My mother always told me I would marry a decent man.
You know nothing of marriage! I would think, in a fiery wave of teen angst. Your marriage was a disaster!
It was. That’s true. But to be fair, my mother did know a thing or two about decent men. My father is the best man I’ve ever known.
So yes, I did have positive male role models. I get questioned pretty frequently, “What man hurt you? You must have daddy issues.”
A man hurt me, sure, but it wasn’t my father.
It’s interesting: ask anyone in the community what their moment was, and they can tell you about it exactly. It is a memory so prominent in their mind. The first time they knew.
For me, I was watching TV with my mom, and a particularly gorgeous actress made her way onto the screen.
“Who’s that?” I asked my mom discreetly (I am always hiding from her, you see).
She shrugged, her eyes on her phone, like always, “Her name’s Emily in the show.”
I spent the next hour or so scrolling through photos of Shay Mitchell, the actress who played Emily, on Google Images. Fuck, I thought, I think I might be gay.
It was a secret for a while. I existed exclusively within myself. I would sit on it and let life come at me, whatever it brought. There is a sad seclusion in secret-keeping.
Every time one is faced with pillow talk, it’s actually an open invitation to use your partner as a therapist. Well, that’s not true for everyone, but that’s certainly what I use it for. The subject of conversation is always my sexuality, to the great dismay of every man I’ve ever been with.
“You know I’m gay, right?” I always say, as we collapse in a sweaty heap.
They usually don’t reply.
The first girl I had sex with was named Emily. I told her – you know the reason I knew I was gay was because of Emily from Pretty Little Liars? She laughed. She thought it was a coincidence, I thought it was destiny.
I never told her she was my first woman. I never will. There is a fear in everything I do, that I am not good enough. Not gay enough. Your first woman at 20? You clearly aren’t very gay. Sex with six men and one woman? You aren’t very gay. Are you sure you’re gay? Maybe you’re just experimenting.
Sometimes I wish I were just experimenting. What a relief that would be. But I know, there is something inside of me that knows. I know when I pass a girl on the street, or when I sit next to one in class. I know when I see freckles on the bridge of her nose, or the pimples on her chin, or the curve in her back. The way she walks, the way she puts her hair up, the stroke of her handwriting. I could watch her for days; I would drop everything just to watch her exist.
“Are you sure it isn’t just because of what happened?” A man once asked me, during my usual pillow talk session. Sometimes it’s difficult to have a new therapist every time, but each one has different questions, and I like answering questions.
“Now that’s a good question,” I had replied.
Do I deserve to be here?
Isn’t that absurd? Why do I feel like I have to work my way in? I earned my spot when I kissed Emily goodbye one bitter morning before I hopped on the train, the warmth of her lips caressing the distant and fond remnants of the night before. Immediately after, I had to listen to a foul-smelling bearded man call me a “fucking dyke” until I could switch train cars at the next stop. Hot tears welled in my eyes and I hid behind my scarf, blinking fast, as this man screamed. And everyone stood and watched. Observing hatred; ignoring solidarity.
I earn my spot every time I hold my tongue when a relative asks me, “Do you have a boyfriend?” over Thanksgiving turkey.
Or when I overhear a group of men relenting over their failed conquests. Bro, she didn’t put out? She’s probably a dyke or something.
I earn my spot every time I introduce myself. Does this person believe I deserve to exist?
I earn my spot every time I agitate over the likely odds of losing a friend. I can’t tell her now, we’ve been friends for too long. She’ll feel betrayed, uncomfortable. She won’t speak to me anymore.
Every time I’ve lost a friend for those exact reasons.
I earn my spot every time I look into my father’s eyes, burdened with the secret I hold. My father doesn’t know who I am. My best friend doesn’t know me.
Are you sure it isn’t just because of what happened? My post-sex therapist might ask. And perhaps they’re right.
Maybe I crave a woman’s gentle touch because I have been scarred by the hands of a man.
The proof is in my nightmares.
It is in the way I flinch when his hand lands too hard. The way my mind begins to spiral into a kaleidoscopic, incomprehensible panic when his arms hold me down, even for a moment. There is a command in a man’s eye that reminds me of a captain at sea, and to him I am merely his vessel.
There is imminent betrayal in a man.
So maybe that’s why I share a bottle of wine with a more delicate hand, and why my bed is so small, and my door is always locked.
When he holds me, I remember. When she holds me, I forget.
But I hadn’t yet been defiled when I first saw Shay Mitchell on TV. So yes, I have to fight off my own mind every time I meet a man. But that isn’t why I love women.
I don’t think it is.
“I think maybe you should leave,” I cautiously whisper to my therapist.
“What?” He looks at me, “It’s two in the morning.”
“I don’t do sleepovers.”
And then I show him out. He never calls me again. I don’t want him to.
