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The Personal: How To Be Gay

April 7, 2010

image via fotosearch.com

So.  A very personal confession.  (Please go easy on me here.  This is the first time I’ve really talked much about this, in print or otherwise.)

As you’ve probably noticed, I refer to myself as “queer” or “bi” most of the time.

I’ve had sex with both men and women, had relationships with both men and women.  But all of my long-term relationships have been with men.  That’s fairly common, I realize.  There are plenty of people who believe in the “sliding scale” of sexuality; I’ve always just assumed that I’m somewhere in the middle of that scale.

You know what, though?  I’m beginning to realize something.  Despite what appear to be my best efforts at relationships with guys, I like women a LOT more.  I’m more attracted to them.  I enjoy their company more.  The sex has always been better (for me, at least).

I think I might just be straight-up gay, you guys.  I think I’ve maybe been lying to myself for a long, long time.  And I have no idea why.  And I have no idea  how to come to some final determination about this.  Or whether coming to a final determination is really even necessary.

For days now, I’ve been trying to parse the answers to those questions.  I want to understand why I played it “straight” for so long.  And it isn’t for any of the obvious reasons, like conservative family or unaccepting friends.  I am a lucky fucking woman.  If I came out tomorrow, none of my immediate family members would shun me or give me the silent treatment.  They might have a few questions (i.e. “Why are you just telling us this, in your late 20’s?” and “So then what’s with all the boyfriends? And that one guy you lived with?”), but overall I’m betting our relationship would remain as stable as always.  My parents are awesome fucking people.  Ditto my brother.  (My grandparents and aunts and uncles would be another story; but they’re not a very big part of my life at this point anyway.  Their reactions are kind of moot.)  I can’t think of a single friend who’d turn away from me, or really even be that surprised.   (Maybe some facebook “friends,” some old acquaintances, but none of the people I consider part of my inner circle.)

So my family/friend situation isn’t holding me back.

What is it, then?  Why is it that, despite the fact that at this point I’m pretty sure women are my preference, all of my ltrs have been with dudes?

I think the answer has something to do with the fact that I’ve passed as a straight girl for so long.  When I listen to narratives of coming out, most of them seem to involve a definitive moment of realization – a moment of “Oh, I always knew I was gay.”  I’ve never had that moment.  And so I guess I just assumed that, because I didn’t wake up one day and say “I want to date only women!”, that meant I was really mostly straight.  I always just presumed my life would turn out straight – that even though I LOVED women, I’d end up with a dude.  Because that’s just how things work.  I’ve bought into the cultural mythology, even though I’m a person who spends ALL of her time analyzing and fighting against that very same mythology.  I would never presume straightness of anyone else.  But I presumed it of myself – at least for the most part.  And now, I’m not sure if it’s too late to “take it back.”

So you may be getting a few personal posts from me about the journey involved in coming to a conclusion about all of this.  I figure this is a good forum in which to parse things out, to test the waters and find out how people react to the notion of a mostly-straight bi girl suddenly announcing that she’s pretty sure she’s actually gay.  Are people going to tell me it’s a “phase?”  Are they going to tell me that (as I fear) the gay community isn’t going to accept a girl who’s been playing it straight for so many years – that potential girlfriends aren’t likely to believe me when I tell them I don’t really want a man around?  Or are they going to tell me to “go for it,” to dive headfirst into the lifestyle that I long for?

Do any of you have any experience with this?  Any friends who came out late in life?  Did they stay out, or did they go back?

*Author’s note: I just read over this, and my prose is awkward and clunky!  Apparently, I REALLY haven’t figured out how to talk about this yet.*

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. marybullstonecraft permalink*
    April 7, 2010 12:40 pm

    First, virtual hugs! This is, as you note, a complicated place to be–and I wish you peace with that sometimes fraught complication. I personally think that final determinations in the arena of sexuality are over-rated (and, as you suggest, often anxiety-provoking!), but I understand why they are or could be helpful as well. So, that’s a non-answer in some ways, but it’s what I think.

    Additionally, I think you’re right to bring up the fact that coming out/finding yourself a place within queer communities (especially lesbian communities) can be really difficult because of pressure/expectations/biases within those communities. My own past experience has taught me just how difficult it can be to negotiate such an entrance, given many lesbian women’s (not unreasonable) suspicion of their use/sexualization/general crap treatment by straight people. I understand that suspicion, and yet, it’s also deeply frustrating: it seems wrong to dismiss the desires and complex feelings involved for individuals in the (pretty vulnerable!) position of coming out, or even figuring out what they would come out “as,” were they to do so. And for fuck’s sake, unless you’re a gold-star lesbian, you have to start somewhere .

    Ahem. Anyway. My point here is mainly that it’s often difficult to be a bi or queer person in the LGBTQ community, and maybe also to call for some solidarity/sympathy from all sides.

  2. April 8, 2010 6:43 am

    Oh man. I have so much I want to say on this. I may even end up doing my own post on it. I’ve been talking about this stuff with people A LOT lately.

