“When I Knew I Was Gay” #1: What Would Happen If One Woman Told The Truth About Her Life

Hey-o! Welcome to a Week of Gay-i-versaries! If this was an afternoon talk show you could all reach under your chairs right now and get a toaster, a koosh ball, a box of kleenex for all your wasted teenaged tears, a snack-pack of dental dams, The Lesbian Avengers Handbook and a copy of Tegan & Sara’s “The Con,” but alas it is not, and therefore instead you get our words, which are often lovely, and all we have.

Carlytron & Robin had this week’s brilliant Roundtable idea. This is how they described it:

“What do you consider your “gay-iversary?” Everyone defines it differently. I’m sure some would say they’ve been gay since birth, others might say it was when they first kissed a girl, some would say it was when Brandi Chastain ripped her shirt off after kicking the winning goal in the Womens World Cup… To each her own. We were talking about it and think it would be really fun, maybe even get the interns involved? Also how many years people say they have been gay for, that’s cool to see. Who am I, Yoda?”

If you think you have the cutest “When I Knew” story tweet it to @autostraddle with hash tag #wheniknew and you could win a prize and you will defo see your  name in lights on AS!

We’re gonna kick off with Riese & Laneia and roll out other stories as the week goes on — Riese picks one of many stories she’s attributed to being “that moment,” and Laneia decides to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the stuff she’s kept secret from the Internet … until right now.

[Tinkerbell would like to add that she loves everyone, a lot. Also — the photo for the feature graphic is stolen mercilessly from photographer Emma Neely.]




Oh I don’t know when it was. I’m a poster child for the self-aware & sexuality-confused. I’ve told this story repeatedly with a similar plot but different characters, different scenes, different motivations.

This straight girl I used to sleep with suggested that I lack typical childhood sexual revelation memories  ’cause I was forbidden to shut my door all the way (my Mom thought I’d fall & die and she’d be locked out), so I never felt safely “alone” enough to consider sex. I thought about unicorns a lot.

I’d assumed that the only reason people didn’t come out was ’cause they feared parental banishment. Therefore my logic went thusly: because I had an accepting family (my Mom came out herself when I was 15) but did not feel comfortable coming out, that must be because I was not gay. I grew up in a liberal town, after all. But still, dyke was a heavy insult, lesbians were ridiculed even by my allegedly enlightened peer group (if they didn’t like lesbians, then who would?) and bisexuality was a party game. Furthermore, there were about 10,000 confusing paradoxes battling within my major depressive disordered brain, obscuring truth even though as a smart girl I presumed my own self-awareness.

I’d assumed that the only reason people didn’t come out was ’cause they feared parental banishment. Therefore my logic went thusly: because I had an accepting family but did not feel comfortable coming out as gay, I must not be gay.

So when was it? It was: high school when I wanted her back but hadn’t expected to, when I first saw Shane on The L Word,  when I stopped looking in the mirror and seeing that bullied sweaty/needy girl who needed a boyfriend ’cause she’d heard it was the best band-aid on the market, when Heather made us see Naked Boys Singing and I got so grossed out by the penises, the first time a girl made feel crazy, the first time I made love to a woman I was in love with and knew it was Beyond, when I started dating girls that were actually my type, I could go on for pages & pages …

Here’s one version; about what happens when you realize you don’t even like yourself anymore and you might want to think about why that is.

It was 2005; the end of September, the week I lost all my friends.

[some names have been changed]

Krista, my Spanish Harlem roommate and best friend since high school, spends her summers working at theater camp so I’d had to get a subletter starting that June. The day she left I flung myself on our (platonically) shared bed and wept, much to my surprise. I’d been so fiercely independent for the past six months (No boyfriend to lean on was a big step for me!) and realized when she left that I hadn’t been, I’d just been codependent with my best friend; my “sister.”

But then the summer unfurled before me like a self-destructive rainbow. I’d be deliciously unsupervised. No-one around to hold me accountable, or to ask me to make a narrative connecting my established personality to my daily activities.

I started hanging out even more than I had been with random girls who liked girls that I met online, like Sara & Chloe.

