As a cis-gender, queer woman, my experience of my sexuality has always been complicated. I alternatively thought I was straight and gay growing up. I remember the fear of feeling gay and the relief of feeling straight. It took me a long time before I realized I was, in a way, both and neither. The structure of our society dictates that one must choose a side.
I don’t know how other little kids play house or doctor, but for me it usually ended up being sexual in some way. I remember being about 5-years-old and playing house with my friend Thea. Maybe it was from TV or movies, but I somehow knew that I as the husband and she as the wife must have sex in order for it to be “real”. One day, I aggressively tried to make out with Thea. When she didn’t want to I was so confused. But this is the way it is! I don’t remember much after I tried to put my tongue in her mouth and her being very upset by it, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t hang out much after that.
When I was a little bit older by a few years, I would hang out with my friend Brenna. Brenna and I were best friends for a time, even though she would piss me off all the time. We were mostly best friends because our moms were. But even with this person who I would regularly call my mom to pick me up from her house because we got into a fight, we would play very physical and personal games. That is, we would play doctor. The way we played doctor mostly involved putting instruments into each other’s vaginas. There was a time when my mom had come to pick me up but I couldn’t leave until I let Brenna put the pencil we were using into my vagina. I had done it to her, so it was only fair. I remember it was pretty painful and I was nervous because our parents could come in at any second. I was old enough to know that what we were doing was not ok by adult standards.
Even with my Barbies, the stories ended up being sexual. I would make my normally-sized Barbies have sex, sure, but when my younger sister got a My-Sized Barbie for Christmas one year, it changed the game. When I was alone with that My-Sized Barbie I would act out sex on it. In those situations, I was never the man, I was always a girl and that Barbie was a girl, too.
During middle school, I knew girls who identified as bisexual, but behind their backs the other kids would call them sluts. I didn’t think I was a slut, so I must have been straight. I thought this all the while having a crush on my best friend, a girl named Renee. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the first real crush I’d ever had beyond randomly choosing someone to “like” because everyone else had crushes, why didn’t I? But growing up Catholic meant that I couldn’t be gay, I must be straight, so I was.
One night in middle school, I was talking with my family about Renee. My sisters and brothers started teasing me about being in love with her. I remember feeling so naked. I felt caught. I of course vehemently denied being in love with her, which made them tease me more. I wanted my family to love and accept me and it didn’t seem that being gay was a part of that equation. I viscerally pushed those feelings down. I knew when they said it, it was true, but I also knew it needed to go away.
Around this same time, I had seen Cruel Intentions, Roger Kumble’s 1999 film about a bisexual woman who tricks another woman into fooling around with her so that she can “practice” for when she kisses a man. Obviously, this is only one small part of the movie, but it gave me an idea. During a sleepover with Renee, I very casually mentioned how some girls practice kissing on each other. My intention was to very casually make out with her while being able to pretend I was still straight as the purpose is to practice for a dude. It was the perfect plan. I was deeply in love with this girl. She was so captivating not only because she was beautiful and smart and funny and talented, but because she made me feel like I was, too.
She was not into it.
She said, “that’s disgusting!” and I quickly agreed, all the while my heart was breaking. My first heartbreak. But I knew by this time that my feelings weren’t ok, so my heartbreak was secret and I told no one. My first love rejected me in a mobile home in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
This rejection combined with the night my family teased me for being in love with Renee shoved me into the closet I was poking my toe out of. Those experiences locked the closet for a long time for me. I felt shame and fear and that closet was the only way to stay safe. And at a time I was so vulnerable as it was. Middle school, puberty, crushes, finding yourself, vulnerability, body changes, all of it is the worst time to feel that kind of shame and fear, but it’s also why it’s generally agreed that that time in life is excruciating to live though.
I continued to ignore these feelings throughout most of high school. I had desperate crushes on boys. I unconsciously saw these boys that I had a crush on as saviors. I felt more than thought that if I could win one of them, I would have the love and validation I craved as a child. You could say I was boy crazy, but it was less about my sexual urges and more about my emotional ones. Maybe I knew on some level that I wasn’t really attracted to these boys; maybe I knew on some level that my attraction to them was more about power. My own power being mixed with and heightened by theirs, as males in a patriarchal society. What I saw and learned was that boys are smarter, more physically able, and more laid back. I wanted to be those things more than I wanted to have sex with them. And after that first heartbreak I needed that power.
I eventually ended up breaking up with Renee. When you stop being friends with someone you are in love with, it’s not just growing apart. It’s a break up.
