The word “lesbian” is not a dirty word. I think in our community, many of us have had to come to terms with this. I was raised in a coercive religious environment in a small town where being a lesbian was not just dirty, it was absolutely prohibited from discussion. So, when I started to notice girls, in a way they had always told me I was supposed to notice boys, I fought my natural attraction to women and threw myself into church involvement, anything to distract me from how alluring I found some of the girls in my life. And every week at my youth group, I would bow on my knees and cry because no matter how hard I tried to ignore it, that pull in my heart and in my mind only became stronger. My best friend had eyes like sapphire diamonds, another girl in my school had the cutest dichotomy of being a shy drama geek. I made friends with someone else in my church whose unique idiosyncrasies had me smiling in wistful fondness days after she said anything. Girls took my breath away, made me feel seen and loved. Boys were just there, and once I involved myself in purity culture which championed a concept of courtship rather than dating, I did not even try to have crushes on them for the most part.
After high school, and in order to convince myself I wasn’t gay, I tried to recall all the boys in my life on which I had had crushes. The parameters were from the age of three to eighteen and I was thinking of every boy with whom I had ever come in contact that ever made me think of the future. How many were there? Two hundred boys since I was three years old. I had had crushes on two hundred boys since I was old enough to know what a boy was. I think about this moment often, I may have overcompensated when I was choosing to like that many boys throughout my life. But, each and every one was something that felt like a choice, some force leading me to seek out relatively attractive things about men. The way it went for me was basically that if I met a boy, I immediately wondered whether or not I would marry him. And as I grew older and found myself undeniably extremely attracted to girls, I wondered which boy might get me to stop thinking about girls forever.
I think when we talk about the word lesbian, or really any word that society does not want sheltered children to know, there is a simplicity that ignores the nuance of being human. To many, any thinking of boys as attractive rules out the possibility of being a lesbian. And while people who are not men being solely attracted to people who are not men is a definition that makes perfect sense to me, it forgets the journey we all have to make through heteronormativity and compulsory heterosexuality. Surrounded as I was by the assumption that one must find an opposite gender mate, I did everything in my power to try to find the one for me.
When I realized I was having a lot of gay thoughts, I just tried harder to hope for the right guy to fix me. This was impossible while I had sworn off dating. So instead, the girls I liked just sat in my mind taking up all the space. Desperate, I started referring to them as "obsessions" as if that was a better thing to say of them than "crushes." I even told one girl that I had been obsessed with her since we met and she responded that she was glad I "made the first move in our friendship". There was persecution on the horizon if I were to come out, but my main issue was self-acceptance. I had been raised to think thoughts about sex and romance should be for marriage and always with a man. So thinking about girls, as blissful as it sometimes was, was a painful thing to feel. I spent most of my time fighting my mind and my heart.
As I grew older, I went to ministry school, having been convinced that a religious based education was my calling. At ministry school, the boundaries I had for myself with dating were actually enforced. In the first year, we were not allowed to date any boys, so the second a girl caught my eye, I could not distract myself into thinking about a boyfriend. She was an obsession, on my mind every moment of the day no matter how hard I tried to replace her with other thoughts. They also required us to not hang out with boys alone, something about temptation. I didn't exactly care, but then one day, a girl in my class asked me why I didn't hang out with the boys at all. My heart dropped, I thought I had been adhering to the rules well enough that it wouldn't be asked of me anymore. But, in this moment, surrounded by people who believed people like me did not deserve to be treated well, I was panicking. Even though I was essentially forbidden from spending much time with a boy, they still saw through me.
As time went on, I think I started to let myself see things about my upbringing that before I had never noticed. I began to understand what we looked like to people who did not live the way we did. I began to question myself and my beliefs, and when it was all said and done, I determined that my college environment was far too coercive a space for me as an individual. I finished out my semester and I moved back to my small town. By this point, I had started to question how we had been treating the LGBTQ community, a community from whom I kept myself separated. The movies I loved growing up that were all about my faith were now in a new light to me.
One of the most glaring issues was that LGBTQ people in those movies could exist only as long as they changed their minds in the end. And it occurred to me that people created worlds cleared of gay people, trans people, anyone with whom they disagreed, rather than incorporate the queer experience in their media. This realization predicated me moving two states away and setting my life up apart from my small town, free from the shackles of a religious reputation. When I was moving, I was still religious and one thing I remember was saying that if I got drunk and slept with a girl, it was not going to be something that made me dirty, not with the believe in God I then had. I could sin and get back up again, no longer did I have to shelter myself from the world I once feared. Looking back, "I am not gay but I might sleep with a girl once my inhibitions are down" was not the straight mindset I believed it to be.
