My Coming Out Journey: From Straight Butch to Gay Femme

I’ve been told that I was gay since I was young. Not in a nice “honey, let’s have a talk” kind of way, but more in a “You look like a dude,” “You act like a boy,” “You’re butch,” “Why don’t you act like a girl… dress like a girl… talk like a lady…?” kind of way. It wasn’t just a handful of bullies on the playground; it was a pervasive message from toddlerhood until 30+ years old -- from kids, friends, teachers, family, and strangers.

From middle school through college, there were rumors spread about my sexuality. And, most of the boys that I had a crush on, or eventually dated, were surprised to learn that I was interested in them because they thought I was gay. When I was a little girl, I was even told by another kid that I was born a boy, but they changed my gender at the hospital… Well, I did remember my mom saying that she thought she was pregnant with a boy – so, maybe it was true?!

To say gender identity and sexuality have been confusing would be an understatement.

Not looking or acting “girly” has always meant that the first line of insults was something about me being a dyke, and even playful teasing was about me being boyish. So, I began trying to look and act more feminine in my teens, so I could be more attractive to boys. Because being a tomboy was not working.

The message I’ve received for as long as I can remember is that it’s not okay to look or act like a boy. But, wearing clothes from the Juniors section felt like playing dress up. I felt awkward and uncomfortable, and inauthentic. I hated every second of it until I discovered that t-shirts, jeans, and flip-flops were acceptable, so that became my uniform. It still kind of is, actually.

While attempting to drop the tomboy persona, I hid the parts of myself that would be stereotyped as "butch," like being an Army Drill Sgt who liked to fix cars. They were things that I did not talk about with anyone other than close friends. But, even when trying to be more like a girl, I still was told to smile more, walk with more sway in my hips, carry a purse, wear tighter clothing, show more skin, and get flattering bras to create the illusion of cleavage...

So, when I met my ex-husband at age 26 and quickly fell in love, I was so relieved. Yay! I’m not broken, or gay, and a cute guy thinks I’m attractive, so this must be "the one!" I was ready to settle down, have babies, and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that we had different ideas of what that would look like, so after a painful, drawn out ending, I was back to where I started.

At 30 years old, I had only loved one person, and that freaking HURT, so I was reluctant to try again. If that’s what love feels like, no thanks. I’ll spend the rest my days as a single cougar raising adopted children.

It was because of my “f*ck it, I’m done with love” attitude that I was finally free to just to be me. As soon as I stopped caring what anyone else thought it was like a burden had been lifted off of my shoulders! During two years of this, I had my first sexual experience with a woman, and it was not even remotely weird -- which scared me. Crap! They might have been right. Then, in contrast, when I tried dating men again I realized that I would usually rather be home with my dogs reading a good book or binge watching Netflix.

Around this time I also discovered that the sex scenes between the two female lead characters in Orange Is The New Black were WAY HOTTER than any hetero sex scenes I’d seen... That was another, "oh crap" moment.

I realized that I had spent so long defending myself against the insults of being gay that it never occurred to pause and check to see if I actually was!

My assumption was that 'gay' means that you like girls, and since I liked boys I must be straight. End of story. And, since being gay was obviously a bad thing, I was completely fine with that conclusion.

But, then I met Julia. By then I knew I could be attracted to women, but it was something that I had planned on keeping secret – while I casually dated, and raised my adopted babies. Plus, “girl crushes” are totally acceptable now so it's cool. No need to make a big deal about it.

However, after the first month of quietly spending almost every day and night with her I realized that this was not something that I could hide, and doing so would not be fair to her. So, I started to tell my closest friends and family, and eventually the internet. The responses were all across the board. Managing each person’s individual reaction, answering incredibly personal questions, defending my relationship as something that wasn’t just a phase, and attempting to graciously take in the influx of unsolicited advice was exhausting.

I wanted to crawl in a hole with her and make the world go away. Coming out (of the closet, and even out of the house most days) in a world where everyone has an opinion about something so deeply personal was incredibly scary. Especially since it was all something that I was still figuring out for myself.

Being an independent 32-year-old with a small family, supportive friends, and living in a liberal city like Austin, made it MUCH easier than most people have it. However, nothing about it was easy, and it continues to be a challenge.

