Coming Out…Again

(originally appeared at XOJane in 2014)

Sarah Terez Rosenblum

The woman in the adjacent movie theater seat wants to kiss me. I know because after our first date she texted to say so.

“You should have,” I replied.

A year ago I would have meant it. In fact, this woman — rangy, big hands, artfully mussed hair — would have slain me. Two dates in, I’d be camped out in her apartment, stealing her jeans and walking her doddering lab.

“Guess I’ll have to ask you out again,” she texted.

“Guess I’ll have to say yes,” I wrote.

I stared at the words. “Have to.” Implying something forced, inalterable. In truth, I only wanted to want her. After fifteen years as a lesbian, suddenly, what I really wanted was a man.

Coming out as a lesbian was easy. At nineteen, I benefited from battles my foremothers fought: (I was a women’s studies major — that’s the kind of shit we actually say.) My university had an LGBTQ center, my mom was a therapist who came to specialize in queer issues, and when I told my grandmother, she thought for a moment then said, “You know, I just don’t care.”

Institutional and family support, check. But what about role models? What did a lesbian even look like? Today’s kids have Ellen Page and Portia Di Rossi; then, my only option was KD Lang. Now, I love butches. If you’ve been called ‘sir’ or kicked out of the women’s bathroom or like to roll your eyes at hysterical women and tell them to calm down, then what can I say, I’m wet already. My problem was I didn’t initially realize butch was a type of lesbian. I thought it was the only type. So, I tried to be butch. (That noise you hear is every butch in America laughing. It sounds like this: heh.) [Insert photo 1-caption: “I hear lesbians like argyle.”] Before long I was back dressing like a Slavic hooker and unless I was actively going down on another woman, everyone figured I was straight. Still, once lesbians got beyond my exterior — which they did in a variety of ways, some of them shaped like dolphins — my true worth became apparent.

Feminine, never slept with a man, I was the girl who evokes straight porn when she sucks your silicone cock, but you can trust she’s not secretly pining for the real thing because she doesn’t even know what she’s missing. Sure, not every lesbian wants to date a femme, but after struggling to conform with my asymmetrically coiffed sisters, I thrilled to find women who greeted me with awe (albeit suspicion-tinged.) I was the plush, hot pink bear in the truck stop claw machine, the ultimate, impossible prize.

Then one day, I wasn’t.

There’s nothing lesbians hate more than women like me. I know, because back when I was a lesbian, I hated me. Or at least I empathized with my ex-girlfriend when she talked about hating who I’ve become. Bisexuals, she said, glommed onto lesbians because they feared their fathers, or had been devastated by ex-boyfriends. For them, lesbianism was a vacation from the pressures of heterosexuality. Even feminine lesbians were to be regarded with healthy skepticism. You never knew when one might turn.

To me, this sounded a bit alarmist. I mean, my father was a mercurial poet who bullet-proofed our windows and I never knew if he was going to pronounce me perfect or scream at me because I’d broken the cuisinart; when my first boyfriend dumped me the day after I gave him my first-ever hand job, I literally fell to my knees on the pavement sobbing as he sauntered away; yet I’d spent my adult life in three consecutive long-term lesbian relationships. So what if I crushed James Deen and shopped at Bebe? I wasn’t on some heterosexuality-sabbatical. I was gayer than my girlfriend, if you really thought about it. She might change her own oil and panic when asked to hold my purse, but her route to lesbianism was littered with heterosexual missteps. Sad hand job notwithstanding, I was Gold Star all the way.

Until a week after I dumped her and I found myself fucking a man.

“Found myself,” implying both a lack of control over my own life and the end-product of self-evolution. Obviously, my choices led to our first date and this, our second. I was the one who created an Okcupid account, labeled myself bisexual and bantered my way to this moment — ceiling fan above, him reaching for a condom, me thinking sure, why not? Still, those choices felt instinctive not chosen. Certainly I hadn’t considered their impact on my identity. Nor were they the apex of years of soul-searching. In that porous post-breakup period, sleeping with a man simply felt right.

Sex itself may have seemed self-explanatory, but soon heterosexuality’s societal components destabilized me. For years I’d absorbed straight culture, but from a safe distance. Smug in my otherness, I’d read about heterosexual rites and rituals in women’s magazines, watched straights cavorting on reality TV. Now I felt like an anthropologist with no primary sources, suddenly thrown into the field. Why hadn’t anyone told me men stay hard after they come? Speaking of hard, was I supposed to play hard to get? I felt myself morphing from sexually confident lesbian to insecure straight girl. Heterosexuality had brought me to my knees. Figuratively….and literally.

