Around the time "Coming Out Married, Part II" (last post--see below!) ended, I was scheduled to leave for a month-long business trip hundreds of miles from home. My DXH wasn't coming, so I'd have plenty of time to stew about my sexual orientation. I was probably at least bisexual, I was now convinced, but beyond that, I was still confused.
I had very little extra time on my trip. But with what time I did have, I found myself trolling Craigslist W4W. Just to look... You know. To see what was out there. In the back of my head, I thought that I might be able to get the gay "out of my system" by having anonymous sex with some woman, which would let me return to my marriage and live a "normal" life happily ever after.
Guilt was becoming a heavy, constant burden. I hated myself for entertaining the idea of cheating on my DXH. I went so far as to answer an ad and arrange to meet a woman at a cafe. I remember sitting in the dark of my rented car and deciding whether to go in. What stopped me wasn't the fear that I might be a lesbian, but the sadness that flooded me when I thought about violating my marriage vows. That was the closest I came to physically cheating on my DXH. I didn't go into the cafe. Instead, I drove to the far end of the parking lot and sat in my car for over an hour. I thought over my options. On the one hand, I could stay married. On the other, I could kill myself. There only seemed to be two options. Killing myself seemed the better one. I decided it would be the least painful for him if I made it look like an accident. If he thought I'd died randomly, he'd eventually move on. I had promised my psychologist that I would call her if I was feeling suicidal. I did. We talked. I didn't do it, but thought I might do it the following day, or the one after that.
I began looking at flight schedules, trying to put off my return home for as long as possible, and convincing myself that this was necessary for work. Once I realized what my subconscious mind was up to, I knew I had to tell my DXH or I'd never come home. At the time, I thought I lacked the courage to kill myself. Now, I realize that not killing myself took much more courage.
In the end, I told him on the phone. I had to. I went to the top floor of a deserted shopping mall early one morning and sat in the empty food court with my cell phone shaking in my hands. After saying that I had something important to tell him, I think my exact words were, "I think I might not be entirely straight."
I will always be grateful for my DXH's first reaction. He thanked me for telling him, and said it must have been unbelievably hard to carry that around with me. He asked if I was a lesbian, and I told him, truthfully, that I didn't know. I thought I was probably bisexual. I fervently hoped I was bisexual. I told him it was probably just a realization I needed to have. Once I worked through it, I thought, we'd probably be okay. Two days later, I was on a plane, headed home.
To be continued...
(If you didn't read my last post, it's probably best to start with that one.)
...Where was I? So, anything sexual between me and the DXH* was getting less and less frequent. I was becoming extremely frustrated with myself. Why wasn't I interested? It wasn't because of the DXH--he was as great (and handsome!) as ever, plus ridiculously patient. He didn't want to push it--he just wanted me to feel better.
The following year, we moved to a new town, and I started a grad school program, which I had thought I'd enjoy, but hated--and hated myself for hating, which (of course) is a totally healthy outlook. This made me even more anxious, and I was convinced I'd made an irreversible, horrible mistake by starting this new (expensive) program. Things were dark. I'd stay up for hours, hating my work and plagued by guilt that I was a crappy wife. I stopped reading fiction (one of my great joys in life), and also stopped doing any kind of art (another great joy).
And then I met this woman.**
She was a barista at a coffee shop I frequented, and also taught community college math (how's that for an interesting combo?). She was seven years older than me, and for reasons I couldn't figure out, I was interested in everything about her. I told myself it was just a straight girl-crush, and that these things happened all the time; even the New York Times said so. Still, there was the fact that when she walked into a room, I stopped breathing. There was the fact that for reasons that eluded me, I couldn't stop thinking about her hands.
Well, I thought... I might be just a teensy, tiny, miniscule bit bisexual-ish. So what? Lots of people were partly bisexual, right? No big deal. I didn't act on it. She was married; I was married. We hung out a lot. Nothing happened. I don't think either of us really wanted it to.
