It’s time for another episode of Queer Abby where you ask your questions about all things LGBTAQIA+ and I attempt to provide some sort of perspective through the lens of love and with a smattering of cheesy dad jokes. Today’s question comes to us via the rabbit hole that is TikTok and has been slightly modified due to length.
How Do You Know If You're Gay?
Dear Queer Abby,
I’ve been isolated for 2 years and I just left a mentally emotionally abusive hetero relationship.I’ve been on TikTok a lot lately because I’m yearning for connections. I noticed right away my For You Page (FYP) is 85% lesbians over 30…. I’m not too familiar with the algorithms but it appears to be that what appeals to you most is what fills your FYP?
The more time I spend in the gay culture the more I fall in love with it and find myself wishing I was a part of it too. (Side note my stepdaughter is a lesbian, my own 2 daughters are bi, and my son is bi-curious). Sexuality, gender, and things of that sort have always been open and accepting topics in my home.
I keep hearing things like, "If you’re questioning then you definitely are NOT straight" and other “signs” that maybe I was just conditioned to be straight. In looking back at my life I can see plenty of patterns that maybe confirm this. I kissed a girl before a boy. At a young age, I was exploring sexuality with girls. Then when I lost my virginity at 14 with a boy, I didn’t really like it. It felt…. yucky.
Everything after that became me trying to create a family, and I thought that required a dad. Subsequently, I entered several abusive relationships mostly with older men-- now 5 kids and 2 divorces later.
Since my divorce, I began fantasizing about women. I began masturbating (which I had in my 35 years never been comfortable with) and only thinking about women and after I would orgasm felt completely empowered. It’s unlike anything I’ve experienced with a man….Now I’m really confused. Am I gay?
Click Your Heels Three Times and Think Gay Thoughts
Hey Beth, I consulted my Magic 8 ball and it says “All signs point to gay.”
But in all seriousness, the answer is not that easy or straightforward. Thank you for being so vulnerable and open in your sharing. It sounds like TikTok is helping you question and uncover some layers that societal conditioning may have slathered over you for decades. You are in good company. There are many people and groups out there on TikTok, Facebook, and Mighty Networks filled with women coming to this later-in-life conclusion that perhaps their sexual orientation hasn’t always been what they assumed it to be. There are a few reasons for this, some of which I covered in last week’s Queer Abby query of a similar nature— “Why Am I Suddenly a Lesbian?”
Looking Within Before Coming Out
As I was reading your message, the one thing that kept popping into my head is, “So what?” Now please take that with a grain of salt. When one of my therapists said it to me, as in “You’re gay. So what?” I initially felt defensive. I wanted to argue with her about how hard it is to come to that realization. How challenging it can be to share your new identity with others and risk potential rejection over and over again. “So what” felt like an oversimplification of everything I was working through.
“So what” is my rally cry now.
Me being gay is a big chunky ol' so-friggin-what. Why? Because I no longer feel shame or fear around it. There’s nothing to defend or argue about. I’m gay because I am gay. So what.
And so I pose that “So what” question to you because I feel like maybe you have your own layers to work through. You could just let yourself be gay or queer or bisexual or a lesbian or however you think you may identify (and the label is also kind of a So What at the end of the day).
What if you gave yourself permission to try on a queer identity for a bit and see how it feels?
If you make a mistake and find that perhaps you’re not as gay as maybe the Magic 8 ball says you were, so what? What would be the consequences of trying to connect with women, either through dating apps like HER, Bumble, or Taimi, or joining a “women loving women” (wlw) group through sites like MeetUp.com?
As you think about doing those things, see what sensations come up in your body or what emotions you start to feel. My guess is that they may not all be positive.
The T Word Before the L Word
My heart goes out to you for the relationship trauma you have been through in your life. Mental and emotional abuse can take a serious toll on our view of ourselves and what we bring into future relationships. To have the best possible positive experience when it comes to re-entering the dating world, it’s imperative that we set ourselves up for success. Doing so may mean cooling our jets (and keeping Netflix and toys as our companions) until we’ve done some more work on ourselves with therapy.
If you don’t already have a good therapist, I would recommend Googling to find ones that are LGBTQ+-affirming and will support you in your process of self-discovery. Thank goodness for technology and the wide availability of telehealth appointments with specialists located anywhere in the world. If therapy seems cost-prohibitive, I implore you to keep searching for therapists that work on a sliding scale or mental health programs that strive to make care more accessible. This is an investment in yourself that will pay dividends. Spending the money and doing the hard work now may save you years of future heartache… because wlw relationships have a different kind of feel.
