Okay, so I want to clarify something here. Some people I’ve met don’t really consider the age of 24 as “late blooming” or an odd age to discover your true sexuality. After all, that’s about the age at which your prefrontal cortex (the brain’s personality, reasoning, and decision-making center) is fully formed.
I use the term “late blooming lesbian” and apply it to myself because, for me, it seemed and still does seem like this realization came too late in my life. I realized it too late to avoid getting married to someone who was and is wonderful but ultimately not right for me. I realized it too late to take advantage of the early years of dating. I realized it later than many young men and women do, and therefore I consider myself a bit of a late bloomer. And that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, although in my case it ended with some rather undesirable repercussions. For those of you who don’t know, I was married to a wonderful young man when we were both relatively fresh out of college, and that marriage lasted about 18 months before I discovered (and came out to him and his family) as a lesbian.
Here, let me just start at the beginning. I can at least explain in retrospect what I think kept me from realizing this tremendous bombshell as early as I should have.
In middle school, I remember very vividly being attracted to women. I didn’t pay much attention to boys, and if I did it was because boys kind of seemed like the default option that girls didn’t really have a choice about. Girls like boys. Okay, cool, I guess. I’ll follow along because that’s normal. But girls? That was an extra cherry on top that I felt like I was lucky to have. I sat in class or at home just wishing I could only be with girls and not have to deal with the boys at all. (Apparently I didn’t consider that as a real choice at the time…)
This is a good start, right? Right. I knew explicitly at some point that I liked women even though for some reason it didn’t occur to me that men didn’t have to be a part of the equation. And I think, had things continued that way, I might’ve followed a somewhat normal lesbian trajectory to adulthood. Sure, there would have been questioning, trying to fit in and find my place, etc. But there’s a normal order to the development of lesbian identities just like there’s one for straight identities.
So you’re probably wondering what happened. What exactly got me from knowing I liked (loved, lusted after) women at such a young age to dating a couple boys and eventually marrying one?
I’m going to blame it on a couple things, really. But what really started the ball rolling was moving from a relatively diverse school to an isolated, rural school the year after I finished 9th grade. You see, at my old school I had a group of friends that accepted me as I was – short hair, men’s clothes, and preferences for women and all. I had support – not only from my friends, but from a few special teachers as well. Although I was bullied ruthlessly for being masculine and a bit ugly, I always knew I had a good place to hide from it all in the rooms of two of my favorite teachers.
Not so at my new school. As soon as I moved I experienced bullying like I’d never known before. Being physically pushed into walls and lockers, jeered at, food thrown at me, sexual remarks from the football team (yes, cliche but true). It was a nightmare, and I had nobody at that point to help me. The teachers did nothing, the principal did nothing when I reported it. Turns out it’s a bad idea to have a vice principal and principal who also head the football team if you want those boys to be held accountable for their actions.
Anyway, the time came where I knew if I wanted to escape this I had to change. Between sophomore and junior year I told my mom I wanted to get a new wardrobe, new haircut, everything. I grew my hair out and styled it feminine. I put away my rainbow pins and clothes. I bought more dresses and slimmer jeans, more feminine blouses, and makeup. I even learned how to pluck my unruly, bushy eyebrows. It didn’t help me be any more attractive, so I still got bullied for that – but, unsurprisingly, the amount of times I got called faggot in a day plummetted. I got pushed into walls less. People stopped throwing food at me. And for the first time in my life I was thankful to be a bit more invisible. At least for a while.
I think this is where I started denying who I was and what I wanted. The message had gotten to me loud and clear – who you are is disgusting. Ugly. Disgraceful, weird, intolerable. You deserve to be hurt for how you are and no adult is going to step in and help you.
As a kid who already struggled with deep depression, I just couldn’t take it. Like I had done with most of my emotions I sectioned off and stowed away parts of me that – in my eyes- were causing people to hate me and hurt me. Maybe, just maybe, if I did that I could be more safe. Eventually guys my age started to notice, and I got hit on more than I used to (which, with a baseline of zero, isn’t much to say).
I started dating a guy because, well, why the hell not. I changed everything else about myself to fit in. One more thing couldn’t hurt any more.
Of course, that’s wrong now and I know it. That first boyfriend abused me badly, and I chalked up not being attracted to him to his narcisissm and weird personality. But new things kept popping up that helped me deny who I was. Every time I might have moved forward and gained some insight into my true self, something came right along and destroyed my ability to do so. Right when I was trying to move out of my mother’s house and gain some independence, I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Who thinks about their personality, the core of their sexual being when they’re going through chemo? And by the time that was over, I’d been with my third boyfriend – the only guy who had treated me with respect, dignity, compassion, and love – for years.
Sure, neither of us really enjoyed the sexual aspect of our relationship, as nearly nonexistent as it was. He was a repressed and guilt-ridden Catholic, and I thought that because of either my medical problems or my past abuse my body would just never work again. I was struggling desperately to come to grips with that. The pain it gave me to think that I’d never enjoy sex or intimate relationships sent me into depressive episodes some days. As self-pitying as it might have been, I felt like I deserved to enjoy some aspect of my body and I felt like that had been permanently ripped away from me.
For years, even through talks of marriage, we searched for a solution. Different medications, exercise, diet changes, long, deep conversations, new positions or toys or settings. Nothing worked. I loved him more than anyone else in the whole world, but I couldn’t force myself to be attracted to him. It was hurting us both. I just like an empty human being incapable of real, whole love.
Until I went to a concert with one of my best friends and her boysfriend’s bandmate, Marguerite.
Margeurite. Tall, tattooed, blood red hair. Margeurite. Arms thick with muscles and hands ropy from shredding guitar year after year. That night I think I watched her way more than I watched Queens of the Stone Age swooning on about some stupid thing or another up on the stage. Before we left I’d seen a glimpse of an entire canvas of back tattoos and asked to see more. She obliged, and stupid me – I asked to touch them. I hesitated for some reason, like the simple act of brushing her back would be something I couldn’t come back from. She was totally unaware of the struggle going on in my head as I reached out to touch the siren tattoo between her two scapulae.
The entire concert I felt this electricity between us – or rather, between me and the side of her head as she rocked on to the music. I wanted to touch her. I struggled with it for hours, thinking of ways to accidentally brush against her as I pretended to dance like everyone else. I did it once, too. It was too much for me, I was sure that one touch had told her everything and that she must now be disgusted with the thoughts I was having of her, trasmitted through our jackets and the cold night air. Of course, in reality she was oblivious and I was being a lustful idiot.
That night my friend made a comment to me after we hugged and said our goodbyes. She looked me right in the eye and said, “You know…. You shoud talk to your husband. Tonight I saw you looking at Margeurite in a way I’ve never seen you look at him. Even at your wedding. You and him should really, really talk.”
I was paralyzed and terrified the entire two and a half hour drive home, but I knew she was right. And I knew also that I was a fucking idiot. I was an idiot who had been in denial for a long, long time.
To be continued.