How High School Musical Made Me Realize I Wasn't Straight

Identity crises are usually reserved for the latter end of your life when you’ve realized that you’re half way to dying of old age and want to make yourself young again. Unbeknownst to me what was going to happen when I watched it, Disney’s musical trilogy High School Musical spiraled me into mine at the age of 10. I followed the dramatic love story of two star-crossed lovers, Troy and Gabriella, who had to beat the stereotypes of nerd and jock to perform in a school production. My young, innocent heart loved the theatrical angst and I became a massive fan of the movie franchise. I had a life-size poster of Zac Efron (Troy) and cut my hair to match Vanessa Hudgens’ (Gabriella). As I watched the movie over and over again, I started to see that I’d confused wanting to be the romantic counterpart to Gabriella with being attracted to Troy. I wanted to be Zac Efron, not be with him. I didn’t want to look like Vanessa Hudgens, I wanted to date her.

Courtesy: Teen Vogue

At 10 years old, I didn’t even know girls could like girls in a “like-like” type of way, but I knew it had to be wrong if no other girls my age were talking about it. Because those feelings were unknown territory, I decided to put them on the back burner and come back to them another time. I tried to convince myself that I was just like the other girls in my grade and feigned feelings for boys at my school. I was in communion classes at a Catholic church and I’d heard homophobic sentiments expressed in their sermons on several occasions. They quoted Bible verses condemning things about myself I couldn’t even begin to understand and it scared the living hell out of me. As a year passed and the second part of the trilogy came out, the feelings I’d been keeping under wraps did too. Troy was neglecting Gabriella, and most of his friends, in High School Musical 2 because he was focused on impressing people at the country club they were working at.

When Gabriella broke up with Troy halfway through the film and I was smiling while all my other friends were crying, I knew something was still off. To try and comprehend what was going on with me, I snuck off to the library and read books about girls who were in the same predicament. The novel that I picked up contained the subject matter in question, telling the story of a girl who came out to her mother after working hard to admit her attraction to girls. Her mother promptly kicked her out of the house and disowned her. Fearful that this could be my reality, I decided not to tell anyone about my secret and just “stick to the status quo.”

When I understood what I was feeling, I fell into a toxic cycle of shame and self-hatred because I wanted to be normal. I didn’t want to think about Vanessa Hudgens. I didn’t want to have to stress about the possible consequences of my feelings. I didn’t want to question organized religion and if heaven and hell were real at the age of 11, but I did. I had to wonder why I was going to burn for an eternity for something I didn’t choose to be. One grueling year filled with an internal dilemma and work towards self-acceptance later, I saw the HSM series end with the release of High School Musical 3: Senior Year. I cried. An era of my life came to a close when the final curtains came down. Along with a life time’s supply of award-worthy soundtracks, I was left with gratitude for the High School Musical series. It may have forced me into a premature mid-life crisis, but the movie always had a positive message. The cheesy storyline and random dance numbers served as a comedic relief when I was questioning my existence. For that, High School Musical will always have a place in my heart because once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat.

Courtesy: TV Guide