To All the Women I Loved Before I Was Queer – An Injustice!
When I was a small girl with white-blonde hair and plastic rimmed glasses too big for my face, my grandmother taught me the art of being a woman. Beauty is pain. Our makeup is our mask. Love is hard. It’s a woman’s job to always, always be hyper-aware of the needs and wants of those around her and to never, ever speak up or make waves.
Even as she handed my sister and I toy cars — the kind with wheels that revved up when you spun them — and told us we could play with anything a boy could, the subliminal messaging came through. I could only be myself if everyone around me were taken care of. To have everything, I must be everything. My path was clear: I’d be wife to a man who took care of me, a mother, a homemaker, a college graduate, and a career woman. Probably in that order.
The man was an important step.
Grandma sometimes said I didn’t need one, but prepared me for the care and feeding none-the-less. A modern woman should say she didn’t need a man, but she actually did and, as a modern woman, I would find better man than my grandfather was to her and my father was to my mother.
Romance fascinated me as a young girl and teenager. Disney taught me well. I dreamed up princes and princesses in far away kingdoms where they could live their happily-ever-afters. The princesses were radiant with wide smiles and hair, topped with tiaras, that hung down their backs in waves. They wore floor length gowns that shimmered by the light of crystal chandeliers. They were enchanting with their rosy cheeks and glowing skin. The princes — well — they were princes.
As a writer, I was there to soothe the hurts of the characters I loved. I’d brush back their hair, and wipe their tears away. I was there to hold their beautiful, soft bodies in the night when things were falling apart around them.
I’d always been drawn to the women on television. Elegant women with words of wisdom on their tongues. Smart women with fiery tempers and no fear of speaking their minds. Bubbly women with kind hearts and love for everyone. Insecure women who couldn’t see the power they held. If only someone could show them their strength. I wanted to show them.
Towards the end of seventh grade my grandfather purchased our family’s first computer. My grandmother had just passed away and I don’t know what possessed him, because he couldn’t even use a mouse, but he bought it at RadioShack and we hooked it up to the worldwide web. At the ripe-old-age of thirteen with a hole in my heart as large as the loss of my mother figure, I was left to my own devices to explore Netscape Navigator, for better or worse.
Down roads of 0s, 1s, and HTML tags I found fandom and fanfiction. What magic! Now I could write my Disney romances with the characters I obsessed over from Star Trek Voyager, X-Men: Evolution, and so many others. At a time when fandom was carving out its permanent place on the internet, I carved my place within it.
My writing was terrible and prolific, something about the act of storytelling reaching deep down to my soul. As a writer, I was there to soothe the hurts of my favorite characters. I’d brush back their hair, and wipe their tears away. I was there to hold their beautiful, soft bodies in the night when things were falling apart around them. I imagined their stories day and night. With male characters as a proxy, I loved these women but I didn’t understand my love. Instead, I convinced myself I wanted to be them.
I knew about gay boys and lesbians. In hushed whispers I heard of people who ‘swung both ways’. I was friends with people in the queer community but that wasn’t me. Look at all my stories where beautiful women fell in love with handsome men?
When I dreamed of these vibrant characters and wrote of their trials and triumphs, I told myself what I gave them was what I wanted from my life. I obsessed over female characters like Lieutenant Jadzia Dax of Deep Space Nine and her actress Terry Ferrel the way my friends crushed on pretty boys like Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonathan Taylor Thomas.
But it couldn’t be a crush. Crushes were meant to be had on boys. So I had “crushes” on boys. I picked handsome men and boys of the sort I thought I should be attracted to — after all, Leonardo DiCaprio did cut a nice figure. Like my friends, I gushed over his movie and television appearances and devoured magazine articles about him so I could rattle off facts at sleepovers. I chose my favorite boy in each boy band. I played my part. It felt like pretend, but perhaps it was like that for everyone.
For years my aunt and grandfather teased me because I never dated. They implored me to date my male best friends because, obviously, I had mistaken love for friendship and one of these boys would become my future husband. In college, out of loneliness and pressure I joined dating sites (way back before Tinder) and attempted to make a connection with those who seemed interesting. I was never interested for long. The two times I’d kissed a boy, it was either slimy or dry — not experiences I was eager to repeat.
What was wrong with me that not a single boy or man caused my heart to skip a beat or my stomach to grow warm and fluttery?
I knew about gay boys and lesbians. In hushed whispers I heard of people who ‘swung both ways’. I was friends with people in the queer community, but that wasn’t me. Look at all my stories where beautiful women fell in love with handsome men? I had to be heterosexual. After all, I had years invested in it and an entire community telling me it was the only way to be.
It didn’t matter that when two women kissed in a book my heart fluttered and my breath grew thin. That in fantasies and story ideas for lemon fanfics (for the young ones out there, it’s how we identified smut back in the ye olde days of fanfic) I imagined the woman more than the man. He was just kind of…there.
