This week, the good people of Clit Talk release an episode of their pleasure positive podcast in honor of National Coming Out Day, featuring myself and my dear friend, Nick Champa. In it, we each tell bits of our “coming out stories”. If I am being honest, I’m nervous for this episode to come out, not unlike the way I was nervous to “come out of the closet”. I hope I didn’t say the wrong things, I hope I didn’t say anything which could negate someone else’s queer experience. I’m not even sure how much of what I said will still ring true for me in this present moment. The queer experience, being the ever evolving exploration of learning and expanding - self, gender identity, sexual orientation, not to mention the way I choose to express all of these, is in a constant state of change. I think of this episode as a blurred photograph of a person in motion. Because I am always in motion. Shifting with the tides of my own sexuality and grappling with what my queer identity means for me. It by no means needs to be what it means for you. And that is the most important thing I can say before I share with you a few of the ins and outs of what my experience has been. Your queer experience is your own. The terms you choose or refuse to define yourself with are your choice. Your experience is yours and yours alone.
I am in a perpetual search for more clear words to define myself, my gender, and my sexuality with. I may momentarily grasp them but by the time they leave my lips they have changed again. My understanding of the definitions of words that describe non-heterosexual individuals expand minute to minute, at times making sharp turns. In many ways it is the fun and the labor of being queer - being both undefinable and also wanting to make that un-definition digestible for the world around me. My brain goes like this: “Let them wonder”, “Challenge them to think beyond their understanding”, “Love is love”, “I need them to understand”, “I need them to stop asking”, “I don’t care if they understand”, and so on. The dominating thought there is that love is love. And love being what it is, it is better shown than told. But there are moments where showing it doesn’t feel like enough and I reach for words. Thus, I am here writing these words here at my desk with a bowl of salad beside me and “talking” into the void by way of my fingers hitting keys.
It is difficult for me to tick boxes. There are boxes that make me feel empowered to tick. They make me feel a part of a community, a tribe of others who have ticked that “other” box. Common ground. And then there are moments when the concept of ticking boxes at all feels unnecessary and I think of animals and if they go around othering one another or congregating around boxes they can all tick. I think in a way they sort of do. It’s in our nature. However, I recently learned how common same sex pleasure is between a certain breed of orangoutangs. I’ve forgotten the name of the breed. How un-boxy of me. Do they know there is something different about them for engaging in that kind of pleasure? Are they signaling a ticked box to one another? I don’t know.
Those boxes can also be supremely important at times. For a variety of reasons. A safe harbor of individuals who share at least some pieces of common experience. The queer experience can be supremely lonely. There are moments in which I can find comfort in surrounding myself with those who have ticked that box. Family. Found family. A necessity for many of us queer folx. There are moments when those boxes are a warm fire to huddle around. I may find myself talking with the only other queer at the barbecue. It’s not to make anyone feel excluded. It is in fact to make myself feel less excluded. But it comes with a tinge of guilt too. Am I othering the people who have othered me? Water seeks it’s own level is the phrase that keeps jumping to mind. Perhaps what we are doing is perfectly natural. Don’t let yourself be caught by the word level. I’m not implying that to be queer puts anyone on a different level spiritually, emotionally, or makes them more or less enlightened. I’m simply thinking it must be natural to join our like tribe. It was the phrase that came to mind. Okay, moving on.
The feeling of not fitting into the norms preset by society can weigh heavy on me. Signs in some maternity wards still read “Father’s Waiting Room”. Lonely. It is lonely to see signs that don’t include the possibilities of me. The fantasies in my brain of the family I could have which may or may not include a traditional “father”. My versions of what a family can look like is often perceived by the majority as something which is taboo. It’s disheartening. Just once I would love to see a paper towels commercial featuring two mother’s cleaning up a child’s spill at the kitchen table rather than the heteronormative representation included in media time and time again and driven home as “normal”.
So the words, the words, bisexual, gay, queer, pansexual, trans - they can give me momentary comfort and a feeling of being seen in an othered space where I can belong. It can be taxing to continually describe my versions of loving, of sexuality to a hetero world. What business it it of theirs, really. But they want to know. And because I am a helper, I want to help expand the definition of what love can be. And so I tell them. Sometimes. Here I am doing it now.
