I’ve been working on this post for several weeks. First, I couldn’t decide how to start it. Then, I felt a lot of pressure to say the right thing, to phrase things in exactly the right way. These kind of pieces are so important, especially for readers who are struggling to understand their sexuality. I’ve read a number of these kinds of pieces throughout the years, and they’ve all helped me in one way or another. Now I hope that sharing my journey to understanding my sexuality will help someone else. I hope my words resonate with others and bring at least one other person comfort. It’s a tall order, but I’ve tried to meet it. Here goes nothing . . .
I wrote a little about my first experience with same-sex attraction in a previous post about being black, queer, and a woman in America. My first same-sex attraction didn’t catch me off guard at all. This strikes me as particularly strange in hindsight, as I only knew one lesbian, and it wasn’t really common for girls to kiss or flirt with each other, even if it was just to “get a boy’s attention.” Regardless, I wasn’t at all unsettled by my attraction to Anne.* It just felt right, and I was completely willing to explore it. So I did. Our relationship was tense during the period in which neither of us had admitted our feelings to one another. Once we did, something broke within the two of us in the most positive way, and we began dating. I still remember the night she asked me to be her girlfriend. Anne and I broke up shortly before I left for college, after letting the relationship go on long past its expiration date.
Before Anne and I told anyone we were dating, I didn’t really think a lot about how I should label my orientation. I remember being confused about why it mattered so much to Anne that she was not gay. It did not matter at all to me at the time. Once we started telling people that we were dating, the questions started to come. “So, are you gay?” “You’re bisexual then?” I didn’t know! I hastily latched on to the label “bisexual.” After all, it made the most sense. I clearly was capable of being emotionally and sexually attracted to women. And while I had yet to date a guy, I had experienced sexual attraction to guys before I met Anne. So, bisexual fit the best. And then I got to college.
I didn’t feel uncomfortable telling my new friends about Anne, because my relationship with her didn’t seem incongruent with who I was. When asked what my sexuality was, I remember saying that I was “probably bisexual.” It still seemed technically correct, but it didn’t feel quite right coming out of my mouth. As I continued in college, I became even more uncertain. By senior year, I had experienced just one other very light crush on a woman. It was easy enough to brush off. Meanwhile, I’d had a relationship with a guy, to whom I was very attracted. So, I began to think that maybe I was wrong about my sexuality. Maybe Anne was a one-off. Maybe I was really just straight.
I existed in this state of limbo for years. And during this time, I wasn’t finding myself particularly attracted to anyone, male or female. When I graduated college, I moved to a new city where I didn’t know anyone. Online dating and dating apps were starting to become hot at this time, so I decided to try it out. I started seeing a guy who was nice enough, cute, but talked about his ex-girlfriend a lot. The intimacy we shared (from kissing to sex) was all very . . . neutral. It wasn’t aversive in any way, but I didn’t feel much of anything.
A couple of years passed and I moved again. I became involved with two more men, and had similar experiences with both of them. They were cute and (relatively) nice, but it was all very neutral. I chocked this up to men in their 20s and 30s being sexually selfish or not knowing how to please a woman. Maybe a lot of women had faked it with them before, I thought. The kind of neutrality I was feeling about intimacy was new to me. Yes I’d experienced it with one other guy after college, but I had always looked forward to and enjoyed intimacy with male partners before that. This neutrality also did not align with how I felt about intimacy when I was alone or imagining being with a partner. I started to wonder what was wrong with me, and I began ardently trying to figure out why I was feeling this way.
At this point in the story of my journey, I think it’s important to consider what I was doing with my free time, what entertainment I found myself gravitating toward. As you might have guessed, it was all pretty gay. Starting in college, I found myself drawn to shows with lesbian or bisexual characters. And within these shows, the lesbian and bisexual characters were my favorite: Thirteen on House, Santana and Brittany on Glee, Shay on Chicago Fire, Brenna on Chasing Life, everyone on The L Word and on and on. Even if I didn’t watch the show, I found myself drawn to the lesbian storyline, wanting to stay up to date with it. Even generally speaking, I had lots of favorite actresses and very few favorite actors. Perhaps strangely, I never even thought about this or questioned it at all until recently.