But once I let that door in my mind crack open the slightest amount, my true sexual orientation elbowed its way in, little by little. My inability to control my thoughts drove me crazy. It was like a one-way ratchet: I could become more interested in women, but not less interested. I decided the solution was to stop it in its tracks, to not let it get worse. I hadn't breathed a word of my struggle to anyone at this point. Sexual thoughts about women? HELL no--I didn't let my mind go there. I buckled down. I studied more. I got a new occupation. I found a terrific therapist. (I made sure she was trained in LGBT stuff just in case that was contributing to my depression, which I highly doubted.)
And then I met this other woman.
I'd actually known her before. She was a photographer from Brooklyn who had done some work I'd written about for an online magazine. Our paths crossed again when she had an opening at a gallery in the city where I live, and from that reconnection, we started spending time together occasionally, a couple hours in a used bookstore or chatting away at a coffee shop. Eventually I found myself thinking about her more frequently. Not this again, I thought--I can't handle another one! I tried to stop myself from thinking about her romantically, but it was tough. She lived with her girlfriend, which was another layer of insulation against the possibility of anything untoward happening between us. Ah, but life is not so simple, is it?
One evening, this woman and I went out to a bar with some friends. My DXH was home with a cold and her girlfriend was out of town for the weekend. We all had a few pints of beer, and the others left early. This woman and I weren't 100% sober enough to drive yet, so we decided to walk off my Fat Tires and her Pilsner Urquells. I don't remember what we talked about, only that as we passed people on the street, I hoped they would think we were together. I felt guilty--not because I thought homosexuality was wrong, but because I was married. Eventually, we came upon a park, where we sat and talked. The sprinklers came on. We didn't move. We talked some more. There was a moment of silence when I wanted more than anything in the world to kiss this woman. In that moment, I realized: Oh, so that's what that's for. By "that," I mean some piece inside me--some indescribable component that had always been sitting there, unused, in my head and heart. It clicked into place and was suddenly a fully activated part of me. Uh-oh, I thought. Uh-oh. I don't know if this woman wanted to kiss me, too. I think she did. I guess I'll never know. I've replayed that night many times in my head, wondering what would have happened if I'd done it.
But the moment passed and was gone. I walked her to her car and left, full of wonder at this new realization, and full of regret for my inaction (plus, full of guilt for the regret--I was becoming a veritable expert on guilt by now). Later, I wanted to tell this woman how I felt, but I couldn't. Soon, she began to treat me coldly, and ground our burgeoning friendship to a halt. Much later, I realized that maybe she had been interested in me and decided to cut me off before anything happened. But at the time, I decided she hated me, which caused me a ton of pain. And I was also disturbed that this THING inside me had been unlocked. So... was I a lesbian?
To be continued... Next up: Craigslist! Suicide! More!
* Someone asked me if my DXH knows I'm posting all this, and is okay with it. Yes, and yes!
** BTW, I reserve the right to make up immaterial details.
I've been putting this off for a long time. But a few evenings ago, something about the alignment of the rain and the fall chill and the smell of damp earth outside made me realize that it's time to start writing about my personal coming out story. I'm going to do so in four or five separate installments.
As my regular readers know, I used to be married to a man. This shocks people who meet me now, but I made for a somewhat convincing straight woman. I loved my husband dearly, and had few doubts about marrying him even though I was relatively young (23-24). Back then, I didn't think that I might be gay. Sure, there were signs, but the idea of kissing another woman actually kind of grossed me out. (Looking back, I think this was because I didn't know any soft butchy women, which turned out to be my type.)
Beginning right after I got engaged to the DXH (that's "dear ex-husband" for the uninitiated), I started to feel like there was something deeply and irrevocably wrong with me. There were days when I would retreat to my bedroom and cry for hours. I had no idea why. I only knew I felt hopeless. I had felt for a while like there was a thin film around my whole body, separating me from other people like the cell membranes I learned about in high school biology. I figured this was fairly normal for us introspective types, but I saw a doctor (a general practitioner) about the sudden crying. He prescribed Effexor; I took it; the tears subsided. I figured a therapist would be a waste of time and money, so I didn't bother to look for one.