I have experienced being sexualized when people learn that I am “bisexual”. Of late, I’ve become turned off by the word for this reason. Too often, the word alone has become an invitation, primarily for cis gendered men to see me as a toy to be brought home and played with in the company of their wives or girlfriends. They get that glean in their eye. They want to know private information about my sex life. Leading questions to guage my interest in partaking in the fantasy I see playing out in their head. Others are more frank and ask directly if I would consider a threesome. Or they tell me they are “intrigued.” The assumption that being bisexual could mean that I am attracted to all men and womxn or that I would want to have sex with multiple partners at the same time or go down on his very straight, very femme wife who is reluctantly entertaining his request for a threesome, or that that would be pleasurable for either of us, is hilarious to me. I am not a prop. I am not a sex toy. I am human. And sexual chemistry is nuanced. So is emotional chemistry. I don’t envision the possibility of me being physically or emotionally attracted to someone who saw me as a toy. It’s how I’m made. I am not saying there is anything wrong with being turned on by wanting to be seen or desired in that way. I don’t speak for the masses. I’m just saying it isn’t me.
There have been occasions where a straight male who I am not attracted to has hit on me, and finding myself cornered by their come ons, and too insecure to directly state that I am not attracted to them (men’s egos can be incredibly fragile after all), I might mention that I date womxn as a means to deter them. Weak, I know. I’m working on it. Sometimes it backfires and they become all the more persistent, suddenly turned on by this fact rather than picking up the cue that I have mentioned this as a way to say don’t try it with me, I’m not interested in you in that way, I was only looking for friendship and I don’t want to offend you by saying I’m not attracted to you. Men can become obsessed with the idea of being that one man who can “turn me”. The reality is that I do date men from time to time. However, I wouldn’t say that it is a default position for me. Not now. Not any longer. And certainly, I’m not interested in the guy who invalidates my attraction to womxn by sexualizing me and making the assumption that the sex I have with womxn is a kind of sexual theater for their enjoyment. He is not invited.
I have the notion that porn has a lot to do with the mass implication that the word bisexual automatically implies a person who is into threesomes. And so this word gives me pause when I look for something to pin myself with. I simply do not limit the possibility of love or physical attraction by gender. Pansexual is a better definition for me, though few have knowledge of the word and so it comes with even more explaining. I am attracted to a variety of human bodies and I give myself permission to be surprised and expanded by who I may find myself sexually charged by. But it is always a combination of not just the body, but the soul, the perspective, the view, that lives inside that does it for me. I leave myself open to possibility. Love is love. Period.
Promiscuity hangs around the word bisexual in a way that makes me feel tentative to use it to describe myself. Sexual orientation, in my opinion, should not leave the field open for others to make assumptions about one another’s private lives, who they sleep with, or how many partners they may have. I know promiscuous people, monogamous people, polyamorous people, faithful people, and people who cheat on all “sides” of the coin. Some people enjoy monogamy and others don’t. There is no judgement from me in people finding what works for them and cheating sucks no matter what form of relationship one is in. I suppose what I am grasping for is equality, a void of presupposed ideas of what lives between the lines within the languaging of the varying sexual orientations.
The societal implication that sex positivity equals sexual promiscuity is another notion I would like very much to eradicate from our consciousness. Sex positivity takes on different meaning for the individual expressing themselves as sex positive. The definition is unique to the person claiming the term. It can mean an abundance of partners, it can mean being proud of a healthy sex life with one partner, it can mean a healthy relationship with masturbation, it can mean a celebration of sex as a spiritual act, a celebration of being a-sexual, or a celebration of sex in general. Its meaning is unique to the person using it.
As evidenced by “the dress” a few years back, I may be looking at a garment and see gold and white and you may see black and blue depending on how the brain is registering assumed factors like if the dress is being lit by daylight or by artificial light. “Do you see color the way I see color?” Maybe not. Do we all experience and interpret words the same way? Not necessarily. But we use words/boxes/labels/even garments to signal for others who we are and what we are about hoping they will be registered in the way we see and understand those words/boxes/labels/garments and then we use more words to try to break those pieces down when we have been misread. Tricky when our own ideas of those words/boxes/labels/garments and our relationship to them is in constant flux. As a queer person, my labels and understanding of those labels, my expression of gender and sexual orientation evolve regularly, as do my preferences. And so it goes.