This break up was caused by nothing less than a guy. The entire time Renee and I had been friends up until the end, she had been dating a boy named Misha. When they broke up, she was able to quickly move on to other guys, a skill I’ve never been able to master. One of these guys was a very popular and tall senior named Lowell. He rode a motorcycle; he was in musical theater. He was very cool. She and he had been hooking up for a bit before I met him in the musical I was a chorus girl for toward the end of my freshman year. We were doing “The Princess and the Pea” and it was one of the best experiences of my high school career. I made some great friends and deepened friendships I already had, as one part of being in a high school production is that everyone spends so much time together. At Los Alamos High School, our musical theater program was a big deal. Everyone in town would see these annual musicals and the students in them were actually rather talented. As a singer, this was especially important to me. At this time, I still saw myself becoming famous for my acting or singing abilities.
I don’t remember what role Lowell played in the musical, but I believe it was a role with lines, which only made him that much more appealing to me. He was a cool senior who rode a motorcycle and he had a role with lines in the yearly musical. That, plus he was hooking up with Renee. It was a combination I couldn’t pass on.
Renee and Lowell weren’t “together,” so I didn’t think my hooking up with him would be an issue. That’s what I told myself, anyway. Of course, it was.
Lowell and I had been spending a lot of time together not only because of the musical, but because we actually liked each other. I don’t think he was a creep. He was a 17-year-old Mormon boy who liked all the attention he was getting from these girls. When he and I hooked up, I wanted to have sex (even though I had never done it before) and he said no. He was saving himself for marriage. Other than this time, Lowell and I only hooked up one other time. A friend Megan, Lowell, and I left the after-party when the musical was over to have a three-way kiss session. Megan and I started it off by kissing each other, which I rather enjoyed, but when Lowell got involved it turned into a mess. I had saliva all over my face. It was not sexy.
Before the three-way kiss but after our first time hooking up, Renee confronted me about it over AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). She was obviously pissed but trying to play it cool, which was her style. I was apologizing and then said something that stopped our friendship dead in its tracks. I told Renee directly that part of the reason I hooked up with Lowell was to try to get closer to her. Even at the time, I had that self-awareness. She responded by laughing. I will never know if she really laughed, but that “lol” stabbed me straight in the heart. I cried for my previous heartbreak and the end of our friendship in an ugly way. I walked away from that conversation without my best friend, the one who I had for years, who shaped my sense of humor and self-confidence at the most vulnerable time in my life. That was a very lonely night.
When you grow up in a small town, people come in and out of your life. You know these people from elementary school through high school. Sometimes you’re best friends and sometimes you don’t even acknowledge each other in the hall. After the era of Renee, my friendship with Kathleen re-blossomed. I didn’t deserve her friendship as I had hurt her by “kicking her out” of our middle school group previously, but she forgave me and so we were best friends again.
In my perspective, my hurting her previously created a toxic relationship right from the get. She might disagree, but while we were best friends she put me down on a regular basis and in front of other people. I don’t blame her; I’m sure she held onto the hurt I caused her for a long time. But this was how our friendship functioned.
I knew I was in love with Renee, there’s no denying that, but with Kathleen it was different. I loved her, but I wasn’t in love with her. I do wonder if she was in love with me, though. When she was dating Pat, she told me with glee that he asked her if she and I were in a relationship because of the way we were with each other and the way she talked about me. She was so happy and told me with such joy that her boyfriend thought she was cheating on him with her best friend.
Another reason I think she might have been in love with me was the time she grinded on me. We were very touchy-feely with each other, so cuddling wasn’t out of the picture for us. Our friend Bryant, Kathleen, and I were at my house and were watching Napoleon Dynamite in my living room. Bryant was sitting on the couch and for some reason there was a mattress on the floor that Kathleen and I were spooning on. Part way through the movie, I felt Kathleen moving around but I ignored it. I ignored it for a long time. Looking back I know what it was. I had pushed this attraction and love between women down so aggressively that I couldn’t comprehend that Kathleen might have been attracted to me in a non-platonic way. I do wonder if I hadn’t been shamed before, if I had accepted that I was attracted to women, would things between Kathleen and I have been different?
I dated a guy my last two years of high school. This guy, Eric, was what one might call metrosexual. He was a pretty feminine guy and most people thought he was gay until they would meet me and confusion would cover their faces. I didn’t really think anyone was gay, and I don’t think he is, so this never crossed my mind. This, despite being in the Gay/Straight Alliance in high school. Our relationship was fine. He was a young boy who sometimes said mean things to me because he didn’t know any better. I was a young girl who said mean things back. He became my best friend.
The day before I had sex with him for the first time, I was talking to Kathleen about Eric. I thought for sure I would break up with him; it just didn’t feel right. The next night we had sex and I changed my mind. Maybe it was the hormones, but that changed everything. That night, I connected acceptance with sex and that connection put a haze over my college years and the relationships I had within that time.
