A chance encounter on a bus in San Francisco helped me to come out

Guest post from Eliza Murray, an Australian roller derby player, Billy Murray (no relation) enthusiast and vegan in progress.

Three years ago I boarded a bus in San Francisco after completing a sojourn in London with my boyfriend Jesse. Bec, a friend I’d met in London at roller derby, was joining us on our travels to the States.

Jesse and I had actually broken up two days earlier. I’d been unhappy in our relationship for a long time, and while I had a deep affection for him, I didn’t want to sleep with him – something that I assumed was a failing of my own libido. It didn’t occur to me that my lack of interest was because I really wanted something else.

When we called it quits, Jesse asked me straight if I was a lesbian and I didn’t have an answer for him. Or myself.

I had grown more and more interested in Bec, to the point where I’d become jealous when she went on dates. I thought we were just becoming good friends but eventually we kissed and I still wrote it off as a bit fun. After all – I was straight, wasn't I?

San Francisco was a hard time for me. I was grappling with these new feelings of attraction that I had for my friend, while also trying to keep the peace with Jesse. It was a bit much, so when I boarded that bus and it started getting more crowded I allowed myself to be shuffled away from them both, down to the back of the bus. I was standing there wearing my team hoodie with my derby name written on it, rocking a one-side buzz cut with my bright red hair, when a girl got on the bus.

She was a little taller than me with wavy purple hair and in the crowded bus we were forced into each other’s personal space. “Wow, I love you hair!” she said with a Californian accent. “Thanks,” I smiled, knowing my accent was about to give me away. “Where’s that accent from?” she asked. I told her I was from Sydney, but in America on my way home after two years in London. We chatted a bit more about San Francisco and how she came to live there.

“I'm Sam, by the way,” she added, shaking my hand before adding, “There's this great queer party I'm heading to later that should be a blast. I don't know if you have time before you fly, but would you like to go?”

I wanted to, but the emotions of the last few days had overwhelmed me and with only a few hours left in the company of Bec (who I’d obviously developed a heartbreaking ‘write their initials on a pencil case’ type crush on), I declined. I explained I couldn’t because I had to fly to Sydney early the next day and as the words came out of my mouth I felt regret.

It took a moment, but I soon realised what had just happened. The world knew I was queer even though I hadn’t really known it myself. I wasn’t a straight girl playing bi-curious – I was out. I was a queer person. So much so that a stranger wouldn’t skip a beat in inviting me to a queer event. Sam saw me for who I was more than I had been able to up to that point.

I caught eyes with Jesse and Bec and it looked like it was our stop. “I have to go,” I told Sam. “Have a great time at the party.” She smiled and said “Nice meeting you – travel safe!”

I hopped off the bus feeling very different to how I felt when I jumped on it a dozen blocks earlier. I was ready to be who I truly was and not hide it anymore.

Later that day, Bec flew home to London and Jesse and I returned to Sydney, not sharing a word during the red eye trip across the Pacific Ocean.

I was beyond moved by the simple interaction, but I didn’t do anything (besides, ya know, get the courage to come out) until a year ago, when I took to Reddit to write a letter to Sam. I was going through (another) break up, this time with ~the~ Bec who had moved to Australia, but as they say, that which is born from chaos ends in chaos. It was a drawn out, difficult end and I was seriously questioning my ability to love again. I’d hitched my identity to that relationship and it had left me baffled and lost. That’s when I remembered Sam.

Sam, who made me feel seen and real as a queer person. Sam, who didn’t know my story, or my exes, or where my heart was, but saw me as a person worth asking out, a person who looked like they’d be fun. And thinking about what she’d unknowingly done for me made me feel great. So I used Reddit to thank her. It was a message in a bottle sent across the Internet. I doubt she’ll ever see it, but remembering that moment and acting on it with gratitude felt right. Sam, if you’re reading this and ever come to Sydney, I’d love to get a drink.

Travel opened my eyes to the amazing world that is out there, full of incredible people who live different lives but with whom you can forge a connection anyway. I met so many amazing queer role models travelling and San Francisco especially, with it’s history of LGBTQ+ activism, made me feel stronger and brave enough to stand up and say “Yes I am part of this community”. If there’s any place to stand up and be recognised as a queer person – it’s there.

Nowadays I’m a (blissful) year into dating my new partner Dibs, a transgender person who is non-binary, and I’ve embraced my queer lifestyle with open arms – we even rode with the Dykes on Bikes in this year’s Mardi Gras!

When I think of Sam now, it helps me remember that the world is big and full of beautiful people. There are amazing people out there who would love to spend time with you, who you probably haven’t even met yet!

Travelling taught me that there’s so much more to life than the few people we see day to day. See the world and you might just learn something about yourself.