I’m coming out, I want the world to know, got to let it show…
Trigger warning: references to sexual abuse, questioning sexuality, and a lifelong obsession with Fatima Whitbread. Also warning that this is a looooong post. Everyone’s story is different and every life, every single story, is valid. This is just mine.
I’ve always been very open about being bi, and then pansexual once that label was made available (showing my age there, when I was at school you could only be straight, gay or bi and even being bi was considered “new”).
It never felt right to say I was “straight”, so I never did. I remember telling my mum as a teenager, possibly even a child, that I was bisexual. She told me I was too young to really know.
Fatima Whitbread and other strong female athletes were my childhood crushes, essentially any women with big muscles who could show off feats of strength. I mentioned it to a couple of people who said it was weird, they didn’t feel the same. So I just went for the safe option, traditional Brad Pitt/Hollywood Brat Pack crushes…with a particular focus on any of them with long hair 🤔
I became obsessed with Kylie… more because I wanted to be like her than I fancied her, and I always felt particularly in tune with her affiliation with gay culture. Dolly Parton has also been a lifelong idol. What these two women have in common is a dedication to sharing joy and happiness and radiating an acceptance of others that I have attempted to emulate my entire life.
Accepting people and being empathetic for who they are, and trying to see the real person beyond their outward experience, beyond the words they use, beyond the mask they wear in public, has, and always will be, one of the most important parts of who I am (they say to treat others as you wish to be treated yourself…)
I thought safe sex was sex without feelings…
I had a complicated and difficult introduction to sex, a 4-year relationship with a man 8 years older than me, beginning when I was 14. Sex was not an enjoyable expression of love, it was something far darker, and it reeked of obligation and control. But, because I consented, I spent 30 years trying to put an empowered spin on it, pushing down any feelings of being a victim or even asking whether it was abuse in the first place. It was my choice, my “fault”, so it couldn’t be anything other than sex, which is normal, safe, and healthy, right?
I managed to disentangle myself from that relationship and a few relatively straightforward relationships with men followed. I quickly realised that I had a physical issue with sex, pain and soreness was the norm, and at worst, bouts of agonising cystitis after every sexual encounter. Not to mention being unable to make love in the truest sense of the word, instead preferring to keep things distant, detached and often using what I’d seen in porn as a measure of the success of sex. Keeping feelings out of it made it safer somehow.
An open relationship experiment
While living in Ibiza, and in an open relationship experiment with my long-term boyfriend, I had a short fling with a femme woman, and snogged a couple of others. The femme thing wasn’t doing it for me, but it wasn’t not doing it for me either. A couple of years later I had my first son, and then my second.
After 13 years together, me and the kid’s dad broke up in what should have been the biggest heartbreak of my life. But the thing that actually broke me about the situation wasn’t what should have. And I came out the other side happier, healthier, stronger, and more determined than I ever believed I could be, but seemingly unable to make a straight relationship work.
I always told my kids “One day I’ll find the right man (or woman) to settle down with”, “one day I’ll get married, and my husband (or wife) will be xyz”. Adding the bracketed “or woman” to the end of everything felt intensely important and I never skipped including it.
It never felt like a big deal or question mark that I might one day end up with a woman, that possibility was just part of who I am, and my kids accepted it as the norm. (And I have always been the same way with them too, reminding them that the only obligation they have is to be themselves, whatever that looks or feels like to them).
There followed 11 years of dating exclusively men, none of which felt quite right, there was always something missing, something that didn’t quite fit. The pattern went: meet a guy, declare to myself and the world that he was the one, before questioning him, his motives and increasing my list of demands, while I slowly slid into an abyss of depression (all the while wanting to die at the agony and pain I felt each time we had sex). This happened several times.
My list of criteria for the perfect man grew each year, but beyond the early days, each relationship left me feeling trapped, obligated, and stressed. Caged even. I so desperately wanted to find the right step dad for my kids, for them to see me happy in a relationship, and not feel the weighty burden of being “my whole world”. But I just kept failing my boys. I couldn’t imagine ever living with a man again (“I’d like to get married but live with a man? No way”), and just couldn’t see a world where a forever relationship with a man could ever work.