Eric and I broke up when he went to college. Then, during breaks, we would be together and hook-up secretly, though I’m pretty sure everyone knew. We spent one and a half years officially together and one and a half years pretending we weren’t together. I finally broke up with him permanently when I was a freshman. He came to visit from Chicago and we were laying in my bed in my dorm. He was looking at me so lovingly and I just felt off. I felt gross. This didn’t feel right and I knew it wasn’t. He left the next day and wouldn’t give me a hug goodbye.
I want to be able to say I felt guilty or hurt. The truth is, I know why he didn’t want to hug me at the airport or talk to me for a long time after that. I didn’t feel guilty or hurt because I knew there was something off about our relationship. At the time, I thought it was because we had hurt each other so much so often, exiting the relationship was the only healthy option. There’s some truth to that.
I didn’t admit to myself that I had feelings toward anyone other than men until college, but I was still so afraid of those feelings that I cried thinking about it. I called myself bisexual to my friends, but I never really believed it. I thought I was secretly gay and was just using bisexuality as a transition into homosexuality, because as I learned in middle school, bisexuality doesn’t exist. Calling girls who identify as bisexual sluts in middle school, Catholicism, having a boyfriend in high school erased bisexuality for me. I had to choose between gay and straight. During college, I was sure I was gay, I just didn’t want anyone to know it yet. I only dated men. Well, I dated a couple of men and had sex with them and a few others. The acceptance/sex connection I had made in high school played out in me trying to hook up with the guys I thought were cooler than me. I used my body as a vehicle for acceptance and validation. I wouldn’t say I had more sex than was safe but it wasn’t a healthy amount for me, that is, had I had sex in a healthier mindset it would have been.
One of the guys I would hook up with in college was named Cameron. He seemed to be popular amongst the punk and alternative crowd I wanted to be my friends, so I was happy to have sex with him. At lunch one day, a kid I knew from one of my classes was sitting at the table with me and my friends and it came up somehow that we both knew Cameron. He said, “Yeah, Cameron told me you’re weird.” The way he said it made my skin crawl. He had this little smirk on his face that made me want to punch him, but I didn’t. I didn’t even acknowledge what he meant. I just pretended like everything was fine, as I continued to do with Cameron.
We had a very awkward hook-up one day that ended our affair. It was during the day on my bright blue blow-up mattress because I hadn’t gotten a proper one yet. It didn’t have any sheets on it and it was the summer in Las Cruces, so it was hot. The mattress was slowly deflating while we were fooling around and I was ready to have sex – I tended to want to get sex overwith in those days, so we probably had been making out for about 5 minutes. When I reached down to start the process, I was shocked. He wasn’t ready, and I started to worry. I have always been able to talk about anything, so I asked him if he was alright. He was fine, it’s just that I needed to touch it. It. His penis. I never touched his penis and the excitement of our hooking up was wearing off and now he wanted me to touch it. I was mortified and just couldn’t do it. I shut down and he must have left. I had never had that issue before, what had changed? From this day until the last time I had sex with a man, I haven’t been able to touch penises.
When I thought I was straight, this was much more concerning. It still is concerning to me, though not for the same reasons. Originally, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to please a man. Now, I wonder how this aversion came to be. It wasn’t an issue for me with Eric or Andrew, a guy I dated for a bit before I ever met Cameron. I think it came about when I was with David.
After I graduated from college, I eventually came out to my family as a gay woman. This came years after college, years after living as a gay woman. The extent of which I lived as a gay woman was to call myself gay to friends and on dating websites and MeetUp.com and in my head. I made gay friends. I was single and gay and when same-sex marriage became legal on the federal level, it was time for my family to know. One of my brothers called me when he got my letter and we had a long conversation; the best conversation I had with him that I can remember. But that was it. One of my sisters mentioned it once when I started dating a guy (“But I thought you were gay?”) but otherwise, it hadn’t been mentioned. Honestly, I believe my mother threw away the letter without telling my dad and was relieved when I met my boyfriend in Portland.
Meeting Andrzej was hard. At this point I knew sexuality is fluid, but I still identified as gay. The letter I sent to each of my family members was out there. Now, I had to be gay because I had a great conversation with my brother! There’s no way they would understand! They would think, I was sure, that I was lying to get a rise out of them and I wouldn’t doubt some of them still think that is what I did. But I met him and we fell in love quickly and that was that. I had to have the hard conversation that I’m actually bisexual, I guess. But I grew up not believing bisexuality existed, why would my family believe that I am? Women who say they are bisexual are confused or are sluts.
However, after having identified as gay for so long, I knew I wasn’t straight. There was no going back at this point just because I was with a man.
As a cis-gender, queer woman, my experience of my sexuality has always been complicated. I haven’t ever felt there was a place for me in the conversation. Sure, I have dated men in the past, but I’m also attracted to women and straight women don’t think about other women in that way. My experience has been complicated because my sexuality is both silenced and sexualized.