When Did You Know?
A kiss with a beautiful woman
(I am excited to share that Straight to Gay is now #1 in Women and LGBT on Substack!)
The most frequent question asked on lesbian first dates is: when did you first know you were gay? The topic of what I knew and when I knew it is one I have analyzed and reanalyzed more times than I can count! I’ve tried to separate out simple crushes on authority figures like beautiful teachers or coaches, or that adorably cute girl in my class or on my team, from when I saw myself in a position to act on those impulses. Perhaps, I posited, there were snippets and clues along the way: as a youngster I dressed like a tomboy, preferred playing with my Best of the West action figures over dolls, and had as many guy friends as girls for countless hours of whiffle ball in my backyard. Yet I’ve come to observe, after two decades of dating women, that these old tropes are not the determinant of sexual identity. Many of the lesbian or bisexual women I have dated are feminine or ultra femme, and know more about nail polish and yoga poses than how many outs there are in an inning. Conversely, I know a myriad of former tomboys who are happily heterosexual.
When I was growing up, stereotypes defined gay women as being “butch” or masculine in identity. Butch is certainly one segment of today’s wondrously diverse community of LGBTQ women, but only a part—and for me, not what I was was physically drawn to. Which is why when I think back on the actual moment—when I really knew, and saw being a lesbian as possible—was the first time I saw a beautiful woman kiss another woman on the movie screen. As with so much in life, you can’t be what you can’t see! I remember the experience of watching that kiss so vividly that I can still visualize myself seated in that small theater in Marblehead, Massachusetts, with one of my best high school friends, Cathy. That kiss would transform my perception of what was possible—even if it took me, and popular culture more broadly, two more decades to make the leap.
In high school, I was awkward, insecure, and uncomfortable in my own skin. I surrounded myself with, and measured myself against, other super high achievers, all of us obsessing with making our way into top colleges. I was a three season athlete, and much of my social life and circle of friends were connected to sports. For one sport in particular, basketball, our team won the coveted state championship, and part of the program’s success was the bond of the players. We did a lot together socially. Tricia, the captain of our team, was a three sport, all league athlete, and often hosted sleepover parties for the team. Sometimes girls who were top athletes from competing towns in our conference would join us too.
I was aware these girls from surrounding towns knew each other from the fields and courts, but at these overnights in Tricia’s dark basement, I came to learn the connection had become something more. Kool & The Gang or Michael Jackson songs would be blaring in the background. After a few hours of singing, dancing, and downing Michelob Lights, the facades would come down, and I could see them flirting with each other. At the time, I was dating boys, and although I was turned on by what I was observing, I was very much an outsider. I was perhaps an equivalent to the curious women I seem to attract now as a gateway girl—maybe it’s karmic payback. I was aroused by the thought of what the girls might be doing in the adjoining rooms, although admittedly I had no idea what it was. I felt an erotic sense of desire just being around it, but none of them ever paid any attention to me, so nothing came of it.
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