People love to ask the question, “When did you know you weren’t straight?” This strikes me as an odd question. Maybe that’s because in my own life it doesn’t have a neat and tidy answer. My sense of self/identity evolved very slowly over time. I can point to markers along my journey, but I can’t pin point “the moment” I knew I wasn’t straight.
As a christian minister, this personal narrative question has always struck me as having remarkable parallels to a particular storytelling form among Christians called the “salvation narrative” also known as testimony. It’s emotionally satisfying for people to hear a story that sounds linear and definitive, and a lot of people feel pressured to craft a “salvation narrative.” That’s why so many people have salvation narratives that are rich with specific detail: At 3pm on a Tuesday in 1987, at my lowest point of desperation, I cried out to God, said this prayer with magical salvationesque properties, sprinkled the magic fairy dust, shut my eyes, concentrated on my most Jesus-y thoughts, clicked my heels 3x, and then a panel of my christian peers who had appointed themselves as judges of my salvation process spoke quietly amongst themselves and each held up big signs rating my salvation narrative as a “perfect 10.” They told me I was “saved.” They told me I was “in the club.” That’s when I knew that I was saved.
I’ve always resisted that version of a salvation narrative. Maybe because it wasn’t mine. I think the notion of God’s presence/absence/presence and our ever evolving spiritual self awareness is messy. I don’t think we have one definitive divine encounter in our life. I think our faith experience is fluid, and so are the experiences that we inscribe and infuse with deep meaning in our lives. In a sense I think we will all have multiple iterations of a “salvation narrative” in our lives. We will have multiple divine encounters, and our faith will become dynamic and evolve because of our experiences. In my own case, I always had an awareness of and a sensitivity to the spiritual side of life, and I grew up having some notion of the divine. So was I saved? I don’t know?
My understanding of the divine grew and changed throughout my life, and so has the way that I frame and talk about these experiences. I couldn’t offer a precise time and date when I got “saved.” I can point to significant markers on my journey. Exciting new discoveries. New learnings. New insights. New experiences. Every time I gain a new insight that heightens my sense of human potential or divine presence or love—I’m inclined to say that experience has been a “salvation experience” to me in some way. It has changed me. It has transformed me into something new. I feel different than I did before the revelation.
I think “coming out” narratives are similar in their fluidity and messiness. I can’t actually name a singular time and place and location whereupon the heavens opened and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wasn’t straight. I guess, in a sense I’ve always known that. I didn’t know what to call this intuition about myself. As a little kid I felt different. As a little kid I remember being drawn to both male & female peers. But it didn’t occur to me that everyone else wasn’t wired the same way that I was. As a teenager I vividly remember having crushes on other young women (though I wouldn’t have called them crushes. I experienced them as intense emotional connections.) I also remember having long lived crushes on young men which I did recognize as having both sexual and emotional components. As I went along, I processed these feelings and experiences in different ways and I ran them through different filters, and different frameworks of experience over time. Something that was consistent for me over time was the fact that my attractions were not consistent. I was drawn to all kinds of people. On some level, I kept waiting for my attractions to stabilize. And they didn’t. After a year they didn’t. After 5 years they didn’t. After 20 years they didn’t. After 30 years they didn’t. They just didn’t. I’m still drawn to all kinds of people. I choose to practice a monogamous relationship style with my current partner. But my attractions and ability to connect with people are the same as they ever were–diverse.
All that being said, a little levity is really good for the soul. So without further ado, here are 10 sexy-wexy, wibbly-wobbly, fluid behaving, Not-very-straight (downright bisexual) things I did, when I still thought I was straight.
1. From the time I hit my college years onward, I preferred hanging out in gay bars over straight bars. I started making LGBT friends in college. This was a chance to hang out with them. But I also noticed that “sleazy frat guy types didn’t hit on me there” and as the “straight friend” women didn’t really hit on me either. To be in a space where other people respected the boundaries of my body and didn’t touch, grab, or grope without permission felt phenomenal. I loved to cut loose and dance in a safe space. So I always made my boyfriends take me to gay bars whether they wanted to or not. I also really loved the spark of energy that I felt when I was in the company of lots of queer people. I would come alive inside, but I didn’t know how to articulate that. I didn’t know what it was or what it meant. I just knew that I felt drawn to a community of people.