A week after the Fourth of July I was tanned and buzzed in Salon, a trendy Meatpacking District club at a Bi-Chic CAKE party, and Sara was popping candy from her necklace into my mouth while girls wearing underwear the color of gumballs danced on tables; all bright blues & pinks & yellows. I went back and forth between making out with Sara and chatting up the bouncer, a model named Matty who I’d met while trying to get Sara’s friends into the bar. He turned out to live across the street from me. Bam. We had a thing that lasted a few days but became friends instead. He attributed this to me being “more than half a fag” which he reminded me I’d have to explain to Jesus on Judgment Day.

The summer was a roasted blur of parties, Matty’s giant car, alcohol, girls, numbness, vacancy; interspersed with cool afternoons reading manuscripts at the literary agency where I worked. I believe at this time I had no connection whatsoever to my actual heart or feelings. I labeled this detachment “not wanting a relationship.”

August descended; steamy streets, hot unbearable hair, lukewarm taxicabs. At Chloe’s, the window air conditioner hummed its faint relief as we did fat lines off the backsides of CD cases.  At Nation, we pushed through the crowds of girls we’d come to meet and slid into the bathroom where Chloe lifted her tiny powdered fingers to her nostrils and I drank vodka from a hip flask.

September arrived and all of these things were happening at once: Krista came back but our subletter hadn’t left yet. Chloe needed a new apartment, Sara lived in a big basement room in her apartment that Chloe moved right into. Like Krista and I were doing except that it was tearing us apart, and Sara and Chloe had been doing just the opposite in their shared bed —fucking, I guess.

Krista returned to find me in a state — to avoid feeling anything about girls, or girl-on-girl culture, it turned out I had to shut down altogether (like I’d learned to do ten years earlier when my Dad died), because it wasn’t just one part of me after all (though I didn’t see that then), it was me.

I spent time with people Krista hadn’t heard of & neglected loved ones who wanted to talk about real things, rather than just get fucked up & eat the night alive. Why was I so convinced these real friends would reject me? Why did I ignore that my new friends wanted to be real friends too, if only I’d give them a chance? I remembered in high school hearing two boys at the lunchtable next to me – one of whom I knew was hooking up with Krista daily at that point – talking shit about her being a lesbian, and how it scared me to hear people speak like that about that. When you’ve felt abnormal all your life but not known why, you look out for these signs & signals of how not to be normal, of what to avoid.

Krista & I fought ostensibly about who had to move to the back bedroom which was smaller and had no light/windows and why Matty was always over. We were actually fighting about fear and love.

By mid-September I was interning & working 60-hour weeks for almost no money at all. Days whizzed by in hazes of aggressive city & journalistic education & productivity & eagerness for what I knew was coming from the moment I woke up: the sweet oblivion of night.

I turned 24; Chloe & Sara made me a card, Krista and I had dinner where we cried & loved each other. My other best friend, Natalie, was preparing to move to London for two years.

By the end of September sometimes it’d be eleven or midnight I’d end up on the corner of 109th and Amsterdam with Chloe and we’d go upstairs to Mo’s to do coke & play darts until I thought I would scream and die.

But most nights I sat in Matty’s room, writing a novel about high school girls who followed their hearts. Matty didn’t know me, I was whoever I wanted to be, nothing was real. I met some of his Russian model girlfriends, slim blondes with attitudes like syringes.  I smoked a lot of pot which is one of many reasons why at first I didn’t notice Matty was having a psychotic break.

As his psychosis worsened I couldn’t get rid of him. I’d come home exhausted and Krista would be in Brooklyn with her boyfriend—and Matty would see my light on and scurry across the street immediately. He was making diagrams and pictures and while I wrote and he drew his plans for world takeover, on the television a hurricane was tearing through New Orleans where my brother lived (he was safe, in Atlanta) and Matty said, “If I lived there, I’d learn how to kite surf and just be like, see-yah motherfuckers!”

I realized I had been almost-dating both of them but hadn’t known it, or hadn’t noticed dating was on the table, like a second fork. Is that what all that making out meant?

All of this was not real, but especially Sara and Chloe, and all the girls I’d seen briefly that year and the year before who I’d stopped talking to because I couldn’t handle anything past a two or three night stand. Chloe & Sara were after-dinner mints, far away from the rough stuff in my own side of town.  Which is why when Sara came outside of their building and Chloe and I were on the steps stealing kisses, Sara went right back in, furious, and Chloe went after her but before she did, she said: “Just go home, Marie.  I have to take care of this, I’m sorry,” and I realized I hadn’t known before that moment that people were going to take care of other people in this game because caring was real.