I spend my night longing for arms around me as I drift in and out of consciousness. I ache for company at night-time; I crave touch, and affection, and my notorious self-exposing therapy sessions.
But every time I’ve shared a bed with a man, I would lay awake, diseased with an insomnia that only a faulty mind can know. I would flash through the scenes I try to forget. If I managed to sleep, I would wake up screaming, thrashing. He would try to calm me down, but the feeling of a man’s hands on my skin would make it worse. A horrid tunnel vision, the focus on trauma, the rest is darkness. He would be scared, he would be confused, he would be angry. Sometimes he would leave right then. Either way, I am alone.
I was alone in high school when I had a crush on a girl named Hannah. She was gay.
She had embraced her sexuality much earlier than I had. I suspect it’s because her mother loved her, but that doesn’t matter now.
Everyone we knew told us we were perfect together. You should get together, you would be a great couple, you’re both so pretty.
Fear held me back.
Here’s Hannah: a certified gay. A girl who spent her lunch breaks talking about all the women she wants to fuck. A girl who would yell, “I’m gay!” whenever a man began to show interest in her. A girl who had done these things for years; who had grown and developed along a beautiful homosexual journey.
When I knew her, I was already tainted.
Why don’t you ask her out? My friends would pester me.
Because maybe I am only gay because of the trauma one man had caused me? Perhaps I am a fraud – an imposter. I’m not good enough. I hadn’t earned my place yet.
I don’t speak to Hannah anymore.
I was alone when I went on a date with a woman named Kelsey. She ordered us a specific kind of craft beer, her favourite kind. She told me about how she likes to lift weights at least twice a week; she flexed her biceps as she said it. She told me about her crazy ex-girlfriends. She ordered a cheeseburger.
I sipped the beer, although I was ambivalent about it. I don’t work out, I rebutted. I don’t have any ex-girlfriends. I ordered a side of fries.
I spent the night at her bachelor apartment. She had a glass of whiskey before she went to bed. I had an identity crisis.
Sometimes I think my mother might know, or at least suspect. Sometimes she texts me: Who is that girl in that photo you just posted? 🙂
Or she asks me why I don’t want kids. Or she tells me, “Don’t worry sweetie, one day you’ll find someone.”
Not a man.
Perhaps that’s just my paranoia, my fear of being known.
But it isn’t that, is it? There is nothing I want more than to be known. If everyone saw the words “little bit of a lesbo” floating over my head it would all be so much easier. It’s not a fear of what I am; it’s a fear of what others are. Are they the type of person who will scream slurs at me on the train? Judge me for a kiss when they reek of BO, and should maybe deal with themselves first? Or will they send me messages on social media, telling me I don’t exist? Perhaps they’ve cut out a very good friend – a friend that helped them study, and bought them a pizza on their bad day, and stayed in bed with them after their boyfriend broke their heart – just because sometimes she kisses girls.
If I told my mom, I wonder what she would say?
Are you sure it isn’t just because of what happened?
Last night was the first time I went clubbing in Toronto. It was free entry for women, which almost makes up for the hundreds of years of discrimination. I was thrilled and drunk on cheap wine.
I lost my friend in the first ten minutes. I couldn’t find her nor could I get a hold of her. I spent an hour inundated with impenetrable music and throbbing lights, my toes pinching in my heels. A man walked up to me and grabbed my arm, pulling me to the dance floor with him. I said no. I pulled away. He asked what was wrong. I told him, “I have PTSD, dude, so leave me alone.”
He said he has ADD, “so don’t worry, we can bond over it.”
I escaped eventually.
Another man walked up to me and told me he wanted to see me naked. I started to cry. He left. I was a trapped animal, eyes wide with fear, existing in a constant state of painful vulnerability.
The skin on my wrists began to burn from pulling against rough hands. My mind started stirring up flashbacks. The suffocating music hid the scream in my throat. I was crying a lot now.
A woman approached me then.
Her name was Laura, and she was gentle.
“Are you okay?”
I shook my head and sobbed. She told me she had a private booth and asked if I wanted to come sit down.
And then I was safe.
When I told her I was scared, she didn’t need to ask why. One of her friends, a man, walked into her booth. She asked him to leave. She knew.
When I was ten, I would sneak out of my room after everyone was asleep to play Nancy Drew: The Treasure of the Royal Tower on the computer. I’m not sure if it was related to Nancy or not, but eventually these gaming sessions evolved to perusing the Internet for pictures of hot girls.
I was young and boring, so this usually meant girls in bikinis on the covers of magazines. I would spend hours looking at images, and I never did finish that Nancy Drew game.
Being raised to value honesty over comfort, I eventually caved and confessed about my internet perusal to my mom. Looking back, it’s a hilarious image: my mother watching me sob and admit that I look at pictures of models when everyone else is asleep. I had used that word – models – and my mother said, “Girls or boys?”
That’s why sometimes I think she knows.
But she always told me I would marry a decent man.