When you go your whole life thinking one thing about yourself, just to turn around one day and realize you were completely wrong… That feeling of uneasiness is hard to settle. Why do we think the way we do? Why do we act the way we do? Is it conditioning? Is it peer pressure, tradition, rebellion? What motivates us to get up every morning and exist in the way that we currently do? Where did our thoughts, our values, our ideas about ourselves and who we are and what the world is like…where did all that come from? Nothing is truly 100% our own. Every single person influences everyone else in every interaction they ever have with anyone. There is no possible way to not influence the people and things around you. But when we don’t take time to stop and examine the reasons behind our own thoughts and actions, to see the where and why and who and how and what and when of it all, we are doing ourselves a great disservice, as we are disabling our own abilities to genuinely define for ourselves who we are.
Identity is something that some people like to take pride in and others like to sort of just push under the rug. Perspectives on how greatly something should impact your identity and sense of self-worth is controversial. Everybody thinks different aspects of themselves are most important. Some people think focusing on none of them is what’s best. No labels. Doesn’t matter. We are who we are. Neither approach is necessarily wrong. But when we focus too closely on just one aspect, or span out to view everything too generally, we are missing important portions of the core pieces that make up who we are. We are branding ourselves into someone else’s labels, and not allowing ourselves to breech the surface of our true identities.
I recently discovered quite a lot about myself. And it was tough. Shedding all these layers of myself that I thought were real. These layers I took pride in, because I felt comfortable within them. I felt confident because I felt safe. I was able to speak up about it because I thought speaking up was most important. It didn’t occur to me that pushing yourself into the utmost outer rim of existence and identity wasn’t just a form of including others, but it was also a form of excluding myself. I wanted so badly to be accepted that I decided to be more accepting and open to all. I decided to embrace more things, create an identity that was filled with diversity. I didn’t want to fit into a stereotype. I wanted to give love and a voice to all of those who needed it. I thought I was expanding myself, but instead I was expanding my identity to include things that weren’t truly part of who I was. I was disregarding myself so evidently that I was becoming more of a blur across the face of diversity, opposed to a unique and clear face amongst the diverse crowd. By trying to accept, promote, and instill diversity within myself, I was stripping away the pieces of myself that were real. My authentic self. Casting it into the shadows. Throwing it into the trash as I escaped into bigger and greener pastures. For me, becoming part of everything was more important than what I was becoming a part of.
Now I didn’t understand this til recently, but my childhood deeply influenced the way I learned to think about myself. My father was always somewhat distant or angry. I never felt loved or accepted by him and it caused me great pain. My heart and soul ached for that connection that I seemed not allowed to obtain. And so I went searching for it elsewhere. I became obsessed with finding a boy to love me. From as early as I can remember, at least kindergarten and on, I felt a great need to have somebody love me. I wanted to find a boy who would give me that love I was craving, that love I was aching for. I began, at quite a young age, to do different sexual acts with boys to try and influence them into loving me. Of course, all attention I got was superficial, and I never felt completely fulfilled. But I kept trying.
By the time 7th grade rolled around and I consciously realized I was into girls, I thought I must be bisexual. It was almost default that I liked boys. Of course I did. That’s what girls did, they liked boys. And I had such a pull towards them because I was searching for this love that was absent in me that I continued to think, long after I realized my attraction to the same sex, that I was also very into boys as well. I found the label bisexual, and I felt somewhat at home. I wore that label like a badge of honor. Not realizing that my first true crush was on a girl. It wasn’t anything like the way I pined after boys. It wasn’t an obsession. It was just this giddy, warm feeling. She would sit on my lap, and I’d watch her laugh. She was so beautiful. I never felt that way with boys. It wasn’t like that at all. I liked them because I understood them. I felt comfortable around them. We thought the same way. I wasn’t nervous getting naked around boys, who cared, look at my body, it’s just a body, whatever. But when it came to girls… Damn, I was shy as shit. I felt suddenly so self conscious.
As I grew the confusion continued. My ears picked up on all the subtle comments and cues my parents laid out in front of me, and that shaped the way I thought about things. When my mother found out I was bisexual and always whispered the word bi when discussing it with me, I learned that it was something strange. When my father made comments about all women in the town being hippies or lesbians, I felt deeply the negative connotation in his words. When I changed my public profile picture on my MySpace page to a picture of me making out with another girl and my mum told me I didn’t want to represent myself that way… I felt deeply the judgment she had in who I was and what I was doing. All of these things shaped my view of myself and the world. All of these things shaped my identity.
