When I started seventh grade, it was obvious to me that over the summer, something had changed. Namely, all my friends had been bitten by the boy-crazy bug.
ALL OF THEM.
Everyone had a crush on someone. Or was ‘dating’ someone. Or had a ranked list of the guys they would be willing to go out with/marry.
I had nothing.
I was confused by this trend. Boys were weird and smelly. But since I was also unwilling to be left out, I decided I would also have a crush on someone. I picked a new kid in our class. He was in band with me and took honors classes, which I figured was a good enough basis for liking someone. I told my friends.
A couple of days later, one of those friends started teasing me about the boy I was crushing on, and I couldn’t figure out who she was talking about. I played along until I remembered, but that was when I decided that being in “love” was mostly for losers. After all, how awesome could it be if I couldn’t even remember who my “crush” was?
I relegated crushes and giggling and attraction to the box of silly, emotional, feminine things that I was too intellectual and mature for. As I got a little older and started getting the “guard your heart” speech from my youth leaders, I added “too spiritual” to the list of attributes that protected me from becoming one of those ridiculous girls that drooled over boys. I was above all that.
Then I realized that I wasn’t actually “too” any of those things. I was just too gay.
When I finally did start having the butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling that all of my friends described, it was generally not directed towards boys. In fact, I can’t name a single boy I was interested in during high school, but I can list several girls that I pined after from afar or jealously guarded friendships with as early as elementary school.
In college, I started to recognize that the pattern of my feelings wasn’t simply I-want-her-to-be-my-friend or she-spends-too-much-time-with-her-boyfriend. I realized that I had romantic feelings for these girls. (At least, I realized it sometimes. Enough that it made me think. Looking back, however, there were other times that I was pretty oblivious.) I wrote in my journal, “I think human sexuality is a lot more fluid than we’re generally willing to admit.”
This was a nice thing for me to think. On the one hand, it made me feel very enlightened. Look at how open minded and accepting I’m being! It’s totally normal to admire members of both sexes romantically! On the other hand, it fit in nicely with the idea I was raised with that people choose to be gay. After all, I was choosing not to be gay, right? I could have declared myself bisexual and pursued a relationship with a woman. (I carefully did not think about the possibility of going any farther up the Kinsey scale than that.) Obviously, gay people had some slight preference for their own gender and chose to focus on that.
I clung, desperately, to the handful of guys that I felt attracted to. There was the much older student that all the girls in my lifegroup called “Campus Ministry Ken.” (I’m not actually sure he knew my name.) There was the adorable cowboy I met on a trip home with a friend. (I’m really not sure if I noticed him or if I just noticed him noticing me, but we had fun flirting.) There was the scrub tech in the hospital I worked in who turned out to also be my boss’s son. (The giggly, incoherent mess I turned into whenever I had to talk to him would have completely humiliated my 12 year-old self. My co-workers found it highly amusing.)
I moved away for graduate school and found myself in a program that is 80% female. In my department, there are 3 men and 86 women. Within days of classes starting most of my friends knew the names, ages, hometowns, and research interests of all 3 guys. I was too distracted by the fact that studying with this many women was . . . distracting.
Just before Christmas, a friend whose figure I found oddly . . . appealing bought a pair of high-heeled ankle boots and wore them to a party I attended, paired with a rather flattering pair of jeans. I spent most of the evening trying not to stare.
I drove home for Christmas, 17 hours in a single day. It was grueling. Somewhere out in the enormous expanse of nothing that you have to drive through to get from where I live now to where I grew up, I turned off my music, put my phone on silent, and gave myself a good talk.
You are not a lesbian. This is crazy. You’re just looking for a way to be different. You never could do things the easy way. This is just another way of casting yourself as the tragic, misunderstood heroine. You’re not that attracted to women. You always over-think things like this. You just haven’t met the right man yet. You’ve got to be patient. God will bring someone along when it’s time. And how do you expect to meet a nice, Christian man that you could be interested in when you’re not even going to church?!?! Now stop thinking about all of this before you get confused. YOU ARE NOT GAY.
I turned the music back up and drove on.
On December 29, 2012, I was sitting on the bed in my parents’ guest room waiting for my turn in the shower. (Oh the joys of being home.) I was reading a story online, when a particular line struck me. “It was silly, and Steve knew it, but he was 22 years old, living by himself and turning out a little too queer for his own tastes. Dreaming of a normal life, in his home town, with his best friend, was sometimes the only thing that got him out of bed in the morning.”
Turning out a little too queer for his own tastes. Boy, don’t I know how that feels.
And suddenly, I knew. I could almost feel the thought forming in my mind, feel myself trying to smother it. I realized even as it was happening that this wasn’t something I could un-know.
I’m not actually straight.
It’s funny how much significance there is in the linguistic leap from “attracted to women” to “not straight.”
There is no ending to this story.
I spent most of the spring semester mentally tiptoeing around this realization. I came out to three close friends, all of whom were very supportive and all of whom moved my understanding and acceptance of myself forward in different ways. I began seeing a counselor in late April when I realized that my distraction over my sexual identity crisis was affecting my ability to function. I went into therapy grimly determined to accept myself or die trying, and I’ve made a lot of progress.
I can say the words “I’m gay” or “I’m a lesbian” out loud now, without having to take a fortifying breath first.
I began visiting a progressive church with a gay pastor during Lent. Despite my occasional concern that God is, in fact, judging me for worshiping with these people, I have never felt more loved and accepted by any faith community. I’m slowly finding my place in their congregation and making it my home. Being around the pastor and her partner has been wonderfully encouraging, and being there has given me hope that both my faith and I will survive this process intact.
I’ve reached a point where I realize that continuing to accept my sexual orientation means telling people, and I’m trying to do that. It’s not an easy conversation to have, even with people I know will be accepting, but I know that being able to live honestly and authentically will be its own reward. I told a friend from high school recently, and she told me afterward that this was the freest and happiest she’d ever seen me.
I told her, “I feel like I was always drowning and didn’t realize it until my head hit the surface of the water.”