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I didn’t know I was gay until I met the girl I fell in love with. It was a poly relationship. She had been in an open relationship with her boyfriend and decided to change their rule of “date me, fuck whoever” when I told her that I was interested in her. So, she had a boyfriend and a girlfriend and things were good. Then, she broke up with me when she realized that she had changed the rules on hey boyfriend and didn’t have enough love left for both of us. I came out to myself for her, to my super religious family for her. She was my best friend and I’m pretty heartbroken.
That said, she knew me really well before we got tother. So, she knew all about my PTSD and how I’ve always been heteroromantic but asexual. I did what guys wanted me to do while either crying and hyperventilating or singing the ABCs in my head until it was over. Physical intimacy was, at the sexual level, terrifying and at the affection, kissing and cuddling, level, boring or awkward. The thing is, this changed with the girlfriend. I wanted her to touch me. I wasn’t ready to sleep with her yet when we broke up, but I was considering it. The thing is, I don’t know now whether or not I actually could enjoy sexual things that I didn’t enjoy in my hetero relationships. Was I not into it because I was gay and didn’t know it yet or because early sexual abuse experiences ruined me for enjoying sexual relationships? I’m so sheltered and so new to being gay.
I want to be able to rebound and just have fun with somebody without all of the emotional stuff… but I’ve never done much more than kiss a girl and have no idea how it will feel to be with a girl, no idea whether or not it will trigger me the way it has with men. Any advice would be amazing. I’m a half-closeted twenty-year-old pastor’s daughter. The level at which I don’t know what the hell I’m doing is almost impressive. Please help me out here.
Cricket, hello! I’m going to let you in on a little secret that might help ease your worries enough for you to breathe just a little bit, just a Cricket-sized breath, and in that space we’re going to find a little peace together. You ready? The level at which all of us don’t know what the hell we’re doing is pretty impressive. I don’t just mean me and you; I mean all of us, every one of us, humanity as a whole. We’re all out here winging it, Cricket, trying our best every day. And that’s okay, that’s just okay. That’s what it’s like to be a human being on this wide and wondrous planet.
I’m sorry you’ve recently had your heart broken. It sounds like you gave so much of yourself to your girlfriend, that you risked so much and summoned up a whole lot of courage you didn’t even know you had to be with her. And on top of the romantic heartbreak, she was your best friend. It’s a common queer conundrum, that double-layered heartache because women are wonderful and female intimacy is singular, and oh, I’m just so sorry you’re hurting so much right now. Time and space will help heal your wounds. I promise you that, Cricket. I know it doesn’t feel true right now, but it is true.
Your struggle as you look forward is to understand if you’re really a heteroromantic or homoromantic or biromantic asexual or a lesbian who just hated engaging in physical intimacy with men (a thing that is made even more complicated because you’re a survivor). I’ll tell you right now that either of those identities are super valid, and so are some other ones you might explore as you begin this new journey of self-discovery.
Here’s where I’m coming from: I grew up as basically a pastor’s daughter in a teeny-tiny town in the northeast Georgia mountains and the last thing on earth I ever wanted to do was have sex with or make out with or even kiss a dude. I was bred as a Southern Baptist, which gave me plenty of reasons not to let a guy touch my boobs. For example, it would break Jesus’ heart. And also I would go to hell. I thought — truly, Cricket, until I was 24 years old I really believed — that the reason I didn’t want a man to touch me was because God himself was guarding me from being overtaken by lust and falling victim to Satan’s grand plan to snatch my soul from my body and ferry it away into the fiery pits of eternal agony.
I always felt nauseous trying to force physical intimacy with guys, even though I really liked the guys I dated. They were good guys! The last boyfriend I ever had (again, in my mid-20s), I told him that God told me that he didn’t even want me to do kissing before marriage. Like that God spoke to me the way he did to Moses from the burning bush, but instead of grand plans to free his people from enslavement, God just wanted me to know I shouldn’t put my lips on a boy’s lips. One night my boyfriend tried it anyway, and I threw up on him.
Cricket, it wasn’t Jesus. He hadn’t cast a spell on me to keep me from getting sin-fire in my loins. Possibly he also had not spoken to me to tell me to not to smooch a dude. I was gay, Cricket. When I figured out who I wanted to roll around on the floor with, all I wanted to do was roll around on the floor.
Maybe that’s the case with you too.
