It's Pride month and as such I’ve been thinking a lot about my queer identity—specifically, the ways I honor that in my current relationship and then reminiscing about the rocky and enlightening road that led me to ID-ing myself in this way.
Even though I’ve written a few essays about my queer identity, I’ve never really gone into detail about my coming out experience and about what being queer means to me these days, especially with me being in a hetero relationship.
A lot of you are especially curious about that last bit and I’ve gotten many questions over the years about what it’s like for me to be queer while also being in a long-term relationship with a cis-dude. This question usually comes from people who have recently or are just now giving themselves permission to question and claim their not-straight sexuality, and they want to know, from me, how it is we manage my queer identity in our relationship.
So in honor of Pride and in celebration of my own not-straightness, here’s me, officially coming out—again.
Because as a femme-presenting, straight-passing woman in a long-term, monogamous-passing marriage with a guy, I often feel like I have to come out again and again.
Here's my messy, confusing, dramatic queer identity origin story.
Press play below to listen. (Or listen on Apple Podcasts.)
Things mentioned in this episode:
Henry & June, by Anaïs Nin; the first blog post I wrote where I came out; the first time we opened our relationship (and my first queer date) + a more recent post on non-monogamy; when I went to lesbian summer camp.
And I think that’s one of the major things that kept me from being curious about my maybe not-straight sexuality. I thought you had to know from day one, that every single crush you had from the time you knew crushes could exist would be same-sex crushes. And so in a lot of ways, I ignored and invalidated my own sexual identity because I didn’t come to know that part of myself in the conventional ways I was so used to hearing about.
I actually had my first real girl-crush at around 20, though I would not have considered it a girl-crush at the time. It was this girl who used to come in to get her hair shampooed at the salon I was working at the time, I was working as a receptionist, and the first time she walked in I remember feeling a strange but familiar pull in my body that made me go, “Oh, that’s interesting.”
I have vivid memories of daydreaming about her as she sat unknowingly in the waiting area, waiting to get her hair done. I would daydream about what it would be like to make her dinner and caress my legs against hers as we cuddled on the couch. I imagined how it might feel to hold her hand in public and to take baths with her.
Once, I even got up the courage to speak to her, beyond what I was doing as a part of my job—the typical, “Hi, welcome to our salon, how can I help you?” I don’t even remember what we talked about, but it was a huge moment for me, me taking initiative to actually try to know her and to also make my own presence and interest known to her.
And it’s funny—when I think back at it, even while I was daydreaming about having a full-on relationship with this woman, I still thought I was straight. I thought that those were just normal sexual fantasies some women have, kind of how lots of straight women like to watch lesbian porn despite them not being gay. And because I was in a relationship with this guy and we were like, months away from being engaged, it didn’t seem accurate to call what I was feeling and thinking about anything other than whimsical fantasies. In my mind, I thought who you were with was what your sexual orientation was.
I honestly didn’t think being anything other than straight was an option for me—not just because of the relationship I was in at the time, but because of the way I had lived my life up until that point. I had always had crushes on and dated guys.
Even in high school when I witnessed my friends experimenting with their sexuality, sometimes with each other, no lightbulbs went off in my head, no impulses to explore or be curious about my own self.
Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why this was, wondering how, like—and this is maybe going to sound inappropriate, but it’s my truth—how I could have numerous sleepovers with my girl friends as a teen, where I’d be in intimate situations with them—sleeping in the same bed, seeing them naked—during times when we were all sexually active, and never once did my mind venture into a direction of attraction towards them or sexual curiosity.
I don’t have an easy answer to this to this day, but the one thing I keep coming back to is how it was so drilled into me by my church, my parents, my family members, that being gay was not only a sin but an abomination, and so I think that being so heavily discouraged against same-sex love and sexuality and even hearing my own father say homophobic things as I was growing up, it made me feel in a very visceral way that that wasn’t an option for me. Like, it didn’t even occur to me to wonder about my sexuality because anything other than being straight was so off limits.
So maybe the reason it took me so long to realize and claim myself as queer had something to do with that. Like, I literally had to dismantle those barriers that kept me from being curious in order to finally allow myself to be my own person and find my truth.
