Learning to accept my sexuality

How the Queen’s theatre community helped my confidence

Growing up, Francesca hid her sexuality from others.
Supplied by Francesca Amato

As a young girl, I found women beautiful.

I grew up completely enamored by the female characters I’d watch on my screen. I’d gaze at them wide-eyed, in a trance-like state, totally starstruck. As a child I always interpreted this as my admiration and interest for performance and acting, but as I entered my early teens, I realized this was more than admiration and, ultimately, more than a phase.

I grew up in a Roman Catholic household. I completed all three sacraments—not necessarily for my own religious beliefs, but to appease the somewhat vital traditions my family has upheld for decades. I grew up never learning about queerness or what it meant to be anything other than straight. I was presented with the traditional heteronormative family landscape up until my early teens.

It wasn’t until I was twelve years old when I began to explore art, film, theatre, and music entirely on my own on my first iPod. Around this time, I realized that my admiration towards women was more than just admiration: it was a feeling of love and attraction I had disguised as praise.

I was terrified.

Could I be gay? What does that word even mean? I’d only ever heard it used in a negative context by kids at school—did this mean that I, too, was something bad? Was there something wrong with me? I panicked and did what any lost twelve-year-old would do: I took to the internet.

I found myself searching for music or films that might resonate with me, desperately searching for anyone or anything to relate to. I dug deep within the Tumblr trenches of queer fan fiction and YouTube rabbit holes of advice videos, coming out stories, and comedy sketches by queer content creators. The last stop in my internet deep dive was Googling a very important question, “Am I gay?”

In hindsight, I wish someone had told me, Darling, if you have to ask, you’re probably on the spectrum of queerness. But, looking back, I was only twelve, so completing hundreds of different “How to tell if you are gay” quizzes from Buzzfeed was the way to go.

After days and weeks of doing research and trying to answer my most important query, I came to the conclusion that I was gay. Or maybe bisexual? But wait, what is the difference between bisexual and pansexual? Turns out, I came to absolutely no conclusion at all, but I knew I wanted to kiss girls the same way everyone else wanted to kiss boys. I was queer but had no terminology or prior knowledge of the LGBTQ+ community in order to fully understand myself and my sexuality.

I was mortified. It felt like I was the only person at my age with such a secret—a secret that felt dirty and wrong and completely world-shattering. I felt scared and alone in my attraction to people who weren’t boys. I felt weird and deeply upset to find another reason to be labeled as an outsider. Not to mention, as a child who grew up in a bigger and taller body and faced intense bullying for it, I was dedicated to keeping this secret hidden in hopes the kids at school wouldn’t have another thing to tease me about.

I hid this secret with my life. Absolutely no one could know, so instead of coming out, I hid my queerness under the label of an “ally.” The only way I could engage in queer-related media without being questioned was if I hid my truth behind the mask of a straight ally. I spent my early teens dedicated to learning more about the history of the LGBTQ+ community and became a fierce advocate for a community I desperately wished to openly be a part of.

In high school, I suppressed my queerness as a form of protection, as the kids around me weren’t as accepting and loving as I wished. I hoped if I hid these feelings long enough, they would eventually go away. Surprise, surprise: they didn’t. Instead, they grew more difficult to suppress.

Somehow, I blinked, and I was in university. I was completely on my own. I didn’t have the everyday influence from family or the church or anyone from school—I only had me. Although it was scary at first, I felt free and excited to begin a chapter of my life that felt entirely my own.

I threw myself into the theatre community at Queen’s, and for once, I truly felt like I had found my people. The drama students at Queen’s were excited and passionate about theatre in the same way I was. But a lot of them possessed a quality I had yet to gain: confidence in their sexuality.

Suddenly, I was introduced to so many theatre makers and new friends who identified under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. For the first time in my life, I was around queer people who were confident and proud of who they are, rather than ashamed. I felt completely at ease around them when I had spent most of my life on edge.

I could finally express myself and uncover the part of myself that was so carefully hidden. I found my people—I found a safe space to share my truth, and so I did.

In my second year, I came out as pansexual. I grew into my sexuality, realizing it wasn’t about just wanting to kiss girls or boys, but about wanting to kiss people. As David from Schitt’s Creek says, “I like the wine, not the label.”

Although I struggled with my sexuality, I came to realize there was a beauty queen within my queerness. I grew into the fact that I’m a lover—I love the people around me deeply, and I simply want to share that. How could that ever be wrong?

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