it took forever to understand myself

lightbulb[art by Yasutoki Kariya]

The first time I felt arousal was in the arms of a woman.

I don’t remember how old I was. All I know was that it was summer and we were in my best friend’s backyard, playing “War” with her sisters and brother; hiding from the Nazis in the plywood fort her father had built. Huddled underneath the window, we were curled up against imaginary blasts and shrapnel, and she was holding me.

I could feel her lips against my hair, and suddenly, I forgot what we were doing and where we were. It . . . felt so good. Blissful. And for those moments, before our characters made a run for it to the “cellar,” I melted into her arms and never wanted to leave. It was like stepping into a hot shower and feeling the water cascade over me. I felt shivers, and goosebumps . . . but I didn’t understand what was happening. I had no words to explain what I was feeling. I had never heard the word arousal, had no context for desire.

For years I treasured that memory, although I have never admitted what I felt that day to anyone.

For years I was frightened, terrified, sickened at the thought that I might be a lesbian. I ferociously tamped those thoughts down, but as years passed and I never had a crush on a boy, the fear increased. What was I supposed to do? Every time we had a sleepover and we were in the same bed, or cuddled up next to each other on the floor in her family’s living room watching a John Wayne or Roy Rogers movie, I fought, desperately, against what I wanted to feel, wanted to think. I found excuses to touch her, to brush my fingertips against her skin, to play with her silky-soft chocolate hair. I wanted to be with her. But I couldn’t. I could never say that, never tell her, never do anything. The want would sit on my tongue, trying to burst out of my lips; desire was an ache I could never acknowledge existed.

For years I was in love with my best friend, and I had no idea.

When I went to summer camp and met a cute boy from Texas that made my heart do pitter-patter flip-flops, I was ecstatic. Over the moon. The relief was bone-deep. Good good good I’m not a lesbian thank God. I threw myself into that crush, but it inevitably fizzled and I grew desperate again. My prayers became fixated on finding a man who I could be with. All through high school I tried, fiercely, to “like” boys the way my girlfriends did. That all the young men around me compelled nothing except disgust and revulsion I attributed to a dislike of “Southern preacher boys,” which was the only kind of man I knew.

When I was 17, I went back to summer camp, and met the most bizarre person ever. In a conversation one day about relationships, he told me that he’d dated both men and women, and I was hopelessly confused. I asked him how that was possible, and his response was “I’m bisexual.”

“Bi– what? What does that even mean?”

“It means I’m attracted to both men and women. I bat for both teams,” he laughed.

Something inside of me perked up, curious and interested. That sounded . . . familiar. I instantly slammed the door in my mind, refusing to acknowledge that feeling of recognition.


My freshman year in college I had a fledgling crush on a boy that I nurtured with more passion than was probably healthy, especially considering I didn’t really want to spend my life with him and I knew any relationship between us would be disastrous. But every time I walked into my bathroom and saw my suitemate in nothing but lacy lingerie I tried to think of that boy.

My junior year, when I was roommates with one of the most gorgeous women I’ve ever seen, I reacted by throwing myself into a ill-fated relationship with John*, trying to block out images of her getting dressed, of watching her curl her hair and put on makeup and get ready for bed.

When I cuddled with my best friends on a Sunday afternoon, studying and taking naps together in mounds of fuzzy blankets and pillows, I blocked out anything that told me that what I felt around my friends was something different. All girls think and feel this way, I told myself confidently, ignoring fantasies and dreams that woke me up in the middle of the night.

I didn’t give a thought to how, every year, the women in my prayer groups knew that if they wanted I would massage their shoulders and play with their hair. I paid no attention to how much I loved it when my friend put her head in my lap and we would read together while I ran my fingers through her hair– it never occurred to me that what I was feeling was . . . not very straight.

I only had one way of framing sexuality: either you were straight, or you were gay, and being gay was sinful, evil, wicked. That young man who’d told me he was “bisexual” was making it all up– he was gay, but trying to deny it by saying he liked women, too. I couldn’t be gay, because I knew that I liked men, that I fantasized about men, that I wanted to be in a straight relationship. The thought of sex with a man turned me on, so everything I noticed about women? It was nothing. Women are just beautiful, and I’m a person that appreciates beauty. That’s it. That’s all it can be. That’s all I’d let it be.

