It’s so hard to get words out. I can lie in bed and know exactly what I’m going to say. But when I reach my computer, every word feels like self-revelation (because it is), and I’m terrified. I’ve lived under a critical sense of my self for so long: I don’t know how to do this anymore.
It’s not even a question of, who would want to hear my words? It’s now become, people will judge me when they know what’s in my head.
I don’t know why that scares me so much.
Especially since it’s something I need to get over. I’ve let other people define the world’s parameters to me for too long. I thought I’d overcome it. But there were still choices I’d made to try to fit in – to enable myself to live in both worlds, fundamentalist Christian and not – that I wasn’t even aware were distorting my perception of reality.
There were things I wanted to be true so badly. Things about myself and my life. I lied to myself until I made myself sick, mentally and physically, and I just kept lying, hoping against hope that I wouldn’t have to face the truth.
I’ve tried to live as someone I’m not, and can’t be, and no amount of trying will change me, no matter how subconscious it is or how totally and completely I believe I am what I’m claiming to be.
Like marrying a man when I’m a gay woman. It makes so much sense now (@!#$% hindsight). The best, most happiest times of my post-pubescent life were my first two years of college. There was hard shit in there, but there were also a few key things: I was independently pursuing what it means to be me; I briefly dated someone who genuinely respected me and desired consent in all areas of life (refusing to move forward with something otherwise); and…I lived as a gay woman.
I didn’t come out. I never called myself gay to anyone else. But in my head, I was gay, and I knew I was gay, and I lived it fully. You don’t have to date or have sex or even fall in love (though I did several times) to live your sexuality. I acknowledged who I was and what I felt, and felt free and okay with that – even though I thought I shouldn’t; even though my Christian sensibilities at that point were conservative and thought I ought to do my hardest to change –
Nevertheless, I wasn’t trying to change myself.
I read books and walked along the river and took the train into the city to visit friends and got a linguistics job and took amazing classes, and during all of it, I was living as my true self. I’m gay, I would think to myself, and be at peace. Sometimes there was a sense of wonder, due to being honest for the first time, and other times it felt totally normal.
It’s hard to explain the freedom of living in a state of acknowledging your own truth. I didn’t used to think it should matter, but it does. It made all the pieces of me work in harmony.
And then I stopped. I felt like I “should” date a guy, to learn how to be feminine and submissive and whatever other fucking thing I wasn’t. I was “too feminist,” and I needed to “recognize men are real human beings.”
I did recognize men as humans with dignity. I just wasn’t interested in them. Somewhere in my brain, that lack of romantic interest made me afraid and guilty, like I wasn’t giving men their due. I feared that I was breaking things, contradicting the order of the world, the way things are Supposed To Be. I needed to fix things, make things work.
If there’s anything constant about me, it’s my determination to follow through on my convictions.
So I dated a guy I didn’t like – unsurprisingly it was a disaster. In the wake of that, I met a guy who was kind and intellectually stimulating and compatible with my own dreams and workings. We dated and our relationship was extremely functional – honestly the best that can be expected from a lesbian. It was good and it was good enough.
If there was something missing, it didn’t bother me. I’ve always assumed “this is as good as it gets.” I’ve always been embarrassed by opposite-sex romance stories/films/books; always felt somewhat detached and overly pragmatic in my romantic relationships (all with men); and always heard that love is an action, not a feeling.
I don’t want to imply that isn’t true: love as an action is very important. It’s a great message for people who know what they’re feeling. But nobody ever assumes that you’ll think you’re in love when you’re not: they assume you’ll know right away what being in love feels like. They don’t realize that for those of us who don’t fit the dominant narrative of boy-meets-girl, knowing what “being in love” means is a lot harder. There are no models, no molds, no narratives, no guides. And if you’re raised in a conservative community, there’s often a sense of must and shall.
I don’t want to blame conservatism. I simply want to point out for conservatives in the room that being relatively sheltered didn’t change me into a straight woman, nor did being “raised up in the way I should go.” I’ve always been gay,* and in the end my fighting this only caused me untold grief.
(*I have distinct memories from my childhood such as playing with Barbie dolls and having the girls be together – and making sure to stay quiet and make sure Mom was never watching, because I knew that wouldn’t be okay to other people, but it felt right to me. I remember making up stories of saving distressed damsels and thinking that was totally normal. My main characters in my play were often male; I was an incorrigible tomboy; and romance-y things of the heterosexual variety have always made me uncomfortable, rolling my eyes and feeling acutely embarrassed for reasons I could never explain. This has always been who I am.)
Getting back to the grief…
I had a functional relationship with my husband. A loving relationship. A good marriage. We had wonderful, happy times. I loved him.
