There is a diary from my childhood, one of those “kid” designed ones with a sort of puffy cover and lined multi-colored pages, on which I would write my musings. There was no regularity with which I recorded things, simply when I was moved to like or despise things or people. On one page from first grade (age 6, since I was young for my grade), my young handwriting scrawled, “I want to make sex.”
I had crushes on boys starting that year, and my affections jumped from classmate to classmate. By second grade, my attention had focused on the new boy who looked great when he sweat in gym class. And third grade found my desires maturing a bit, falling surprisingly for the boy who had been my enemy since nursery school. I marveled at my change of heart, and I recall sitting next to him during the science fair tour and wanting more than anything to kiss his freckled cheek.
Throughout all of this time, I longed above all to meet and be with Fred Savage. His work as Kevin Arnold on The Wonder Years was quite impressive, but I knew that he as a real person would really vibe with me since I was also a young, aspiring actress, even if I aspired from a New England suburb. I would stay up at night imagining scenarios in which I could audition for the role of “new neighbor.” Winny, Kevin would realize, was a first but not lasting love. I would play the girl who he really grew into loving. And off set, our romance would also come to fruition.
I masturbated at a very young age, getting to know my body, its curves (very few), its climaxes. My parents assured me that this titillation was normal, but appropriate only in private. Though puberty hit very very late (I was underweight, danced approximately three times a week at ballet, and was the daughter of a late-bloomer), I was aware of my sensual self from the start.
Around age 14, I had my first conscious sexual thoughts about a woman. The woman was in fact a girl, a friend of mine. Pre-internet, I wrote myself custom erotica that I would read to get myself hot, and I wrote one about this friend of mine that worked again and again to get me off. I didn’t understand the mechanism of how two girls would be together, but imagining it to the extent that I could felt fantastic.
That particular friend and I admitted to each other mid high school that we both would probably identify as “bisexual,” and we shared a passion for The Indigo Girls and RENT.
As high school began, I felt fairly calm and clear that women and men would both be part of my sexual and romantic life experiences. I spoke frankly with my mom about this when I got my first boyfriend and feared that I might be wasting his time if I also had feelings towards women. “Let him hold you, and let a girl hold you someday, and see what feels right,” was her wise and loving response.
I stayed up late by myself watching HBO’s “Real Sex.” I found my dad’s hidden Playboy magazines and flipped through the pages, rehiding them in the exact places I found them.
That first boyfriend would prove to last me through the end of high school, and our most popular, recurring fight was in fact the breadth of my sexuality. I’d told him about my openness to exploring relationships with all genders, and as he grew more and more attached to me, this truth became more and more contentious. I understood later that he was insecure and afraid of losing our young love, unable to fully meet my variable needs as a sole complex being. The fights raged particularly as we began getting naked with each other. But at the time, the arguments were so draining that I made the semi-conscious decision to put those feelings of honest curiosity away. In order to have peace with him, I needed to store queer questions in a drawer and push it as far back in myself as possible.
Desire has a funny way of reemerging, though. I spent my first year of college at Sarah Lawrence College where being heterosexual was, it seemed, abnormal. I flirted with my roommate and found myself stunningly drawn to a friendship with a lesbian I met the very first weekend on campus. I continued trying to figure out my relationship with my high school boyfriend, though, and kept my hands to myself. I developed an eating disorder and focused all my energy on tracking my meals. I attempted to gain ultimate control over the functioning of my body and mind.
I left Sarah Lawrence after the first year, miserable and confused. I moved back in with my parents for a year in the Philadelphia area, worked at a coffee shop, did local theater. I made out with boys whenever I visited friends at their respective colleges. I continued struggling with my eating, stealing laxatives from the medicine cabinet, working out to counteract any “bad” behavior of binging during lonely nights.