Which is why, in the three-way IM fight that ensued while I was at work the next day, I realized I had been almost-dating both of them but hadn’t known it, or hadn’t noticed dating was on the table, like a second fork for a course I wasn’t interested in. Is that what all that making out meant? Did they consider me a real friend? They wanted honesty from me and I only knew character. I was too busy to think about it, really.

After I’d been kicked off Chloe & Sara’s stoop, in fact, I’d gone straight to my ex-boyfriend’s place down the block. He asked me if I was on drugs and I said I wasn’t even though I was, he told me I wasn’t gay at all even though I told him that I was, and he told me that if that’s the kind of lifestyle I wanted, he didn’t want to look at my face until I went back to men. So there went one friend down the drain.

And then I learned that Chloe & Sara were getting serious about each other, which blew my mind– that Sara was ready to take that step from bisexually-affiliated to having a girlfriend.

Which is when Matty smashed his computer because of the CIA chip inside it and then went to Central Park to find Osama Bin Laaden and didn’t come back for a long time.

Which is when Natalie moved to London.

Which is when Sara and Chloe decided it would be better for their relationship if both of them stopped speaking to me.

“Do you realize that once Natalie leaves—do you realize that I don’t have any friends right now?” I yelled at Krista because she was yelling at me.

She shot back, in a statement she has redacted and apologized for many times since, even though she was right: “Maybe you should think about why that is.”


“I think I liked Chloe, maybe,” I said to Natalie over dinner two days before she left for London. By this point my brain & heart were evacuated countries, no direction for miles. I wasn’t sure if I did like Chloe or if I just wanted to see how it felt to say those words out loud. I did and my whole body went warm and complacent like a pickle.

Natalie nodded like saying; yes, I think you did too. No shock?

So I continued: “It didn’t occur to me to even—think about liking her. Or to think about liking Sara, too, did I like her too? I didn’t think even to care, I mean, I knew ultimately I wouldn’t ever really date a girl.  So what was the point?”

“Really? Why wouldn’t you date a girl?” Natalie asked, earnestly like it was a question she didn’t already know the answer to. I remembered everyone ridiculing her bisexual friend Leslie, oh Natalie, Leslie has a crush on you, which is why I was scared to be Leslie’s friend (“You’re both bi!” Natalie had said. “You could talk about it!”) because I always felt like a weirdo and I just wanted to seem as normal as possible and not get made fun of. I wasn’t that kind of bi.

“Because of my Mom. I just can’t give her that,” I said because my mind had just realized that I’d accidentally put that wall up and not bothered to see the door in the wall I was free to walk through, and had been.

Natalie nodded again. “Well, Leslie is dating a girl now.”

“Wow, like, a girlfriend?”

“Yeah,” Natalie said.  “Things are bad now—she’s like, Natalie. I love the hell out of this girl, and she’s breaking my heart again and again. I never thought I could even do this, and it’s killing me.”

“Just like we talked about guys,” I said, half-smiling, thinking of how pretty Leslie was and — oh my god! — brave.

“Just like that.”

Sara was doing it, Leslie was doing it, and I was a fucking coward.

For the next month or so, sans playmates, I wrote stories, worked, read every Mary Gaitskill book & read five books of coming out stories, Rubyfruit Jungle, et al, watched The L Word Seasons One & Two over and over, and helped Matty when he came back from Bellevue and his water was shut off, and started to make new friends, fix relationships with old ones, and tried to live as quickly as possible. Krista moved into the back bedroom but when her boyfriend wasn’t over, we’d still sleep together in the front room.

For the next few years I’d fuck up over and over before finally getting it anywhere close to right.

But first I said goodbye to Natalie after dinner, to her sweet heart that never stopped loving me, and she went home and there I was on a streetcorner with a face like a sidewalk. I put my music in my ears and got on the bus when it came, thinking about what might happen next while the wheels beneath me traveled madly through the darkness.

“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?
The world would split open.” –Muriel Rukeyser



I used to think I was the only person like me. It was just a truth that I had accepted from a very early age. I wasn’t ashamed of how I felt, but I didn’t know what to call it. To me, “gay” meant that you wanted to be the opposite sex. I know, that’s incredibly ignorant, but grew up in a tiny Southern town with two out lesbians who were both extremely butch & about 10 years older than me. I didn’t relate to the only lesbians I saw — well, I knew that I wanted to see pretty girls naked, but it never occurred to me that being “gay” would enable that.