In the last year, I’ve slowly come to terms with this reality. It was a slow process, and involved a lot of me going back and looking at experiences I had from girlhood onward and dismantling all the lies I’d told myself for years. I admitted that the first time I’d ever been in love, I had been in love with a girl. I acknowledged that what I felt for my roommate wasn’t just an aesthetic, objective appreciation of beauty, but attraction and desire– and I was lying when I tried to tell myself otherwise. At first I thought of myself simply as “queer,” because, after all, I ultimately fell in love with and married a man, and I had never given serious thought to being in a relationship with a woman– or so I believed at the time.

I don’t know why I fought so hard against being honest with myself. I didn’t even really come up with this on my own– it was my partner who pointed out a lot of this to me, who helped me come to terms with all of my memories of being in love with and attracted to women. He helped me admit that over the course of my life I’ve been attracted to women far more often than I’ve been attracted to men, and that this is ok, and he loves this about me.

I spent over a dozen years being terrified of this part of who I am, of doing everything I could to avoid facing myself honestly– but I’m done with that.

I’m bisexual.

And not only is that ok, and not only do I accept this– I think it’s wonderful.

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  • Good for you Samantha. I applaud your self-awareness and self-acceptance!

  • Stories like this are important to share, and it takes a lot of courage to put yourself out here like this. You did so wonderfully. Bravo.

  • I am someone who’s been spending a lot of time in asexual online spaces, lately. I only recently realized – at age 23, about 6 months ago – that my own sexual orientation is “asexual”. And this “taking forever to understand myself” feeling is SO prevalent in the asexual community, it’s almost a given. We all relate to it. You want to see how confused I *still* am about if I “like” (in a romantic way) only guys, both guys and girls, or neither? Read this blog post of mine: http://luvtheheaven.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/i-think-im-wtfromantic-or-maybe-heteroromantic-or-aromantic-or-panromantic-ah-i-dont-know/ Lol.

    I think it’s true for a LOT of people on the bisexual spectrum as well, though. I read this recently from someone who considers herself a lesbian, but who has sort of had bi feelings and… http://rainfelt.tumblr.com/post/66364134881/an-apology-for-my-own-biphobia you should definitely read that. I find it fascinating.

    I can’t really imagine growing up the way you did, knowing having feelings for girls would mean you were gay and being gay was “sinful, evil, wicked”. I know it’s hard enough even when you have an accepting community/culture for people to acknowledge the fact that they’re not straight, and it is almost inevitably confusing for everyone if the “not straight” variety is anything other than the simple opposite in “gay”. Being asexual, bisexual, pansexual, queer in some other sense… these things are tricky.

    Thank you for sharing this story with us and I’m happy you and your husband have been able to discuss this and you are able to properly understand yourself now. Congratulations and I wish it was an easier journey for you.

  • I’m glad you’ve found another piece of self-realization and acceptance, and glad your partner was so helpful and understanding. I can think of insecure men who might have reacted less well to that, wondering whether their partner was actually attracted to them as opposed to simply being repressed about their “true” sexuality. Bisexuality is still treated somewhat dubiously in this country even if it comes up a lot of commercialized sex.

  • S

    It’s so cool to read about someone who’s had a journey similar to mine. Interestingly enough though, I managed to convince myself that I really only appreciated beauty in women, but I wanted to be different so much that I chose to find them attractive. A little complicated to figure out!

    But supportive partners are definitely the best. And I too have come to be proud of my orientation after years of talking down to myself. The weird thing now is figuring out how I feel about passing – being married to a male – and wondering whether people, both queer and straight, will think I’m making it up or looking for attention. Am I a bad (fake?) queer person because I’m living the easy, straight life? Etc. It’s similar to my experience with being racially mixed and trying to decide how to identify.

    I’m curious how you reconcile your orientation with the inability to act on it. It’s one thing to be dating a person of either gender and having people assume that you must be gay or straight only, and another to wind up with a wedding ring while maintaining that you find both genders hot even though you’re only interested in your spouse currently. It’s so much easier for people to discount your orientation when you’re legally married, not that it doesn’t happen all the time anyway. How do you deal with being a married bisexual, especially never having been in an official relationship with a girl?

  • I would consider myself “straight,” but I put it in quotes because, as you said, it’s a spectrum. I think some women are hot, but I’m 95% more likely to fantasize about a man. It seems that being a bisexual woman is more acceptable than being a bisexual man, mostly for patriarchal reasons (i.e. men like to watch 2 women kiss).