Dating was boring, stressful and something I “had” to do… “I suppose I better go back on the apps”, eye roll, listless scrolling… Inbox jammed with millions of men trying to snag a date. A couple of them got one, but each date was approached with the same “urgh if I HAVE to vibe”. There was no excitement, no joy. Just obligation.
Weirdly, looking back now just a few short weeks later, I don’t understand why I never considered actually dating women until now. It was always just something I’d probably do in some undetermined future. And the future is right now.
Yes, it’s allowed.
After yet another dull date with a perfectly nice man, while having dinner at the pub, I told my kids in a semi joking manner that it might be time to start dating women. “The only problem,” I said, “is I’m not attracted to feminine women. So, I’m clearly not actually into women.”
“Maybe you only like butch women Mum,” Son One said, utterly matter of factly and with a mouthful of all day breakfast.
“Hang on, is that allowed? Am I allowed to say that? Isn’t that discrimination?” I asked, forever the beacon of inclusivity, not offending anyone by excluding them from my attraction being basically the whole premise of my own sexuality up until this point.
“Yes of course!” he said, Son Two nodding along while tucking into his dinner. Ding, ding, ding, someone get that child a fucking Nobel peace prize because it’s like he just solved the world in one fell swoop. Their generation is just awesome.
I always knew I liked women. And I definitely knew I like butch and masculine women and nonbinary people with a masculine vibe (sorry but if you haven’t yet experienced Che from And Just Like That then I invite you to dip your toe in and then come back to me with your notes).
This was plainly evident thanks to my attraction to Fatima Whitbread, the fact I’d get flustered around the short haired polo and shorts wearing mums on the school run, any woman in a flannel shirt giving me the minky flutters and loudly declaring my admiration for that slightly scary butch woman from the Women in Prison documentary circa 2001 (the subject of many a fantasy who has now become something of a legend in my mind, did I dream her up or does anyone else remember her?) to my then boyfriend and anyone who would listen…
But I honestly thought I had to be into ALL women before I could graduate to um, actually being into women.
Allllll the women
I barely slept that night with this new revelation and a world of possibilities opening up around me. By 9am the following morning I had an account on OkCupid, and by 930am Bumble. And boy (girl) was it electric. Swiping took on a whole new meaning, each profile was full of possibilities, rather than the resigned “dead inside” feeling I used to get when swiping men.
Feminine women got a swift left swipe, but any with short hair, muscles, wearing a suit or just emanating that masculine or butch vibe got a much closer look, along with heart pounding excitement and a brief daydream into kissing, what they might look like waiting for me at the end of the aisle wearing a suit, and yes of course, sex.
What is wrong with me?
But previously having been used to my inbox being flooded with men, messages, likes, and matches within 5 minutes of signing up to any dating site, I was getting disheartened when by lunchtime I had yet to receive a single message, despite matching with at least 20 women. What was wrong with me? Are women immune to my charms? It was always so easy to attract men…
Annoyingly I had a “leftover from a previous life” date booked with a man that afternoon at 2pm, and, ever the trooper and not one to let anyone down, I showed up and rallied, doing my best to be polite and feign interest in his story of his “crazy ex wife” (who actually sounded pretty hot to me). I couldn’t wait to get home and swipe some more.
That evening I had some time to kill, so I broke a rule of a lifetime and joined Tinder.
Holy mother of millions and millions of hot women… I swiped like mad. I went to bed that night excited but scared, still no messages. Maybe I was just meant to be alone. Get myself a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Fatima Whitbread to role play with and acquire a few more cats…
Well like the proverbial buses, the following morning my phone started pinging, and pinging and pinging. I was suddenly messaging with about five women.
I quickly realised how utterly clueless I was, and how different dating women is from dating men. I instantly felt way out of my depth and desperately didn’t want to offend anyone by saying the wrong thing.