I consider myself sex positive in that I think sex is healthy, beautiful, intimate, spiritual, healing, and a natural part of our experience as human beings. I believe in the value of female pleasure. For me sex positivity means I am claiming space to express and celebrate my human horniness unabashedly, as a womxn, the way men have been doing since the dawn of time. But to do so as a womxn comes with a lot of questions from a society that isn’t accustomed to seeing womxn feeling empowered by their own right to pleasure. I feel we are in an exciting moment, and at times a challenging teaching moment, of pointing men toward understanding not only womxn and non-cis gendered males, as sexual beings rather than sexual objects.
I believe in the healing waters of pleasure. I don’t have a preconceived notion of what that must look like for me any longer. But the world needs me to. And so I eek out labels that may help outsiders better understand me.
Apps will ask questions when you generate an account, fill out a survey, etc, to narrow oneself down by. Questions asking us to tick a box for gender. Tick a box for the gender you are “interested in”. There are moments I wish they would come right out and speak the subtext of this question and say, “what genitals do you have and what genitals are you interested in having sex with?” so that I could kick the computer over and say how do you know I’m interested in having sex at all! Is there a box for ticking I am interested in myself? Today I am only interested in pleasuring myself. And tomorrow it will change, so f*** you very much for asking. That dinky box that says “prefer not to say” irks me. For me, it implies hiding something too taboo to mention. Why ask the question at all. If someone gets to know me they will figure it out without the help of the boxes. People. I’m interested in people. Human beings. Is that a box you can tick?
If I am dating men I am not straight, and if I date womxn I am not gay, and if I am dating a person who is gender non-conforming, I am not ticking that godforsaken “prefer not to say” box. They deserve better than that.
I exist in the grey. I want to exist there. I find freedom there. I want the capacity to shift freely - fluidly. There are days where I feel like the biggest dyke in the world. And I want to scream it from the rooftops. I am a dyke! I have great affection for that word. For what it means to me, to the dykes I know and love, and for the void of male in that word. The deliciously unabashed womxn on womxn loving that it carves so densely with one clunk of a word. And I also feel like an imposter using it at times. Will it still describe me tomorrow? But there are days it does define me beautifully, heroically, in all my butchy, vagina loving glory. Did I make you uncomfortable because I said vagina? Is that word still taboo? Approximately 50% of the population has one. I have one. You may have one. And this is me celebrating you and your glorious vagina. Put your hands on her and feel her power and say thank you. They are beautiful. They give life. They give and receive pleasure. And so much more. I invite you to celebrate them. We all came from one. Sing a love song about one out your bedroom window. Vagina! Vagina! Vagina! Say it until it doesn’t feel risky anymore. Say it until it sounds beautiful. Until each syllable is God-like. Because they are.
I use she/her pronouns. That may not always be the case. But today it is and it has taken me a long time to feel empowered by those words and by the female body I came to earth with. So I am living there. For now. Right now I am enjoying the femme energy that lives in me. And I also leave myself open to the possibility of that changing. Life is long.
The terms that describe me today may not fit me next week. My mind, my chemistry, my heart - it’s all in flux. I eat a meal, I drink a glass of water, I take a breath. All of the elements of my day and my body are shifting and expanding me throughout the moments. I don’t see any reason why sexual preference can’t be a part of that. “Coming out” can imply a kind of permanence - the notion that one has arrived at a decision about who and what they are interested in. I don’t totally understand why it’s necessary and I hope for a world where people don’t feel as though they must “come out” in order to be recognized in their queerness - their evolving humanity.
The only decision I have arrived at is that my capacity for love is not limited by gender. For me, coming out was less of an “I’m not that, I’m this” And more “I’m not that, I’m a question mark”. Not a question mark in that I am exploring sexual curiosity or “going through a phase”. I don’t plan on putting my queerness back in the closet and it doesn’t go away if I find myself in a monogamous relationship with a straight male. All of life is made up of “phases” in a way. There was that phase when I was in college. That phase when I did nothing but save money and use it to travel. There was a phase called childhood. A phase called adolescence. Being me is not a phase. Being queer is a part of me. The places I’ve traveled are a part of me. My education, my childhood, they are all a part of me. So you see how layered the whole “phase thing” is. I’m queer. And I’m still the same me that used to be a child. My head hurts trying to explain how the whole phase thing is a myth. Our experiences are all a part of us. We claim and use words to define us but it doesn’t change what is inside us - our experiences. We can call them whatever we want. We can box them, deny them, highlight them, do as we will. But in essence, once a queer, always a queer is what I’m trying to say. And yeah that is me. Queer. Now, then, always. I’ve known queer love. That is always present in me. Now. Then. Always.
