You Need Help: You Fell In Love With A Girl and It’s Exploding Your Whole Life

I’m 29 years old, heading to divorce final hearing in a couple of weeks from being married to the same man I met in high school in 2001. Married for 9 years, never been with a woman nor have I entertained it. Or have I? So now after an 9 year failed marriage of abuse, a 3yr old son, my family who has turned on me due to “speculations” of this new relationship (only to soon find out those speculations are true) there she is.  My mother hasn’t spoken to me now in 3 months due to the speculations. Will this affect my son if it comes to him being raised in a same sex home? Would God condemn me to hell for loving another one of his children and still following his will as a Christian? What I have been taught in church my entire life taught out of context and because it was the accepted social norm. 

Now my love, she has been open and out since high school, she has been patient and not putting a label on my sexual identity. I’m not even sure 6 months into this relationship. Am I a lesbian, bisexual, or simply a straight woman in a lesbian relationship? What is my label? Does there have to be a label? Am I pushing her back into the closet because I can’t openly be with her yet, until this is final and then until I can get enough courage to tell my family and ex? Am I creating a problem that will damage her and me in the long run? She will jokingly say “Yes, baby, I know you’re (well, were) straight but you’re straight in a lesbian relationship, but it’s ok if you don’t put a label on yourself,” Is it really?

Oh sweetheart babygirl I just wanna buy you an ice cream sandwich but first let’s talk. Let’s be real, there are at least 6 questions in here, and so let’s take them one by one.

Will this affect my son?

I mean, yes. Our parents are the major figures of our early lives, and most of what they do affects us in some way. The changes your family is going through will become part of his life story. But you know what else affects your son? Your ex’s abuse, and your mom not talking to you, and a million other things will also affect your son, and they deserve at least as much accountability as you, if not more. It seems from your question that what you’re concerned about are the effects of having two coparents of the same sex somehow being negative, but the research doesn’t support that! Studies show that same-sex parents are at least as good for kids as different-sex ones!

As a child of divorce myself (hi Mom!), I feel like sometimes parents worry about negative effects of divorce without seeing that there can be positive ones, too. I’m still incredibly grateful to my mother for showing me by example that you don’t have to stay in unhealthy relationships, that you can make it on your own and even take care of others without a male partner, and that if you’re unhappy or unsafe you have the power to change it. Your son will be affected by the knowledge that his mom is brave and honest, that she was strong enough to get out of an abusive marriage even though it was scary, and that queer people can be a loving and supportive family. If your son does live with you and your girlfriend, it might be rocky at times, but you won’t be ruining his life — you’ll be providing him with a safe and loving home away from an abuser.

Will God condemn me to Hell?

I don’t know! I mean no one knows really; there are some people who would say that I’m condemned to hell because I’m wearing a wool blend sweater with jeans. It seems like what you’re maybe asking is what your relationship means for your personal relationship with God and your faith and your religious community. The good news is that if your faith is important to you, and it seems like it is, you don’t have to walk away from it or be rejected by it. You can find a religious community that affirms your identity and your relationship, and once you’re there it might be easier to talk through what this means for you and God. You could start with something like this LGBT-affirming church finder! If you can’t find a real-world community near you, you might benefit from finding queer Christian blogs or online circles, which are many and various.

I’m not sure from your question whether your girlfriend shares your faith, but it might be good to talk this through with her, too — it’s an important part of your life, and hopefully she can support you and confirm that you are still a good and worthy person!

What is my label? Does there have to be a label?

This is a great question! You are not the only one with this question, if that is affirming at all — even if it sometimes feels like everyone else has figured out exactly which Dewey Decimal classification they fall under, that’s not true, and you’re not behind the curve. Your ladyfriend is right; you don’t need a label right now, and maybe not ever. In the same way that you have probably never felt pressure to choose a single definitive label for your sandwich preferences (“I’m a Ham and Cheese and I was born this way,”) it’s ok not to choose a single definitive label for your sexual orientation or your relationships. Sometimes when our lives feel generally chaotic — say, we’re in the middle of a divorce and also in a new relationship — we fantasize that coming up with the exact right name for our situation will somehow make the situation less complicated and scary. Usually, this isn’t the case; if you think that you’re worrying about a label as a way of distilling your general worrying into a single thing, then it’s okay to take a deep breath and let it go. You would be far from the only amorphous weirdo in the world. So, to answer your question succinctly: Yes, it really is okay.

Am I a lesbian, bisexual, a straight woman in a lesbian relationship?