Luckily, I am an expert level Googler and researched the crap out of lesbian and gay culture, any terminology I was unsure of and effectively felt like I got the go ahead from our lord and saviour Google to just launch myself into it and be brave enough to ask questions.
My mind being blown with every passing moment, I felt giddy with excitement and never more myself.
The “lesbian look”
I arranged a date with a very sweet butch lady for the following afternoon. We texted furiously all-day and had a video call on the morning of the date, just to make sure we were both who we said we were.
At the very start of the call, she gave me the “lesbian look”. This is a very specific but unexplainable facial expression that is often displayed by butch women (apparently). Familiar to me but unfamiliar, once I read about this, I realised that I had been on the receiving end of it more than once in my lifetime and it had always made me feel butterflies.
The swagger, the confidence of butch women, is all very attractive to me and makes me feel feelings that I have never experienced for a man…
Anyway, we met up that afternoon, me joyfully expressing my femme side in a cute little dress, and her appreciation of me was palpable, those butterflies were present from the minute we met. She was 5 foot 9 of butch hotness, the jeans, the perfectly pressed shirt, the impeccable grooming, the mesmerising fragrance… aftershave? Perfume? One of those unisex ones? Whatever it was, it made me feel heady.
Kissing in colour
The date went well, and when she kissed me, it was like breathing oxygen for the first time. When we broke the kiss, my mind was spinning, my heart was pumping, what the actual FUCK just happened? I tried to breathe deeply but all I could see was the world looking and feeling different.
Kissing her was like kissing in colour after a lifetime of kissing in black and white. I realise now why the Pride symbol is a rainbow…
Buckle up girl…
One thing I learned very quickly about dating women is that WLW relationships (that’s women loving women for those who don’t know, I didn’t until a couple of weeks ago so don’t worry if you’re not down with the lingo), go at lightning speed.
There are countless jokes about this, u-hauling as it’s known (two women will have a removal van booked to move in by the second date).
Always one to science the fun out of everything, I can tell you that there is in fact a scientific reason for lesbian relationships moving so quickly. Women produce more oxytocin (the love/bonding hormone) than men. Two women = double the oxytocin, and it’s like putting a relationship in the microwave, setting it to high and breathing the fumes.
Now I’m aware of this physical response, I’m prepared for it and enjoy the crazy sensations. But in the beginning, I didn’t know what the fuck was happening, and I genuinely felt like I was on drugs for a few days (it has been coined the “cocaine effect”).
It also means that while WLW relationships can go hot and heavy quickly (which can be confusing and a bit disconcerting to those around you who are used to you being all “love is a social construct 🙄”, “LIVE with someone, um no”, and “let’s all stick to the relationship rules please”), they can also burn out just as fast. Despite being clear on my need to take things slowly and have the experience of dating lots of women, my first date lady became possessive very quickly and I could sense that a full-on relationship was on the cards if I didn’t extricate myself fast. And while she was lovely, she wasn’t my person.
Furious late-night texting and levels of drama that I haven’t experienced since I was a teenager followed, but with some work and understanding, I managed to end it amicably. And I’ve had a couple of other similar experiences with other women since, all enjoyable, all fantastic women.
We’re a big ball of crazy and it turns out I like it
It’s true what straight men think, women are utterly mental (but fuck off, men ARE NOT allowed to say that out loud).
We have crazy hormones and weird ideas, we change our minds with the wind, we have busy brains and even busier lives, we love hard and want to be loved even harder, we are creative and life giving, and we are basically the entire universe in one body.
But while I have been a lifetime hater of drama, I love women and the big balls of crazy that they/we are.
I love the fact that mostly we all feel empowered to bring our crazy to the table instantly, there is no hiding behind anything. We are ourselves and own our stories of who we are. We take responsibility for our pasts and mistakes we’ve made. We bust out the romantic, passionate things that are in our hearts and want to hear ourselves without feeling self-conscious or waiting for a socially accepted length of time to pass. And being able to talk openly about periods and childbirth while simultaneously flirting is an absolute revelation. Women are simply fucking amazing.