None of that was fake.
None of that stops counting now that I’m being true to myself – any more than it stops counting just because he became psychologically oppressive later on. Our love is real, and you can’t take that away from me.
But there were always problems which I brushed off because Love Is An Action Not An Emotion And It Requires Work. I considered myself a realist: of course there are problems, and it’s our job to work through them. I worked hard and read books and prayed and asked probing questions of myself, trying to undo past baggage or overcome current insecurities or learn better relational tools.
In some ways, that makes me grateful I went through all of this. My husband and I worked through my issues with sex from being an abuse survivor. I worked through insecurities (many of them sourced in internalized sexism). I learned to stand up for myself, and manage my OCD, and many other healthy things.
But I was also slowly dying.
I didn’t recognize it at first. There’s that honeymoon phase where everything gets a rosy spin on it. Then there was my insistence that we just needed time to grow and learn.
But as years passed, certain areas weren’t making headway, despite everything.
Sex was an emotional disappointment because it held no meaning for me. I kept asking, is this it? Why do people say this is amazingly intimate? Why do people say this helps people love each other more? I feel nothing different. I wasn’t dissociating during sex or anything else – we tackled everything. But when we made sure there were no roadblocks, still, I just couldn’t connect. My internal reaction was: eh, *shrug.*
Also, sex worked mechanically, but it didn’t do anything for me. No matter how hard we worked at it, and yes, we worked hard. Pleasure for me was always tied in with female bodies. Once I realized this, my imagination became a tool to enable sex to feel good, but it still held no emotional connection for me – and I hated that I had to mentally put myself somewhere else to enjoy the experience fully. That’s when I started to hear warning bells.
This really wasn’t all it was chocked up to be. In fact, it was nothing it was chocked up to be.
Furthermore, I always knew somewhere in the back of my mind that he loved me more than I loved him. As time wore on, that niggling sense grew, making me more and more uncomfortable. My husband really did feel, want, think, and imagine things I did not. Marriage was a thing to me; to him it was a vibrant part of his existence.
Marriage was something I did, but something he experienced, participated in, drew strength from.
No matter how hard we tried – and remember I really did love him and wanted this to work; with all my heart I was determined, because I believed he was worth every inch of my love – it still wasn’t what we’d expected. What we’d signed up for.
I know in some cases, marriage can be a shock to one’s expectations. One’s thinking needs adjusting. That wasn’t the case for us. We went in with counseling and mentorship and books and, I think, pretty healthy expectations. But even if/when we lowered our expectations, we still were disappointed. The relationship wasn’t vital.
When I realized that losing one of my best friends or losing my husband would each affect me to an equal degree, I knew something was wrong. He was, in the end, one of my best friends.
He wasn’t my love. Which was a surprise to me. Apparently I didn’t actually know what love was. Apparently I’d been wrong.
I still stuffed it all down, of course.
But I developed depression that wouldn’t go away. My creativity was more and more inhibited. I had experienced a bump in my productivity, joy, and sense of life when I came out bi, but that faded and left me lower than before.
It affected my husband, too. He grew critical and judgmental. His words made me feel I was never good enough. I dreaded weekends and doing things together, knowing I would get criticized for something at some point – often things that weren’t even my fault. I stopped doing things I once took joy in. I felt like shit.
His anger grew and with it our issues. Tiny things would set him off, and the words would worm into my heart and stay there. I hated going places if he drove, because I knew all it took was one inevitable “bad” driver and the criticism would begin. It seemed he no longer saw human beings: not me, not anyone else. It was all about his comfort, or so I felt. I was married to someone who seemed to me purely selfish.
When I tried to discuss these concerns (after months of depression, self-hatred, and passivity), I was told I was wrong. No, that’s not what happened. No, that can’t be right. Well, if you’d explained better, this wouldn’t have happened. No, you got it all wrong.
Things continued to be my fault, but now gaslighting had entered the mix: reality was framed for me. And I believed it. As the one trying to hold things together, capitulating, apologizing for things I hadn’t done, I let him control me.
We entered a dangerous spiral.
I became suicidal and self-harming. I didn’t tell anyone. I was on antidepressants and had people who told me to call if things got bad, but I was so afraid of people knowing how weak I was. I already had a thousand words burning through my brain telling me I was a failure. My self-esteem was in the negative numbers.
The idea that people might want to know I was suffering…was ludicrous.
I was terribly sick, too. Digestive tract sensitive. Insomnia constant. I even got a small spot of tinea corporis, which has happened to me once or twice before in times of intense stress.
