a lineage of sexuality
I am 6..ish? 6ish.
I sit in a play treehouse on the playground,
I am with my childhood best friend.
She has chestnut brown hair, freckles, and a crinkly smile.
I don’t remember the words, or how we came to this experiment
but we are here to practice kissing, as children and young people sometimes do with those they trust.
Tongues confusedly wriggling and lips pushed out and pursed as far as they can go.
I feel both incredibly safe and also, somehow, a little bit endangered.
The space between my legs is warm and rising, like a tide of bath water.
We hear a teacher call for us, so we giggle and disperse.
I don’t remember something like that happening again, but it occupied my thoughts for a long time. It is the first real sexual/romantic moment in my young life.
I am 9
and I have my first crush on a boy.
So there, we’re settled -
no confusion here.
I am 12..ish? 12ish.
I sit on a friend’s bed as she asks me questions I don’t really know how to answer:
“Do you believe in god?”
“Oh! Um...I donno!”
“Well does your family go to church?”
“That’s really bad. I think you’re going to burn in hell.”
“Well people that don’t believe in god or go to church go to hell and burn there forever. Them and girls that like girls and boys that like boys. I don’t know if we can be friends anymore.”
I am taken home, and we’re a little further away from each other from that moment on.
I am 14. Maybe 15?
And I meet my first explicitly gay friend.
My world gets a little better and a little wider.
They are confident and cool and seem to know something about themselves that I have yet to gain access to.
And though we’re in high school in Tucson, Arizona in the early 2000s where everything we watch and take in through the mainstream lacks respect for Queer people,
they sit above it all with grace, and I admire them achingly for it.
I am 16.
My drama department does the The Children’s Hour, which is my first exposure to lesbian characters.
The plot is essentially that being a woman who falls in love with another woman results in shame, disgrace, suicide, and losing your job.
I am ages 12-24.
And there is this category of person in my orbit that I am utterly fascinated with.
Girls and women that I gravitate towards, who make me nervous, who I look at when they aren’t looking at me. Girls who I desperately want to like me but not exactly the way I feel about new friends. As a theatre kid I was squarely pretty good at making friends with people I wanted to be friends with. These people were different. Girls with big curly hair and darker complexions. Girls with short sleek hair and lovely eyes. Girls who were good at things. Girls with wide crinkly smiles and who wore lots of bracelets. Girls with freckles. Sometimes people who weren’t girls at all but who also weren’t boys.
A girl in my dance class.
A friend from drama.
My piano teacher.
Another girl in my dance class.
My sister’s friend.
Someone in a play.
Someone I worked with.
Someone I met traveling.
I cannot figure out what these people are to me, but I eventually land on envy. I must want to be like them, that has to be it. Attraction or crush or love in this 12 year period never occurs to me. Because I have very clear crushes on or feelings for men and boys, and since the only narrative I ever had as a young person was that everyone is either gay or straight, this question feels like it was answered a long time ago. I don’t date any boys for all of high school, I have very little interest in actually dating boys. But I never think to ask why.
I don’t remember who told me you were either gay or straight and it was deviant and incorrect to be between or if you were between you were confused or entertaining a slutty experimental detour on the way to coming out as gay. I don’t know how I knew these things, but I knew them with an unhealthy certainty.
I am 18 or so,
and I begin to watch porn.
And then I find porn that only has women in it.
It is much muuuuch better.
I am 20,
and one of my best friends comes out to me as bisexual.
I am so proud of her and excited for her to fully be herself.
She is the first person I know personally to be openly bisexual;
her existence and declaration opens a door for me that won’t ever close again.
Shortly after she comes out she starts dating a woman.
And, somewhere in my most private and silent heart...
Ah, there it is.
I come home from college that year for the holidays, and I mention to my parents that she’s told me she’s bisexual (upon reflection, a large oversight on things it’s not okay to share about a person without asking them first).
The first thing out of my father’s mouth
“Wow, I had no idea she was so promiscuous”
with a seemingly negative tone.
and we embark on what I think is maybe the biggest fight we have ever had.
I defend her with the vicious loud relentlessness that can only be born out of hurt,
even though I know my father is a tolerant and open person.
At the time, I thought I was defending someone I loved.
I now know the reason I was so hurt and so angry was because I wasn’t defending one person’s identity and personhood and heart,
I was defending two.
I am 22.
I am assigned a scene in an acting class in which I have to kiss multiple people.
Every person in the scene, in fact. Three men and one woman.
I am always much more comfortable and, in all honesty, much more happy to kiss the other woman in this scene.
And suddenly, things seem pretty clear.
I am 25.
I am hiking in the woods with a gay friend of mine.
I, sort of without thinking and for the first time ever, say “I think I like women, I think I’d like to date women.”
He stops walking, looks at me, grins, and says “Yeah. That’s really great.”
6-year-old me peeks out from a tree,
and we keep hiking.
I am..26? Mid 20s...ish.
And one of my best friends and I sit at my kitchen table talking casually about sexuality.
