Camp Pride: My Journey of Coming Out, Falling in Love, and Finding Queer Community
About the Series: Camp Pride
Here at Camp Thirlby, Pride lasts year long—however, this month we want to highlight the stories of queer individuals and how they came to terms with their complex stories and identities. Part of our mission during Pride is to feel proud of all aspects of our identities, no matter how messy they can be. These contributors not only shared their stories, but also spoke them, allowing you to listen and/or read their deeply personal, at times intimate, but always very queer journeys • Illustration by Geordon Wollner.
Twice in the last few weeks I was asked by strangers if I had found love while being an American university student in Montreal. Both times I answered “yes,” and was probed with questions about a “boyfriend” or “husband.” This made me uncomfortable—when I am perceived as straight more often than I am queer, I feel like my queer identity is left unrecognized. As someone who identifies as queer and has dated men in the past, this has been a back and forth struggle for my understanding of self.
For awhile I took advantage of my ability to “pass” as straight because it was easier than being outwardly queer. At the same time, I constantly felt like hooking up with boys was not being true to myself—the connections I had with women transcended every expectation that men never met.
Now that I am dating a woman who I met on Bumble (see “Our Love is a Queer Haven”), I have come into my queerness and see it as something which brings confidence, care, and a critical eye to everything I do. My identity is constituted by my journey working through and present expression of queerness, but that is not all that I am. Growth is a constant process filled with mistakes and lessons learned—this is my coming out and coming into my sexuality.
Coming out: Bisexual to Queer
When I came out to my family at the age of sixteen, I identified as bisexual. For me, being bisexual meant that I was attracted to men and women. As a now twenty-year-old, I prefer the term queer because for me, it accounts for the fact that I am mostly attracted to women, but have also had crushes on genderqueer, trans, and non-binary folx in the past.
One of the biggest misconceptions about coming out is that it happens once—this could not be further from the truth. No matter how well you may try to coordinate it, there is not just one moment where you scream at all of your friends, family, future and past coworkers and acquaintances: “I AM GAY!”
I think I have probably come out a hundred times since I was sixteen. Sometimes I come out every day for several weeks, then I often get exhausted and decide to withhold that slice of myself to the random person who has just asked me for directions at the metro and feels the need to ask if I will be gaining citizenship from my Canadian “boyfriend”.
For me, coming out has always felt like a form of resistance and validation, no matter the response of the person on the other end. But I am starting to learn that I need to bring balance to this realm of my life. At times, coming out is a form of self care, while at other points choosing to not come out is also self care.
Since my first “coming out,” I have learned how important it is to recognize that some people who are not straight do not use identifiers. Language carries heavy histories and cultural associations across socio-political landscapes, meaning that choosing to label oneself as “lesbian” “gay” or “bisexual” can be empowering for one and reductive and misrepresentative for another.
Dating apps as bisexual
After my dissatisfaction with the lack of care, love, and emotional maturity of hook-up culture I experienced my first year of university, I needed a break to learn about myself and prioritize my needs as someone who struggled with anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. Shout out to all of the Cancers who let themselves feel their feelings—that shit is HARD!
I allowed myself to take this sobering and growth filled journey, leading up to my decision to have back surgery January 2018. During my post-operative healing process, I returned to Montreal for a winter semester guided by an incessant wave of desire to explore my social and romantic self. Soon I was on Tinder and Bumble, scrolling through profiles of men and women.
If you are a femme between the ages of 18 and 40 and have ever used a dating app, you likely know the disturbing nature of scrolling through the men section on Tinder. For those who are not familiar, oftentimes men on Tinder send you nude pictures without your consent, hit you with a “you up?” text at 3AM before having ever met up in person, and try painfully overused pick up lines.
As a woman who had checked off Both Men and Women, I was also constantly messaged by presumably straight and cisgender couples who wanted to have a threesome. I did not want to have a threesome.
This is a rather common experience of women who are bisexual or who have been interested in both men and women on dating apps. Often couples will even selectively post images of the female presenting person in the couple to present themselves as a queer femme and then would follow up with an image of them and their boyfriend in my direct messages after a match has occurred.
When this happened to me several times, I became so exhausted by straight couples who wanted to live out their fantasies on me. I completely respect those who want to engage in threesomes or have this type of fantasy; I was just not interested in this. I wanted a monogamous relationship, preferably with a woman. Without a doubt I became unnerved by being constantly bamboozled by these imposters and changed to “Women only” on Bumble and Tinder.