Two months before my self-truth moment, I caught an apparent cold – runny nose, sore throat, cough – which persisted on and on. I took dayquil constantly for two and a half weeks and saw no change. (At that point, I stopped medicating in fear I was actually doing more damage to my body.) I am, in fact, still “sick” as I write this.
After having tried several therapists and never getting a good match, I was desperate. I went to the local LGBT+ resource center website. They had a list of LGBT-friendly therapists, and I picked the first one who sounded like a good fit. Unlike the others, she could see me in a mere three weeks. Thank God.
I tried to hold on. I managed. Barely.
All it took was four sessions. Four. And I was admitting the Truth.
Yes, this is emotional abuse. Then, a few weeks later: Yes, I’m gay.
One by one, pieces came together. Finally, I confronted my husband about the abusive behaviors. This was a total God moment, because I knew from experience he was not good with confrontation. But somehow, it worked. It got through. He listened and responded – positively.
And I realized, my bruised heart was right: my husband wasn’t a bad person. I hadn’t wanted him to be the bad guy. Hadn’t wanted to be right about him. And I wasn’t.
There are two kinds of verbally abusive people: abusers who won’t change, and abusive people who want to change. He was the latter.
He was someone who had expectations – healthy, reasonable, good expectations – for how his life would go, what marriage would be like, how our relationship would function. And they weren’t met, despite so much hard work and so many angles of attack. Healthy methods exhausted, his frustration built up and began seeping out at the nearest person, the person he felt comfortable enough around to be his frustrated self.
I bore the brunt of his (rightly!) frustrated self. It was totally reasonable for him to feel what he did. That did not justify the ways he had hurt me and treated me. I was able to hold both of those truths, able to forgive but not forget, but hold accountable instead.
Having it all on the table, he agreed to work on things. Life got better. Some of my inner blocks opened up. And so, a week later as I had a prayer retreat where I talked with God for three hours, I had one question: am I gay?
I was finally at a place where I could pose the Question.
However, God pointed out I wasn’t going to listen to the answer until we’d dealt with all my fears first. So for three hours I listed my fears and God systematically addressed them.
I’m afraid this really is as good as it gets, and I’ll be throwing away a good-enough thing for nothing. But if I’m gay, then it’s not as good as it gets, because I’m not wired for this kind of relationship. I need to stop thinking like this is something about myself I can fluidly change.
Furthermore, every single other time in my life I’ve been afraid that “this is as good as it gets,” that’s merely been a justification to stay in my familiar pain when my heart and soul are telling me there’s more out there.
The voice of that fear has always been wrong.
I’m afraid the relationship issues I’m experiencing now, like a lack of intimacy, will continue cropping up. But again, if I’m gay, these issues are not going to be the same with a woman, because they’re caused by trying to make things work with a man. Some part of me still believed that it was baggage from past relationships which was making me incompatible with men. That’s a lie which has been categorically dispelled time and again: no baggage, trauma, or other psychological event makes you gay.
Lastly, I’m afraid of coming out again. But I need to live as my true self. I need to stop lying. Clearly, my lies aren’t just hurting me. They’re wounding my husband, whom I love, very deeply. And they’re cutting me off from myself: strangling my creativity and passion and vitality. Even my health. If this is my truth, coming out, again, however painful, is necessary and ultimately worth it.
And God will be with me through it all.
At the end of my prayer retreat, I tried the words out on my tongue: I’m gay. They felt good, like they fit without trying. A skin that I belonged in, just as comfortable as it had back in my early college years when I (secretly) wore it with pride.
Two days later, I said it to my therapist and acknowledged it as my truth: I’m gay.
It was scary and such a relief.
Even though I’m still in process and most people still don’t know this truth of mine, I feel so much better. I’ve come out to myself and all my pieces fit together. I used to think sexuality was this compartment of ourselves, but I’m realizing it’s all connected in ways I wouldn’t have guessed.
Some are truly bizarre ways. I love(d) gardening and cooking, but lost my energy and joy for both. My writing, while improving greatly, has lacked a certain emotional connection. I could make it happen in short stories which I showed nobody; and when I read old writing from way back when, I saw it too. But cutting myself off from my heart cut me off from each piece of myself one at a time as I tried to claim some land and say, “Here I will live!” But wherever I dragged my closet, there my soul died.
Trying to be someone I wasn’t took my everything.
I don’t know what’s next. Or maybe I do and I’m too afraid to admit it. God is keeping it all in hand, I know. If there’s anything this process has done, it’s throw me even deeper into my relationship with God. The more honest I am with myself, the deeper this relationship becomes.
For now, I can end this story with these words: I’m a lesbian. And I’m proud. I’m me. I don’t know what it all means moving forward, but I know:
I am gay.
And I’m finally okay with that.