Honestly, I hadn’t expected dating women to have quite such a deep effect on me. It just seemed like it would be the most normal thing in the world, and it is mostly. As I said, I have never felt more me, and nothing has ever felt more right.
But something else happened to make me realise how much of a big deal this really is to me, and question why that might be.
Once you read it you can’t unread it
In amongst all of this, I discovered something called the Masterdoc. This document, which I gather was initially shared by someone on Tumblr several years ago, has apparently become the definitive “am I a lesbian” text. Wanting to know more about everything (as is my way) I consumed it hungrily, and then felt utterly disturbed when I realised that I aligned with every single word.
The document explains the concept of Compulsory Heterosexuality (which is exactly what it sounds like), along with a list of what you might feel if you have been affected by it. Most distressing for me, it suggests that Compulsory Heterosexuality might lead to women being involved in sexually abusive relationships. I felt broken, sad, confused, and questioning all my life choices.
You see, me liking women and being into women isn’t a shock to me and is not and has never been in question. I’ve always known I liked women. And being with a woman feels like the most natural thing in the world to me.
I just always thought I liked everybody.
But what has thrown my entire world into a spin is the realisation that I may never have been into men at all. And not only that, but I might have actively punished teenage me for being gay by getting involved in a sexually abusive relationship that has had far reaching emotional and physical consequences.
This realisation, and this question, comes with a whole host of grief, confusion, pain, and heartache that is very difficult to understand if you’re not going through it yourself. I simply can’t put it into words. Sexual abuse isn’t something that people like to talk about or think about, I know I didn’t.
And I realise now that coming out and our sexuality is a journey that goes right to the very core of who we are, it is deeply personal. Every single person is different, and every single story is valid. Including mine.
Why couldn’t I have done it for me?
Everyone being different is not a new concept for me and I have always pushed people to be themselves. It’s just that maybe I’ve never actually done it for myself.
Wondering whether I have actually been disregarding such an important part of who I am, has absolutely devastated me. For someone who has always been an ally, and an advocate and a vocal supporter of people showing their true selves (everybody’s cheerleader), the fact that I might have felt unable to do it for myself breaks my heart.
I’ve never ever allowed myself to feel sorry for myself, not once, not with any bad thing that has ever happened to me. But I just can’t shake the sadness around this.
Not to mention the potential years of happiness lost, the guilt of hearts broken and time wasted of men I tried to make relationships work with and realising that I am not the only person that is going through this right now, has gone through it, and will go through it in the future. This is all so very, very sad to me.
To be questioning one’s sexuality at 45 is brutal, when you think you have everything figured out. And it’s not like I’ve been short on doing the self work, counselling, soul searching.
One silver lining is feeling lucky that it is happening now rather than a single day later (my counsellor said that it’s common for women not to discover their true sexuality until their 70s, this made me cry for some time).
So yeah, I’m now working with a counsellor. Through this work I may well discover that I am bisexual, or pansexual, as I always thought. And if that’s the case then I haven’t missed out on anything, my life is as full and rich as it always was.
But if I’m actually a lesbian, as I suspect I am, well then, I’ve got some grieving to do for the life I should have had, for the guilt I’ve carried and for the sheer lack of understanding I have shown myself.
Several people have pointed out that I wouldn’t have the kids if I’d realised my sexuality sooner. It’s not quite that straightforward but if I am a lesbian, and they are my payoff for what I missed out on, then they are well worth it.
Why does it all have to be about being a lesbian?
Before all of this, in a conversation entirely unrelated, a friend said to me that lesbians are great and all, but “why does it all have to be about being a lesbian?” And I can understand the question, as I think in my mind I have had the same one in the past.
Sexuality is just about who you sleep with, right? Nope, it’s everything, and for those of us who are gay, it really is ALL about being a lesbian (but it doesn’t have to be for anyone else).
I certainly am not attempting to speak on the behalf of others, but I will say that for the first time I truly understand how our sexuality affects our entire being, because this has rocked me to my very core.