Soon enough, I met an angelic dog mom who loves SZA and Kehlani—it was fate! I met Kayleigh, my current partner, on my first ever Internet date on March 28, 2018. Almost fifteen months later, opening my door to see her smiling face still gives me a rush of excitement, happiness, and love.
Almost 21 and having been dating Kayleigh for almost a year, I am starting to realize how lucky I am to have finally found the queer community that I did. In my first year of university, I had a lot of friends who were straight and cisgender. I will always and have always held our relationships close to my heart, but being the only queer person in the friend group led me to dismiss the valuable forms of validation that are rooted in the shared experience of queerness.
As a young gender studies major at McGill University, I looked around my classrooms and felt intimidated and left out seeing my peers connect with one another as if I had missed a preliminary freshman gay initiation. Becoming more comfortable with myself in my second year, I submitted to F Word Montreal, a student run feminist art publication, noticed a few familiar faces, and made some connections which I still maintain today.
One day at the end of my Introduction to Gender Studies class, my favorite professor announced that our student association was having an election, and suggested that the meeting would be a great way to meet people in our major. I perked up when she reminded us that we, too, deserve a community —this is what I had been searching for.
Since that day, I have been a class representative, financial coordinator, and for 2019 — 2020 will be one of the external representatives for the Institute of Gender Studies at our major’s (Gender, Sexuality, Feminist, and Social Justice Studies) student association. For so long, I always said that my queer experience at McGill was one that was purely academic, and now I can proudly say that my academic connections have blossomed into a social world of collective understanding, anger, love and solidarity.
After doing a research project with a queer organization called Project 10 for my major’s capstone course, I made one of my closest friends Joanne. Whether it was the hours spent in three hour long 8:30 am courses, giggling in long research meetings, or St. Viateur bagel excursions over the last few months, Joanne has taught me how valuable it is for me to have queer best friends who are there for you for it all.
I would like to recognize every single one of the beloved queers I have met at McGill, in Montreal, on the Internet, and beyond—you are amazing activists, artists, comedians, and family. You help me grow and be my gayest self with lots of laughs and tears along the way. I love you all.
I understand my story as one which takes up space in a world in which whiteness has dominated our socio political landscape. I tell my story, one which will never claim to tell any story other than its own, because it helps me heal, grow, and hold myself accountable to upholding the anti oppressive values of 2LGBTQIA+, especially those of QTBIPoC which have been the grounds on which the current activist movement owes its greatest strides. Thank you for hearing me out.
Land and Sovereignty Acknowledgement
I wrote this article on the unceded territory of the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation, the Indigenous people of Tiohtiá:ke, also known as the island of Montreal. Here reside some of the many First Nations, Inuit, and Metis communities across Canada. Across North America, settler society ignores the mass genocide of Indigenous cultures and peoples enacted by our American and Canadian governments. Colonial violence continues today in many forms: the mass incarceration of Black and Indigenous bodies, the missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada and America, and the extraction and displacement of Black and Indigenous people, land and resources being just a few of them.
These issues are directly related to Pride month and the colonial celebrations of 2LGBTQIA+ communities that happen in major cities today as Pride celebrations continue to ignore queer and two spirit Indigenous people who have always existed in resistance to settler conceptions of the “gender binary”.
I encourage you to learn more on the Indigenous histories and realities which are directly impacted by continued settler violence by reading and listening to Black and Indigenous scholars and elders.
Some scholars and artists who in the past and presently have done work around the topic of colonialism and anti black racism in Canada and North America include (but are not limited to): Kent Monkman, Muriel Miguel, Waawaate Fobister, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Halim Flowers, Michelle Alexander, Alice Walker and Nadia Myre.
About the Author
Natalie Olivares (she/her) is studying Gender, Sexuality, Feminist, and Social Justice Studies and Art History at McGill University in Montreal. She is a photographer and poet; more of Natalie’s work can be seen on her blog, Confessions of a 21st Century Chick. Natalie has radical feminist and queer centered views with an intersectional lens. She loves dogs, the ocean, R&B music and plants. She is optimistic and pessimistic about the future, given our current socio-political state, but is grateful to be a part of the inclusive-media revolution!