And being okay if others don’t
Kisses scatter across my long, pale, leg as I hurriedly tell my friend I will have to call her back at another time. His dark hair tickles my thigh as he moves lower, kissing me next to my knee. I feel so ticklish and giggly and 100% completely in love with this man. But there are things I miss about my identity when I was dating a woman.
I miss my individuality. I miss being recognized as an LGBTQ person by outsiders, even if I never felt accepted by the community. It may be shallow but know its true because every chance I get, I slip it into conversations. “You know, before I met my current partner, I was with a woman for seven years.” Sometimes its relevant and other times, well I’m just throwing it out there like a dangling fishhook hoping someone will bite on the idea that I am different.
While I was in a same-sex relationship, I was never the “out and proud” type. I have never been to a Pride event or even a gay bar. But I fought hard for acceptance. For a while, I explained to every well-meaning individual that asked if I was a lesbian that I was pansexual. I was proud of my identity as an individual that feels attraction openly for any sex or gender.
When I was about 20 years old, I fell in love, hard and fast. She was witty, beautiful, and wildly adventurous. We cohabitated, moved to Spain together to teach English, and traveled to who knows how many countries making beautiful memories that will last a lifetime.
What was the problem?
While we were together, my family had a hard time. They always referred to my partner as my roommate. They made comments about how great it would be once I was out of this “stage;” as if I were still growing into my sexuality and after this little blip, I’d be heterosexual and normal. Back then, it bothered me. I felt a need to be recognized, acknowledged, and loved for who I am.
I paid the fee by being estranged from my family for a long time. They didn’t see that it was important to me to be accepted, and I perceived that as intolerance. I didn’t know how to let it go. My feelings about myself were still tied up in their opinions about me. I couldn’t see what a disempowering situation I had put myself in.
I worked hard to get people to accept my LGBTQ self. If I couldn’t feel the love from my family, I needed acceptance from everyone around me. I was continually explaining the meaning of queer and pansexual and trying to get people to look outside the box when they thought of sexuality. I wanted them to understand. But it was exhausting.
Settling for “Lesbian”
I settled into the label “lesbian” because I thought I was in a lifelong relationship. I was tired of explaining pansexuality, and it no longer felt relevant. But even with my lesbian identity, I didn’t feel included in the LGBTQ community. I still looked for those people who were not understanding, not accepting and tried to convert them, spending so much of my energy attempting to regulate other people and their thoughts about me.
People told me I didn’t “look gay” and they were shocked when I introduced my girlfriend. A part of me enjoyed being different. But another side yearned for warm fuzzy understanding and acceptance from those around me.
Finding Acceptance Within
Finally, I came to learn that I could never get acceptance from outside; it had to come from within me. I began the journey of accepting and loving myself. I grew emotionally and spiritually. It felt like each time I grew, a gap opened in my relationship, pushing us apart, but I was reaching over the gap trying to pull her along with me.
Then it all began sliding downward. We were in Spain, far from families and support and there was a chasm between us. We tried and tried to rebuild the relationship, but we didn’t fit anymore. My heart didn’t feel broken. It was ripped and bandaged up in so many different ways it couldn’t possibly handle one more tear. So I walked away.
Accepting Myself Where I Was
I enjoyed being single for a while. I didn’t even think about my identity; no one was drawing my attention. The lesbian identity I had wrapped around me for years fell away again after an energetic encounter on a plane. My world opened up as my heart opened.
I began looking for a soul connection, something that pulled at my being not just my body. Love comes easily for me, it feels light and airy, but I tend to release it willingly, watching it float away. I fell in love again. And again. But the third time was different; it was deep and sticky, warm, and way out of my comfort zone.
Does this mean I’m straight?
I didn’t expect to feel such a secure connection with a man, especially a heteronormative man. It was no use running from it. In the end, I returned to enjoy my first experience of unconditional love.
I accepted that I don’t have to adopt the identity of being “straight” to be in this long-term relationship. Straight feels restrictive to me, like willingly climbing into a coffin. It was hard for me to understand that my current relationship doesn’t need to define my sexuality. But loving myself has helped me get there.
When I went back to the United States to visit my family last summer, it wasn’t easy. Many of them assume their prayers have been answered, I’m out of the “gay phase”, and now life can go on as planned. Some of my family members now see me as straight. But I don’t, and that is all that matters. I accept my sexual identity.
Letting go of it all
I’ve realized its not my responsibility to manage their thoughts or beliefs. I don’t have to attempt to control what they think and feel about me. What they think about my identity is irrelevant. What anyone thinks of me is none of my business. That leaves me with so much more energy to be who I am.
Originally published on Medium November 7, 2019