Falling off the straight path

Illustration of people kissing, by Jannah Sheriff
Jannah Sheriff/File

Pride had always seemed like a funny concept growing up, when the word gay was casually tossed around my ultra-conservative hometown as an insult, and my sexuality was so far repressed that I couldn’t see anywhere but straight. In my mind, I had been and would always be the world’s best chameleon: I knew what people expected of me, and that’s exactly what I showed them. I found comfort in seeking advice from my mom about boy crushes and trying on a million prom dresses with all of my best friends. 

“You should be proud of yourself,” my family said as I earned high grades and boyfriends and leadership positions. But how was I supposed to be proud of myself, when the face that people saw was a mirror of the expectations of those around me, when my reflection was nothing more than a replication of what seemed right? It felt like the more that I succeeded in the eyes of the people around me, the more I buried the aspects of my identity that deviated from the norm. At some point, my mind became so tangled in a web of deception and repression that my exterior disconnected from my entire sense of self. On Nov. 1, 2018, my journal read:

Where do you go, when you want solitude, but you’re afraid of your thoughts? The ones that seep in when you can’t keep your mind at bay. You build walls at some futile attempt to block them out. Eventually the walls build so high that direction ceases to exist. You have constructed a facade so great that even the deepest realms of your soul have lost contact with you. Who are you?

Safe to say, things were looking pretty hopeless on the whole self-actualization front. And then, in a twist of fate, after 18 years of seeking distractions to fill my thoughts and perfection satisfying expectations, Berkeley entered my life. Suddenly, I was thrust into a world where being “straight” seemed like the minority and self-expression, instead, was the status quo. I found myself peering over the walls that held strong in my brain for so long, and I embarked on my journey to answer that ever-pressing question of who exactly I am apart from the way others perceive me. 

I took small steps at first, the first of which included choosing “bicurious” on the Berkeley Marriage Pact survey. That soon developed into telling my friends that I was considering changing my Tinder preferences to show me everyone instead of just men. Eventually, I grew frustrated with walking in circles around my sexuality, around the thoughts I had become accustomed to oppressing. And midway through my freshman year of college, I wrote in my journal:

Why am I constantly fighting with my identity? Why can’t I change? Or stay the same? F—- LABELS! From now on, f—- it. Who cares? 

I’ll admit — that last part was a lie. I definitely do care. But the sentiment holds true: It finally felt like I was tearing down the walls that confined my life for far too long. In a way, this newfound openness to understanding my sexuality was a huge relief. On the other hand, it made me feel sick. A part of me wanted to be pretty and pink and a people pleaser, and the other part wanted to chop off all my hair and make out with women and defy the binaries that I had clung on to for so long. There was no easy divide or fork in the road that led to two paths. Instead I found myself at a roundabout, with no way of knowing if I would ever turn out. 

To this day, I struggle to find the intersection of these desires, what I wanted for myself versus what society wanted for me. It would probably be easier if my sexual and gender orientation remained stagnant and I could wrap them up, bound closely together and topped with a neat label. But I have learned to accept that that’s just not me. The ink bleeds through this label, revealing two sides, the realized and the compromised.

I have accepted that I will probably always be at least a little bit confused, but I am proud of myself for daring to attempt at tearing down my inner walls. I am proud of myself for having the courage to explore my identities and to question the labels that I held onto for so long. And I am excited to continue questioning and changing through this beautiful month of June — and for the rest of my life.

Molly Jacoby is an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley pursuing a degree in sociology and journalism.