(This is a difficult one for me to post, but here goes…)
“Well, when did you know?”
It’s a question that a lot of people have asked me when coming out to them.
I guess I knew around the age of 13. I found female celebrities attractive, beguiling, mesmerising, in a way that I knew wasn’t just admiration. Cheryl Cole, Megan Fox, 13 from House, Taylor Swift. But I instinctively knew there was something “wrong” about that. I knew it was unacceptable. I thought it was unacceptable. I wasn’t sure I was aware that bisexuality was an option, I thought it was either full gay, or full straight and nothing in-between. And I didn’t want to be gay. For one, I’d heard all the nasty comments made by my peers at school. “Gay” was a slur. And for a second, I felt I didn’t conform to what I’d been fed it meant to be a gay woman. Butch, tomboy, all the usual tropes. The openly gay kids in school all hung around together and had a similar style, listened to the same type of music. I felt I didn’t fit in. I played the fiddle, was into country music and was a fairly “normal”, if a nerdy straight-A, pupil. I didn’t know where I fit.
When I got to college a few of my friends were openly, and confidently, out by then and had girlfriends. Part of me was jealous, part of me was curious. But all of me was still in denial and deliberately suppressing my identity.
Then I got my first boyfriend, and started going out to parties drinking. And out of nowhere came the notion that drunkenly kissing your best girl friends was a cool thing to do. My boyfriend thought it was hot. He thought it was performative, like one of his teenage boy fantasies of watching two girls “lez-off”. Little did he know how much it turned me on. How I wanted more. More than just a drunken kiss on a night out. I distinctly remember how soft J’s lips were, and how I found that infinitely more arousing than my boyfriend’s beard stubble.
My sexuality lay dormant for a while after college. Convinced myself it was just a phase and I was straight after all, phew. Yet still fawning over images of Cheryl Cole (why her?!) on my boyfriend’s pin-up calendar.
The relationship ended. And that’s a whole nother story. And when I downloaded a dating app for the first time, I hovered over the toggle to say I was interested in women too. But I bottled it. I’d convinced myself for so long that I was straight, that I believed the lie.
Then the next serious relationship happened, also with a man. There was nothing really niggling at me that I was lying about my sexuality (by this point I also knew what the B stood for in LGBTQ+). Except that sometimes I’d check women out on the street. Except sometimes I’d close my eyes during sex and picture a woman instead. Except sometimes (most times) when I’d masturbate I’d envisage a woman going down on me. But that was normal for a straight person, right?
And then Chiang Mai happened. There were a lot of awful things that happened in Thailand. But one of it’s few saving graces, and one thing I am eternally grateful for, was it’s thriving queer community. With the drag nights, both queens and kings, with the spoken word poetry, the marches, and just the complete openness of everyone I met about the full spectrum and fluidity of both sexuality and gender. I’d make jokes to E about needing a “wet floor” sign, or a mop and bucket, when a particularly attractive female performer came on stage. And she never batted an eyelid, she just laughed along with me. And I’ve never felt more like I belonged. (It’s another one of the reasons I was so heartbroken to leave Thailand the way I had to – but again, that’s another story for another time.)
I remember finally getting up the courage to say to E that I was bi. E had recently had her first fling with a girl and again, I was jealous and curious. It felt like the right time to finally tell someone, and I knew I wanted E to be the first to know. She laughed and said “Mate, I already knew, you kind of give off that vibe”. And that was that.
I finally felt like I was with my people. I didn’t need to look a certain way, listen to certain bands, dress a certain way. I just needed to show up, authentically as myself. And I was accepted.
I later told another friend, D, who was non-binary and queer. They had the same response as E – they already knew. They laughed at me (or with me) again. It was reassuring. However, they warned me against telling my then boyfriend. Because they said it’d plant a seed of doubt in his head about whether I wanted to see what a relationship with a woman would be like.
Despite what D said, I made the choice to tell him. Through ashamed tears I told him the truth about my sexuality, and how I finally felt comfortable enough to talk about it. I reassured him I didn’t want to go off and experiment (which was definitely a lie – I had always longed for the touch of another woman, to feel her warm body pressed against mine, whoever she may be). So maybe it was a factor in him deciding to break up with me a few months later. Who knows, who cares.
And also, separate note, but after everything I had to endure with my first boyfriend, and a subsequent rape and various sexual assaults, sexually I didn’t feel comfortable around men anymore. I didn’t feel safe. I associated sex with pain, I associated it with it being a performative act solely for the benefit of male pleasure. I started to lean more towards the safety of a woman, rather than the fear, embarrassment and degradation I associated with heterosexual sex. I constantly felt the pressure, no matter who I was with sexually, to always give them what they wanted.
After that relationship ended, and I moved back to the UK, I ended up in a tumultuous “relationship” with an old school “friend”. He told me my sexuality was a phase, or I was just using the label to seem edgy. I’d told him I was unsure whether I was bisexual or pansexual (because I’d been attracted to a non-binary person in Chiang Mai), and instead of being supportive, his response was “Vegan? Pansexual? What other quirky labels do you want to add?”.
Thankfully, I cut all ties with him (stupidly after having sex with him twice though – truly appalling sex at that), and moved down south. When some new work colleagues persuaded me to download Hinge, this time I had no qualms about clicking the toggle “men and women”.
The men I matched with were a disappointment. I was more fascinated by the fact that for the first time I had the opportunity to explore dating women. Still most of my home friends didn’t know, except maybe F. She knows everything. And I still experienced some prejudice even from within the queer community. I had one girl tell me I didn’t look gay enough, or looked like I was “new to this” or some other bullshit. I couldn’t believe that in this day and age, in 2021, people were still trying to typecast a gay woman (or a bisexual), and from WITHIN the LGBTQ+ community as well. I brushed that remark off though and stopped speaking to that one particular girl.
There were plenty of other girls I matched with. And then along came H. And something clicked into place almost immediately. It was easy, it was effortless. (See previous poems about how much I love her). Our first video chat date lasted almost four hours.
After we’d made it official, on 6th February, before we’d even met up with each other (cheers lockdown, you massive cockblock (the irony that I just used that phrase)), I knew I needed to be honest with my family too.
My sister was initially quite quiet about it. But sure enough, the next morning all the questions came. The main one being “Well, when did you know?” and I guess that’s where I was at at the start of this piece of writing.
My Mum and Dad didn’t have too many questions, they were just happy I was happy. But over the coming months I felt I had to repeatedly come out over and over again to different people or groups of people – friends from work, old colleagues, friends from school. It got a bit draining, and then it got a bit boring and eventually I’d whittled it down to “Oh, I have a girlfriend now, by the way” and that’s the end of it.
I can’t express how much more comfortable I am being with H. Maybe it’s because we’re both in the exact same situation (we’d both never been with a girl before) or maybe it’s just her. I feel safe in bed with her. I trust her completely. I know I’m never going to be put in a situation where I feel uncomfortable sexually. Maybe it’s because we’re both female, or maybe it’s because I trust her enough to be completely open and honest with her.
So yeah, that’s where I’m at.
Also, boobs are great.