When I was 30, I didn’t know I was queer. I had just moved to Vancouver, and I was in awe of how openly gay and accepting the city was. I sent my brother pictures of church signs that welcomed LGBT people with captions like, “Can you believe it!?” When I came out to him later that year, he said he wasn’t surprised. Among other things, he noted my excitement about a thing that seemingly didn’t affect me.
When I put out the call to a Meetup group that I was looking to join a women’s D&D group, Rachel was one of the people who responded. During the first session, there was electricity between us as our creativity and humor bounced back and forth. I have a friend crush! I told several people, entirely unironically. It never crossed my mind that the ex she mentioned was a woman, and my gaydar was so undeveloped that her butch aesthetic never registered to me as gay.
It was almost a month later that she explicitly labeled the ex as a woman, and I realized she was a lesbian. I did some quick recalculations in my head. Did this change my friendship crush? To my surprise, I asked myself, “What if this isn’t a friendship crush? What if it’s just a crush?” Within a week, I had journaled myself into the ground and come away with the fact I was most comfortable admitting: I was not entirely straight.
In hindsight, I was never entirely straight. Despite identifying as a heterosexual for three decades, I have never dated a man. I’ve gone on dates, but I preferred by far the delicious agony of pining after someone unattainable. The few times that physical intimacy was a possibility, my body went rigid. However, that was easily explainable. I grew up in conservative evangelicalism with purity and modesty culture. In fact, I thrived in it, since I have always loved rules and the security of knowing I’ve followed them. There is a part of me that wants to blame all of my repressed sexuality on this: I’ve always been gay, but I was indoctrinated to the point of not realizing! There is truth to this, I think. But I was also a socially anxious, awkward human who both craved and feared intimacy and vulnerability.
When I parse through the interplay of religion and sexuality in my past, some things do stand out. Perhaps most importantly, I did not know any women who identified as lesbians or as bisexual. My older cousin was gay, and I’m grateful for the courage he showed in coming out to a Midwest God-fearing family. But that wasn’t exactly encouraging to me. Instead, I was witness to family members arguing about where the line between loving a person and hating their sin fell in regards to attending a gay wedding.
Almost ridiculously, there is one specific moment from my teenage years that might have been the most important tipping point of all. In my senior year, I became friends with a girl who was smart, funny, and super cute. We spent all of our time together and took pictures of us hanging all over each other, although admittedly, this wasn’t unusual for teenage girls. Something about her felt different, though, and in a fit of fear, I brought it up to my mom.
“I think I have a crush on her,” I said.
“Oh, that’s just a friendship crush,” my mom said. “Everyone has those.”
It embarrasses me now, how fully I accepted this. Friendship crushes! Everyone has them, so I have nothing to worry about! I spent the next decade reveling in friendship crushes with women who were fascinating and fun. I was even friends with a woman who told me she was bisexual. She was newly married to a man, and we used to tease him that we were going to get together while he was away. As I type that, I cannot fathom how I had those conversations and never questioned my sexuality. I was old enough to know better, but I wasn’t in a cultural situation that allowed me the space to question my identity.
Eventually, things began to break down, though never so much that I had to come face to face with any consequences. I took “male” off the “interested in” profile on Facebook, leaving it blank, and I intentionally used vague pronouns when referring to potential future partners. Just for fun! To see what would happen! Literally nothing happened, because no one noticed. I wore slightly queer clothing (which for me was like, a flannel shirt) and wondered if anyone would think I was gay, but again, no one said anything. I realized once that all of the people I followed on Twitter were queer women, and I filed that away as interesting but not pertinent. And at some point, the question, “What if people think you’re gay?” became increasingly louder, though I never allowed myself to ask, “What if YOU think you’re gay?”
Meeting Rachel was the spark for a fuse that I had been laying out for years, which is why, although initially surprisingly, I very quickly accepted it. It’s been three years since that moment, and although I now feel very comfortable labeling myself as queer, I still have so much confusion about where exactly I land on the sexuality spectrum and how to think about my past from my present understanding.
One thing the internet has taught me is that no experience is fully unique. I believe that other people have had experiences similar to mine. Maybe some of you have felt similar shame and embarrassment about not realizing something that is supposed to be fundamental to our sense of identity. I hope that by sharing part of my story, you won’t feel alone in those feelings. We can sit in the embarrassment and joy and wonderment together.