Despite my occasional depressed days, I was overjoyed to marry the DXH, and the wedding was one of the happiest days of my life. We were surrounded by friends and family, and I felt like I was becoming part of this neat club known as "married life." People gave us advice, congratulations, and a new set of dishes. I felt like I was part of this big tradition, and I was especially pleased at how great it felt to be following in my parents' footsteps, and how proud they seemed of me. I didn't have doubts about my love for this guy, so I didn't have doubts about marrying him.
The bad stuff started slowly. Effexor seemed to be worsening my feeling of separation from other people. (Someone I was working with died abruptly and I couldn't cry!) Tired of my dulled emotions, I quit the Effexor cold turkey. (This was before all that research came out about Effexor withdrawal and suicide.) Two days later, I was sitting on the bathroom floor, overcome by incredibly strong self-harming impulses. Thankfully, the DXH came home before anything happened, and nursed me through the next couple of days. [Note: never go off of meds without a doctor's supervision.]
Things settled a bit. Some days I would grow despondent and not know why, but much of the time I was okay. My emotions eventually sharpened back to their pre-medication state, but as this happened, the depression returned too, and so did my terrible conviction that there was something wrong with me.
The DXH and I had never had what I'd call a raucous sex life, but at least in the beginning, it had been pretty good. Sex wasn't as earth-shattering as the movies promised, but it was an enjoyable enough form of intimacy. (Sometimes I felt kind of disembodied, almost like my brain was watching itself and thinking, "Hmm. That's interesting. Now you are having sex." I thought this was normal.) But in the two years after we got married, I became completely uninterested in physical intimacy. We first chalked this up to the Effexor (which extinguished my sex drive), then to my birth control pills...
...To be continued. Next up: more sex, plus BW's first female crushes.
Today I spoke to a group of college students about butch identity. They asked great questions, and one particularly interested me: On one hand, there's a big stereotype that all lesbians look the same: we're all butch, all gravitate toward plaid flannel, and all hate men. But on the other hand, the few depictions of lesbians we do see in popular media tend to be stereotypically feminine-looking (e.g., "The L-Word").
It's an interesting little paradox. I suggested the following explanation:
People don't think of butch lesbians as "attractive," and the media only loves people who are considered "attractive." This is especially true for women. (Think about it: Jack Black and John C. Reilly get movie deals. Would the female equivalent of those guys score any leads in feature films?)
So maybe butch lesbians are underrepresented in the media in the same way that overweight people, people with acne, and physically disabled people are. Maybe the dearth of butch media depiction is just one more example of the "beauty bias" that Deborah Rhode and others have been writing about. What do you all think? Any other ideas for why this might be?
Oops! How did THIS picture get in here??
This also got me thinking about what we would want butch representation in the media to look like. It's tough to say, right? We want it to look like "us," but what what do "we" look like?
Personally, I would be most excited to see someone who looks like me represented in a romantic comedy. And I'd add the caveat (since it's my Hollywood fantasy) that I'd love my lesbo rom-com not to simply replicate het rom-coms--that is, I wouldn't want it to simply "remove man, insert butch." For one, this might trivialize the butch-femme dynamic. But moreover, it might trivialize queerness, making it seem like: See? Even "the Gays" fall into a tidy little package that you can read as gender normative!
As I see it, we have a very long way to go when it comes to media representation. Can you imagine a character on your favorite sitcom--"The Office" or "30 Rock" or whatever--where there is a lesbian character and being gay isn't the be-all and end-all of her entire character? I can't.
The only example I can think of off the top of my head is Dr. O'Hara in "Nurse Jackie." I think she's bisexual, but either way, her attraction to women is just one of many interesting things about her (including massive wealth, devastating good looks, killer fashion sense, and a sexy-as-hell accent).
Come to think of it, that's another thing I like about "Nurse Jackie." Jackie (right) appears to be totally straight, but is far less gender-conforming than her queer co-worker, Dr. O'Hara (left). And it's not presented as some "wackily ironic" thing; it's simply presented as is. I like that.