The road to expressing myself authentically, and forgiving myself for the ways I had previously betrayed myself by charading as a heterosexual female has been challenging. I asked myself why I hadn’t shared this part of me with friends, with lovers, with anyone. I suppose it was in order to avoid the discomfort of explaining the question mark that I am to people I care for. I’d feared being shunned or seen as a disgusting freak by the people I hold dear. And because I had previously been in monogamous relationships with men none of the explaining seemed worth the hassle. But the secret pained me. The stolen kisses and experiences I’d had with girls since childhood and later with womxn pained me. I was on a date with a man in New York and he’d brought me to a party and I found myself far more interested in speaking with a queer womxn throughout the night. “I think that girl was into you,” he said later. Mutual, I thought. But I went home with him anyway. The moments in which we choose to betray ourselves happen in a flash. We gather courage. And one day, if we are lucky, the dam breaks and we come into ourselves in a new way that can no longer be denied. Soon I would meet her. Falling in love with her was the moment when that dam finally broke for me.
At the time in which I “came out” I was deeply in love with a womxn - with her. I fell unexpectedly, clumsily, and headlong for a girl that housed a kind of masculine and feminine energy in a way that was both soft, tender, and incredibly and quietly strong. They say fires burn the hottest in that little blue center at the base - not that big orange flame that waves and twirls. That was her. Contained and vibrant. That hot blue blast. I had never met anyone like her. I couldn’t get enough of her. I loved her mind, her view. I loved her spirit. I loved her body. And loving her was healing. I found myself shedding mean thoughts I had kept toward my own body. Loving her gave me permission to be imperfect in my human body. I can’t explain it. I felt seen. I felt human. I loved every inch of her and it taught me that I may be lovable just as I am too. The standards I had previously held my body to began to melt. Standing at the bathroom sink one afternoon, fresh out of the bathtub, I began to bleed from between my legs and she quietly cleaned the blood from the floor, “honey, you’re bleeding,” she said. So gentle, she kissed my head and threw the paper in the trash. The tightening and shame around natural female bodily functions like menstruation that I had felt in the presence of men had no place here. I could rest. I could go on and on about the ways in which I was held in her presence and how she opened me. I won’t. But I’ll say this: love is medicine. In every form it takes.
Queerness has always been a part of me but I had kept it hidden from the public world. Coming out felt less like “coming out” and more like coming home. Coming home to the notion that I was free to love whomever I choose. I had fallen head over heals for a womxn, and because I had zero intention of keeping our relationship a secret, my queerness became impossible to deny to my friends and family. And therefore I had to do this thing called, “coming out of the closet”. Blah.
In truth, most people in my life didn’t make a big deal of it. And I understand the privilege in that statement. I was incredibly fortunate. I told the man I had been seeing at the time that there was someone else. A womxn. That I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Nothing had happened, but the charge I felt was consuming me. He was supportive and kind. He encouraged me to follow my heart. And I did. I told my brother and he shrugged and hugged me. “Cool,” I think he said. Later, once the relationship had taken flight, I told my mom I was seeing someone and she said, “it’s a girl isn’t it?” with a big smile on her face while we were standing in the shoe department in Nordstrom. A great deal of her closest friends are gay and I’d say her radar is pretty good even if she’d missed the gayness in me up until this point. It was undeniable now. My mother’s cousin and best friend growing up, Carlitos, had been gay. Even as a child, she knew he was gay from the time he was a toddler and they loved dressing up and playing with dolls and it made no difference to her family who he loved. It had broken her heart when he died of Aids in the 1980’s. She told me she had always had a hunch that one of her children was gay, but it surprised her that it was me and not my brother. I’ll never forget her finding us on the floor curling one another’s hair and practicing on a big barbie head he’d brought home from hair school. She’d laughed so hard. She asked him about once a week back then if he was gay. She hadn’t guessed the queer kid would be me. She’ll still meet a cute girl and talk about wanting to set them up with her son and I’ll gently remind her, “or your daughter”. “Oh right,” she’ll say, “but I wasn’t getting a queer vibe.” “Don’t make any assumptions,” I say to her. So you can see that we are still in process. Heteronormative ideas are deeply ingrained, even for the most open among us.
