Very true. I definitely had formed romantic crushes on people at a young age, so I had some inkling of where I was headed, too. I also grew up in musical theatre, a place where there always seemed to be higher proportions of out gay people, even at younger ages (I guess just by virtue of the creativity & exploration fostered in such an environment, and the overall liberal & accepting nature of theatre people).
Of course, this was in the ’80s, surrounded by the time when the AIDS crisis was coming to light, wrongfully as “the gay disease” and scaring everyone to death, so not many people were openly out at the time around here. I lost a dear theatre friend to the disease in ’94; it was horrific, sad, and scary. But as time went on and better, more accurate info came out regarding HIV and AIDS, and especially more recently with PrEP, more and more people feel safer to come out more publicly. But I still had friends in the community who didn’t come out until adulthood. They all say they were “masking,” as you alluded to. Or “appropriating.”
A lot of trans folks are the same way in that they “mask” as the gender they were assigned, even if it feels wrong, as a survival mechanism. Others get labeled “gay” even when they’re not, because of the presumptive association society tends to make between feminine men and being gay. All of the trans adults I’ve talked to and spent time with have told me they were 100% miserable the whole time they were masking, many of them were close to suicide.
Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.