Life feels utterly different now. Song lyrics have a different meaning (oooohhh THAT’S what that means), I can relate to the concept of love and romance in a way I never could previously, and I’ve realised that there is and always has been an unusually high number of rainbows all over my house. Coincidence? Maybe.
Our sexuality isn’t just about who we love or who we sleep with. It is who we ARE.
Everybody’s cheerleader, even mine
I have always thought that I was unashamed of being myself, something I have always advocated for in others. I am a champion for authentic living. I share a lot, I’m 100% honest and open and don’t hide myself, or so I thought. The fact that I might not have actually been practising what I preach is so scary to me.
I’m so sad that my beloved Dad, who was the least judgemental and most accepting person I ever met, isn’t here to help me through this. A man of few words, he would have just shrugged his shoulders and said, “good on you.” I’ve never felt more able to be me with anyone and I wish he could see me doing it now.
But as if his spirit is everywhere, most of the people who I have shared with recently have said the same kind of thing as he would have, with zero questioning and varying levels of enthusiasm. And I feel a peace within me for finally being able to be myself.
But from others, from those to whom I have always felt like I’m “too much”… I share too much, I tell too much, I’m too loud, I put myself “out there” too much, my personality too big… from those people I get the impression that they just wish I could be quiet and “normal”. I wonder if it is that kind of judgement that I have feared and has prevented me from being myself until now.
But what if I’m wrong?
There is a fear that if I say I’m a lesbian and I’m wrong, then I somehow look like, what? An idiot… stupid? It’s embarrassing, shameful. Maybe I’ve feared committing to the wrong label my whole life and this might be just one of the many reasons that I find myself where I am?
But one thing I’ve learned this year, several times and in several different contexts, is that it’s ok to change your mind about ANYTHING. You can try stuff on, see if it fits, see if it suits you, and what other people think doesn’t matter.
Also, guess what, you can do it at any age, whenever you like.
You can share as much or as little as you like. Share because you need support, share because it makes you feel good, share because it might just help someone else, share because you want attention… All of this is ok, YOU are ok. Or keep it to yourself if you feel like you want to, but please don’t hide it for fear of judgement.
Everyone else is just as confused as you about their own shit. And if people judge, let them. They are simply not worth your brain space.
The reason I share this epic biographical post in such detail is partly self-indulgent catharsis (please note I’m not looking for a circle jerk outpouring of support for my newfound gayness – but I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who have sent messages of support, it’s been absolutely INCREDIBLE).
But it’s also just in case someone, anyone, reading this resonates with it and needs to hear the following…
Please, please just BE YOURSELF.
Other people’s feelings are NOT your business.
You don’t owe anyone ANYTHING.
Be proud of who you are because you are special as you are.
Other people’s opinions on your sexuality, your gender, your body or your feelings, are MUCH less important than you living your one life in the way that feels right for you.
Be brave because it makes the rest of us feel less alone, we’re all in this together.
It’s always ok to change how you feel and who you are if that feels right to you, nothing about you has to be fixed or permanent unless you want it to be.
If you always do what feels right at the time you will never have regrets. Just PLEASE make sure that “what feels right” is true to who YOU are, and not other people’s expectations of you (this can be very, very difficult to unravel).
And finally, for anyone who is part of someone else’s coming out journey… Please just try to see, love and accept the REAL person and let go of who you THINK they are (because you probably don’t know them as well as you think you do). One of the heaviest things for anyone to have to carry is the burden of someone else’s expectations. I beg you, please don’t put that weight onto those you love, or anyone else.
N.B. I wrote this a while ago, and most of you know that I have since met someone incredible and am happily living out all of the lesbian stereotypes (yep she’s already moved in and I’m making my way through the L-Word, Tipping the Velvet and all the other lesbian required reading I’ve missed out on). I just wanted to say a HUGE thank you to everyone for the outpouring of love and support we’ve received… it means the world to us both 🏳️🌈🥰