They are gay and also a person whose opinion I hold very highly who I love very dearly.
We are trying to list out loud famous people who are publicly not straight and serve as representation of Queerness in media, but we can’t get very far without getting stuck.
I think I mention Megan Fox, or someone else bisexual.
They roll their eyes a little and say “yeah but she doesn’t really count.”
“What do you mean?”
“Like very feminine attractive women who say they’re bisexual but have never really had to struggle or experience oppression and who still pass as straight. I don’t think they really count, that’s not what it’s about.”
My heart suddenly weighs a thousand pounds and sinks into the chair I’m sitting in.
“How dare you? You should be ashamed of yourself” I tell myself sternly.
I feel tears subconsciously form in my eyes that I quickly blink away,
as I nod emphatically
I am 27.
I have gotten used to saying I’m bisexual to close friends and new acquaintances, although it never comes out of my mouth at full volume.
After thinking about it,
obsessing about it,
yearning for it,
I decide to start dating and sleeping with women.
I download some apps and agonize over my profile but have THE BEST time looking at other's profiles.
I spend the Summer almost sending messages to people,
almost walking into the lesbian bar,
almost hitting on someone.
I finally chat with a few people.
I make extremely loose plans to go on a date with someone,
I go on a rehearsal retreat in the woods with a theatre collective I am part of,
which just so happens to include a man, a good friend of mine, who I have been sort of under-the-radar-in-love-with for about a year and half,
who I have resolved is maybe someone I will have to let go of.
This retreat serves as the beginning of our love story.
And so I delete all of the apps.
Because I can feel that dating is probably not something I will ever do again.
I fall unbelievably in love with this person.
Over the course of the next couple of years, we form a partnership stronger and more positive than anything I have been a part of before, one that I want to be in for a long time. Three years later on top of a mountain he gives me a ring and I receive it without any hesitation or doubt, only happiness. And of all the people in my life, the one most validating of my Queerness and sexuality is the person I will marry next year. We are figuring out together how to preserve and continually honor who I am in our relationship and outside of it. That process isn’t always simple or easy, but it is always filled with love.
I am 29,
and I really participate in Pride for the first time.
It is normally a time of year that makes me incredibly sad.
It still does.
I feel such a longing to be in community with others,
and a looming sense of being a fraud, as well as a fear of not being accepted;
not Queer enough to take up any space,
conflating my privilege as a straight passing feminine woman
with my right to be who I am.
But despite my anxieties, I go, arm in arm with my best friend, who is on a similar journey back to herself. Everywhere we go is overflowing with celebration, love, and truth.
It’s honestly one of the best times I’ve ever had.
The whole day I think to myself “I feel like myself here.”
That week I send an email to my family,
short and nervous but armed with warmth.
It says that even though I expect my male partner to be around forever I need to tell them that I am pansexual and that I have been attracted to women, men, and nonbinary people my whole life.
I say that it’s important to me to tell them because if my niece and nephew turn out to be Queer in some way, I want them to have an example of someone in their lives who is too, so that they don’t go without having an example of what is possible until they are in their 20s. I want them to always have someone like them they can look to and feel close to and share pride with.
I later talk to my brother on the phone about this email and he says “It didn’t surprise me, I think I could always kind of feel it. I always knew that part of you was there somewhere.”
I am overwhelmed with relief and joy at the idea that someone so close to me who has known me my whole life could see me the way I was.
I was always me and always there even when I couldn’t see it.
Who we are is a spiritual and pure thing.
It is unchangeable except by time and nature.
Who we are is extraordinarily clear and fluid and easy to express and live in if we are allowed to.
But who we become is a different thing.
That is made up of moments handed to us instead of chosen by us
Of off-handed things people say
And pointed deliberate hurtful things people say
Acts of violence
Acts of “God”
Treehouses and freckles.
These things matter.
So many Queer people do an exhausting and painful amount of parsing through these moments in their lives to pull their true selves from the rubble as adults. Some at the expense of their physical safety or mental health. Some lose their lives. Society, artists, businesses, parents, friends, siblings, coworkers, lawmakers, and lovers could make it a lot easier for people to find, care for, and love themselves in all the noise.
I am so looking forward to the day that the path is blissfully, safely, quietly clear.
I am 31.
I am a pansexual woman.
I am still grieving the loss of a first girlfriend, of a college Queer community, and of the possibility of losing my virginity to a woman or nonbinary person and not a man who does not respect me, who instilled in me that sex should be centered around male needs, desires, safety, and pleasure.
I am still learning how to advocate well and fight with intention alongside other Queer people who don’t have as much heteronormative camouflage in their natural gender and sexuality expression as I do.
I am still figuring out how to be myself entirely without shame or hesitation,
but I know who she is.
I love her with abandon.
And so should you.
A poem as an ending:
Somewhere in the distance
Is a child I could’ve been
And a woman I could’ve loved
I do not rue their absence
But wave at them
Happy Pride, everyone. Let me know if I can help remove any barriers to you finding, caring for, and loving yourself. You deserve those things.