In the beginning, I was uncomfortable holding her hand in public. I can feel eyes on us as we walk down the street. Some are just surprised or nosey while others disapproving, but the worst are the creeps who stare like we are prey. I have never been one who feels comfortable putting my body or my sexuality on display, so to all of the sudden be the subject of a cliché sexual fantasy made me feel disgusting at first. Luckily, I'm learning to ignore it all.

There have been many social boundaries that have disappeared now that I am with a woman. People ask about my sex life, in a way they never did when I was with a man, and the most common topic is whether I miss the penis (nope!)… I understand that some is just curiosity, and I’m happy to talk to someone who is genuinely trying to understand. I remember having similar questions. However, at times it becomes something much more inappropriate, offensive and intrusive.

Within the first weeks of being together in public, a man was standing in front of us in line at a concert who turned around to tell us all about what he likes to do in bed and invited us to come home with him. We politely declined, and were way nicer about it than we probably should have been. We recently had another guy follow us down the street loudly asking about our “pussies” in the most vulgar of terms. It took all of my strength to keep walking and ignore him.

Catcalling and inappropriate comments were bad when I was straight, but it is truly shocking how disgusting people can be when it involves two women. And, it can sometimes be downright scary.

I’ll never forget when we got into a small elevator with two men. It was after a date and we were dressed up and having a good time. Julia grabbed my hand and leaned on my shoulder and talked about how excited she was about getting married. I watched the men who had turned to face us and ignored Julia. I remained on high alert until we got off the elevator. My anger and anxiety flooded out of me when we got away from the building. I yelled at her to be more aware of her surroundings and not be affectionate with me in public and that I didn’t want to put our relationship on display… and I remember saying "this (being gay) is not my cause!” Just because I’m with a woman doesn’t mean that I want to fly a rainbow flag and fight for equality!

I already had causes that I felt passionate about and didn’t want to add one more. After all, I was barely even gay.

I look back at that night so embarrassed by how naïve and stupid I was to get mad at her for being affectionate. I love that she doesn't pay attention to people who are being creeps or let it bother her as much as I do. After two years of seeing and feeling what it’s like to be a part of the gay community, this IS now my cause. It can't not be when I see all of the bullshit that we deal with on a daily basis. I am proud to hold her hand and show affection, and if it makes someone else uncomfortable that is for them to sort out and has nothing to do with me.

Being with her is the best thing I’ve ever done with my life. And, to think that I was almost too afraid because of what others would say or think makes me sad. It breaks my heart to know how many young people feel scared and ashamed of who they are because of all the hate that they are constantly exposed to.

People ask me about how I knew or when I “converted” and "turned gay" – the answer is when I fell in love with a woman. For me, it was really that simple. The reality is that this has always been who I am, but I was just too distracted listening to all of the confusing messages about what a girl was supposed to be to know any better.

As Julia reminds me, "everyone is straight until they're not." The cultural assumption is that everyone is heterosexual. When someone says otherwise, the assumption is that it is a phase, or experimenting, or a cry for attention.

Coming out is not about attention, it is about speaking up over all of the noise that says you're supposed to be something other than what you truly are. It is choosing to no longer go along with the identity that was assigned without consent and living life freely without shame or hiding.

Every Facebook post about someone coming out has comments like, “They just want attention,” “I didn’t come out as straight, why do they need to come out as gay/bi/trans?” "They're going to hell," and a long list of vile, condemning comments.

The truth is that it is really freakin' tough to be your authentic self in a world that does not treat people very kindly. Many don't ever get the chance because of the stifling condemnation that surrounds them. I am grateful to live in a time and place where I have the luxury of ignoring others' opinions without dire consequences. I have never felt freer to just be me, and can't imagine ever going back. It's something that I wish everyone in the world could experience.

The older I get, the more I realize how short our time is on this earth. We all deserve to spend it in a way that gives us the best chance at being happy. I never understood how important that was until I met Julia. My priorities have drastically changed, and I don’t want to waste another second worrying about what anyone else thinks or concern myself with what anybody else is doing in their personal lives.

Love yourself, love each other, and be who you are. It really can be that simple.

Happy National Coming Out Day.