Women have the propensity to bond VERY quickly in wlw relationships for a variety of reasons. You may find this to be especially true of your first real relationship with a woman, where the highs are so incredibly high, but the lows can leave you shattered. During my first relationship with a woman, I remember several times feeling this I was having an out-of-body experience as I would observe my feelings and behaviors towards her and think “who is this Jill… err, I mean… Abby!”
I was more sensitive to every message she sent. More anxious when she didn’t respond to me in a timely manner. More paranoid when she’d post a picture to her social media that maybe seemed to be directed at someone else. I ignored red flags. She would tell me she didn’t want a serious relationship, while my brain started wondering when we’d move in together and if she’d let me repaint her living room. We were not on the same page. I knew that. But it was my first wlw relationship and my once level-head and rational brain seemed to be on vacation in Maui.
Therapy. Therapy and meditation. Therapy and meditation and self-care. Toss journaling on that list too. Diving into my own exploration of my new sexual identification as a lesbian, I realized I needed to take a step back and work on myself if I wanted a healthy relationship ahead of me. And so I did. And doing so allowed me to find her… the one who lights my soul up like no other. The other women I dated helped me to confirm my attraction was indeed to women. This relationship showed me the depth to which I could love another person romantically. I am glad I took the time to do the work so that I could experience a love like this in my lifetime.
The Boogie Man I Never Saw Coming
One last point that struck me from your message was the fact that you have queer people in your life that you love and are close with. How do you feel about them being queer or questioning? If you have no problem with them identifying as LGBTQ+, why do you feel a potential reluctance or question around your own attraction?
For me, the answer was internalized homophobia.
I would never have admitted that a shred of homophobia existed within me at any point in my life. Growing up, I knew my mom was friends with a gay couple that she worked with. Later, in my own life, I met many other gay and lesbian folx and developed great friendships with them. But when it came to actually admitting I was gay, that was a big no-no for me for decades. They could be gay. I could not. They could live their lives. That was not the life for me.
I realized at the root of this that I was same-sex couples as something different than straight couples. My subconscious had ranked relationship types and, through picking up on societal cues, same-sex relationships were less optimal than being in a hetero relationship.
Internalized homophobia is not an uncommon thing. I remember listening to the podcast We Can Do Hard Things with Glennon Doyle and Abby Wambach and hearing Abby discuss her own feelings of internalized homophobia. That was a huge wake-up call for me as I viewed Abby as the pinnacle of lesbian badassery. If Abby, this superhuman and super lesbian, could have internalized these feelings then we could ALL have internalized homophobia to work through.
Overcoming my own internalized homophobia is a big reason why I blog. Blogging forces me to research and contemplate. I joke with my friends that I’m halfway to getting my Ph.D. in Gay because so much of my life is now wrapped up in studying queer history, building stronger allyship, and supporting others in their coming out process. Blogging has made me think through why phrases like “What you do behind closed doors” and “homosexual lifestyle” are so triggering to me now, but weren’t when I was hetero-passing. It forces me to be introspective and identify the artificial boundaries I built up in my life to protect me from letting my queerness out.
Getting brave questions from people like you forces me to re-examine what it means to be queer and why everyone’s journey can be so vastly different.
The more I study, the prouder I get of our community. I am proud to be a lesbian now. I am proud to let people know that’s how I identify. Because I know how hard it was for me to get here and how much people sacrificed in the decades and centuries prior so that the road could be a bit easier for me.
So, Will We See You at Pride?
Beth, I am sending you the biggest hug of encouragement. YOU get to choose your own adventure, whether as an LGBTQ+ member or an ally. And if you find that the road you’re traveling down doesn’t feel right, YOU get to course correct and go a new way. This is your time to decide what YOU want out of life and no longer live according to what you think you’re supposed to be doing.
Final recommendations in a nutshell:
- Seek the guidance of a therapist.
- Read (or audiobook) and take time to care for yourself. I love books like Untamed, How to Do the Work, and What Happened to You as starting points.
- Check out podcasts like Lesbian Chronicles, Coming Out Late, and We Can Do Hard Things.
- Start to build your community and put yourself out there a bit more. Seek friends and allies. Coming out is a scary process, whether you dip a toe in slowly or cannonball into the Sapphic pool. Having people in person or virtually that can be there to cheer you on is so valuable. Below are three places to start if you’re on Facebook
Reach out and let us know how you’re doing. The Storyteller Soul community is cheering you on, regardless of how you choose to proceed. Nobody knows you better than you!
Hey reader! Have you experienced the same? Share your thoughts with Beth in the comments below.