Calling Myself a Lesbian Has Been a Lesson in Self Acceptance

The language around identity is so complex and personal. Every year, I find myself shifting the way I think about my own sexual identity. Three years ago, I didn’t even know Lesbian Visibility Day was a thing. Probably because I didn’t think of myself as a lesbian. My queerness has certainly evolved over the course of my life. From figuring out that I liked girls at 12, to dating women at the age of 31, to becoming engaged to the woman of my dreams at 34, it’s been a journey. It certainly hasn’t been linear, and it hasn’t been easy or neat, but it’s mine.

1998 (age 11)
Late one night after my parents are asleep, I discover the movie Gia, starring Angelina Jolie on HBO. I watch the scenes where she’s having sex with women with rapt attention. It makes me feel something tingly in the parts of my body that had previously been reserved for boys. I scour the TV Guide to see when the movie will be airing again and watch every late-night showing I can find. I don’t know the word “bisexual”, but I know I like watching women kiss.

summer 2000 (age 14)
Hoping to fill the void left in me by my regular shows being on hiatus, I start watching the WB summer show Young Americans. My favorite part is the girl-masquerading-as-a-boy plotline. Jacqueline is trying to get her mom’s attention by enrolling at an all boys’ boarding school as Jake. Jake becomes close friends with the headmaster’s son Hamilton, and the two of them begin to fall for each other. I have feelings in my soft parts for both Jake and Hamilton, played by Kate Moennig and Ian Somerhalder. Jake is the reason I love a tomboy or soft butch to this very day.

(If you search for Young Americans on YouTube, there are several compilations of just Jake and Hamilton scenes, which means it wasn’t just me. That relationship was what made me realize I was definitely bisexual.)

spring/summer 2003 (age 17)
One of my friends from high school introduces me to one of her childhood friends because she thinks we’d hit it off as friends. She’s right. One night on AIM, we start talking about the fact that I haven’t had my first kiss, and she decides the next time we hang out, we’re going to remedy that. It leads to us hooking up for the next few months: kissing quickly when my friend goes to the bathroom, locking ourselves in my bedroom and exploring each other’s bodies, making out behind cars during a game of hide and seek. When I tell my friends at the beginning of the school year, my best friend (at the time) asks, “So what, are you bi now?” and I say yes.

(This was the first time I said it out loud.)

February 2004 (age 17)
It’s the weekend of our senior ski trip in the Catskills. I end up kissing my first boy, and my friends practically throw me a parade. He is just the first in a series of guys I hook up with because I’m bored or moderately interested in them. I don’t talk about being bi, because straight boys don’t know how to not be weird about it. I don’t try to pursue girls in college — I’m too much in my own head about it.

November 2009 (age 23)
I start dating my first (and only) boyfriend. He knows I’m bi, and he’s not weird about it.

(I loved him so much, and we had a great relationship. I mean, I thought we were going to get married one day. My sexuality wasn’t something I gave much thought to during our relationship; I was happy.)

Our relationship starts to deteriorate after the birth of our son in 2013.

summer 2015 (age 29)
My son and I go to visit my “boyfriend” (we’re in a long-distance relationship that he was gaslighting me to stay in) and his parents. After my son goes to bed, I start watching the new season of Orange is the New Black. I immediately fall in love with Ruby Rose. She’s so hot, right?” I ask my boyfriend, unable to take my eyes off the TV screen. He doesn’t think she’s hot and is very confused by my attraction. Ruby Rose is the first person I’ve had a visceral attraction to in years — it’s like I had forgotten I could be attracted to people other than men.