Hey, or you know what? You might be homoromantic asexual. And that can mean so many things. It could mean the idea of sex grosses you out, period. It could mean you get turned on seeing girls have sex on TV, but don’t want to have sex yourself. It could mean you don’t find anyone sexually attractive. Or that you do find certain people sexually attractive, but aren’t really into having sex with them. Or you might have a desire to be physically affectionate with someone you trust without it turning into sex. Or that with certain people in certain circumstances you do want to have sex. It could mean you need to really, really get to know and trust someone before you consider physical intimacy with them. It could mean a hundred billion things, Cricket, and all of them are okay. All of them are normal.
Or you know what else? It might be that being touched by anyone in certain ways at certain times is going to be triggering for you because you’re a survivor. Or sometimes you might not be triggered by a thing at all, and then the next time you might absolutely be triggered by it. Or you might not ever be triggered. And those things also are normal, and those things also are okay. You’ve been through so much, so very much, and you never have to issue a blanket of consent to anyone.
You’re going to find out what you want and what you need by trying new things and communicating with the women you allow into your life. I know that sounds terrifying, but that’s how queer women have been figuring out their deals since the dawn of time. Every two people who come together to figure out what sex between them will look like encounter a unique alchemy. We bring all of our experiences into that moment, the euphoric ones and the traumatic ones. We bring all of our insecurities, all the TV shows we’ve watched and books we’ve read and advertisements we’ve seen, all the advice our friends and family have given us. We bring our cultural programming and our religious upbringings. Sometimes we bring our sweetest hopes and deepest fears too. And the other person in the scenario, they bring that stuff with them.
Cricket, you’re going to meet women who aren’t interested in having that conversation. They don’t want to know everything you’re bringing to bed with you and they don’t want you to know everything they’re bringing to bed with them. They just want to go to bed, that’s the main thing. And that’s okay. You can try that, if you want. You can walk confidently into those situations and give it a go. You might find out you were made for casual flings! If you decide you’re not, no matter where you are or who you’re with or what you’re doing, you can stop when you realize it’s not right for you.
But it’s also okay if that’s not who you are. I’ve never been able to have sex without having the conversation, without talking about what I’m bringing into it and what my partner is bringing into it. I can’t have sex without an emotional connection. And in my whole life, no woman I’ve ever been with has ever pushed back against that or pushed back about my desire to take things slowly and figure out what I need and want as we go. And the women who have talked to me about what they’re bringing into the bedroom, whether it’s triggers or past abuses or insecurities or questions they don’t have the answers to, I’ve never pushed back or pushed them away either.
Not everyone’s like that, but lots of queer women are! Most queer women, I’d guess! Nearly all the queer women I know, at least. You just have to be honest up front (maybe not first date up front, but probably third date up front) and establish connections with women who want to walk through these things with you, as you walk through their things with them.
I know it seems like all the other queer woman on the planet are just out there having casual, life-altering sex whenever the mood strikes them with no hang-ups or worries in the world. It’s not true!
Cricket, when I was 27 years old, I was working for a tiny company in a tiny cubicle in a tiny town in Nowhere, Georgia. I was reading Riese’s The L Word recaps on the sly and thinking I was never going to be able to come out, not really, never going to be able to say, “I’m a lesbian!” to my whole family and all my friends and have them be okay with it. I was in a toxic, unfulfilling, impossible-to-define relationship that was ruining all my other relationships. I didn’t know what I was doing. Not just in the sack (though that was part of it). I fully, wholly didn’t know what I was doing. Not with my career. Not with my love life. Not with my sexuality. Not with anything.
Ten years later I get to work with these rare and wonderful women at Autostraddle, a website Riese founded from the blog where she wrote those The L Word recaps I used to sneak away to read. I wake up every day beside my girlfriend of six years in New York City, and when we’re out in the world I kiss her and hug her and the bartender at our favorite restaurant rolls his eyes and says we act like we haven’t seen each other in a month. I am out to everyone, and even the people in my family who had a hard time with it have come to embrace it and to celebrate my relationship. Cricket, I was too scared to even walk past the LGBT section at Barnes and Noble ten years ago! Now I work at the greatest and most popular queer lady website in the entire world!
And I still don’t always know what I am doing.
The most courageous thing any of us can do is to try to move forward just a little bit every single day, in the best way we can, with the tools we have available to us. And then move forward a little bit more the next day. And the next day. And the next. You don’t have to know everything about who you are and what you want right now. Just trust that you will figure out — hour by hour, day by day, relationship by relationship — what sustains your soul in this world. Maybe part of that soul-sustenance is sex. Maybe it’s not. Either thing is okay. Either thing is just right. You’re just right, Cricket. Every experience you have will help you color in the lines of who you are.
Remember the part about every two people who come together forming their own alchemy. And be as kind and gentle with yourself as you are with the people you love most.
All the light,