However! A counterpoint! Sometimes we’re not searching for a label because we’re displacing anxiety; sometimes we actually want to know. When people are all “labels are for jars!” they’re not always taking into account that there’s a reason we put labels on jars, which is that it’s USEFUL. It helps you know what’s in them and how to organize and whether you’re using flour or tapioca starch. In the same vein, sometimes labels can have a real purpose in our lives, and really do make things easier, because things are generally less scary if we can name them. It can also be really useful when coming out to others, like you’re preparing to do, both in terms of giving you more confidence in your own identity and making it easier to communicate it to others. I don’t know much about your relationship with your family members, but it may be easier for you to say “I think I’m a [thing]” than “I’m in a relationship with [person]” to your mom or son or ex-husband.

So in the event that you do want to explore what label might fit you, how does one even go about doing that? That’s a great question! There isn’t really an answer. There might be more than one label that feels right; it might be totally confusing and overwhelming to try to figure out whether you “feel” like a certain identity. It might change day to day; one day you might feel like you’ve found a great truth about yourself with your current partner and you could never date men again; other days you might feel like your girl is the only one you’ll ever feel this way about; other days you might not be able to deal with thinking about labels at all and just want some lasagna. All of those are fine.

Some concrete tools that people might use to define or express their sexual orientation might be things like the Kinsey Scale or the Klein Grid. They won’t give you a definitive “answer” — it’s not a Buzzfeed quiz — but they might be helpful in helping you figure out what you like and how you might feel comfortable identifying. Keep in mind also that even within the allegedly more rigid world of labels, there’s a lot of wiggle room and a lot of overlap and diversity in identities. For instance, even within the “bisexual” label, you have a lot of different identities associated with bisexuality to choose from, and even if “bisexual” doesn’t feel right, for instance, one of its related identities might.

bisexualumbrella

Image by Shiri Eisner. Click to make bigger!

And also, please please remember that this isn’t Who Wants To Be A Queer Lady Millionaire and you don’t ever have to give a “final answer.” It’s okay for any label you choose to be subject to revision, or for you to change your mind later. This doesn’t mean that what you identified as before has to now be “wrong” or that you made a mistake. Pay attention to what you’re thinking and feeling and remember that if you do want to choose a label, it will be a valid one — you don’t need anyone else to sign off on it to be real.

Am I pushing her back into the closet and/or damaging our relationship?

Well, it seems like a good sign that your partner is saying things like “it’s okay.” It’s valid to worry that differing levels of out-ness (or sometimes, differing labels) can strain some people’s relationships, but unless you’re actively seeing that happen, you are maybe in the clear. Also, let’s be real, your reasons for not “openly being with her yet” are pretty fucking legit! You’re worried about family rejection and your son and potential custody battles, and for right now I think it’s ok to not be shouting stuff from the rooftops. The choices we make around how we present ourselves and our partners in queer relationships are tricky — I think it’s important to always keep in mind a relative sense of what it’s reasonable for people to do in their lives. Even for people without children and divorce proceedings it may not be feasible to be out all the time to everyone, due to concerns about career, family, education or physical safety. It seems like your girl understands that it’s not reasonable to expect you to be at Pride parades with her right now, and I think you can give yourself permission to agree with her! You’re really concerned overall with your responsibilities to others in your life, and it’s ok to think about your responsibilities to yourself, too, which can include privacy.

Is it really okay?

Oh my lord honey it is the MOST OKAY. Here’s the thing: I know it doesn’t necessarily feel good right now. No one can give you a promise about when this will stop feeling hard and scary and weird. But I can pretty much promise you that you’ll look back on this time as when everything started to change for the better, and be really proud of yourself. You were able to leave an unhealthy situation, be honest with yourself about what you want, and start building a better life for yourself. You are so brave and should be so proud of yourself! In five years, future-you is gonna build a time machine just so they can send past-you an Edible Arrangement. So when the chocolate-covered pineapple flowers show up on your doorstep next week, you’ll know where it came from.


Have a question? Email Rachel at rachel [at] autostraddle.com.

Please keep your questions to around, at most, 100 words. Due to the high volume of questions and feelings, not every question or feeling will be answered or published on Autostraddle. We hope you know that we love you regardless.


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Rachel is Autostraddle's Senior Editor and the editor who presides over books as well as news and politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel currently lives in Michigan. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

Rachel has written 736 articles for us.

22 Comments

  1. Thumb up 9

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    I can relate to this story. Minus the actual marriage and kid :) It was always men untill suddenly it wasn’t. I still don’t know how or why. I was 35 when I met her and everything changed. Almost a year into the relationship (we’ve moved in;)) my girlfriend still says: don’t care what you are as long as your with me. As for the writer of this letter: I so so hope that things will turn around for you. That your family and friends accept it and you and your girl can be happy. And your son? Being around people who love each other can hardly cause any damage, I suppose. Take care, you’re not alone.

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    I can relate to this, including the marriage (currently still sorting out divorce, which means that next month I’ll have been married for 13 years, though we separated nearly 1 1/2 years ago), and the children (two of them). I relate to leaving a relationship that involved abuse (financial and emotional).