My father almost crashed the car when I told him. We were on our way to watch a play in Los Angeles and he uttered through shock that he should have let me drive. He’d taken his foot off the gas on the freeway and had slowed to a crawl, nearly causing an accident. We had little time to eat dinner before the start of the play. He ordered a beer and a shot and we fought over an ill planned meal in which we ordered a whole fish to share and kept pausing our argument to push fish skin around our plates and pick bones from the backs of our throats. We couldn’t get the server to come over and give us the bill because each time he approached the table I was crying and he couldn’t in good consciousness carry on with any of his server spiels.
In hindsight I can see that my father was trying to make sense of how he had deeply misread his own child, but at the time I took his shock personally. I wanted to be instantaneously embraced and his questions about how long I had felt this way felt besides the point. I wanted to hear him ask me what I loved about her, if she treated me well, what her interests are, and when could he meet her. He wanted to know if I was still interested in men. Sure. But right now I was only interested in her. But my father, he needed time to rethink all that he hadn’t seen in me along the way. He couldn’t get past being the last person to find out. A child of divorce will always be straddling making each parent feel equally important and favoritized. I can see that he was grappling with what that meant about how I view him, how closed minded or judgmental I perceived him to be, and how close we are. He was hurt. But this wasn’t about him. It was about me. But all too often, coming out can become about how it makes the people receiving the news feel. And let’s be honest, the person coming out is doing the heavy lifting of feeling and recalibrating of their identity and could use the most care and tenderness. It isn’t our job to coddle the person receiving the news. It’s us that is in need of a warm hug. Even if they don’t “get it”…yet.
I hadn’t planned my coming out. Maybe I should have. It happened in fits and bursts and sort of seeped out in unplanned moments when I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I was in love and I wanted to share that with my people but they had a lot of questions that made me feel cornered into explaining my past or at least allude to evidence that would justify having always been queer and that this was not an experimental phase. That it hadn’t struck me like a lightning bolt, but rather that I had simply never shared it in a way that wasn’t hidden. I’d had sexual experiences with womxn, but I had never been in love with a womxn. And that kind of stuff - love - you want to tell people about. Yell it into the wind. You want to bring your partner home for Thanksgiving, post photos of kisses, you know, love stuff. But being that this was a new kind of love my people had never witnessed me experiencing, it came with a feeling that I was required to explain myself. But how? How do you explain queerness. People are uncomfortable with questions that go unanswered. And that is what being queer is to me. A big beautiful question mark. A space holder for permission to shift.
I received a text from a stranger the other day. He had the wrong number. He was looking for Dennis and he wanted to know if now was a good time to call - he didn’t know “how to approach it with her.” I said, “This is Jen, I think you have the wrong number, but I’m here if you need a friend.” He asked me if I was good at advice and we wound up having a conversation spanning from fantasies he has about threesomes with his wife, to sharing secrets about sexual experiences we’d had as children. I’m obsessed with this book called Post Secret, a collection of secrets sent anonymously on post cards to a person who opened a P.O. Box and gave people a safe place to send in their secrets. This conversation felt like that. A safe space to share secrets. At one point he asked me if womxn are intrigued by bisexual men the way that men are intrigued by bisexual womxn. He’d had an experience with a same sex partner as a teenager and we talked through it and I hope I was able to relieve some of the shame he felt. And I also hope I was able to shift some of the ideas he seemed to have about bisexual womxn and the assumption that they are always down to play with couples. I shared the importance of making his wife feel safe and nurtured and cared for if they were to approach the idea of bringing someone else into the relationship. That trust and love come first. I shared that I have had only one threesome in my life and it was nothing like the stories the mind creates about what that looks like. I won’t go into detail here about what that experience was like for me but I will say that later in the evening, the man laid his head in my lap and I stroked his head as we both wept about womxn we were struggling to connect with. Nothing is what we think it is. But talking to one another makes us all a bit more human and it made me feel human to share the memory of this experience with a stranger over text.
It is natural to experience love and pleasure in whatever way is blissful and consensual. And to be curious is human nature. Sexuality is nuanced. We hear it all the time, but it is a spectrum, and we are allowed to exist on that spectrum wherever feels good to us. I have only questions to offer. I don’t have definitions or answers. I know that I personally do not define sex as penetration. I’ve experienced what could “look” like sex to the naked eye and is in fact two people masturbating in unison. Detached. And I’ve experienced what has looked nothing like sex by the standards of what we might consider “sex” and has never felt more connected and pleasure-full. I embrace queerness and the beautiful bouquet of Q’s (questions without answers) that it holds for me. I’m simply here. Simply open. To love. To pleasure. In all of its radiant forms.