As I’m sitting across from my mom on the back patio of a restaurant in Boca Raton, Florida, picking at my fish tacos, she asks if I’m seeing anybody. I take a long sip of my margarita on the rocks, deciding how to answer this. I’m a bad liar and I know she’ll be able to tell right away. Plus, I want to tell her, just maybe not right now, in this exact moment, surrounded by 84-year-olds at what looks like a knockoff Harpoon Louie’s. The butterflies begin to bang against the sides of my stomach.
“Yes,” I say, smiling uncomfortably. I feel guilt for some reason.
“You are?” she asks, surprised.
“Um. I am.”
“What? Is he weird?” she asks. It’s a fair question. Literally every man I’ve ever dated up until this point was weird af.
“She’s not, no,” I say. I take another long sip of my margarita.
“It’s a girl?!” she asks, before letting out a short, shocked laugh. She can’t believe it.
Then she asks a bunch of questions about how I knew I was gay, when I knew. How could she have missed it? Does she really know me? Had I been lying to her? I assured her, she did know me, and I didn’t want to talk to her much about my sex life anyway, so aside from that, nothing had really changed. I told her I wasn’t lying, per se, and certainly not any more to her than I was to myself.
After I answered a few of her questions, she seemed to relax as the conversation went on, but I could tell something was still gnawing at her. Maybe the same thing that had gnawed at me before — but why was I gay? There had to be some sort of explanation. Was it something she did? I assured her it wasn’t. Was it because I was raped in college? When she asked this, my heart sank.
Here I was, so excited about the girl I was seeing, so thrilled to tell my mom about her, and my mom wanted to talk about my rape — as if one of the worst experiences of my life had anything to do with one of the best. I didn’t think then (and I still don’t think now) that there is any correlation whatsoever.
My mom’s question, however, is completely normal and even expected. I’ve had several friends ask me if my experiences with men — violent or abusive — have anything to do with the fact that I’m gay. I came out at what I considered then as “later in life” (I was 26, which is only “later in life” for 26-year-olds) and I think most of the people in my life were so accustomed to me being straight that they were searching for a reason as to why I was now “all of a sudden” gay — in the same way I always felt like I had to find a reason for it. People just aren’t gay. Especially women. Especially women who come out “later in life” and have dated their fair share of men. Especially me.
I know I’m not the only gay woman who has considered whether or not her sexuality, specifically her homosexuality, has anything to do with her past abuse or negative experiences with men. A lot of us contemplate this at one point or another. Being gay has been otherized so much, we assume it’s some kind of bizarre form of punishment for something we’ve experienced and survived. We pull moments from our past, overanalyze them, putting together the pieces in order to explain away our gay. Surely we can’t just be gay because being gay isn’t natural, being straight is.
But the fact is, no one has ever attributed being heterosexual to abuse or childhood trauma, only being gay. I’m still asked all the time if my rape or abuse at the hands of men made me gay and it disappoints me every time, because I love women so much and they deserve better than to be seen as just safe havens. Also, this idea perpetuates the myth that all women are safe, which they’re not, and that they aren’t abusive and they don’t ever physically and emotionally hurt people, which they do.
This mentality also assumes there’s something fundamentally wrong with us — something that requires any kind of explanation at all. Gay women — who have always been told our sexualities are unnatural, inappropriate, wrong — are constantly looking for a reason. An explanation. A diagnosis. We think there’s something amiss — why would I, of all people, be gay? I’m not like one of those natural normie gays, I must be gay because I’m damaged. My gay has to come from somewhere, doesn’t it?
But I’m here to tell you: you don’t need to solve this Rubilk’s cube. You don’t need to bend yourself into a pretzel in order to explain why you want to makeout with and fuck and date women. That’s just who you are. That’s just what you want to do. There’s nothing wrong with you. Sure, you might be damaged, but it’s got nothing to do with your urge to eat pussy. As sex writer and educator Yana Tallon-Hicks wrote for the Valley Advocate, “your sexuality… is a fluid entity that is part of who you are, not a symptom of what someone did to you.”
You’re not gay because you were raped in college or your mom didn’t pay enough attention to you when you were a kid. You’re not gay because men are, on average, louder and smellier and more violent. You’re not gay because women are the best alternative or the safest option. You’re gay because you were born with it in your bones. You’re gay for the same reason your sister or brother or cousin is straight — no fucking reason at all.