And it’s interesting because right around the time I had that first girl-crush was when I moved out and away from my parent’s influence. I think I had to literally and physically emancipate myself from their religion, their rules, their superstitions and phobias to be able to think for myself and become my own sexual woman.
I think my queer identity started to really come to form as more than just a fantasy when, after I left my salon job (and thus, my girl-crush) I was still having feelings and curiosities for women. And while I still wasn’t in a place to put an official label on it, I knew that I was discovering something very important about myself that was still being revealed to me.
What’s so funny to me about that time in my early twenties was that even though I was in denial about my sexuality, the kind of media I was consuming at that time was telling a way different story. I was watching a lot of artsy and super gay films back then with storylines that mimicked my own struggles and confusion with my sexuality, and I was also heavily reading Anais Nin’s diaries, particularly the ones where she was coming into her own sexual awakening and realizing her deep affection and sexual desire for both June and Henry Miller.
While her story wasn’t totally similar to mine, I saw myself so much in Anais Nin. Not just in her sexuality, but in her sexual awakening process as a whole. To read and basically witness her giving herself permission to satiate her sexual desires—for June, for Henry, for herself—was more than inspiring; it was medicinal. And it was through her honest and raw self-discovery that I began to really open myself to the wide and complex spectrum of my own sexuality and how it needed to be healed and liberated.
And then, when I was 23, I came down with yet another girl-crush, one where neither of us were actively searching for attraction but found ourselves into each other and then later conspiring having a real relationship with each other. And that’s when I finally started to realize that not only was I definitely not straight but that I was probably not monogamous as well.
The ‘relationship’ I mentioned earlier with my girl crush didn’t end up working out, for reasons I won’t go into here, and even though nothing physical happened between us and our ‘relationship’ was more of an emotional, short-lived flirtationship, I grieved our breakup hard. Like, way harder than I probably should have and way harder than I expected myself to. Probably because my moon is in Cancer, but likely because I was grieving. Like, really, really grieving.
I wasn’t just grieving the idea of what our relationship could’ve been. I was grieving the loss of this opportunity to finally explore my sexuality with a woman.
Because this flirtationship came out of nowhere and it seemed like I was finally being given a permission slip to satiate my own desires. So when our relationship ended, and this is going to sound completely irrational and dramatic, but I seriously felt like that was my one and only chance to live out a part of me that had been kept unacknowledged for so long.
So I took all of that heartbreak and confusion and put it into a really melodramatic and messy post on my blog, Sex Love Liberation—which is really embarrassing for me to revisit, but I’ll put a link in the show notes if you’d like to read it.
As I was writing the post, it wasn’t my intention to “come out” in it. I was just looking for a place to process my sadness and frustration with my sexuality, and Sex Love Liberation was that space for me. It wasn’t until I was finished writing it that I realized the implications of the post—that in saying “I had a crush on a girl once”, I was coming out, even if I still didn’t want to use the designated language for who I was.
Which, by the way, I should just mention that the reason I was so against calling what I was what it was (some form of bisexual at the time) because I absolutely abhorred the word. I couldn’t call myself that bisexual. Bisexual felt flippant and trivial and surface-level, a word that I knew people used as a slight, as though bisexual just couldn’t make up their minds. I didn’t want to be perceived as I was just going through a phase and I felt hyperaware that I would be categorized as that even more because of being married. But. . . even though I hated it, it was the only word that really resonated with me. So, I began using it even though it made me feel tense and a bit anxious.
So with the post about me questioning my sexual orientation out, I guess that’s a good place to talk about how my family received all of this.
Obviously, Jonathan knew about how I questioned my sexuality before all of this because of conversations I had had with him about my crushes and my daydreams. And to be honest, I don’t even remember what that initial confession and conversation looked like, probably because it was uneventful. I mean, he was definitely supportive and gave me space and time to figure out what that meant for me, but there wasn’t this long, drawn out discussion about it that I was expecting, which I’m grateful for.
