By Margot Harris
When I was a teenager, I felt uncomfortable around my peers in the all-girls high school I attended, but I couldn’t pinpoint why. Maybe I was just socially awkward? Maybe I didn’t like my classmates? I felt isolated — there seemed to be an invisible barrier between me and the other girls, and I couldn’t really get close to anyone.
Feeling different certainly impacted my mental health at the time. I was already struggling with depression and anxiety in a strict, academically rigorous environment, and this confusing sense of isolation added even more intrusive thoughts to my generous supply. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I connect with other young women?
Looking back, I am a little amused by my teenage self’s confusion. She was missing a few clues that some of these feelings were related to her sexual orientation and developing identity. For example, I learned that my classmates were not constantly re-watching the scene from “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” in which Blake Lively pours a water bottle over her tanned shoulders — something I did almost daily.
My older, somewhat-wiser self really wants to tell that confused teenager that 1) she is queer and 2) being queer would become a truly joyful part of her adulthood, even as she grapples with mental health conditions. Identifying as bisexual — and living this identity openly and enthusiastically in my twenties — has been a key piece of my mental health journey.
Not only has living authentically quelled my confusion and sense of isolation, but it has also brought me immeasurable happiness and excitement for the future. And because I know the joys that are ahead of me in life, I feel encouraged to maintain my mental health and seek help when I need it.
In college, I started to pay closer attention to my feelings. I realized that the utter joy I felt when I saw two women holding hands as they strolled across campus was a projection of my own desire. I also recognized that my celebrity crush on Natalie Portman was not simply about her acting prowess. Everything finally clicked for me when a beautiful girl on the softball team mentioned that she had a girlfriend. I think I just needed to hear the words from someone else. Girlfriend. Repeating the word made me giddy.
My revelation seemed like something worth sharing, but I wasn’t quite sure what the script was for this conversation. I knew plenty of queer people, and the progressive communities I occupied frequently voiced support for queer people, so I didn’t know if a “coming out” moment was required. Maybe it wasn’t a big deal? In passing, I would mention to friends and family that I was interested in dating women. Occasionally, someone would look mildly surprised, but the conversation would continue as normal. I never felt a judgmental stare or weathered an awkward silence. Sometimes I wondered if people even remembered what I’d told them.
In 2020, after months of quarantine in my parents’ home watching TikTok videos of lesbian couples cooking dinner, I decided I wanted to say something more formally to my family.
“I’m not sure if we even need to have a conversation about this,” I said to my parents as I sat on the grey couch in their room. “But I’m bisexual. I’m not sure if you knew. I’ve been watching a lot of lesbian TikTok.”
“Ok, great,” my mom replied. “Just don’t watch TikTok at the dinner table.”
Her request for me to spend less time on my phone eased any remaining concerns I had. My sexual orientation was clearly just another fact about me — and it would not redefine my relationships with my loved ones. While my depression and anxiety were not cured by this acceptance, having my parents’ reassurance was the solid foundation I needed to develop my identity and prioritize my mental health.
From there, I began to date more freely and embraced my queer identity. I bought some rainbow bumper stickers and swiped through dating profiles. In December of 2022, I met Emma. She was witty and beautiful and couldn’t open a wine bottle. It was endearing. Several months later, I found myself introducing her to my family at my birthday dinner.
“She’s the best person you’ve ever brought home,” my dad told me.
My story is born out of extraordinary privilege. I am lucky — the ease with which I discovered and shared my identity is not the typical queer experience.
I grew up in a progressive bubble in a major city, with a family who always supported me living my most authentic life. I frequently saw representations of LGBTQ+ people in media. My relationships with my family, friends and wider community did not change when I came out; I was still just Margot.
Moreover, I do not face the dangers that many queer people do; I am a femme-presenting or “straight-passing” white woman, so I can exist in public without putting myself at risk for violence and discrimination. This is markedly different for many others, especially trans folks and queer people of color, who face alarmingly high rates of violence and are further targeted by anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
So, when reflecting on the simplicity of my queer experience, it feels important to mourn the pain of much of the LGBTQ+ community and to advocate for a future of safety, acceptance and happiness — like the reality I am fortunate to experience.
Understandably, during Pride Month, we will hear stories of the anguish associated with being closeted and struggling to live authentically. We will hear about how a conservative and heteronormative culture has been the root of mental health challenges for millions of people. But I hope to share one joyful narrative as a reminder of what is possible as our communities evolve, and queer visibility continues to increase. I hope that my truly undramatic journey will be possible for generations of people who follow me.
For any teenagers who are unsure of what their futures could look like or are struggling to accept and understand their own identities, I want to say this. My girlfriend walks my dog for me when I want to sleep in. I met her parents last month, and we all went out for burgers together. We are currently binge watching “Yellowjackets” on ShowTime. There is nothing particularly extraordinary about any of this, but it’s a glimpse into a genuinely happy life — one that is achievable.
Knowing that moments like these are still ahead of me is what motivates me to continue seeking treatment for anxiety in depression — to keep going, even when my chemical and emotional balance feels off. As a friend, partner, daughter, writer, bisexual woman and human, I have so much joy still to experience.
Margot Harris is a Content Manager with the Marketing & Communications team at NAMI. She has an MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University and previously worked as a digital culture reporter at Business Insider. She lives in Washington, D.C.
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