My Fraught Path To Coming Out As Straighter Than I Thought

By Niesha Davis

After I declared my queerness, my attraction to men became a dirty secret.

“Why don’t you just call yourself straight?” my roommate Elisa asked. “I mean, you haven’t dated a woman in years.”

I sighed, having heard this before. Her question was valid, considering the frequency with which I was constantly getting my heart broken by some man, and I struggled to answer why I still identified as bisexual. Her question was also one I had begun hearing more frequently in recent years. Apparently, people don’t take to someone who calls themselves queer without engaging in much queer activity outside of hanging out with gay guy pals.

“Sexuality is fluid,” I countered.

Elisa peered at me with suspicion in her eyes. “I guess, but that’s kind of like me still saying I go to Spelman. I mean, I went to Spelman, but you know, I graduated. Sexuality may be fluid, but it seems that your interest in women has flowed away.”

As Elisa headed back into her bedroom, I sat contemplating her words. Maybe she was right, I thought. It had been years — more than five, to be exact — since I had been with a woman. Sure, there had been some one-off first and only dates, a little random flirting, and an unrequited crush or two, but full-fledged relationships, sexual or otherwise? Nah.

Usually when a bisexual woman is having issues accepting or coming to terms with her sexuality, it has more to do with unresolved feelings around being queer. My issues, however, come from my inability to cop to the fact that I like the companionship of a man more than I’d like to admit.

Growing up, I was a complete and total social outcast. Painfully shy and perpetually the new kid, making friends did not come easy. As I progressed in age, I developed intense female friendships with the few girls I did manage to find a connection with. At the same time, it always seemed that most of the boys, and later men, who presented themselves to me as romantic prospects were primarily interested in using me or hurting me in some way. Finding myself in relationships with the opposite sex, I often felt disrespected and not like an equal partner or participant. Over the years, I suppose a distaste for men grew, and with an already budding attraction to women, shunning men wasn’t so hard.

One of the first times I remember feeling “more” for a friend was with Sandy, my best and only friend in sixth grade. Bonding over our mutual love for alternative chick rock, Francesca Lia Block stories, and all things Claire Danes, Sandy and I were inseparable that year. I didn’t care about the fact that her wardrobe consisted of only overalls, or that the rest of our class thought she was weird for being raised in a Rastafarian household. I grew to love our daily walks home from school and the way her curly brown hair dangled in her eyes.

Finding myself in relationships with the opposite sex, I often felt disrespected and not like an equal partner or participant.

I still remember how quickly my heart started beating upon finding a single rose petal she had enclosed in one of the notes we exchanged daily. Closing the paper swiftly before too many others could see, I began to blush, and strategically tore out a new sheet of paper from my Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper. “What’s this?” I wrote back to her. “For friendship,” she replied.

A year or so later, when our bond dissipated, exasperated by an unfortunate event involving a birthday slumber party, my mean-spirited younger stepsister’s big mouth, and Sandy’s perceived lack of personal hygiene skills, the end of our friendship felt like a small death, no less significant than any other breakup I would go on to experience.

Still adolescents, my experience with Sandy laid the foundation that allowed me to not be scared of my budding sexuality. A few years later, at the beginning of ninth grade, I came out as bisexual to family and a few friends. While my coming out process was relatively painless compared to the stories I’ve heard — my father, for his part, was a bit shocked, but assured me he would love me regardless — it was not without fanfare. My mother took to asking me if I was “still that way” in whispered tones; I delighted in turning my head to the side and loudly responding, “bisexual?” while she blushed and looked around whatever empty room or hallway we were in to see if anyone else had heard me. Meanwhile, my then-stepmother, in some wayward attempt to get me to “change your mind about this whole bisexual stuff,” asked me why and how I had come to this decision, and warned me that gay men were very promiscuous and that disease ran rampant in the queer community (never mind the fact that I was a virgin at the time, and not a gay man).

Those initial experiences with coming out were the first instances I can remember of feeling like I had to prove my sexuality to others, as if there was some quota or checklist that I had to match up to in order for my word to be accepted.

It was that year, at age 14, that I began my metamorphosis into a walking, talking, teenage bisexual caricature. I adopted a bevy of gay guy friends, participated in call-to-action movements like the day of silence, and became a mainstay at my local LGBT center. Finally, after a childhood of being the awkward outcast, I had found my people! Sure, I didn’t have a girlfriend and had never been kissed by a girl, but I wanted to, and that’s what mattered most, right? So in between getting emotionally burned by teenage lotharios, I developed girl crushes on the studs and baby butches around town, devoured every lesbian-themed book or movie I could track down, and got myself up to speed on the complete Ani DiFranco discography.