I also told my sister shortly before the post came out, which, again, I can’t remember how that conversation actually went, but I do remember that I told her over lunch one afternoon and I was pleasantly surprised by how open and accepting she was, how she was just like, “Cool, so tell me about your crush?” It was incredibly reassuring and helped me feel seen and normal.
As for my parents—I honestly didn’t plan on telling them until I knew exactly what all this meant for me. Because if bisexual is what I was going to call myself, I needed to understand what this information was going to change in my life, if at all. There was a lot I didn’t know at that time. Like, I wasn’t even sure what it meant to be a bisexual woman married to a man—if I was going to start actively dating women now or if this was a part of me that I was going to let lie dormant for this particular lifetime. So my plan was to tell them if and when I knew it should be their business. But of course, they had other plans.
Despite them telling me that they would never, ever read my sexuality blog because it weirded them out too much, they both somehow ended up reading the post I wrote about my sexual orientation and their responses ranged between disappointment and deep concern.
Actually, both of them said, in their own ways, how sad they were that I wasn’t going to be with them in heaven when I die because of my sins—not just the sin of being bisexual, mind you, but the sin of the sexually open way I was living my life, speaking openly about porn and masturbation. And to this day, my sexual identity and even the work that I do, is on a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” basis with my mom. She doesn’t ask, I don’t tell.
I’m not going to lie and say that their responses didn’t hurt, but I didn’t internalize them all that much. I mean, I kind of figured that that was how they were going to respond. They were both still pretty religious so I expected that they would be put off.
But I really didn’t want to dwell on my parents’ or other family member’s opinions of me. I wanted to focus my energy on the support and encouragement that I was getting from other people—from Jonathan, from my friends, and from the few people reading my blog.
I also wanted to focus on ways that I could explore and validate my sexuality on my own terms, because I didn’t want my curiosities and desires to lie dormant. I wanted them to be realized. I wanted them to be celebrated. I wanted to express the full spectrum of my sexuality without it taking away from the partnership I created with Jonathan.
And I explored and validated my sexuality in many ways—by going to queer events in my city, by getting clued into gay pop culture classics, by going to lesbian summer camp (which is also something I wrote about), by making queer community, and of course, by opening my relationship.
I’ve talked a lot about what the process of opening and closing and then opening my relationship again looked like for me—both on my blog and on this podcast. And I’ll leave links in the show notes if you’d like to revisit that whole wild story.
And I guess all of that brings me to where I’m at today—thriving and much more confident in who I am than I was, but still discovering myself as a queer woman.
I mean, while it’s true I’ve been on this earth for 30 years, historically I’ve only been living fully in my queer identity for like, seven years. So, there’s a lot I’m still figuring out and a lot I still struggle with.
I mean, I guess I’ll be really vulnerable in saying that one of those struggles that I still deal with is whether I’m allowed to claim myself as queer, mostly because of what I’ve talked about already—having come out so late in life, not currently being in a queer relationship—and that weighs on me a lot. Like, there’s still this part of me that is critical about my process and doubts who I am. And that gets compounded by the other thing I struggle with which is that I am often made to feel invisible or questioned about my identity by other people in the queer community.
Like, there was this one time—and I’ll never forget it—I went to a lesbian dance party with some queer friends, my first ever gay bar experience, and I was already feeling so nervous and shy because I was dealing with a lot of inner judgment about how I don’t “look” queer enough and I was having a hard time convincing myself that I belonged there. But I was trying to keep it cool and exude a confidence that was definitely not there.
And so, I’m walking into the bar and my friend is ahead of me, saying hello to friends, and one of her friends, who I had just met with Jonathan a few nights ago, looks at me and then looks at my friend and goes, “What’s she doing here?” As in—“Why is she at this lesbian bar when she’s clearly not a lesbian?” And I’ll never forget that moment of realizing that the reason she was asking that question was because she saw me with Jonathan and assumed that I was straight. So when things like that happen, and they’ve happened a lot as people always assume I’m straight both because of who I’m with and because I don’t have that “queer” look, it’s really difficult for me to silence the voices of doubt that I tell my own self.
I mean, I’m continuously working on validating and celebrating my sexuality on my own terms and outside of other people’s opinions or prejudices, and I’m constantly reminding myself that I am queer because I say that I am queer—full stop, period. But, yea, it’s hard.