I applied to ten colleges for possible transfer, unclear about my direction at all, a product of privileged and overachieving public education. When I got into Brown University, something in me woke up. For the first time in years, I felt a sense of hope and excitement. In the same week, my mom and I drove seven hours south from Philadelphia to visit UNC Chapel Hill and then seven hours north up to Providence to see Brown. UNC was sunny, the grass was amazingly green, and the people were the friendliest I’d encountered. Providence was grey and rainy, the folks walked with their heads and eyes down. Sitting in a tea lounge in the latter wet New England city, I heard a voice inside me say, “I could date women here.” The decision was immediate.
At Brown, I moved carefully but eagerly into my “coming out.” I sought out housemates who identified as queer, borrowed books from their shelves, met their partners. I was asked to direct The Vagina Monologues and said a hearty yes. I realized for the first time that a discomfort I’d felt my entire life in public spaces had to do with power dynamics between men/women, and I declared a major in Gender Studies.
After at last kissing and sleeping with a cis-woman (to be honest, the very first kiss turned into a night of a threesome with two beautiful women, I could not make that up), I realized that I had been waiting for a cloud to part in the sky to determine whether I was “gay or not gay.” I’d spent months with my first computer asking Jeeves to determine my sexuality, but when I experienced intimacy with women, I felt just as normal as I’d ever felt. That itself was its own revelation. If I felt normal, then I was in fact home. I officially told my parents. I made friends with the rugby team and girls who wore flannel. I awoke to intersectionality and began going to marches and protests.
The journey, however, did not dare to be linear. After graduating from college with short hair and a closet of Carhartts, I found myself thinking again, often, about men. I was not meeting women to whom I was attracted, though I was meeting young men I thought about sexually. My queer female housemate in Providence during those first years out of school when I stayed in that city, assured me that I could still honor my political queerness and date men. I took this to heart and began exploring my relationship to men again.
In retrospect, my high school/childhood relationship with the aforementioned boyfriend had been quite traumatizing. Though I know none of the trauma was intentional, that first sweetheart and I twisted each other up into abusive knots. He cheated on me and lied to me at critical moments in our relationship, especially at tender times like our deciding to lose our virginities to each other. Having sex became emotionally linked to feeling manipulated as well as hiding away parts of my self, like my curiosity towards women. In order to not lose each other, we both behaved against our highest, kindest selves.
Besides the one night with two women, I had remained in the belly-button-up only kinds of intimacies for six years. In that time, I had also finally eased into a late puberty. I gained some normal body weight, stopped controlling my eating, finally got my period on a regular basis. At this point, around age 25, my body was actually ready for the sex it had been having as a teenager.
I began exploring adult sex with a good male friend of mine, and once the gate was open, the floods began. Over the following few years, I slept with many cis-men, experiencing the kind of cacophony of intimacies that my peers had been indulging in during my chaste “coming out” years. I jumped from one to the next, overlapping and dancing on the edges of some safe choices.
At age 28, I moved back to the Philadelphia area, particularly the West Philly neighborhoods. As I fell in with a group of female-identifying friends in the area, a number of them queer, I reflected on my own experience. One person in particular in this new set of friends caught my attention. She and I got along instantly and began spending time together. Though at this point, I felt pretty sure that my “queerness” was political and experiential and that I was more sexually oriented towards men, I wanted this new woman to know that I had at least had a good number of gay experiences. The day she found out during a friendly discussion that I had never had an orgasm with another person, I saw some determination in her eyes click.
When she and I began sleeping together, I didn’t have any expectations. I certainly didn’t expect myself to come back quickly after the first night for more. I most certainly didn’t expect to find my body responding to her in ways that I had truly never experienced. Her determination to get to know my body and give me intentional pleasure was entirely new. In doing so, she unlocked parts of me that I hadn’t known existed. It was miraculous, intoxicating, addicting. We dove into a love affair that consumed both of us for several months. My body and my politics began to sing together for the first time.