    Other parts of your story are things that I’ve not had to contend with (religion and the potential for family issues). I hope that you find a way to reconcile your religious self with this aspect of you that you’ve recently figured out. I hope that your family can do the same.

    Some parts of life since leaving my ex have been easier and felt more… real, others have been really quite hard (mostly relating to the kids and that end of divorcing someone), but the hard parts are worth it all for me.

    I hope that you find the rest of your life worth the upheaval of all that you’ve been figuring out, facing, and accepting about yourself, too.

    You’ve pulled me into finally posting a comment (I’ve been reading for just over a year, and joined last week), because I think you should know that you’re very much not alone in figuring yourself out later in life than what feels like everyone else. I was 34 when everything lined up just right for me to be able to see myself clearly.

    Anyway. Best of luck sorting everything out. I hope everything turns out well for you.

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    Best of luck to the letter writer! And AS, as always, awesome advice.

    The part that struck me the most was the question about pushing the partner back into the closet. I really, REALLY admire the partner for being so patient here. One of my biggest flaws (is it a flaw? I don’t know)is that I don’t give a damn about the reasons, I don’t hide for anyone, ever, and if you’re still hiding, you aren’t for me. That’s just me, though. I wish I could be more forgiving in that department without making myself completely miserable, but, for some reason, I’ve never been able to.

    Great article and advice, AS.

  4. Thumb up 5

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    You know, I often think that the one thing I am most thankful for in my life is having parents who I am confident are in love. Being with the person you really love can do nothing but good for your child. At 3, he’s too young to have the ignorance that you’ve faced from some members of your family. My 7yo brother loves me just the way I am, and your child loves you know matter what!

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    My teenager’s response to being told about my relationship was “Crap… what do I call her? Not mom, that’s totally confusing… definitely not dad right.” That was his biggest worry in the universe. Kids are generally awesome and can handle a lot more than you think as long as you communicate with them.

    And yeah, it’s a thousand times better even to just be a single parent and tough it if you can than it is for them to see their parent getting abused. That’s so hard for them in so many ways they’ll never forget. Being happy and teaching them that you and (later) they are worthy of happiness is always the road forward. Don’t look back.

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    http://www.gaychristiannetwork.com has been a great resource for me to work out my faith alongside my coming out. I totally relate to this story, although it was my ex who had the kid and we were mutually afraid of coming out with friends and family because of our religious backgrounds.

    In the end, she decided she wanted a man, and I came out to my church, family and friends with no regrets.

    I love autostraddle, I’ve gleaned so much. GCN has been equally helpful to work out things in relation to my faith and relationship with Jesus.

    In addition, agree with the other posters. You’re loved here!

  7. Thumb up 33

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    Thank you, thank you, thank you so much. I had just decided to write not thinking I would get a response. And you have no idea how on time this is. You have lighten my heart and spirit! You guys and the website are amazing and I support you to the ends of the earth! AND A HUGE THANKS TO THE MEMEBERS WHO REACHED OUT AND WERE KIND ENOUGH TO SHARE, SUPPORT, AND MOTIVATE!

    **update, finally divorced as of 12 Feb after being separated for a year and half. My partner and I are still going on strong at 8 months; and after 4 visits so far and not enforcing anything or no pressure at all, my little one has taken to her with no objections or questions, I so love the purity and innocence of a child’s heart and mind and praying that the ignorance of others to include my ex, family, and whoever else pollutes his mind. My partner still remains as patient as ever and walking this journey along the way. I’m not naïve to the facet, that I know I have a long way to go and grow still (even with the healing of the past), and though my journey still isn’t clear, I’m confident to walk this journey, new life, happiness, and all the ups and downs it will bring. Turned 30, divorced, happy, and learning slowly and one day at a time.

    The advice given by the writers of autostraddle and members, have lighten my burden and brought joy and ease to my heart. Still no family support, but the support I just read tonight is more than enough. Again thank you so much!

    Nicki

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      All the best to you! Please keep us updated on how everything goes.

      Do you live in an area where you might be in danger of losing custody of your son if you come out? I’ve heard horrible stories about children being handed over to the abusive parent in situations like this, so I hope that isn’t an additional worry for you.

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      I am so glad that you’re doing well. I went through a similar shock of falling in love with a woman when I was married to a man, and it’s so hard, figuring out what to do when that happens. What you did was extremely brave, and know that you are not alone! So many of us have gone through similar experiences, and I agree with others that it doesn’t matter what your “label” is–though it can feel safe and comforting in some ways to have one, don’t let the world pressure you into having to “pick a side.” You’re you and you love who you love, and that’s all that matters!
      xx

  8. Thumb up 3

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    Great advice!!!!!!!! OMG I live for posts like this on AS because even if I’m in the same situation it helps me figure out other things in life.

