11/27/2012 04:53 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

When Did You First Realize You Weren't Straight?

Remember that lunch buddy in second grade who made you tingle when she played footsie under the table and shared her snacks with you? How about that pivotal afternoon of playing "house" with your best friend that culminated in an innocent-enough session of "you show me yours and I'll show you mine"? Or the junior high school English teacher who made literature come to life in parts of your body that you didn't even know you had (only to later realize that it wasn't Shakespeare's iambic pentameter that stimulated your senses but your super-attractive instructor who alluded to a "good friend" she'd spent the holidays with)?

As we launch into holiday season, it's an apt time to reflect on those "precious moments" in our own personal histories when we first realized that we weren't like everyone else. For those of us who aren't straight, the "aha!" moment when we realized that we might be singing a slightly gayer tune was followed by a thorough examination of our past. We had to validate our questioning, to verify that what we were feeling wasn't a fleeting thought or a temporary identity crisis, even though we knew in the back of our heads that our attractions were more authentic than our need to define them.

I admit that I was totally clueless until I got hit with the gay stick at age 15. I knew I was different. I knew I didn't want to wear dresses or get married, but I didn't get the memo that the way I liked boys wasn't the way that other girls my age felt. (I preferred to play actual hockey rather than tonsil hockey with them). And it wasn't until I crystallized that identity with a head-over-heels crush on a girl who was so obviously a lesbian that Sister Theresa wouldn't have been able to deny her desire that I started to examine the breadcrumbs along the trail.

My first clue that I wasn't straight came at a sleepover in third grade. Everyone else had fallen asleep except for me and Ashley. We were bored and decided to play house. She was the wife and I was husband, but we were lying down, so there wasn't much we could do in the way of cooking fake dinner or changing the fake baby's diapers. So, naturally, we made out. I remember Ashley acting strangely toward me the next day, not including me in a game of "Cabbage Patch dolls take on Manhattan" like she had previously done, and I remember feeling left out and not understanding why. I stuffed that memory into the back of my cargo pants until nearly a decade later, when I started coming to terms with my identity as a lesbian and piecing together the fact that I had likely always been one.

Straight folks don't have to draw upon insights from their childhoods to clue them in to what adults they might become and whom they might choose to love, but all of us who identify as something other than straight have spent time stringing together those little moments of discovery -- whether we recognized them at the time or not until our sexualities blossomed years later -- that point back to our true sense of self. Moreover, we must consider the ramifications of what those identities mean (e.g., the possibility that we might be cast as legally inferior as a result).

Some of us were lucky enough to have awareness at age 5 that we were destined for gay greatness and never even recognized the notion that the default option was straight. Most of us, though, fell victim to heterosexism and felt ashamed, confused and disappointed with societal norms prodding us to find opposite-sex prom dates and dream of perfect weddings to be followed by white picket fences and 2.3 children. The sub-prime mortgage crisis helped eradicate the dream of suburban home ownership for future generations of queers, and Ellen and shows like Modern Family and The New Normal, and an increasing number of public figures coming out now, give our nation's youth some taste of alternative, viable models. Unfortunately, federal laws that prohibit equality, religious intolerance and the dozens of bridal magazines and other cultural symbols that lack LGBT representation continue to perpetuate the myths of heteronormativity as the rule of thumb and leave our unborn vulnerable to continued discrimination.

What is your earliest memory that you weren't straight?