I’ve always felt like I was somewhat of a fraud in the gay community. It took me a while to feel as if I was actually a part of it, like I had to do something to earn my lesbian credentials other than date a woman, or simply have feelings for one.
I didn’t come out until I was 20, and that’s because I really had no idea I was queer until then. When I look back on it now, I can see some signs. There had been times I’d thought "I could probably be with a girl — no problem," as if it were a dare or something I’d be willing to do at gunpoint.
Growing up, I don’t recall having any crushes on girls — and I played sports. (I guess I quit softball too soon.) I attended schools in two different cities in Michigan throughout my adolescence. One was a diverse college town where I lived until I was 15, and the other was a small town that had a history with the KKK. I wasn’t finding my soul mate in either one. In both places, I was adamant that I’d be getting out of the state when it came time for college. That’s where I’d meet the one who was destined to be my match, someone who had interests in film and music, rather than pigskins and pick-up trucks.
I’d always assumed this "One" would be a guy, although any semblance of a relationship I had in high school ended in heartache, and my last real boyfriend now dances on cruise ships. Looks like we were a match made in Gay Heaven. It’s no wonder we didn’t like making out.
Thinking of myself, my education and my career made me feel empowered, like my peers just didn’t have it together like I did. They’d be on the fast track to marriage, babies and boredom while I was in Chicago drinking coffee and having intelligent conversations, working on novels and networking and feeling well-connected. Eventually this dream would involve a partner, and someday, I’d meet him when the time was right.
But by age 19, I hadn’t met him. I had met several "dudes," who were fun to kiss while drunk at parties, but I usually followed that up with frenching my friends. And when my friends schemed about how to go home with said dudes, I was slipping out the door to catch the train home. My subconscious had no plans to bed a man. My conscious mind said I’m just not that kind of girl.
The thing is, I’m totally that kind of girl. I’m just that kind of girl for a girl.
The summer before my junior year, I applied for a position at my college newspaper. The first interview went well, so I was called in for a second. I walked into the office and took a chair by the front door, waiting for my turn to talk to the two editors of the paper. Then a girl came walking by me, and I recognized her face from her column in the paper. She had what I thought was a totally gay face, or maybe it was just her dykey haircut.
Nonetheless, she was a lesbian, and I was now seeing her in the flesh.
"Hey, how’s it going?" she addressed me nervously, walking out the door toward the bathroom. I barely had time to say, "Good" and process that her presence had made me feel a little excited. In one split second, the sight of this person, this girl, had made me a little shy. I could have been blushing.
She ended up being the editor I’d be working under. Needless to say, I got the job.
Working together made it all the more apparent that I had feelings for this person, this girl. She was smart and a great writer, she liked the same kind of music I did, and also liked consuming lots of caffeine. She had a girlfriend whom she lived with, but eventually ended up breaking it off because she had the same kind of feelings for me that I had for her. She was even willing to put up with going out with "a straight girl."
She was my first everything, and I had to grapple with the feelings that I assumed I should have felt much sooner in life. How can I be gay? I thought, instantly feeling bad that I questioned it. Some of my best friends were gay, but they’d known it forever. My friend Kevin has a video tape of himself at age four answering that his favorite Christmas gift was his sister’s curling iron. Where was my gay history?
Now knowing that I’m a femme, through and through, I can’t take my cues from fashions and bad haircuts. I’ve always preferred dresses, skirts, make-up and dyeing my hair to jeans and T’s. I also quite enjoyed "girly" things like fashion and boy bands anything else that safely falls under the category of "Things Straight Girls Are Prone to Like."
Maybe, I thought, I’m bisexual. That would make sense, and make me less fraudulent. I could count some girls that I possibly had crushes on but never really acknowledged the feelings: the hot singer of a band I skipped my high school prom to see; the girl with a lip ring that I desperately wanted to befriend in a music class my freshman year, the one I wanted to get high and play Truth or Dare with all the time in hopes we’d get dared to make out.
OK, getting a little gayer.
I tried to put things in perspective, which was possibly made easier by the fact that I was taking two Women’s Studies courses at the time, and sexuality was part of our weekly discourse. It’s also possible I was even more confused. But my feelings didn’t lie—I liked a girl. I kissed her. I didn’t die. I felt breasts, and I was into it. It felt awesome, in fact.
While in high school, I had taken my gay best bud to prom with me. I had argued passionately in speech class that gay marriage should be legal. But I’m a Cheerleader was one of my favorite films. And I did sometimes grab my friends’ asses, just for fun.
The hardest part about coming out in college is that it made me feel a bit cliché. It’s considerably easy for friends and family to think it’s a phase or some sort of liberal college social science experiment. But I would not have frivolously chosen something like that for myself if I knew it’d cause my mom to ask, "But what am I supposed to say when people ask me if you have a boyfriend?"
Maybe if I had known I was a lesbian at age 12, I could have been prepared for this answer a little better. But I think I did pretty well in saying, "I’m sorry, Mom. I forgot this was all about you."
Also, I never had a boyfriend to speak of, really, so it shouldn’t be much of a change for her to say "No." She could feel free to answer "She has a girlfriend," but at the time, saying that seemed like it might push her over the edge. Eventually, she’d come to introduce my girlfriend as "my other half," and that was good enough for me. Baby steps.
In my first real relationship, I was with a woman for four and a half years. We did everything I’d hoped to do with a partner, and even though it didn’t work out, it wasn’t because she was a she. And in being with her, I realized that being bisexual was sort of out of the question. My attraction to men was (and is) non-existent. Somehow my sexuality was just not tapped into until I met the first person that I was really and truly attracted to, mentally and physically. And since then, that has happened several other times. (All female. It’s true—I’m official.)
To read the rest, check out Dear John, I Love Jane.