    W/R/T religion…you know..I always just mention in my prayers that I’m grateful that I have my human in my life and I think that’s sometimes God’s way of showing me that I’m loved. I honestly don’t think that God will make you THAT happy to have it taken away from you. The priests at church may not say the same thing but they’re not God. They’re not the higher being I believe in.

    And I’m so thankful for this community also. JEEZ YOU GUYS I LOVE YOU ALL.

  9. Thumb up 5

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    Great advice. And might I add pre-emptively that if this particular relationship doesn’t work out, don’t panic about what that means for your “identity.” I took WAY too long to figure things out because, say, some relationship wouldn’t work out so I assumed dating a woman had been the mistake (rather than dating THAT woman). One’s whole identity and matters of the heart are almost never defined by one relationship, for any of us humanfolk. Keep being brave.

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    I feel like this was written to me, aged 22. Thank you for this lovely, caring, thorough post.

    I didn’t know what the Kinsey scale was until my straight cis male coworker explained it to me. I didn’t know who I was until I had to stand my ground and tell my parents what was and what wasn’t okay for them to say. If your experience is anything like mine, you will hear many hurtful things and they will make your newly loved heart clench like a raw first. But you will surprise yourself with your bravery, and with your will to stand up for yourself, and the people who love you will surprise you with the many ways in which they support you (and maybe, at first, the way in which they hurt you). Maybe at first not at all, and then all at once you’ll realize that you are so loved, and that even when it seems like they won’t, like your family won’t ever be the same, things have a way of working themselves out. Looking back, it seems I was being tested, like one day my mother was telling me that it was repulsive and my father was asking me why I did this to them, and the next day my beautiful girl was sitting at their dinner table while my mother took her sweater and gently washed the tiny wine spot out of it. Maybe your family will take decades to come around. But that’s not up to you. All you can do is be open, and be true to yourself (which is not to say that you should come out to everyone ASAP on Queer Millionaire, for which I would (side note) like to audition this instant. Part of being true to yourself is doing things at the pace you’re comfortable with).

    People will harry you to label yourself. Maybe you’ll choose a label and maybe you won’t — me, I find the word “lesbian” somehow pejorative, and think “queer” sounds much nicer — but that, just like the matter of who you love, is your business. Congratulations on finding someone to love.

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    So I literally JUST signed up so I can contribute to the comments of this awesome piece and am I soooo glad that I found it! I was in a similar situation about three years ago when I fell in love with a woman… (haven`t looked back since!) Poor little 27 year old straight girl fell HARDDDD for a gorgeous lifelong lesbian who swept her off her feet and drove her right into a long term relationship. And what do you do then, eh? I knew I no longer fit in the straight category, but to label myself ‘lesbian’ would be ignoring years of my life when I did date men, to say I was ‘bi’ may imply that I am still interested in dating men (…that is no longer the case…) so I had no real examples of how to proceed with identifying myself to the world in terms of sexuality… so after realizing I didn’t know many other cases like mine, I started to read, I read academic journals, research books, websites, blogs, stories and novels, I read and researched and asked around and read some more… just to find out that, in fact, this is not so unusual! It happens, and it happens pretty often, or at least more often than I thought when I figured I was the only straight girl who fell in love with a woman and never considered herself gay before and then BOOM – no turning back! Anyways, Lisa Diamond has a sweet book that discusses labelling women(gay or straight or anything in between!) called Sexual Fluidity… what a help that was! Today, I still don’t like to use labels, but sometime you have to sum up your history in a phrase or two – I like to say that ‘I was a dedicated straight girl until I fell in love with a woman and everything changed’, alternatively, I will say ‘I only date women’ or you know… drunk at a bar I might scream ‘I love vaginaaaaaa’… all of these have been pretty good at defining where I am at without putting a label on that might not fit with my story! Anyway… again, awesome piece, super grateful to find it here, this may not be the most common struggle for queer women, but it sure happens, so thanks for putting it out there, much appreciated!

  12. Thumb up 1

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    I have a similar story too. I was married to an abusive man for 14 years when I decided to leave. I then fell in love with my best friend. This complicated the divorce greatly. My husband blamed her for me leaving. My daughter was angry over the whole thing.

    I go back and forth over my identity. I can see in my past the many times I wash I was attracted to women and fell in love with them. But also see the times I really liked a boy. But I love my girlfriend and that’s all that matters at the end of the day.

    Stay strong! It will all work out. We are here for you.

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    Rachel, you are awesome.

    Nikki, I’m sending you good thoughts and wishes of happiness.
    I truly believe that what God expects of us is just to be kind. Everything else is rules made up by men to try and make sense of life. And being a kind person starts first and foremost with being kind to yourself. I hope you reconcile your faith and your sexuality, and I wish the best for you, your son, and your partner.

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