Review of The Times I Knew I Was Gay, by Eleanor Crewes

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

‘The Times I Knew I Was Gay’ is an autobiographical graphic novel about the author’s discovery of herself and it centres around her experience of growing up as a lesbian and realising she was gay. It is a wise and emotional read, and undoubtedly relatable to gay women.

She takes us back to her childhood and early teens; we meet who she was back then and her formative experiences. We navigate her school years and see her struggle to fit in and find a boyfriend. At the time, there was a buried discomfort she kept ignoring and it only grew the more she ignored it – that she was uncomfortable because she was gay.

It’s a lovely book about her personal experiences, and one that many queer women – especially lesbians – will relate to. As I was reading it, I realised that apart from this being a hugely personal story about the author’s personal life experiences, it also tells us a lot about lesbians. Particularly, why it may take years one to realise she is one, and the battles with compulsory heterosexuality.

I am especially fond of how Crewes illustrates that coming to terms with one’s sexual orientation is bigger than a story about falling in love, or one’s romantic and sexual relationships. It is about coming to term with one’s self because one’s sexual attraction is bigger than their love life. 

Who you love and are attracted to it has implications about the way you view the world. It can affect your relationship with gender, how you view yourself and your self-expression. For example, there is a particularly poignant illustration about how, after coming out, Crewes’ experience of buying clothes was different because she no longer worried about what a man might think of her outfit. The experience of the male gaze is different when you are a gay woman. After coming out, she cut her hair short and one can see the signs of liberating herself from a heterosexual beauty standard.

Crewe’s also points out the negative implications of avoiding one’s true self, and how much damage feelings of shame can create. For instance, her feelings of shame and self-denial lead to the development of an eating disorder that lasted until she was twenty. Her obsession over her body was a way to avoid coming to terms with her sexuality, it was a distraction and a way of bringing control to her life.

Another thing I enjoyed was the message that coming out is not a single, earth shattering experience. A lot of people, like Crewes, may continue to struggle with accepting themselves even after they have come out to someone. Not only will one have to come out to people multiple times, but they can also change the label they use.

Overall, I would highly recommend reading this! It is a graphic novel and does not take too long to read. I would especially recommend it to fans of Alice Oseman, and the illustration style reminded me of how she draws, and the two writers are fond of each other’s work.  ‘The Times I Knew I was Gay’ was also nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award in 2020 for best graphic novel and comic!

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