When I finally realized that all of my media consumption was insanely gay, I started to think about the idea of being with a woman more abstractly. Was it something I was interested in? Was it something that made me excited? I found that it was. Even just thinking about it was more exciting than the intimacy I had shared with men.
Then, this past summer, I was clicking around Netflix looking for a new show to watch when I stumbled upon Wentworth. I remembered hearing great things about the show through my Tumblr (also very gay), so I decided to start watching. Okay, first, just a few general comments on this show: It’s absolutely amazing. It’s set in a women’s prison in Australia, so it’s a heavily female cast. The characters are incredibly complex. You’ll be torn between loving and hating all of them. In short, everyone needs to watch this show. Please. Do this for yourself.
Okay, anyway. I started watching Wentworth and was immediately drawn to Franky. For one, you find out that she’s gay within the first 10 minutes of the show, and as I already told you, I’m into that. But more importantly, she’s an incredibly complex and electric character. You just can’t look away. Props to Nicole da Silva for such a beautiful portrayal.
I credit Wentworth not only for entertaining me this past summer, but also for helping me to complete the journey of understanding my sexuality. Specifically, there was one scene in the 5th episode of the first season that hit me like a brick. It was a quiet scene between Franky and the prison governor, Erica.
In this scene, Franky describes her experience with sex with men and her realization that she is gay. She describes feeling that sex with men was okay, but realizing that something was missing. It all clicked into place when she finally slept with a woman. I connected so strongly with Franky in this scene. It felt like all of my thoughts were coming out of her mouth. I felt validated.
That scene was the first time I’d ever heard anyone describe intimacy with their non-preferred gender as being “okay.” That’s not to say that many people don’t feel this way, but I’d never been exposed to it. I began to realize that much of the reason I didn’t realize that I wasn’t necessarily into men was that I thought the intimacy was okay and not gross or a huge turnoff. If it was okay, if I was willing to do it again, how could I not be into men? It wasn’t until I saw this scene that it all clicked for me. Intimacy with men can be okay without it meaning that I’m straight or even bi. There can still be something important missing, even if it’s okay. And I really connected with the feeling that something was missing. Intimacy felt . . . empty in the moment, and I simply hadn’t spent a lot of time processing that fact until after I watched this scene. I felt like I was opening up and seeing things about myself much more clearly. I understood myself. Finally. I felt free for the first time in years. And I hadn’t even realized that that feeling was missing.
I was then faced with reconciling my positive experiences with opposite-sex intimacy in the past. I chocked it up to sexuality being fluid. Attraction and those to whom we are attracted can also change over time. Maybe I have the propensity to be truly attracted to men, but it rarely happens. Maybe it will never happen again. I know two things to be true now: 1) I’m not interested in men and 2) I am drawn to women. When I picture my high school romance with Anne or the idea of a future romance with a woman, I feel calm and free. It feels right. And that’s what I am choosing to focus on – what feels right. This Fall I switched all my dating profiles over to women only. And for the first time, I noticed myself feeling excited about the prospect of swiping, messaging people, and going on dates. I no longer dread swiping through potential matches every day. It’s wonderful.
So, what’s my advice now that I’m on the other side? Be patient with yourself. Few people figure out their sexuality in a day. You deserve to take the time to explore and determine what feels right. You need to. You need to explore not only intimacy and attraction, but also your feelings and thoughts and what you’re drawn to. I think we forget about this latter part. I know I forgot to explore these things until just recently, in my mid 20s. So often, we operate on automatic; we do what we think is expected of us and forget to determine if it feels right or not. We must break that cycle to get to know ourselves. I did. And I couldn’t be happier.
*Name has been changed to protect a woman who did not realize her ex would write a blog post about her someday.