Senior year in college I fell in love with a boy. We’ll call him Jack. Jack and I proceeded to spend the entire year in an ill-defined, heart-wrenching non-“relationship” in which we were “best friends,” (obviously dating) but not having sex or admitting we were more than platonic.
We told each other we loved each other. We made every excuse to touch each other. We even slept in the same bed, staying up late having deep conversations. We made our lives dependent on each other’s as partners do, taking on each others’ struggles and challenges as our own.
Senior year in high school, I had had the same relationship. Well, ok, I was four years younger, less mature, but everything I stated above was true of this one as well. There’s one catch, this time it was a girl… let’s say, Jane.
Looking back, the fact that I was in love with my best friend Jane, that we slept in the same bed, snuggled, held hands, were romantically involved in every way one can be, aside from sex, should have tipped me off that I’m not straight. Amazingly, despite my openness to being gay, despite at times in college wishing I was gay, feeling like I should be, and hanging out with all the gay kids, I still managed to continue to believe I was straight.
Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that all this time and emotional energy was spent on these non-“relationships,” and I never even got to have sex! That is for another post. How could I, feminist and gender-nonconformist since before puberty, gay rights activist, flaming liberal, and eventually trained in psychology have made such a grave error that only now, in my mid 30s am I realizing I’m not straight?
After fully analyzing the question, I have come up with the following reasons:
1) INVISIBILITY OF SAME-SEX ATTRACTION:
When this “thing” was happening with Jack, everyone saw it. My friends referred to him as my “boyfriend.” People were constantly asking what was going on, were we sleeping together, were we dating?
All the feedback I was getting was that you are in love with this boy… romantic love. With Jane, on the other hand, I barely got any of that feedback. One very close friend mentioned how physically affectionate we were with each other, and asked me about it. That’s it.
And let me tell you, thinking back, it was just as obvious. But girls acting romantic with each other just doesn’t stand out to us the way hetero match-ups do. When we see a man and a woman, our minds automatically go to are they, have they, will they?
I got no feedback about this girl to make me pause and think hmmm, maybe I should take this seriously, as in I DO LIKE GIRLS.
Of course there is a gender aspect here too. Physical affection between women stands out way less than in any relationship in which a man is involved, because the male role precludes such affection unless with a romantic partner.
2) PANSEXUALITY, IN ITS WONDERFUL LACK OF RIGID BOUNDARIES CAN MAKE THINGS TOUGH TO DEFINE:
To me this goes to an aspect of pansexuality that has to do with how one defines relationships. Not only did I not really see gender as a major defining point in who I was attracted to… I didn’t really see that clear a boundary between romantic and platonic relationships the way others seemed to.
For me, everything bled together, gender was never rigid, sexual attraction was always just somewhere along a range. There were sensual and erotic aspects to many relationships. So when I did find myself “attracted” to women on various levels, it didn’t stand out that much to me. I just didn’t view gender as that big a deal. And yet, I think I was waiting for some kind of sign, like lightening bolts, telling me YOU DO like girls.
Thing is, there were never any lightening bolts with guys either. In fact, that boy senior year was the first one I was even strongly attracted to, where I really felt like wow, I want to have sex with this person!
In a way, my experience was very pansexual, in that I didn’t draw such distinct lines between sexual and non-sexual relationships, and even between men and women. But I think as a result, I was very susceptible to viewing my relationships the way others did, i.e. high school girls just being girls, vs. in love with a man.
Because the boundaries and labels I was aware of didn’t fit, I just accepted the default position… heterosexuality.
3) “YOU CAN’T BE WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE” – PAN-INVISIBILITY
Being pan is not visible anywhere in our culture, and it certainly wasn’t when I was growing up. I think if I had even been able to really relate to or feel I was bisexual, things would have been a lot clearer. In retrospect, I was really searching for a non-straight identity, but there just wasn’t one that fit.
It was like the outfit you see on the rack and you think that’s it, it’s perfect, but when you put it on, it doesn’t fit quite right, and you’re not really sure why.
The first time I even heard the term omni-sexual was a few years ago at a conference of women at my university whose dissertations focused on issues of gender. I immediately thought, “that’s what I am,” but even then, being I’d never MET anyone who identified this way, I guess I took it as more of an intellectual exercise than an actual sexual orientation.
They say “you can’t be what you can’t see.” I spent so much time around LGBT etc. folk, I felt comfortable around them, I liked being around them, but I never had a “that’s what I am” moment. Definitely did not have that feeling around straight people either!
4) CURSE OF BEING PSYCHOLOGICALLY MINDED
In so many ways other positives in my life ended up clouding my sexual orientation, like my tendency to view everything through a psychological lens. In the years of college, I came to understand my relationship with Jane as more about family issues I was avoiding dealing with.
Coming from a family with a misogynist father, I had a very difficult time trusting men, so all my closest and most powerful relationships were with women, yes, until Jack – ugh! Ironically, this ended up actually CLOUDING my attraction to women because I interpreted it as oh men are just scarier for me, so I’m more focused on women.
Turns out, I think, I was scared of men, and it was developmentally important for me to get past that, but I also was actually, really attracted to women.
The fact that I always “felt different” as other LGBTetc folk often claim, I also (mis)-interpreted as related to my parents problematic parenting style and relationship, and my resulting intimacy issues. This combined with the invisibility of same-sex relationships, and no pan folks in sight, left me totally missing the fact that I felt different because I really was different. Ha! I mean after all, who doesn’t have intimacy issues?
And a note on my attraction to men… I also used to think I was attracted to more gender flexible men because my father was so sexist. Yet another way daddy fucked me up… he caused me to miss the fact that I’m actually just attracted to gender flexible folks. It wasn’t about him, but how was I supposed to know that!
5)HARD TO ADMIT
Ok, so obviously there must have been a part of me that while believing I was open to being gay, was hesitant to take on a minority sexual orientation. I think if I had been full-out gay, I would have come out, but the fact that things felt very fluid, and I didn’t prefer women over men, there was never that much motivation to admit to myself I was not straight.
After all, it’s hard to plunge into a minority status, giving up one’s privilege as a heterosexual, to take on a seemingly non-existent sexual orientation that doesn’t quite fit with any concept people readily understand because one likes, but doesn’t necessarily prefer women.
And yet, here I am trying to do so. Props to me.
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