I Didn't Realize I Was A Lesbian Until My Thirties And Here's Why

Growing up to be a lesbian seemed like something that just didn't happen to regular people, like growing up to be a fairy princess.
Publish date:
May 2, 2013
gay, lesbianism, homosexuality

I was 31 years old, and I was single for the first time since high school. It was Saturday night, but my awesome single lifestyle so far consisted of dorking it up all night playing "World of Warcraft" and drinking a big can of Java Monster. I was about to realize something that would change my life.

As part of my decision to finally give the single life a try after a series of long-term but ultimately ill-fated relationships, I had gotten treatment for the anxiety disorder that had messed me up for most of my life. I had also started therapy. One of the questions that kept coming up in therapy was why I made the decisions I did about getting romantically involved with men.

I reversed the question: What did I want in a man?

If I threw out everything I had been taught by society to want, everything I had been told was attractive, if I rejected the idea that certain qualities were "out of my league," what would that man be like? I tried to picture some ideal mate beside me there in bed, someone lying next to me for post-coital cuddles, but all that came to me was a sort of generic, plastic blank of a man.

I considered for a moment that I might be asexual. Then, testing the bounds of this little mental exercise, I changed that person next to me to a woman.

I could almost hear some deeper part of my brain smack itself on the forehead. "YES," it said, "FINALLY you figured that out!"

I spent the night awake in bed going over my whole life story, trying to reconcile that idea.

It wasn't like I had never had feelings for another woman. I had a notoriously bad crush on a friend's girlfriend for a while. (She also realized later that she preferred the company of the laydeez, but sadly she lived very, very far away.) My boyfriend back then scoffed at my little crush, saying I just didn't know how to "be friends with girls."

I pushed it down as best I could. I justified my attraction to women as a byproduct of living in a society that tells us the female body equals sex. I justified my lack of attraction to men as a byproduct of favoring personality over looks.

Why did I DO that?

That was the next thing I wanted to know. I've always been eccentric. I've always accepted ways in which I just didn't fit in with any kind of general "normal." My parents always accepted that I was a little bit weird and a lot of a tomboy. But when it came to my sexuality I couldn't accept that I was outside the heterosexual norm. I couldn't take my own sexuality seriously.

The middle-aged lesbian has become a bit of a cliche. There's even been research done to try to figure out if women are actually a little more prone to biologically shifting to homosexuality as they age. And that's stupid. Yes, sexuality is a fluid thing, but women don't exist in a vacuum.

As someone who was unable to accept her own homosexuality until she was 31, I will tell you exactly why I came out as an adult:

I didn't know I had the choice.

I imagine it's easier for girls growing up now, who can see Ellen and Portia attending the Oscars, who hear all the time about women coming out and getting married where they can and having children or not and having good lives. When I was a teenager the only lesbians I was aware of were the Indigo Girls and one girl in the class below mine who got mad if you didn't acknowledge every new color she died her hair.

Growing up to be a lesbian seemed like something that just didn't happen to regular people, like growing up to be a fairy princess. I might have liked reading comic books and helping my dad work on cars, I may have enjoyed dressing androgynous, but by gosh I didn't think I was such a special snowflake that I could be something like a lesbian!

Teenage girls are taught about sex in a way that makes it seem like it's perfectly normal to want it and enjoy it less than the boy with whom you're having it. It's presented as something you do to keep the relationship going, and yeah, maybe it's not that great, but that's because you're with some stupid teenager who doesn't know what he's doing. I never thought anything of it.

And I was friends with boys, lots of them! That tends to happen when you're a huge tomboy. So when one of those boy-friends wanted it to become something more, I gave in because I enjoyed his friendship and hey, you're supposed to have a boyfriend, right?

Soon it became a defense mechanism. I stayed in long term relationships because our personalities clicked, yes, but also because it gave me an excuse to turn other boys away. I perfected the "boyfriend name-drop," strategically using the words "my boyfriend" when another guy got flirty. The untreated anxiety disorder made it even harder to break away. I was with a man, that was the only option, and if it made me miserable, what right did I have to complain?

Our culture doesn't ask women what they want, and that makes it hard for us to ask ourselves what we want. When we're told throughout our lives that we're supposed to grow up and get married (to a man!) and maybe have a job but definitely have babies, it becomes nearly impossible to question that.

We're taught that we're here to take care of others, and as good an idea as altruism is in general, that cripples us. Even on a smaller scale, I grew up in a rural area where most of the girls had children right out of high school and didn't aspire to much else.

As a child, I wasn't often asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, much less whether I wanted to marry a man or a woman. My family moved to the more progressive suburbs as I was entering junior high, but the damage had been done. I would date boys because girls date boys and I wouldn't really enjoy sex very much because girls don't really enjoy sex very much and perhaps, if I was lucky, I would someday find a fulfilling job that would let me also take care of the children that I would have whether I actually wanted them or not.

As the handmaidens in Game of Thrones say, "It is known."

So no, women my age aren't magically becoming lesbians. We're finally finding the power to ask ourselves, after decades of no one else asking, what we really want.