Our togetherness disintegrated as ferociously as it began. After four months of feeling myself more pleasured, seen, romanced, and known than I had ever experienced, I emerged heartbroken and trashed, full of tears and poetry. I cried raucously, every day for six months straight while simultaneously attempting to pick myself up. I went on online dates, I sought out new friends, I joined an improv troupe. I stared every day at the note one of my housemates had left by my bed, “One day the tears will end, I promise.” I got pneumonia in my grief.
In this time of distraught brokenness, a few months into the depth of the pain, I sat myself down in a deeper way than I had ever been inspired to do so. I knew intellectually that four months of dating someone should not lead to such incredible sorrow, and therefore I sensed that spiritually a greater lesson was taking place.
I found myself reflecting on the entirety of my life as a sexual/sensual being. As I trudged through the wreckage and the specificity of memory, items from my past began to emerge with new clarity. I had been taught early on what romance between men and women looked like and therefore I could approximate its feeling. It was easy to recognize “crushes” on boys and men — I had a narrative fed to me by all elements of culture and my own family. But what did crushing on anyone besides a boy feel like?
I suddenly remembered a girl on my softball team at age ten who captured my attention, but I didn’t know why. I saw with clarity my close female relationships in high school that became dismantled when we gained boyfriends. I recalled the nights at Sarah Lawrence that I had shared with women that left me untouched but buzzing. I realized that consistently throughout my entire life, men had frustrated and pissed me off, and breakups were uncomfortable but not undoing. Even the brief relationships I’d had with women, regardless of our sexual maturity/sharing, destroyed me. I’d sexlessly dated a woman at Brown for two months whom I then mourned for two years.
In the midst of this unpacking, the proverbial shedding of light on my romantic past-to-that-point, some images began to emerge. I attempted to picture a future in a small house with a wood-burning stove, a sweet fence, a quilted bed. I built a rustic, domestic scene for my imagination. When I put a cis-man in that house, in my potential future, the roof felt too short, the bed uncomfortable, the fence like a prison. When I placed a queer woman in that same small house, my body sighed with a sense of freedom. The house would sing to me and I would get an overwhelming feeling of gratitude: “Can I really live there?!”
These revelations occurred about seven years ago to the time that I write this. In that time, I have come to a deep comfort with my desire and my sexuality. After years of feeling like each new truth contradicted the one that came before, or fearing that I would never really “know” and that my ideas and physical desires may never fully align, I see the connection of the dots.
I am attracted to a variety of people, across gender and self expressions. I’m not attracted to many people, but rather a variety. However, when it comes to romantic truth, I am wholly attuned to women, to queer relationships. I can indulge in a sexual fantasy of a cis-man, but its enjoyment is short. And if I imagine it truly coming to full expression, I feel empty and hollow. It feels like a blessing and a boon to have explored to the extent that I have, to have pushed through fear and trauma on both sides of the coin. I am grateful for the heartbreak that has taught me about my insides. To this date, I have experienced the kind of transcendent, body and heart affirming sex that I dreamed of as a burgeoning young self, with a woman. I have felt myself say easy and pungent yesses to committed partnerships with women.
Of course, I have my own work to do still, as my last chosen partner helped reveal to me that I tend to be drawn to addicts and people who are less emotionally mature and available to me than I am to them. That’s my next level of human work, regardless of the gender or sex of the recipients.
But this is my queerness. This is what being a “lesbian” means to me. This is what gayness feels like. Crushing on Fred Savage, sleeping with lots of men in my late puberty, and watching the slow reveal of my deeply woman-oriented heart and sexual self. Allowing the birds to flow freely from my heart when I think about sharing a small house with a smart, sexy lady.
In a world where language continues to evolve and expand and at a time when it is more critical than ever to understand our neighbors, I am happy to share publicly with the written words I can find what it means to me to be “queer” and how I arrived where I am today. And I am ecstatic to have learned how to “make sex” with the bodies with whom my heart can truly feel free and full.