5006 – Kristen Cooper

I always knew I was different from most of my peers. I couldn't pinpoint what it was for a long time, but I never quite felt "a part of." It all hit me with 100% certainty when I fell in love with my best friend in 8th grade. Up until that point, I was boy crazy. From preschool on I had one boyfriend after another. I did genuinely have romantic feelings for these boys, however I still felt something was off. Looking back to when I was very young, maybe 5 or 6 years old, I used to get the "butterflies" when I met or saw a beautiful girl on TV. I didn't know what "gay" or "lesbian" meant, so I never spent too much time analyzing my feelings.

I kissed my friend when I was 13. I had a crush on her. The funny thing about the whole situation was that I honestly thought all of the other girls my age had the same feelings for other girls. It felt normal to me and I just assumed everyone was the same way. After we had a few nights of kissing and cuddling, she broke my heart in a letter that stated, "I'm not gay anymore." I was crushed, but not as bad as I would be a year or so later.

This girl was gorgeous. Talented in every way: she could draw, write, play guitar, sing, dance, act…anything creative, she could master it. I not only wanted to be with her, I think I also wanted to BE her. Every time I saw her, my heart skipped a beat. I could feel it in every part of my body. We became fast friends, and I eventually spilled my heart out to her. She was dating a boy, but told me she would love to have a girlfriend, too. I was wary about it, but agreed because at least I could have a piece of her. For a couple of years it was torment and ecstasy, back and forth, affection then nothing.

In the end, we agreed to just be friends. It took me five long years to rid myself of my obsessive love for her, but to this day we are still close. I am grateful to have her in my life and have accepted that she is engaged to a man. But I joke with her now that I would still marry her if she reciprocated (and we both know I'm only half-joking).

My actual coming out process was an accident. I left my diary out and my mother found it open in my room. I came home from school and we had a long, tear-filled talk. She was convinced that it was just a stage I was going through. She even admitted to having girlfriends as a young teen. I started to think (and hope) that she was right.

When my feelings toward my friend, and girls in general, weren't changing, I decided to come out as bisexual at school. I couldn't stand the way it felt to put on an act for everybody and lie about who I was. It didn't go over very well. Boys thought I was a freak, and girls were afraid to change in front of me in the locker room. I almost immediately withdrew my statements and pretended that it was just a rumor or that I was joking.

At 16, I tried to force myself to like boys. I just wanted to be normal. I met someone older who was attractive, and very intelligent. My mother was thrilled and I had a little bit of hope that I could fall in love with this person. Yet, as time went on, I liked him less and less. The whole thing was a charade. I tried to break up with him, but he was very manipulative and controlling and wouldn't let me. When I finally got up the nerve to end it, he showed up unannounced at my friend's house. He also stalked me at my home and wrote messages in the snow! Eventually he gave up the fight, and I gave up the game.

I turned to a church youth group to see if that would make me "normal." I literally tried to "pray the gay away" almost every day. I was afraid of going to hell, didn't want to be ostracized by society, and didn't want to fight with my mom anymore. She would call me names and tell me that if I didn't change she would disown me and kick me out. I eventually stopped going to church because they were anti-gay and I realized it's something that cannot be changed and the only way to be happy is to accept and love myself.

My mom was very ill for most of my life with out of control diabetes, depression, and a boatload of other health problems. She passed away when I was 18. I am so grateful that a couple of months before she passed away, she finally started to come to terms with who I was. She held my hand one night and told me that if I have kids, she will be there to hold my hand and my partner's hand, whether they're a man or a woman. We both cried and hugged for a long time.

Throughout this whole process I was lucky enough to be completely supported, validated, and loved by my identical twin sister.  She started to question her own sexuality around the same time I did, but didn't come out until she was 16 when she fell in love with a female classmate. We had a lot of similar experiences, especially when it came to family life.  Our mom was devastated because she pictured the traditional wedding and family for both of us. Dad never really said anything about it, but later told us he was sorry for the way she treated us and that he knew we were probably going to be gay from a young age (we were both tomboys).

I am grateful to have a loving and supportive family, especially my twin. And I'm sure you probably have some questions, so let me answer some of the big ones: yes we sometimes fight over the same woman, yes we have dated a few of the same women, and yes we check women out when we're out together. :)

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