2. I loved making my boyfriends take me to any manner of queer singer songwriter event, because I particularly loved being surrounded by lots of queer women. I didn’t know why this occurred for me or what it meant. On some level, these just felt like my people before I knew how to name my own self as queer people.
3. As a little girl—I used to play Star Wars with the neighborhood boys and we would imagine new scenes and role play elaborate sequences. I always made the boys flip a coin to see which one of us would play Luke Skywalker and which one of us had to role play Princess Leia. I favored Luke. I loved the days when I got to play Luke and when one of the boys was forced to be Princess Leia in our re-enactment. At the end of the adventure, I would swoop in victorious and kiss the boy. That he was a boy appealed to me. That he was a princess also appealed to me. I wasn’t much for hard lines or binaries in gender roles.
4. I once wrote a love letter to my 3rd grade teacher. I was 9. She was 22. I asked her if she would marry me, and I promised to always share my red fruit roll ups with her if she said yes. She did not respond to my letter. In fact, she threw it in the garbage. The heart of a 9 year old is a fickle mistress, so I pulled the letter out of the trash, crossed out her name, and filled in the name of a little boy in my class that I liked and then I gave him the letter. He agreed to marry me. So he bought me a bubble gum vending machine ring. And I made good on my promise and I did share my fruit snacks with him for the rest of the year.
5. I loved Velma from Scooby Doo. The glasses. The orange Turtleneck. The bowl hair cut. The sciency science. She was one hip lady. I loved her. No regrets.
6. I found it very appealing when my boyfriends dabbled in gender flexible behavior of any kind. Wearing nail polish. Going drag for Halloween. Really anything that challenged or broke the barrier of rigidly prescribed mens/women’s roles. I loved people (men in particular) who actively challenged binaries in favor of more complex and fluid gender behaviors.
7. From my early 20s on, I went around telling absolutely everyone–anyone who would listen to me— that I really wanted my spouse to be a wife. The punchline of my joke is that I was perfectly content if my wife wound up being a man. Except I really wasn’t joking. It had not clicked for me yet that a.) I could actually just marry a wife and b.) “wife” was my shorthand for appealing traits/virtues that were labeled “traditionally feminine” by society such as: kindness/compassion/emotional intelligence/spirituality/willingness to share household labor equitably/good listener/daydreamer/creative/emotional caretaker. But the truth is that these traits are not inherently gendered traits at all. They are just personality traits that I found desirable.
I dated some men who absolutely rocked these traits with style and aplomb. They were men who had the capacity to be sensitive, caring, emotionally intelligent, feminist men & husbands. Many of these men are still friends to me, and they are feminist husbands to their lucky wives.
8. I used to tell people that I was a straight woman but also that I was “in the middle” on the sexual orientation spectrum/kinsey scale. How far could straight flex? how far could it bend? Where did it start? Where did end? These Dr. Seuss riddles were unsolved mysteries to me.
9. I used to tell people that I was fluid-kinda not straight/but definitely straight, that I was definitely a 2 on the Kinsey scale, except on some occasions when I thought I could flex all the way to 4 on the kinsey scale. By the way, is the 4 still straight territory? It’s not is it? But what about when I’m back at the 2? And what if I repeatedly fluctuated back and forth and couldn’t seem to stick my landing? It was confusing. Where’s the Harry Potter sorting hat when you need it to tell you what your sexual orientation is? Fluid attractions are my stable state. It took me a very long time to come to terms with that and to be able to utter that sentence.
10. I found pre-scientology, 1980’s “Top Gun” buff and muscled Tom Cruise wildly attractive in the movie’s shirtless unintentionally (or maybe intentionally?) homoerotic volleyball scene, and I most definitely wanted to marry him. I had it planned. We could stand before God and family on a romantic hillside complete with Berlin singing “Take My Breath Away” into the willowy breeze. BUT—if he was unavailable for the occasion, I also found Kelly McGillis appealing in her bad ass leather jacket/Top Gun military instructor role. And it’s possible that a little bit–just a little bit–I would have been perfectly happy to marry her too. I mean gorgeous 1986 Kelly McGillis? She took everyone’s breath away. Am I right?
And since I opened Pandora’s box on 80s nostalgia, I’ll leave you all with this little pop music treat 🎶.