And then, love happened.

Senior year, I met Vera, my first and only girlfriend. We met the same way I met all of my queer friends back in those days, during teen night at my local LGBT center. A baby butch, Vera’s blonde hair was styled into a bowl cut, reminiscent of a late ’90s boy-band member, and while her oversized urban wear hung off her petite 5’0” frame like an old stretched-out sweater on a wire hanger, she was beautiful to me. From the moment her blue eyes met mine, I was smitten. It was puppy love at first sight.

Our teenage courtship consisted of a lot of extended phone calls during which we traded war stories of our shitty upbringings. I talked about my neglectful parents and real-life evil stepmother, while she shared with me her feelings about the molestation she endured at the hands of her dad, and her thoughts about the impending day when she would finally age out of the foster care system. Within a few weeks she finally mumbled, “Will you be my girlfriend?” into the phone receiver, and just like that, we were official.

It was great to finally have a real girlfriend and feel like one of the team, not just in spirit, but in practice as well. Compared to the treatment I was used to getting from boys my age, dating Vera was in some ways a crash course in being treated with care and kindness. Finally, I had someone to do all of the things I’d seen other teenage couples engaging in, and I don’t mean sex. Besides movie and food court dates downtown, simply strolling through the park while holding hands became one of my favorite past times. It was as if, finally, this thing called “love” was nice and simple, and not about me competing for some dude’s affections. While lying in Vera’s arms after school, I couldn’t have imagined I’d ever lose that feeling of safeness and desire.

By the end of summer, Vera and I had parted ways, and I headed off to college in San Francisco, while she made the perhaps not-wise decision of reconciling with her abusive father and moving closer to her hometown where he still lived. Away from home for the first time, the Bay Area provided me with an oasis away from my feelings for Vera, and after a self-imposed year-long vow of celibacy, I jumped head first back into the sex and dating game with Charlie, a Mexican man I met out at the club one night.

This relationship with Charlie surfaced an identity struggle that had been roiling inside me for some time. Over the years, I’d found myself ping-ponging between sexual identities, first calling myself bisexual, then a lesbian later on as my disdain for men grew, then bisexual again. Yet throughout this process, one thing held true: While I never had a problem declaring my love for women, I was always ashamed to say I also desired men. My attraction to them was my very own dirty secret, albeit a poorly kept one.

While my fling with Charlie didn’t last past a few months, I continued hooking up with and dating guys here and there. Shy, awkward, and struggling to fit into San Francisco’s queer community, I found re-entering the straight dating world much easier. Yet as I took to hooking up and dating guys almost exclusively, I held on to my teenage relationship as evidence that I didn’t like guys that much.

This wasn’t the life I envisioned for myself all those years ago, while cuddled up on my girlfriend’s bed. Admitting my desire for men made me feel like a traitor to the movement that accepted me and that I had grown to love. After nearly a decade of a queer identity, I suddenly didn’t know where I fit in.

After “coming out” again as straighter than I thought, it was my queer friends who convinced me there was nothing wrong with wanting to bump pelvises with the opposite sex. Pouting with my head layed on my friend’s shoulder, I confessed the obvious: “Hector, I think I like men.” Hector smiled slyly and teased, “Ooooh girl, me too!” As I would soon find out, my queer friends didn’t much care who I liked to lay down with, as much as they cared that other people didn’t get in the way of their path to love. After all that time, it was I who was getting in my own way. I was the one hung up on labels and expectations, and on who I was supposed to be with.

My queer friends didn’t much care who I liked to lay down with, as much as they cared that other people didn’t get in the way of their path to love.

These days, I don’t feel guilty or obligated to choose a side when my fantasies yo-yo between men and women. There was a time when I rolled my eyes at people who chose not to define their sexuality at all, but these days that’s the tip that I’m most on. I’ve let go of a lot of the anger I have against men, and date both men and women freely when I choose to. While it may be human nature to want to sum each other up by shared or different experiences, I’ve found that sometimes these definitions do more harm than good. It’s not just sexuality that is fluid; so is life. It moves us in different directions, and when things move or change for me, I don’t want to be worried about choosing the correct definition or label for that stage in my life.

My sexuality is for me to define, and doesn’t have to exist on anyone else’s timeline or paradigm — gay, straight, or whatever.

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