Not So Straightforward
By Eleanor Higgins
For 33 years I never imagined I was anything but straight. I had no inkling of my queerness, no sense of being closeted, of carrying a secret that I couldn’t quite bear to know. Growing up I was drawn to women, older women, whom I thought at the time were substitute mothers and confidantes. I was much more interested in the (female) teachers than my peers and was a late developer. This is in part due to severe depression and an emerging eating disorder, which saw me isolate myself during my most formative years. I never had boyfriends, and didn’t really experiment sexually until I was older, except for a few overly sloppy kisses and some fumbling in parks. Having spent my late teenage years and twenties in psychiatric wards, my sexuality was put on the back burner, irrelevant given the focus on my basic survival. I envisaged myself as beyond carnal desire, beyond the need for such base satisfaction, and too late to the party to be taken seriously as a sexual woman. I felt largely invisible in the world; indeed, I made every effort to make myself so.
When in later years I became involved with guys, it was always brief, rarely satisfying, and about going through the motions. I thought I was simply incapable of intimacy, and would float above my body during sex. I have now come to think that perhaps I was just not attracted to men, but trying to fit in the box I supposed I was meant to fit in. I had never considered that I might be queer because the only narratives that were available to me were the ones that began “I always knew...”. And I didn’t always just ‘know’. So, I find myself writing this, at thirty-nine, feeling somewhat embarrassed and immature, because I believe there must be other people out there who’ve had similar experiences. I’m not convinced I am that unique.
There wasn’t a dawning realisation for me, either. No one I fell for, no parting of the clouds, no sudden epiphany. I know of a few older women now who have ended up marrying women after being married to men for many years. It seems that they fell for a specific woman and went with it, as opposed to finding themselves questioning their sexuality before that. I merely found myself on a lesbian dating site and set up a profile without really consciously thinking about it. I went through a few years of dipping in and out of these sites, never getting up the courage to meet anyone because I felt that this was a world into which I hadn’t been initiated, that perhaps it was too late to learn the language of this queer land I was finding myself in. More, though, I felt that I must be mistaken, that I couldn’t really be attracted to women because I would have known before that I felt this way. My overriding sense of myself was as an imposter.
I spent many sessions in therapy opening up about sexuality and my body. It’s taken a long time to not balk at the mention of myself as a sexual being with human needs. But I’m getting there. It’s been six years now and I have been on quite a few dates though nothing has come of it, aside from making some good friends. Still, I feel like I don’t belong in the LGBTQ+ community, and that the fact that I’ve not been in a relationship with a woman precludes me from being able to claim legitimately that I am queer. But then, no one questions a person if they say they are straight before ever being in a relationship. It’s taken for granted that they are as they say they are.
I have now come to identify as queer. That which cannot precisely be defined, outside of specific categorization, non-straight, rather than unsure. I feel certain of my queerness in a way that the label lesbian or bi doesn’t accommodate for me personally. I know of people who are and will be put off by my coming out so late, of my inexperience, etc. But, there must be other women out there who have a similar story. A story that is not so straightforward or easily narratable. A story of evolving sexuality, of a coming-to-know, rather than a simple coming-out. If so, welcome.
Eleanor Higgins is a queer writer of nonfiction prose and poetry, a survivor of madness, and a feminist activist. She particularly likes to lose and find herself in pages, lines, and spaces. She runs a poetry open-mic for people with mental health problems in London, England, called Mad Poets Speak, details of which can be found on twitter: @madpoetsspeak