence. I thought she would understand, and that she was a safe person to practice coming out to. I didn’t know I was talking to a predator who just wanted a vulnerable fucked up teenager to take home to her boyfriend, so they could use me as they saw fit with no fear of me reporting them to the police. I was far too scared.
I’ve found it interesting to note the parallels between coming out and assimilating the identity of being a survivor of sexual violence. I remember the confusion almost ten years ago – was it my fault? Was what happened really rape? Do semantics matter? I remember the stage of comparison, and the utter relief when I found that my experiences both of the rape and the subsequent symptoms of PTSD were common among survivors. I remember first tolerating and then accepting the fact that I had been raped. That’s a lot harder than it sounds. You’d think people would rush to absolve themselves of guilt, to argue that the perpetrator held all the power and control and that they had no chance of escaping. What I’ve found from my own experience and that of friends is that we are all too quick to blame ourselves. I think for me, it was because accepting that my life had been completely torn apart through no fault of my own was too devastating to contemplate. It was easier to blame myself, because I could live with the ideas that first of all, I was responsible for my own destruction, and secondly, that I could stop it from happening again by just not being so fucking naive. Finally accepting that I was raped, that those responsible knew exactly what they were doing and that I didn’t have a hope in hell of escaping that situation was truly devastating. But I got there. I accept that now, because the evidence points overwhelmingly to those facts and more than that, I feel the truth in that conclusion. And once I got there, I started to take pride in the fact that I had survived. I know now, I did everything I could. I put their alcopops under the bed, I told them I just felt sick when I was shaking with fear, I pushed them away even though they brought out guns and stories of violence, and I eventually – after hours and hours of terror and pain – let them do what they would, because I genuinely believed they would kill me if I didn’t. And finally, assimilation. When I no longer thought of the rape every day, and no longer thought of myself as a survivor first and the rest of my life history second. It is just one of many parts, now.
I wanted to share this with you. It’s from a book I read a couple of months ago, in which a mother recounted the story of when her daughter came to tell her that her son was gay.
“Then Dana told us that Ben was in the neighbourhood and he was going to drive by the house. We live in a big two-story white house with black shutters and white columns. Dana had promised to give Ben a signal of how we took the news: if we had taken the news really badly, she was to get the hell out of Dodge, and he’d see that her car was out of the driveway, but if we received the news fairly well, she was supposed to put a light on in his bedroom window. Kind of like tie a yellow ribbon.
When I found that out, I just screamed. I couldn’t stand the thought of Ben thinking that we wouldn’t accept him. I said “Quick, help me”, and we turned on every light in the house – even those in the closets. When Ben drove up, even the lights in the back workshop were on.”
Sometimes I wish I’d had the support and the role models around to realise that my first thoughts about my sexuality at age 13 were correct. Then I think that actually, my parents would never have coped back then, so close to their fundamentalist religious upbringings. In 2012, the fact of my being in a homosexual relationship seems to be almost incidental, and both my parents have been so supportive and accepting. And as to the quote – I just wish all the world thought that way. Maybe then there wouldn’t be so many stories like this.