  • Dang, are you me? I mean, I was somehow able to recognize and name my attractions to girl earlier, but yes. I know and feel everything you said.

    Congrats on taking this huge step. If you ever want to talk about queer/bi stuff, esp as a bi lady in an opposite-sex relationship, I’m here for you.

    (btw, long time reader/lurker, first time commenter. Hi!)

    • Hi! I’m a recent ex-lurker myself!

  • Good for you. Learning something, or being at a place to be able to acknowledge something about yourself you couldn’t before, is a really great feeling. My knowledge of human sexuality is pretty limited — I’ve moved passed the model of it I learned as a child, of course, but I haven’t learned a great deal beyond that. However, I’m given to understand that sexual identity in females is possibly more often both ways or otherwise more fluid than in males, who in turn (I believe) are more likely to be strictly one or the other. I guess my point is, I really would be surprised if there weren’t other girls in your circle at college who felt the same way but really had no way to express or acknowledge that either. Maybe your story will help give others the crack in the door they need.

    *grabs popcorn*
    Also, I would not mind hearing more about your super beautiful roommate and her lacy lingerie I, too appreciate the … aesthetic qualities of women. *waggles eyebrows*

    Okay, sorry! But way to involve the reader, lol.

    • The belief that women’s sexuality is more fluid and flexible than men’s is a myth. It’s fairly complicated, but part of the myth’s result is demeaning both men and women’s sexuality. Women who are bisexual or lesbians can be told that they’re “going through a phase” or “just having girlish fun” or “experimenting in college” instead of having their sexuality affirmed. And men who are bisexual or gay are afraid to embrace it because we as a culture have decided that it doesn’t happen or it isn’t real.

      At least, that’s my understanding. I’m sure our wonderful host could say it far better than I can – or one of the more educated [than myself] commentators.

  • I’ve recently figured this out about myself as well. Honestly, I’ve never found myself attracted to another man in real life, but the concept, at least sexually, isn’t entirely unappealing. It feels kind of odd to think this way, but it really doesn’t matter that much.

    • Brett

      I’ve felt emotionally drawn to a few other men, but never sexually aroused by any men in the way I have by women. Some kind of platonic love, I guess.

  • My co-writer is absolutely convinced that I’m Bi… but I don’t know. I don’t know what to think. I mean… anything’s possible… but I have no way of knowing.

    Congratulations on finding your true face, and having the strength to accept it. I’m so very glad for you.

  • Reblogged this on House of Water.

  • I’m not really bi – I’m like 99% lesbian, with an occasional fleeting appreciation of pretty guys with a certain kind of long or floppy hair. But so much of this resonates with my own journey toward discovering my sexuality. It was such a relief to finally admit to myself how attracted to women I’ve always been, and retrospectively put all those old relationships into perspective. For me, denying everything was even more imperative because due to our homeschooling isolation, my best friend for most of my life and the first person I ever fell in love with, dreamed and fantasized about, was my sister. And I was so deeply terrified for so long. *wry* My therapist finally helped me understand and face that and realise that it wasn’t something wrong with me, so much as it was something wrong with the environment I was raised in that boxed me into a corner.

    • sivandra

      THANK YOU.

      I have just been a little bit more set free. I was also an isolated home-schooler, and while the majority of my fantasies and dreams involved my best friend who I know realize I was wildly in love with, I ALSO had myriad dreams about my sister, spent hours staring at her, drawing her, and cuddling with her. There was absolutely no ‘inappropriate touch’ but I suppose I felt just as a straight guy would feel showering with his exquisitely beautiful little sister–he’d be hard put not to feel lust. I spent my teenage years upward being driven half mad by worrying I was ‘perverted’. The realization that I’m GAY not SICK has been incredibly relieving but also an EXTREMELY hard road. But your opening sentence is also me. Lol. I am so thankful you posted this. God I wish there was a chat room for lesbians-coming-out-of-fundementalism!!!!

      • LOL, wouldn’t that be awesome? I don’t actually know of any others aside from you, but it’s funny we both had similar experiences.

  • I always just love it when someone finally understands all those feelings and thoughts that have baffled them for so long – thus, I really love this writing!

  • AnotherFlower

    Yep. Me too.

