“You’re checking her out!”
My friend JK sounded both shocked and amused. He was giving me a ride to Tampa for our LARP night and as we pulled away from the place I shared with my sister J, we’d seen a young woman walking along the side of the road, with long dark hair, a cute sun dress, and a sexy swing to her hips that made her skirt swish. Both of our heads had swiveled to look at her.
“I’m not! I just like looking at beautiful women the way I like a sunset, or a flower!” I protested.
I even believed it.
I wanted to stab L with a fork when she was blatantly hitting on my boyfriend in front of me, but when K would hug and flirt with him it didn’t bother me at all. It certainly wasn’t because I would have enjoyed having her hug and flirt with me. That’s just how K was and she didn’t mean anything by it. That was the difference, obviously.
The fact that I preferred to look at Jennifer Connelly in The Rocketeer was understandable, not gay. She was a knockout, even a straight woman could see that. Of course I was going to sit up and take notice of Claudia Black’s legs in Farscape. Those were an amazing pair of legs, anyone, even a straight woman, could see that. Anyone would be drawn to Aubrey Plaza. Anyone would sit up and take notice when Tessa Thompson appeared on screen.
I was good at knowing which women men would be attracted to, that’s all. I wasn’t threatened by the women my boyfriend and eventual husband thought were cute. They usually were cute, after all. Anyone, even a straight woman like me, could see that.
I was straight. Straight, straight, straight, there was no doubt about that. No doubt whatsoever.
When I spent three years thinking about the lady that worked at Aldi’s, the pretty one with the beautiful, light-filled smile that reminded me of K even though they looked nothing alike, I knew it was a little strange but I chalked it up to having moved to a new state and not having any friends in Illinois. Whenever we briefly chatted over the checkout counter she just seemed like she’d be a nice person to know. I just wanted a friend, obviously.
At age 37, scrolling through my facebook feed, an ad popped up with a beautiful woman that captured my attention. There are, of course, thousands of beautiful women used in ads, but as I stopped scrolling to look at her face, the thought popped into my mind that she looked like someone men would want to kiss.
Don’t you mean she looks like someone that you would want to kiss? said a dry voice in the back of my head.
(Content note: homophobia)
Even though I’m amused now at all the ways I rationalized away signs that my sexual orientation was not, in fact, straight, the reasons behind that rationalizing are anything but amusing.
When my dad came out of the closet when I was around 13, in the mid 90s, I received the impression that being gay was a Truly Serious Sin. The fact that he was fired from his job and ostracized by people that had formerly adored him hammered that home.
My mom told me one day that she’d had a dream that she believed was a prophetic dream, in which God communicated that if my dad didn’t return to the marriage, God would let him die – it wasn’t said out loud, but by then I knew about AIDS and the implication was that God would let my dad get AIDS and die, and that he’d deserve it.
Apparently being gay was the worst sin of all, and I feared the possibility that I might harbor some tendency towards gayness myself. The sins of the father, after all – perhaps being gay was some kind of generational curse.
I responded to this fear by simply declaring to myself that I was straight. Obviously. The fact that I was demisexual (a word I wouldn’t see until decades later), or at least near enough to demisexual, made it much easier to repress, deny or rationalize anything that seemed other than straight. Some people just had a magnetic presence that I was drawn to, and it just so happened some of those people weren’t men. It didn’t mean there was anything sexual or romantic going on.
The fact that the way I felt about the lady at Aldi’s was identical to the way I’d felt about D, M, C, and E, all men that I’d had crushes on between the ages of 16 and 20, did not register until after that dry voice in the back of my head had suggested I wanted to kiss a woman. I’d successfully separated how I thought and felt about women from how I thought and felt about men for over two decades.
It was disconcerting. I had to talk to my friends A and M about it, both bisexual* women that had been homeschooled, though they’d both realized and come to terms with their sexual orientation much sooner than I had. Probably something to do with the fact that they hadn’t gone through the experience of having a parent come out of the closet before they were out themselves, along with the fact that neither is demi.
They reassured me that I wasn’t crazy, or making it up, and A had gone through similar forms of rationalizing herself, even if it hadn’t lasted nearly as long. It turned out that my sister J had even secretly discussed with A that she sometimes got ‘gay vibes’ from me. This latter was particularly amusing, because in a family with 7 kids, odds were high at least one of us wasn’t straight, and I’d sometimes wondered which one of us, if any, that might be. Turns out, it was me.
Actually, it turns out I’m not even the only one, as was revealed to me after I publicly outed myself, but the other two aren’t out, not even with the rest of the family, as far as I know. I say the other two, but who knows, maybe the number of non-straight people among my siblings is actually higher than that.
Apparently there is just too much gay in my family for anyone to pray away.
*All three of us use the term bi rather than pansexual simply because the former is more recognizable than the latter, we knew it first, and they’re basically the same thing. Bisexual was originally understood to mean attracted to two or more genders.