    First, big hugs! It’s not easy to come out, or to come to these realizations that are different from how we’ve always thought of ourselves. I, too, identify as queer. All my long-term relationships have been with men. I find it hard to fit in in the queer community because I’m not queer enough. But I have trouble fitting in the straight community, because even though I LOOK straight, I don’t feel it. I know I’m different.

    I struggle with the guilt of heterosexual privilege that I have because I look like a straight woman. I can walk into any bar or store and be treated as a heterosexual person would be treated. When I’m dating a man, I retain that privilege. People assume I’m straight and treat me as such. But when I go out with a woman, I lose that privilege. It’s really hard to have it one day and lose it the next. I’m constantly shifting between worlds. And in fact, the only time I’ve ever feared for my safety was when I was on a date with another femme woman in a straight bar.

    I struggle with the privilege I have. Part of me doesn’t want it; I don’t deserve it because I’m NOT straight. Part of me likes it, because it makes my life easier. Part of me is angry about having it, because I’m NOT straight! Stop treating me like I am! When I date a man, society sees me as straight, and often my partners, even when I tell them I’m queer and get heated and worked up about stuff, don’t really GET it. It’s such a hard place to be.

    Wow, that took a tangent I didn’t expect. I may have to make that a post after all.

    As for the question you posed in your post, I think it’s different for everyone. For some people it’s a journey. For others, it’s something they’ve always known. We all find our own way to our identities. It’s whatever feels right and real to you. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. And I look forward to reading more about your journey of self-discovery.

    • pandadementia permalink
      April 12, 2010 4:12 pm

      I’m curious as to why one would feel “guilt” about the way they are. Frustration over the way people treat you, yes, but guilt? That implies that you think you’ve done something wrong. The people who have treated you differently should feel guilty, but not you.
      Also, I’m not sure how this qualifies as ‘privilege’ since the way you look is something you CHOOSE. You could choose to appear more butch, but you don’t. The way I understood it the many times before that you were talking about privilege, it is something that we are born into, not something we have a choice about.
      I’ve been lucky enough to either not be treated differently while I’ve been out with girlfriends or have not *noticed* being treated differently, so maybe that’s why I’m not understanding the “guilt” and ‘privilege’ comments, but maybe you can enlighten me?

      Also, QueenGeorge, I wish you all the best in your experiences. You would think that the GLBT community would be understanding and supportive of someone coming to terms with their sexuality but, sadly, that’s not always the case. I truly hope that things work out for you and you find your place!

  3. marybullstonecraft permalink*
    April 12, 2010 7:20 pm

    Pandadementia: I disagree that feeling guilt about one’s privilege means that one believes s/he has done something wrong. It means that you recognize that the privilege you’re being given (whether because of something you choose or not) depends upon others’ being oppressed or treated as “other” in some way. Privilege only works because there’s a group of people who aren’t privileged. And if recognizing yourself as privileged is hard, because it means that you benefit from other people’s suffering. And this is even harder if you identify with those other people (i.e., you’re queer, but “pass,” while other LGBTQ people aren’t so fortunate).

    Additionally, it worries me to think about butch/femme identities as simple “choices.” Most butch women I know wouldn’t say that their embodiment of their gender/sexuality is a choice in the way that picking out a sandwich is a choice–it’s a part of who they are. And I’m concerned that if we start thinking about it in this way, we open the door to a homophobic way of thinking that says “well, you could CHOOSE not to ‘flaunt’ your sexuality, but yo do…” And, the fact that you implicitly frame being BUTCH with a choice, but Britni’s passing–which happens as a result of being FEMME–as not a choice is pretty worrisome to me, and reveals a lot about the privilege of being a femme woman. So yeah, QueenGeorge could dress in more stereotypically “butch” clothing, but that’s not the same thing as identifying as butch. So I suppose what I want to say is that I think the question of choice, both as it relates to passing, as it relates to gender identity, is much more complicated than you make it seem here.

    • April 12, 2010 7:27 pm

      I gave a very similar answer to this, when she posed the same question on my blog. I’ll repost here, since it’s relevant.

      “Guilt over the fact that I’m receiving privilege that I don’t deserve. Guilt that I’m queer, yet most of the time, I don’t suffer the same discrimination that many other queer people do.

      As for how I look being a choice, to a large extent, yes, it is. But at the same time, gender really *isn’t* much of a choice, and I’m not someone that has a more butch or masculine gender identity. I could choose to dress that way, but it’s not who I am and wouldn’t fit with how I feel about myself. Many more butch lesbians dress that way because it’s how they’re comfortable. Their gender identity isn’t feminine, even though they are female and happy to be so. So while they choose to dress the way they do, it’s moreso to match their gender identity and appearance. I’m not butch, so I don’t necessarily “choose” to be femme; it’s just who I am. Does that make sense?”