    I’ve only ever told my husband (before we were married). I knew what bi was because I went to a very liberal state school, but it didn’t click until I was finished and 19 or so that *I* was bi, and it took me longer still to accept that I’m okay with that. It’s not “wrong”.

    But I don’t tell anyone. I guess I might if they asked.

  • alice

    Wow, I see some of myself in this, which is enlightening and also scary!
    I was always the girl who would play with my female friends’ hair and give them shoulder rubs. But at the time (during college) I was still recovering from a lot of internalized negativity about my body and sex that I was taught growing up in the Church and I could barely admit to having crushes on boys. I sometimes fantasize about women but not about actual sex, just cuddling, kissing, and it shows up a lot in my dreams. Is it just that I’m a very “physical” person? I have moved away from my Christian roots, and I’m now in a committed (and sexually active) relationship with a guy, but I feel like I may not fully understand my sexuality yet.
    Samantha, do you feel at all that your bisexuality hasn’t been fully given expression? If so, do you feel this is something that you are missing?

  • sivandra

    Again, Sam, THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU SHARE. I’m not really “bi”. I’ve come to accept that it’s a spectrum, and on a scale of straight to gay I’m like, reeeeeeeeeeeeeeally gay, but I have experienced some opposite-sex attraction for very ‘effeminate’ males.

    I was raised hard-core fundie and home-schooled to boot, and your description of your crushes growing up resonates with mine. I TRIED SO HARD to be attracted to men that I was able to form a kind of ‘ideal’ which involved a complicated mixture of appreciation for male beauty (I just love beauty) and an appreciation for masculinity, and an idealization of how a woman was SUPPOSED to feel about a man, and I was able to trick myself into thinking I was straight for 30+ years. However it involved a sense of almost unbearable dissonance internally because life just wouldn’t back me up on that… ever. And I spent my life confessing and asking for HELP with SIN that I just fought and fought with every ounce of my being and did everything I could to rely on grace to make headway in and yet which never changed AT ALL. There was no sense of progress, no sense of grace affecting that area of my life, never any rescue at all. It was the most disheartening thing in my life, always.

    I love hearing you describe your crushes on girls/women. I was the same. I was fixated on girls from the age of 6, and beginning with puberty I gave in completely to the absolutely delightful experience of revelling in their presence… but shoved down all thoughts and feelings that I saw as ‘wrong’. It’s very confusing to grow up in an environment where ‘we’re all girls here’ is practiced, showering together, sleeping together, dressing together… and yet have absolutely no context for what sexual attraction is or what same-sex attraction is.

    I felt appreciation for men, I idealized and could IMAGINE enjoying a kiss, an embrace; but what I actually longed for and felt right in was the embrace of a woman.

    It has been an incredibly hard journey from fundementalism to figuring out how to believe God loves and accepts me fully AS I AM, and it has of necessity involved a complete and total re-arranging and re-thinking of my entire worldview. Survival demanded that I change my schema. Your blog was the first and most instrumental thing in helping me navigate this change, and has continued to be a powerfully helpful force for me in this.

    • You should check out Libby Anne’s blog too, Love Joy Feminism, over at Patheos, and also the blog that first helped me understand and accept my own feelings, Fred Clark’s Slacktivist. Fred considers himself to be a fairly traditional Baptist Evangelical, but he’s also very sociopolitically liberal, and that was the first clue I’d ever had that any Christians, anywhere, actually believed that being gay and liberal was not only okay, but just as true an expression of faith as anyone else’s. Definitely changed my life.

  • Ahhhhhh…….I am so happy you shared this with us. This is similar to my experience coming out bi, I grew up as oblivious as the day is long to the girls I had crushes on and kept wondering when I’d have a crush on a boy (I think elementary and teenaged boys are just clearly less pleasant than girls, thus the apparently common experience of girl-crushes before boy-crushes). I didn’t realize I was bi until I fell hard for a friend of mine, a while back, at the not so young age of 28.

    Even though I have left the church, many years ago in fact, and am no longer a believer, there were many nights I cried myself to sleep thinking about the “terrible” situation I found myself in. It took a long time to face the bias and fear that I had grown up with. I finally came out on my own blog for National Coming Out Day this year: http://beholdconfusion.wordpress.com/2014/10/11/hello-world-2/ And I am sooooooo pleased to find another strong, feminist, blogging, bi-woman out there! Yay!