A portion of me continued to do things just to rebel, and a portion of me did things just to fit in. No one part of me ever felt truly whole, because none of it was my genuine self. I hadn’t found myself yet. I hadn’t come into a deep understanding of myself yet. I had more to learn. I had farther to grow. More life experience was waiting for me. So I continued forward, thinking I knew everything and at the same time feeling as if I knew nothing. I remember a girlfriend of mine making a snarky comment towards me one night saying I only liked boys because they could give me babies. Though I had wanted children since my younger sister’s birth when I was 3, I still felt quite offended by her words. I thought she was just being judgmental and she didn’t get me at all. I kept telling myself she didn’t understand how I felt. I had such a strong pull towards the opposite sex. That couldn’t be wrong.
But as I grew I discovered and rediscovered bits and pieces of myself. I realized that a big portion of the pull I felt was hormones. My body literally pushing me to have children, as I had always wanted them. I never felt right dating boys, though I always did it anyway. I hated public affection. I felt weird holding hands. I tried to be with them the way my friends were with their boyfriends, but it just… it didn’t feel right. The times I had girlfriends I felt very happy. For the most part. I felt like I was more myself. It was more natural. And more exciting. It wasn’t me trying to force myself into it. It was real. Of course, back in high school I was somewhat of an experiment for other girls. They tested themselves with me. I was their first girlfriend. The ones I still know of are all gay. So, I guess that says something about the power of first experiences. Yet, I ended up with 2 children and married to a man.
I attempted multiple times to break up with my first child’s father because I wanted to date women. But I was so broken and young and confused and overwhelmed by parenthood that I just kept rushing back to him, even though he was abusive. At this point I still hadn’t really bonded with my father, but things were getting there. With my second child’s dad, at that point, I felt like I just didn’t want to lose anybody else. I felt like life was too much for me. I needed him. I couldn’t raise a second child alone. So I clung to that feeling of needing him. I spoke with him multiple times about wanting to date women. And he was completely open to the idea. When we finally decided to try polyamory, and I branched out to dating more than just him… I didn’t find a girlfriend. I grabbed tightly to a male friend of mine who I felt comfortable with. Both of these men I loved dearly. But a romantic relationship was never what I truly wanted from either of them.
Identifying Wants + Needs
The biggest problem my entire life has been my inability to identify what it is I’m wanting or needing from somebody, and then my inability to tell them exactly what it is once I’ve figured it out. I spent my childhood, teenage years, and most of my young adult life trying to use sex as an ice breaker and a form of forming connections and enabling further bonding. I was never equipped with the skills to tell someone I cared deeply for them, but platonically. I was never taught what that looked like. What you do together. How you keep that going. So I always tended towards flirtation and sexual activities, as those things seemed to keep people around…at least for a while. Of course, forming romantic and sexual connections with people just made it harder for me to break those types of connections off when I realized it wasn’t what I wanted and decided to move on. How do you form friendships? Lasting, trusting, and loving friendships…without sex? That’s the real question.
Sex + Romance
It then became apparent to me that no matter how open I was or how easy it was for me to bond with people sexually…my sexual actions didn’t reflect my romantic inclinations. Just because I could sleep with anyone I formed a deep bond with, didn’t mean I would want to date all of those people. Besides the very true, and often unspoken, fact that sex and love do NOT have to co-exist. And that casual sex is completely appropriate and healthy. Sex and romance are also two distinct things. You can have sex with everyone in sight and enjoy it, but only want to be romantically involved with one person. In the same light – you can be sexually drawn towards multiple genders, and yet only be romantically drawn towards one of them. It’s a strange concept, really. As I know I was born with the inclination to love women romantically. Yet…I do believe my sexual inclinations have been somewhat determined by my initial search for love as a child.
Freedom of Self-Realization
It’s been very freeing, however, in my current state of mind, with the knowledge that I have a loving and supportive and accepting father, to be able to drop that search for male comfort, and focus solely on what I truly have wanted all these years — a female companion. Through all the micro-brainwashing of my grandmother’s comments about how she thought gay’s shouldn’t have the right to marry, and my great grandmother’s comments about how gay people are too flashy and disrespectful and how she was happy I wasn’t a lesbian….through all of that I have continued to love, adore, be attracted to, and fall for women. Though it has been somewhat dormant in me, I have never completely lost it. Never completely lost who I was. And I am beyond relieved. Though my next steps forward are rough – as I try to navigate how to bring my sexuality to the forefront of my identity without pushing aside my identity as a mother – I am excited and thankful for this realization, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.