But identity isn’t something I can figure out so easily. It’s an ever evolving, ever changing thing.
One icy cold evening in college after drinking downtown with my friends, I became fascinated with their breasts. Round. Soft. So enticing. I wanted to touch them, and I did, all of us giggling in our drunkenness at how silly we were for doing such a forbidden thing. They were nice, and wasn’t the last time, either. It became a joke in our group that it was time for me to stop drinking when I started thinking about kissing girls.
Ha. Ha. A Joke, right?
The first person I hid my identity from, of course, was myself.
No one knew that sometimes when I looked at a woman’s lips, I studied their shape and went breathless at the thought of kissing them. When girlfriends joked about men in pornos, I never said how I consumed lesbian porn exclusively. And, even with enough alcohol imbibed to lower my inhibitions enough to touch, I knew better than to say how every once in a while I wished I could touch a pair of breasts without clothing as a barrier.
Women were so beautiful and so much nicer to look at. Why weren’t men beautiful?
When I was 23, I fell for my best friend. We shared so many interests. Video games and movies. Clothes and shopping. We stayed up long hours speaking of life, our fears of the future, and the fear we’d never find happiness and love. There was so much pressure on us to put our best adult selves forward though we didn’t have a clue how to be an adult yet.
For the first time in my life I was attracted to a man, and he’d been right under my nose for years.
We were married in November of 2010. We grew together, brought a much loved and wanted child into the world together, and made a home. Perhaps not a perfect home, and maybe all our dreams hadn’t come true as fast — or the way — we’d wished them to, but many had. We were happy most of the time, but we both had our secrets.
We all try to understand this self who’s been touched by love, happiness, fear and grief.
On nights when he wasn’t around, I still fantasized about women and wondered, as my west coast world grew more open and friendly towards LGBTQIA+ identities, what it would’ve been like to share my bed with a woman at least once. I never told him I wasn’t really attracted to his body. I loved him and wanted him in every sense of the word, but it wasn’t his physical appearance that turned me on. Far from it.
Likewise, my husband, out of guilt and shame, hid that she was transgender. She wasn’t a man, but a woman.
My wife, not my husband.
Through vehement denials like, “it’s just a fetish” and “the fabric on women’s underwear is just more comfortable”, I didn’t know until last year she’d known she was transgender the entire length of our relationship, but had shelved transition to go our with me. One year ago, the day before our anniversary and on her birthday, she began her transition (I share all this with express permission from her).
When my wife was a husband, I didn’t have to face the uncomfortable parts of my identity. I didn’t have to take time to wonder why I obsessed over beautiful women on television the way my girlfriends obsessed over handsome men. I didn’t have to consider what it was about my wife that had attracted me or how our relationship had always resembled the close friendships I’d had with women.
Women, not men.
I didn’t have to accept that straight women didn’t fantasize about other women or feel longing and regret over their heterosexual decisions.
Now I know I’m queer, but that’s only part of the battle. Am I a lesbian? Am bi even if the only man I’d ever felt sexual attraction to wasn’t a man? Perhaps I am simply wife-sexual? But if I am, how does that explain my discomfort at my wife’s changing body some days — how her budding breasts both arouse me and disquiet me because I’d grown comfortable with our sexual relationship over the years and sex is the last place we’d ever thought to confront our internalized trans and queer phobias.
How do I figure out my identity with trauma hanging like an albatross around my neck? Trauma that tells me change is dangerous and whispers in my ear that heterosexuality is safer, even though I know and accept none of this will fold back into the packaging it came out of.
How do I be me when I’m not supposed to make waves and there’s no way to be loud and proud without causing a few?
You’d think that at 34 I’d have it all figured out.
But identity isn’t something I can figure out so easily. It’s an ever evolving, ever changing thing. As we grow, we learn. When we learn, we become more comfortable. Sometimes we have to leave some of our dreams behind and forge a new path forward, even if it’s a more treacherous road.
We get stronger.
We learn to build walls around our hearts with the stones of our truths.
We learn to speak up for ourselves and for others.
We break free.
Even outside the LGBTQIA+ community, people struggle with who they are. Men struggle with what it means to be a man. Women struggle with what it means to be a woman. We all try to understand this self who’s been touched by love, happiness, fear, and grief. No one’s identity is stagnant.
I think the only time we’ll ever know the full extent of it is the day we die — and maybe not even then. For me, that’s hope, because I am finally learning that I can, and have to, be myself before I can take care of everyone else. My path in life isn’t clear, and it never was. It was never safe, either. Maybe, by coming into my own identity and doing my part to make the world a more welcoming place — by making a few waves here and there — I can smooth out the path a bit for those who come after.