The literal part was much more enjoyable, except for my intense blow job anxiety. Back while all of you were practicing on bananas, I was sleeping with a picture of Candice Bergen under my pillow. I couldn’t ask the guy I was dating. Mainly because I already had. Twice. His response? “The equipment’s pretty simple.” If I asked him again he’d think I was needy. Turns out if you’re a woman and have needs, you’re needy. I didn’t know. When you’re a woman who dates other women, it’s all just a writhing mass of mutual need. Which is exhausting but at least it’s honest, which according to Cosmo you’re never allowed to be. Cosmo also told me I texted too much and I wasn’t supposed to ask for exclusivity for another three months, and oh, look there’s a piece on how to winterize my vagina and a quiz to help me figure out what dating type I am.

Cosmo has pages of articles; straight women have so many rules to follow. Lesbians basically have one: own cats.

How to catch a man.

Gift-giving tips.

Recipes for romance.

How to get to his heart via his cock with a quick stop at his liver.

Is he marriage material? Are you? What exactly is marriage material? Probably chiffon.

1001 sex tips.

I’m sorry, did you just tell him you love him AFTER labor day?

Whatever you do don’t order chai. Men hate chai.

1001 flirting fails.

Clothing men hate but women love.

Your tank top repulses him.

Are those culottes? Who do you think you are? Lena Dunham? Men HATE Lena Dunham.

Your bra straps are showing, you whore.

At least when you’re dating a woman you can act as crazy as you feel.

Maybe that’s part of why I tried to go back. Not because lesbians are more accepting (That noise you hear is me laughing. It sounds like this: SOB), but because with women I know what’s expected, more important, I know what to expect. Or maybe I accepted that second date because I hated fulfilling the same stereotypes I’d spent my whole lesbionic career fighting. My sudden drive to date men might feel natural, but I know what everyone thinks:

Brosephs: Yeah, brah, all it takes is a good deep-dicking to turn a lez straight.

Lesbians: Bitch was way too femme. Should’ve trusted my instincts: straight all along.

Bisexuals: We’ve got enough trouble without you pissing off the lesbians. No, you can’t set your lunch tray here! That seat is saved. For Alan Cumming. Much better bisexual role model. The lesbians are looking, move along!

My mom: If you’re happy, I’m happy. (Said while searching the attic for her wedding dress.)

My grandmother: I’m dead, and I still don’t care.

What about the woman next to me? The one I’ve selfishly sucked into my turmoil. The one who just wants an easy evening out, the possibilities a second date promises, sealed with a kiss. In my periphery, I see her hand on the armrest, palm up, a clear invitation to lace my fingers through. She’s perfect on paper, yet holding hands seems not repulsive but pointless, as erotic as stuffing an envelope or blowing my nose. I feel like my mother or Kelly Ripa, a straighter than straight woman, not myself at all. I have no business on this date. I’m a phony and a defector, an accidental fraud.

That’s what I’m thinking when I excuse myself early. Yet alone in my apartment, I don’t feel like a phony. At nineteen, I walked blithely down the street holding hands with my girlfriend. So what if men hissed ‘dykes’ at us from their cars? Now thirty-five, I’m still not defined by how others might perceive me. My only responsibility is to harness my younger self’s courage, be as true to who I am now as who I was then.

Sarah Terez Rosenblum’s debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing,” was called “poetic and heartrending” by Booklist. She writes for publications and sites including Salon, The Chicago Sun Times, XOJane, afterellen.com, Curve Magazine and Pop Matters. Her fiction has appeared in literary magazines such as “kill author and “Underground Voices,” and she was a 2011 recipient of Carve Magazine’s Esoteric Fiction Award and the 2015 1st runner up for Midwestern Gothic’s Lake Prize as well as a finalist for Washington Square Review’s 2016 Flash Fiction Award. In addition, she was shortlisted for Zoetrope All Story’s 2016 Short Fiction Contest, receiving an honorable mention. In 2014, she founded the Truth or Lie Live Lit Series. Sarah teaches Creative Writing at Story Studio, and The University of Chicago Graham school.

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