But first, let's take a moment to appreciate the shocked looks I imagine on the faces of my family and neighbors who read this blog after seeing that post title.
Ah, that was fun.
Do you remember getting "the talk"? In my memory, it went like this:
A good friend, who had been teasing me for my lack of sexual vocabulary basically since elementary school, informed my mom that I needed "the talk" when I couldn't understand yet another bit of gossip. (This was probably seventh grade or so, and I couldn't tell you the difference between french kissing or making out, and all I knew about the bases was that I didn't particularly want to go to any of them.) So, on the car ride home, my mom informed me that there were two kinds of sex: The regular kind, which was embarrassing but okay maybe when you were much older, and the oral kind, which was gross and kids sometimes did it on the back of the bus. (My mom tells me that there had been news stories about something like that happening, and that was the bit of gossip I failed to understand, but I really didn't know the context at the time.)
So that, and an equally mortifying presentation about STDs in a wild, overcrowded 8th grade health class, was pretty much the sum of my sex education.
What made me think about this was kind of unusual: At work the last week we shared our coming out stories. I couldn't come up with a nice clean narrative, but the one thing I always remember is that I though was just never into boys, but I didn't know there was any alternative. I don't think I knew what a lesbian was until high school, and all my experience about what relationships looked like came from middle school: all of my friends had a new crush every week, or boyfriends who they kissed and went on dates with. I asked a boy to the 8th grade dance because we talked about fantasy novels and all my friends called him my "friend with benefits" and didn't believe that I didn't like him, so I figured that must be what a crush was. When he wanted to go on a real date after that, I stopped returning his calls and never saw him again.
And then in high school, I dated a boy because he asked me out, (note that "dated" in my high school meant "we're a couple, but don't necessarily do anything together or talk or anything.") I spent a lot of time avoiding him, too, but discovered something odd when we saw each other: Kissing was kind of nice.
Now, that thought had never crossed my mind before. I remember figuring out the mechanics of sex in sixth grade and deciding right then and there that I was never doing that shit, and I had assumed that all the rest of that icky boy-girl stuff was ruled out as well. After my "boyfriend" and I broke up, I started wondering about this whole kissing thing more seriously. When I imagined kissing boys, even boys I really liked, I got the same vaguely uneasy feeling I'd had kissing my "boyfriend" who I'd otherwise avoided. But when I let my mind slip over to the thought of kissing girls, well...
So I decided I was probably bi. Obviously.
Most people's coming out stories had to do with telling their parents, or friends, or whatever, about something they'd always known. But for me, I just remember being so confused about sex and romantic relationships and "crushes" - what it entailed, why anyone would want to do such nonsense, who could have a crush on who and what it was supposed to feel like - that I could hardly begin to sort out who I might be interested in.
The first time I heard the word "gay," in elementary school, my friend smugly told me that I shouldn't use that word if I didn't know what it meant, making it clear that she for sure wasn't going to tell me. How was I supposed to begin to apply that to how I thought about relationships? All I had for an example was my friends and Disney princesses, and it all felt so forbidden and wrong that I couldn't begin to imagine what or who to ask.
And it certainly wasn't a bad coming out, all things considered. After I figured out that kissing girls seemed nice everything kind of clicked together. But hearing my coworker's stories, I wonder if coming out to oneself - figuring out and accepting that you're gay - is always quite that fraught with questions about what romance should look like. I guess heterosexual kids can see themselves in Cinderella or some stupid show on Nick, and in the information given in a standard "talk" or sex-ed class. But for me, it all just felt so confusing and forbidden, that the hardest part was wrapping my own head around the fact that I even had a sexuality, not telling anyone else about it.