In the new city, I actually tried to date boys instead of forcing myself to pine for them. They were sweet and friendly, and every single one of them respected my boundaries for sex. But dating boys, like crushing on them, always made me feel like I was forcing something. Like I did not choose to think about them, I had to. With girls, attraction to them had been passion, unyielding happiness at their existence. It had been everything that makes someone a crush. I fixated on their hands and the cuts on their fingers from art mixed media class. I was haunted nightly by their stunning eyes and soft bodies I loved to cuddle into. I was mesmerized by the feel of their nails and fingers trailing down my spine for a backrub. Boys were just something to pass the time. Girls made life worth living. With so many layers of trauma and pain around my attraction to girls and trying to fight it, I got into a year long relationship with a boy.
Relationship with boys thus far had been no more than three months. But this guy seemed like he might understand me. He got really excited when he talked about things that made him happy, passionate when describing an anime or video game he liked. And I thought that having similar interests or at the very least being able to express our passions about things the other didn't understand, was enough. But, as it turned out, most of my relationship with him was spent crying, not necessarily due to things he had done, but an overwhelming sense of feeling trapped in a life with him. As there were so many activities, not just words from which I was forbidden as a child, I decided to pursue things that used to be a problem, that were no longer quite so wrong a concept for me.
I started watching TV shows that were once considered evil in the community of which I had so long been a part. This evil show specifically? Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When Tara Maclay came onto the screen in Season 4, I realized I had never seen anybody like her. A shy witchy lesbian, unashamed and sweet in her advances, Tara was the person I had always needed in my life to help me feel safe to love as I loved. She was such a breath of fresh air that I actually rewound over and over again to her scenes, loving her character, but also just mesmerized by her little half smirk. My boyfriend at the time took notice and raised an eyebrow insinuating that it was a bit gay to rewatch a character so many times. I had soft come out to him as bisexual but when he said this, I was alarmed. Then I realized that I had never spoken to or hung out with an LGBTQ person in my life about their feelings. I had been an ally for two years at that point, and decided that maybe I should give the possibility that I was gay a chance.
When I finally let myself accept that for my entire life I had just been gay, options I had never dared consider became available to me. I could live life with a woman, I could kiss a girl and it wouldn't be wrong. It would just be who I was. I broke up with my boyfriend and came out as bisexual. But as I learned more about compulsory heterosexuality, I determined that boys were never truly of interest for me. If you have to force yourself to like someone, you probably didn't like them in the first place. Months later, after going on a few dates with girls that were awkward and strange, I realized that I needed to meet a girl who understood where I was coming from with my specific religious trauma. I was dating online at the time through various apps and one girl caught my attention. She was on two apps that I was on and the second one gave more clues as to her personality. She loved poetry and the ocean, long conversations and genuine smiles. We started texting and found that we had both been raised in similar churches and had walked away horrified.
She had been out to herself her entire life but had felt so much pressure to conform that she had married a man and had two children. At this time in my life, I was twenty four years old and her kids were teenagers. Even though at one time that would have been a deal breaker, I pushed forward and continued to get to know her. About a week before we were to meet in person, we both told each other that we felt we could trust each other even though we had never met in person. A day before our first date, we were getting much flirtier with our conversations. She told me that if I would like, she wanted to kiss me at the end of our date even if we were not romantically compatible. The shark-infested waters of sapphic dating could be intimidating. When she texted that to me, I was on the phone with my mom and had to squeal into a pillow to hide my excitement at such a prospect.
After lunch and later a movie, we sat in her car talking. When I started rambling out of nervousness and the excitement at being around someone who understood, she gently placed her hand behind my neck and guided my lips to hers. The feeling was electric. It was as if she had flipped my world and righted it for the first time ever. In the following days, we couldn't keep our hands off of each other. Before we even had sex, we had one night where we just made out, mesmerized by each others' lips and clothed bodies for nine hours. Sex became about exploring each other and learning each other and we began to share hard things that we did not tend to tell other people about ourselves.
From then on, any obstacle we faced, we faced together. I fell in love with her and became a stepmom to her teenagers who now love me like I am another parent. She proposed after a year and a half and I responded with a giddy "Absolutely, yes." I've since decided I choose her, I choose this life we have together. But I do not choose to love her. Loving her, like being attracted to women, is a part of who I am and comes as easily as breathing.
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