    • pandadementia permalink
      April 12, 2010 7:40 pm

      I think maybe I’m just not agreeing with the word choice there. The definition of “guilt” is the emotional experience someone has when they believe they have violated a moral standard. I can understand being thoughtful about how you have things better than others, but not feeling badly about it because, just as they had no choice as to what race/gender/status/sexuality/etc they were born into, neither did you. Does that make sense?
      I’m also not trying to say that people should defy what they feel in order to dress to fit in, I was just confused as to how your appearance, which is something you can change (though I understand that it is part of your identity, which you can’t change), qualifies as “privilege.” Privilege in general confuses the hell out of me because I’ve seen it used in so many different contexts and have heard so many different explanations of it that I haven’t been able to form one concise definition of it. I’ve seen people use it as an insult in one conversation but claim that privilege is nothing personal in another context. Just befuddled.

  4. April 14, 2010 11:18 pm

    First: Thanks, everyone, for all the support and hugs. I’ll be making an update soon about how things are coming along, but for now just let me say that having a venue like this in which to talk this stuff out is super helpful.

    Second:
    For me, “guilt” comes from the feeling that having privilege makes me automatically complicit in oppressing others. That’s just part of privilege. I can change that situation somewhat by being self-aware of my status and “checking my privilege” as often as possible. But I’m still going to fuck up, ultimately.

    Also, even if we’re going to define guilt as “violating a moral standard,” (a definition I’m not sure I fully agree with), there are times when I DO violate my own moral standards by accepting a privilege that I don’t completely deserve. I pass, and I pass often. I have long accepted everyone’s reading of me as straight – and the privilege that goes along with that reading – rather than challenging their assumptions and identifying outright as queer. And that makes me feel guilty. Because by challenging the assumptions of those around me (in my fairly conservative state and city) I could possibly make some changes in the way they view things. Maybe not. But maybe so.

    @Britni: To add to the conundrum of how you dress vs. how you look, I’m actually a fairly butch dresser. I’ll throw on a skirt or cute dress occasionally, but in general I wear a t-shirt and jeans that don’t quite fit. Usually I wear my hair incredibly short. However, I am NEVER read as butch by anyone heterosexual. Some of that, I’m sure, has to do with my mannerisms and other things that I do by some level of choice. But a lot of it has to do with the fact that I have a short, curvy body. It’s hard for me to hide my hips and breasts. I think most heteros (espec. those with little personal interaction with queer-identified people) think of butch women as having masculine body types, full stop. So like Mary B was saying above, some of that reading is part of something I just can’t help.

    Also, I sympathize with your alternating feelings of “Hey! Stop identifying me as straight! I’m NOT STRAIGHT!!” And then again, now I wish that I’d challenged that assumption out loud more often. Because I’m really really worried that nobody is going to accept me as gay. But if I’d identified as queer more often, maybe it’d be easier to believe.

    • pandadementia permalink
      April 15, 2010 8:57 am

      “For me, “guilt” comes from the feeling that having privilege makes me automatically complicit in oppressing others. That’s just part of privilege.”
      And herein lies my problem with the concept of ‘privilege.’ Just because I am a white, cis-gendered, fairly able-bodied woman doesn’t mean that I am complicit in oppressing others, IMO. That is society’s doing. Now, if I were exploiting said privilege, if I was smug about being better than those who didn’t have that privilege, THAT would put the responsibility of oppression on my shoulders. But *I* am not the one that is treating those people differently. I have no part in the discrimination. I was born into my status in life and had no choice in the matter, just as they didn’t have a choice in theirs.
      I can understand you feeling a little bit of personal responsibility for not speaking up to challenge other’s misconceptions of you, which, in turn, helps you avoid discrimination, but what are you going to do? Stand up in every place you go (store, restaurant, etc) and shout, “I AM GAY! DO NOT TREAT ME LIKE I’M STRAIGHT!”? If you want to do that amongst your friends/acquaintances in order to change *their* perspective of you, more power to you, but I don’t see how you’d effectively be able to challenge the misconceptions of the general public.
      I hope you don’t see this as an attack on you, because that is far from the case. I completely respect your situation and sympathize with your plight about being seen as serious by the LGBT community (I think bisexual people often get the shaft, so to speak, because there ARE so many young girls who think it’s “cool” to claim they’re bisexual and makeout in public, but who are actually far from serious about their attraction/connection with both sexes). My problem is, and I figure always will be, only with the concept of privilege.
      Like I said before, I hope things work out for you!

  5. marybullstonecraft permalink*
    April 20, 2010 11:28 am

    Sorry I haven’t been able to respond recently, but for the moment, here’s a really sweet post from Britni’s site on appreciating femmes: http://britisshameless.com/2010/04/to-all-the-kick-ass-beautiful-fierce-femmes/

  6. forestfirecity permalink
    June 6, 2010 11:04 pm

    Hey queengeorge,
    I just found this blog earlier today and have been reading your posts for the last four hours.. I wanted to send you an extended ‘love your posts, you’re super awesome’ probably overly personal email but I can’t seem to find your email address anywhere. I can certainly appreciate your not posting you email address, but my email is hollynorrisphotography@gmail.com if you wanted to send it to me so I could email you. I really enjoyed this post and your more recent writings on abusive relationships and the ‘Cloak of Goodness’ and wanted to send you a few more personal comments. Anyway, keep blogging! I love this blog!

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