Courtesy of Willa Bennett

My Little Sister Came Out To Me — & In Turn, Inspired Me To Come Out To Her

This time last year, my little sister came out to me as bisexual. It was on my way home from work. I stepped off the over-crowded Brooklyn-bound C train to a missed call from my 15-year-old sister. Although we have different mothers, she and I have always been very close — I moved to New York after graduating from college, and my sister lives across the country in Los Angeles, but we still speak on the phone at least once a week. So, as I inched closer to my apartment, I gave her a call back without a second thought. She answered on the first ring.

"Isn't she hot?!" she practically screamed, simultaneously texting me a screenshot of an Instagram post. I opened up my messages and zoomed in on a photo of a girl with long, blonde hair, wearing a black, baggy jumpsuit. She had a rainbow pin on her shoulder, a neon beanie on her head, and what looked like a few dozen thin silver chains hanging from her neck. The caption was a quote from a King Princess song. "She has the greatest style," my sister marveled. It was clear she was crushing — hard.

I stopped, tracing my memory for past conversations with my sister about her previous love interests. She had only mentioned her celebrity crushes to me — Justin Bieber, YouTuber Ethan Dolan. Was this her way of coming out to me? I felt suddenly overwhelmed with happiness, honored that my sister felt close enough to me to share this piece of her personal life. But simultaneously, I was struck by a sense of guilt. The truth was, I, too, am a member of the LGBTQIA+ community — but I hadn't yet come out to her.

Before I even had the chance to respond, she continued. "I just wanted to tell you that I’m bisexual and I'm really excited about it!" I couldn't figure out what to say, so I just responded earnestly, "Your sexuality is always valid to me. I want you to know that. I love you and I'm so proud of you." She hung up the phone to do her English homework and I finished walking home.

As I reached my front door, I was taken aback by how guilty I felt. My sister had no idea that I had been in a loving relationship with another woman for eight months. I had been handed the perfect opportunity to tell her, but I didn't even know where to start. So instead, I just said nothing at all.

I, too, came to terms with my queerness in high school — I just didn't have the vocabulary or the community with which to discuss it. When I was my sister's age, I was so afraid of being outed that I allowed my fear to influence my every action. I pasted pictures of Chad Michael Murray on my locker, and wore dresses, even though I knew I preferred suits. I worked extra hard to deflect conversations away from the topic of crushes, because I was so worried I'd slip. It was exhausting. I never even made a queer friend until I left home for college.

Unlike me, my sister had already formed a group of friends at school who accepted and supported her, as well as gave her the space she needed to explore her personhood. Listening my sister speak so openly and honestly made me feel so utterly conflicted — on one hand, I was so proud of and impressed by her. On the other, I experienced a little bit of shame and guilt, driven by the fact that she had come out to me before I gained the confidence to come to her. And then there was a small part of me that felt jealous of the fact that she was able to take ownership of her sexuality at such a young age, while I remained in the closet at the age of 24. I promised myself that the next time I saw her, I'd declare my own identity a little bit louder.

A few months later, I went back home to visit LA. After several summer days of reconnecting with my best friend from high school and drinking way too much celery juice, I made myself a promise: I would come out to my little sister before flying back to New York.

I took her out to lunch at our favorite place in Silverlake. Between bites of avocado salad and sips of fresh-squeezed beet lemonade, I cleared my throat and blurted out, “I have a pretty serious girlfriend.” I looked up, meeting her eyes. I searched for judgment in her face — would she be angry at me for keeping this a secret? Instead, she laughed. "Willa, I know. I follow you on Instagram. You have mad sexual tension with that girl. I assumed you were dating months ago."

I swallowed my spit and exhaled, allowing my shoulders to finally collapse toward the floor. I felt electricity pulsating throughout my body. This was a pivotal moment: I had come out to my little sister, and she'd done even better than welcome me — she didn't even think it was a big deal. She just continued poking at her carrots with her fork. Nothing was different between us.

And yet, so much was different. I felt deeply ashamed, embarrassed that it had taken me so long to sit down and have this conversation. It felt as though she had beaten me to the punch by declaring her sexuality out loud, as if she had a deeper self-understanding than I did, even though I was supposed to be her older, wiser sister. From across the table, she exhibited a freedom — with her words, her facial expressions, her posture — that I could have never matched at her age. I was awestruck.

"So, are you in love?" she asked, cutting to the chase, seemingly unaware of my identity crisis unfolding across the table. "Are you going to get married to this girl on your Instagram? Can I hit her with the follow?" In response, I challenged myself to open up to her about our first date — how the linguine we ordered to share came 30 minutes late. I told her about our second date, when we sat at a restaurant in the West Village talking about our childhoods until 3:33 a.m. I even confided in her about our first fight, about how inadequate I feel dealing with conflict because I have absolutely no experience talking about feelings out loud.

When I was done ranting, my sister gave me a smirk. "Don't take this the wrong way, but I seriously thought you'd be alone forever," I smiled awkwardly, but her words were cutting. Had I really hidden so much of myself from my own sister that she was worried that I'd never fall in love? Somehow, in my attempt to avoid confronting my queer identity, I had completely closed myself off to those who love me the most. I promised myself that I'd never do that again. And I've held myself to that promise.

I can’t say that this moment, no matter how transformative it was for me personally, dramatically changed my relationship with my sister — because it didn't. We have always had a deep bond, and continue to today. But I know that I'll never get back the years of my life that I spent hiding so much of myself — years that my sister gets to enjoy, free of shame. So, I've decided to cut myself some slack. My younger sister may have been the first of us to declare our feelings out loud, but that doesn’t mean that I'm incapable of vulnerability. I came out on my own terms, when I felt ready. And I couldn't feel happier — for both of us. At the ages of 24 and 15, we're both learning to articulate our thoughts and feelings, and celebrate our queerness. And that's what pride, at its core, is all about.