Though I have been out as a lesbian for years and attracted to women all my life, my coming out process started later than most. I was always physically attracted to women, but it was not until my early 20s that I realized I had romantic feelings for them as well. This does not mean that I am bisexual or that I had a giant secret gnawing at me. It simply means that, like many others, I was steered straight.
This is a trend I’ve noticed in my own life and the lives of friends and acquaintances who continue to come out later in life, many times after marriage and children. As femmes, we tend to be pushed harder into the societal ideas of a straight life.
Of course, anyone on the LGBTQ spectrum can be steered toward the norm by many factors like religion, family, and culture. Also, there are many gold star femmes who have always known they were gay. However, I see this phenomenon happening much more to feminine lesbians than to others.
As feminine women, society immediately labels us as the type of women who should want to get married and have children. We are pushed into relationships and away from careers. We are told that our clock is ticking and family and friends fix us up with men. We are forced into a mold.
I dated my first three boyfriends because friends told me to and I did not want to seem “weird.” I got my first kiss surrounded by a crowd of 8th graders cheering on the young boy, and I lost my virginity with a boy because everyone else already had. As I look back now, those around me egged on my entire transition into intimacy.
If you are a more masculine woman, you may feel pressure in different ways but people seem to be more hands off about your life choices. As a femme, the moment you start to diverge from what is expected of you, it is immediately noticeable and pointed out.
In tenth grade, I specifically remember noticing that all my friends were getting hit on and I was not. They were getting asked for their numbers; they were flirting and attracting attention, and I had somehow missed the boat. My first thought was that I was unattractive and my second was that I needed to step up my game before people started to notice. I immediately became much more flirtatious, started devouring Cosmopolitan magazines, and got a boyfriend. Some of this was purposeful but some I did subconsciously. I knew I was different but had not quite figured out why, so all I could do was try to fit in.
Even though I had always been attracted to women, I was socialized to think this was normal for straight women. Women are sexualized everywhere you turn. You hear people say that two women kissing is a turn on and women are more naturally touchy-feely with each other. All of those urges I had seemed completely justified. I believed that everyone had them, and they were just something to push down and brush off, especially when I was being pushed in the other direction.
For so long, I just thought that I was a loner. Even in relationships, I would always feel off. It was not that I did not truly care about the men I was with; there was just always something missing, some level of connection and intimacy that I could not quite get to until I met my first girlfriend. When I met her, I had my aha moment and everything finally started to click.
For others, this comes once you are married or have children and your parents and friends stop pressuring you. Once you are able to breathe and stop racing against some biological clock, you are finally able to look around and realize that you are not happy and open yourself up to your true feelings.
These days, I am an open and out lesbian who is incredibly happy with life and madly in love, but that does not mean that originally being steered straight has not come without setbacks. For starters, feeling off in my prior relationships meant that I was not always the kindest girlfriend and people were inevitably hurt. But mostly, I still have to explain that I am not bisexual because I once dated men, that I am not “going back to men,” and that yes, there are some of us that do not “just know” we are gay from the moment we are born. I have explained these things over and over. If you can relate to this, do not second guess yourself or let these obstacles block your path; you do not owe anyone an explanation. Instead, just be confident that you are on the right track and keep pushing through to happiness.
No one fits into a mold, but there will always be people who pressure others to match stereotypes. We need to allow everyone the agency to take the path that feels right instead of the path we think they should follow. The sooner we stop making assumptions and start creating environments and conversations where we can achieve this, whether it be through media, politics, or even just our own language, the sooner we will begin to see a more diverse, fulfilled, and empowered LGBTQ community.