October 2017 (age 31)
For National Coming Out Day, I write an essay about being bisexual and why I don’t talk about it much. Earlier in the year, I met a woman, and we maintained an online flirtation, so I’m feeling emboldened. Instead of telling people in my life who didn’t know (which was most of the people in my life, including my family) directly, I post the article on Facebook. Everyone is super supportive. I lean into being more openly and publicly bi, writing a few more essays about being bi and also being a mom.

spring 2018 (age 32)
I decide it’s time to start dating again. I may have come out as bi, but I somehow forgot that it meant I could do more than just write about it. Dating has been on my mind, but somehow I can’t figure out why I’m still so disinterested. Then I remember I don’t have to date men, and everything changes. Because I never actively pursued a relationship with a woman before, dating women feels abstract. I Google “best dating apps for queer women,” pick HER and Bumble, and I’m off. When it comes to picking orientation, bisexual feels like the right answer. Even though I’ve been attracted to women since I was a tween, I’ve only dated men. Once I start dating (and having sex with) women, I know that there is no way I’d ever pursue dating men again.

February 2020 (age 33)
I have given up on dating. 2019 was a shitty year; I got ghosted by two different women I really liked and spent way too much time in love with a woman who definitely did not reciprocate those feelings. “Fuck dating,” I think to myself. “I’m only looking for sex.” Famous last words, right? I meet a woman on Lex who has ended a nearly 20 year relationship and is also just looking for something casual. We meet for coffee, and I explain I identify as queer because bisexual doesn’t fit anymore. She knows about my past, and it doesn’t matter. After three weeks of mind-blowing sex and equally deep conversations, she’s my girlfriend. Three and a half months later, she moves in with me and my son. On Christmas, she proposes.

April 2021 (age 35)
I decide to post something on social media about Lesbian Visibility Day. At the time, I say I do still identify as queer, but I wouldn’t be mad at someone who called me a lesbian. From the outside, that’s how I look. Strangers don’t know my son is the product of a relationship with a man. A woman at Target tells my son she knows which one of his moms he got his curly hair from, and I don’t have the energy to tell her it wasn’t from my partner because she isn’t his bio mom. My best friend jokingly refers to me as gay all the time, and I do it myself a lot. It’s the first time I consciously acknowledge my identity is majorly shifting.

April 2023 (age 37)
Ya girl most definitely identifies as a lesbian. I think this is always who I’ve been, and the other words were the ones I was trying on to see if they fit. And it wasn’t until I realized that they didn’t that I could get to this point. But really, I think it was that I had to understand that there is no one way to be a lesbian. Using terms like bi and queer to define myself were more to “honor” a part of my life I felt made me different. But that was all in my head, and it was stuff I needed to work through on my own to truly understand who I am. I don’t need to call myself bisexual to acknowledge the fact that I was in a relationship with a man that resulted in a child. Honestly, it’s no one’s business how my son was conceived. If you ask him, he’ll tell you “My mom broke up with my dad, she met my stepmom, and BOOM. Lesbians.” (Yes, this is a direct quote.) No matter how I got here, I’m here. And that’s all that matters.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Sa'iyda Shabazz

Sa'iyda is a writer and mom who lives in LA with her partner, son and 3 adorable, albeit very extra animals. She has yet to meet a chocolate chip cookie she doesn't like, spends her free time (lol) reading as many queer romances as she can, and has spent the better part of her life obsessed with late 90s pop culture.

Sa'iyda has written 128 articles for us.


  1. Just coming here to agree with everyone else that your son is amazing for “My mom broke up with my dad, she met my stepmom, and BOOM. Lesbians.”

    Also, the whole essay is lovely.

  2. “No matter how I got here, I’m here. And that’s all that matters.“
    And I am so happy you are here! Thanks for sharing this touching evolution of yourself Sa’iyda. Happy Lesbian Visibility day!

  3. Identifying HARD with the whole Lex oh we’re both looking for something casual, oh wait did our universes just unexpectedly shift and upend all our plans

    What is it about the month of February

  4. I just want to say thank you so much for sharing this, it’s incredibly affirming to read something so relatable. “Using terms like bi and queer to define myself were more to “honor” a part of my life I felt made me different.” 100%

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!