Stigma. Stereotypes. Discrimination. All sources of fear and reasons why people hide who they really are.
I remember watching a scene on TV when I was a teen. Two men were kissing. "Eurgh!" one of my family members said.
"Why is that eurgh?" I asked him.
"It's not natural, it should be a man and a woman," he told me.
I immediately knew he'd been talking to a certain woman in my family again.
This woman spent a lot of time educating us on her view of homosexuality. For a while, some of my family genuinely believed that gay men and lesbian women chose to have partners of the same sex just to cause a stir.
"They could have a normal family if they wanted, they just want to annoy people", I was told.
Well, God forbid I reveal the girlfriend I'd had briefly as a teen, then.
"Oh, it's just a phase people go through," is what I'd been told by family members when the topic of same-sex attraction came up. My phase was pretty long, then. Because I knew I was attracted to both men and women pretty early on.
I didn't get over my "phase" - I found myself sharing a kiss with a woman when I was 20, and also dating men throughout my time at University.
I would hear comments from people such as: "Bisexual people are greedy"; "If you say you're bi you're just really horny", and for a while I'd think that of myself. It was very hard for me to simply accept that yes, I'm attracted to men and women. Because it was different, compared to my friends, I didn't say anything. I still don't, sometimes - but that's just because I can't be bothered with the "Oh, I'd never have guessed," "You don't seem like you would be" comments that I'm sick of getting off people.
It reminds me of the Harry Potter fan who tweeted JK Rowling.
That exchange was in my mind when I pulled up a friend for saying: "My old colleague, this lesbian called..."
"Hang on," I said. "Why does it matter that she's a lesbian? What bearing does that have on who she is as a person?"
Growing up, I'd go to school and be educated on celebrating diversity. At one point, my teacher had thrown her arms up into the air and gone: "Does someone's sexuality really matter?" I'd agreed whole-heartedly with the sentiment, but once class was over, the people around me would still make snide comments and jokes centred around a narrow-minded attitude towards same-sex attraction. I'd find myself forming crushes on both men and women, but having to suppress half of them in order to fit in.
Fast-forward 7 years, and I'm talking to a girl online who I'd be attending University with. The conversation reached a point where she admitted: "Yeah I'm attracted to women lol". "Fair," I replied, before continuing to discuss our blogs. It barely registered with me, but I could just imagine the comments my old classmates would have made if something like that had been said during my school days.
I began to accept myself once I reached my early twenties. It wasn't easy. I was still surrounded by people who had attitudes I disagreed with. One girl told me I should keep "that part of myself" secret because it would "attract the wrong people". "Stick to men," she told me.
I admitted my sexuality to a boyfriend once. He immediately assumed I was attracted to everybody and that I was more likely to cheat. He was also convinced there was a high likelihood that I'd "turn full lesbian" and run off with a woman. Apparently the fact I was committed to him meant nothing. Needless to say, we're no longer together.
What I fail to understand is why someone's sexuality should have an impact on anyone else. Why should anyone have the right to pass comment on who somebody is attracted to and who they want to be with? Why should anybody be made to feel inferior, or weird, or different - all things I felt, growing up - because of who they are? Why can we not celebrate the diversity of people we encounter in our lives, instead of finding a reason to persecute them? I'm attracted to men and women - so what?
In the words of Katy Perry: "I kissed a girl and I liked it."
Get over it.