As for how I identity in terms of language—I’ve since made peace with the word bisexual but predominantly use the word queer when describing my sexual orientation. I also like queer because it doesn’t just speak to the kind of people I am sexually attracted to, but also the kind of way I live my life sexually—open, proud, and unconventional.
Although, I’ve been having some serious feelings lately about how calling myself queer, rather than bi, is another form of bi-erasure, and even though my attraction for folks is not within the male/female binary, there’s something that feels really. . . political and radical about calling myself bisexual? Maybe because, in doing so, it feels like I’m finally reclaiming the word after so many years of being repelled by it? I don’t know, it’s something I’m still working out. But in the meantime, I prefer to call myself queer because it encapsulates how I love and fuck in a really easy and concise way.
As for who I am as a bi-queer person—I am tender and soft (Cancer moon). The way to my pussy is through my heart, which is another way of saying that I also identify as demisexual—someone who needs to have an emotional connection and emotional intimacy with someone before the act of sex can take place—which would honestly make for a great episode sometime.
I’m a little awkward and I have a hard time having my interest in others be read as sexual because I don’t really know how to flirt—also something I’m working on.
I am non-monogamous and prefer that term to polyamory because non-monogamy better reflects the kind of relationships I tend to be in. I’m prone to having many crushes at a time and am not shy to be direct and express when I like-like someone (Sagittarius rising).
I’m pretty vanilla with bratty bottom tendencies, depending on who I’m getting freaky with. And, last thing, I am a tomboyish femme who uses she/her pronouns.
My queer identity is a choice—that is, I actively choose each day to honor and actualize this part of me when I don’t necessarily “have to.”
I’m in a long-term committed relationship with a man who’s amazing, we’ve been together for more than a decade. It would’ve been really easy to settle for living my life as a straight person, and I almost did. But I chose not to because this part of me was more important that my fears and anxieties, more important than any “should” or “right way” to do it.
My queerness is an integral part of me, no matter who I’m sharing a bed with or how long ago I was on a date with someone. I am happy to be fully home to myself.
Before I close this lengthy confessional, I just want to give some shout-outs to some people who were a huge part of my queer origin story. These people took me under their queer wings and helped me come into my sexual identity with love, support, and mentorship, and I want to acknowledgment for their place in my coming out and coming home to my queer self story.
Shout out to Emilie who was one of my only queer friends at the time I figured out I wasn’t straight and who helped me find my way. She also introduced me to some gay pop culture classics, like the film But I’m A Cheerleader and my super problematic fave, The L Word. I want to thank you as well for taking me to my very first queer-centered event here in Portland where I was able to see and feel the community around me in a physical way. You always affirmed me even when I was so ungraceful and unsure.
Shout out to Aketi who gave me my first lesbian bar experience, which is also where I had the pleasure of having my first biphobic experience that I mentioned previously—which is totally not your fault and I don’t blame you at all. Despite that rude experience, I had so much fun and look back on that night with fondness.
Shout out to everyone in my cabin at A-Camp 2015. The conversations and experiences I had with each of you have a special place in my heart. You will always be my queer family. Beehive for life.
Shout out to S., the first person I ever asked to go out on a gay date with me and who treated me, a baby queer, so tenderly and patiently as I fumbled my way through our first and second date.
Shout out to J., my first queer kiss and the first woman I held hands with in a public space. And shout out to A., who was my first queer sexual experience, which, I was so nervous about and had waited for for so long that when it was finally happening I was literally saying, “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god” in my head until we fell asleep. Thanks for that experience.
Shout out to Jonathan for being the best wingman a girl could want and who helped me up my flirtation game.
And shoutout to every person I ever dated who broke it off with me. You missed out. But seriously, thank you for your service.
And if there’s anyone listening to this and they wanna go on a date with me sometime, slide up in those DMs and hit your girl up.
No, I’m just kidding. (But seriously though, hit me up. Let’s go out dancing.)
Thanks for witnessing this mess. Happy Pride, all.
© 2020 Ev'Yan Whitney / All rights reserved.