This is what happened: in 2006, I watched an episode of The L Word and it was like being spun around in a vortex and dropped into a world that made perfect sense. Except at that time, I was living a life that didn’t seem to fit with this place I’d been dropped.

In my mind, I was trying on a personality, having some escapist fun in my spare time. No harm, no foul.

“I think I might be bisexual.” That’s what I’d told my best friend in 2001. She told me I was just confused and I believed her. Then I went home and fantasized about making out with her. Then a lifetime of things happened and it was 2006 and I watched lesbians love each other on teevee. Then I googled “Katherine Moennig The L Word” until 2 a.m., which was very, um, productive.

So you could say I came out to myself in early-ish 2006.

But I was stuck in my life and so this is what I did next: I started going online and eventually joined a community of girls online, first just talking The L Word. At first, it was almost like a made-up persona — not 100%, but I was leaving a lot of things out & exaggerating other things. In my mind, I was trying on a personality, having some escapist fun in my spare time. No harm, no foul.

Then, I gradually realized that the me I was pretending to be online was more honest than the me I was in my everyday life.

I kept a lot to myself and have continued to, until today.

Ready? Deep breath.

I knew I was a weirdo from outer space since forever, and I was super confused like you wouldn’t even believe. I didn’t have any sort of support or knowledge and it was like living in photobooth with a curtain I couldn’t open.


1.. 2.. 3.. Smile!

For starters! In my everyday life I had a family. Yes!  Like, I had a husband. A real life husband. When I came out to him, he said, “I was waiting for this day to come.”

Okay, that’s one thing down, one more to go …

I know there are other women out there like me, and they feel just as left out as I do, and yet I sit. Making necklaces.

So, by the time I came out to him I was really starting to feel weird that I wasn’t being 100% honest with everyone I knew online, aside from my present girlfriend and a few of my closest friends there. I’ve felt conflicted about this since I first started blogging and being online; because I know there are other women out there like me, and they feel just as left out as I do, and yet I sit. Making necklaces.

I was terrified to reveal the truth of my life to everyone. I wrote on my blog last year that there are things about me that you don’t know, but this is to be expected. There’s a ton of things about you that I don’t know. That’s the point, right. Only now it’s become what I do. I can think of at least six things right now that would open up a whole world that you had no idea existed. And sometimes I want to tell you. A few of you I know, especially, would appreciate it or you could relate. And I’m sorry.

So in a few weeks it will be two years since my girlfriend and I moved into our own house in Arizona, miles and miles from where I used to live and how I used to think.

And here’s the other thing I didn’t say: we live now with each other and also with my two children. Yes. Two actual children. My children.

When I first started discovering my sexuality, I wasn’t the young twentysomething with the world at my feet that I said I was. I was — and am — a young twentysomething. But I was — but I am — also a mother of two.

I believe I’ve been gay since birth, but was too tragically ill-equipped, repressed and ignorant to realize it. And now there’s just so much, I’m bursting with it all.

So this marks my own kind of gay-i-versary, where I have just come out about the rest of the stuff. I’ve told my family that I am gay, and now I am telling the gays about my family.

Maybe writing this will reconcile the divided pieces of my online and offline selves. we’re all on the same page now. Right?

So right now I am actually miles and miles from my home in Arizona because on August 5th — tomorrow  — I am going to court because my ex-husband wants to take my children away from me on the grounds that my girlfriend and I are promoting an “immoral lifestyle” to them. I am terrified of this more than I’ve ever been terrified of anything.

I have told you the truth of my life.

I will sit here now, and feel naked, like the world split open.

Like the world at my feet.

And I’m terrified. Deep breath.




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Riese is the 40-year-old Co-Founder and CEO of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in California. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3002 articles for us.


  1. Wow, I guess this means i’ve been reading Autostraddle since 2009? I remember reading this for the first time! Being blown away by the honesty, the feelings! This is as important today as it was then, I hope everyone who has found this site since will take the time to read the old posts. The ones that built a community! Also… in retrospect, it’s good to know that things did get better!

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