*All names have been changed for anonymity*
I was so interested in my own realization of sexuality that I decided to ask some other people about their experiences. I’ve actually been surprised over the years how many people I know, and have known for years, who identify as something other than heterosexual. I don’t know if it’s a generational thing, meaning that the younger generation is more open to claiming and owning their sexuality, or if it just has to do with my personality of openness attracting other personalities of openness.
Poly People Online
As I often do, I asked one of the many poly Facebook groups I belong to whether any of them discovered their sexuality later in life. The answer in that community was overwhelmingly yes (57 people, versus 8 saying they knew when they were young). Of course, many of the commenters said that they discovered their sexuality after opening their relationships, which makes sense given the population I surveyed. “I knew I was but never explored or labeled myself until I was poly which was late 30s.” (SB). “My interest in guys did not really become a thing until I became involved in the kink community.” (MK). “I’ve always been attracted to men. Have been with my husband for over 10 years. It wasn’t until two years ago when my partner and I started talking that I even considered being with a woman.” (KW).
Many of the responders were bisexual women that had previously identified as heterosexual for a number of reasons. One reason had to do with family/society. “I always thought I was straight because that’s what I was told by my family that’s how it had to be.” (AC). “The signs were there in high school but since I liked guys I assumed I was straight. Very small town growing up and legit didn’t know bi was a thing” (MS). Another reason was never having actually explored with another woman. “I felt for a long time that if I couldn’t see myself in a relationship with a woman that I couldn’t be bisexual” (MMD). “For the longest time I thought I couldn’t identify as bisexual because I had never had a sexual encounter (other than some making out) with women even if I’ve had romantic feelings for them” (AL). Another reason was just not realizing that everyone didn’t have these desires. “Imagine my shock: ‘wait straight women don’t fantasize about other women???? Have they SEEN other women??’” (KV). And someone’s follow-up comment to that: “Right? I remember at 12 thinking that all girls must want to kiss other girls, because of course I was straight.” (BA).
I did more in-depth interviews with 7 people of various sexualities (though no where near encompassing all genders/sexualities). They represent a small snippet of what people go through in discovering their sexuality, coming out, and living their lives. My hope is that others can read these and relate.
Pretending to be Straight in a Relationship with Kids
“The relationship was basically…a cover up”
Joseph, 30 M, gay. Joseph knew he was gay from about age 13, but he did not think his family would accept it. So instead of living as his true self, he started dating a girl his freshman year of high school, had a child with her at 17, and stayed with her until he finally accepted his sexuality at age 25. As Joseph put it: “Well the relationship was basically I guess a cover up or a way to throw the scent off the gay trail and do what I thought was right to keep my family happy…” Having a child at such a young age made it difficult for him to leave the relationship. “We couldn’t stand one another and she knew I was gay from age 18 so we never had much of a sexual relationship with each other. She had her boyfriends and I had mine I guess.” Thankfully, now that he’s accepted himself and they’ve separated, everyone is much happier. “We get along fine now and me and my daughter have such an amazing relationship, I love it.” He’s still not completely out to his family because he is afraid of hurting them due to their beliefs. He also is remaining in the closet because he is very involved in his church, which would not approve of his sexuality. But all in all, he’s in a much better place than he was a few years ago.
“I was tired of living a lie”
Scarlet, 37 F, lesbian. Scarlet has a similar story. She had “always suspected” she was gay but was convinced that it “wasn’t right” or that her parents would hate her. At age 25, after being married for quite a few years and having two kids, she finally came out as a lesbian. “I was tired of living a lie.” Her husband did not take it well, though his anger may also have been from finding out she had cheated on him with another woman before coming out to him. “Everything was a lie being with him. I tried passing as straight but it made me hateful and angry and not myself. Ever since I came out I was able to blossom into who I truly was meant to be.”
Knew from an Early Age
“Very young, probably around 7”
Jessica, 30 F, bisexual/pansexual. Jessica knew from a young age that she was attracted to multiple genders. She remembers as early as age 7 having crushes on both boys and girls, though she didn’t identify as bisexual until she was 13 and actually understood what it meant (and now identifies more as pansexual). After a brief stint out of the closet in junior high, she went back to hiding her sexuality because she was being made fun of for having a girlfriend. She came back out at 16 when it seemed like many others were also coming out. Now, as an adult looking back, she has “realized a lot of people are just closeted.” She’s very open about her sexuality with both friends and family. “Most people accept it and leave it be although some don’t agree with it and refuse to acknowledge it.” In terms of her romantic partners understanding her sexuality over the years, Jessica has had reactions all over the board. She had a partner who hated her sexuality and thought it “upped the chances” of her leaving him. She had other partners that fetishized her bisexuality, and still others who didn’t really have an opinion either way.
“I knew it was not accepted but I never cared”
June, 30 F, bisexual/demisexual. June first realized her attraction to other women when she was 15 after becoming best friends with two girls in middle school who were dating. “I always found myself attracted to the people and their energy, not their gender.” She was always very accepting of her sexuality. “I knew it was not accepted but I never cared; who I am drawn to is who I am drawn to. Now, there was a level of fear when my girlfriend and I would go out in public that I would get attacked verbally. That did hold me back.” Despite her own personal acceptance, she did not come out to family until the last few years. Some of that hesitation to come out could have been from her mother’s reaction when she found a journal entry of June’s when she was a teenager that detailed things she had done with another girl. “She smacked me in the face and told me I was going to Hell.” From the rest of her family and friends, she has gotten mixed reactions: some people don’t care, others are confused about how bisexuality works (“But you’re married to a guy, how can you be bi?”), others just don’t understand, and still others are mean about it (“How could you do that? It’s so gross.”) With her own kids, she’s open about her attraction to both genders and wants them to know it’s okay to be whoever they want to be. “My kids? They all know mommy is bi. I raised them to know that it’s okay to love whoever you want.” June didn’t have her first ‘real’ relationship with a woman until she was 27, though she had had sexual experiences with women before. “I have never fallen as deeply in love with a girl as I have with guys though…I have had girl lovers but only dated a handful of girls and only loved one.”
“I would pray every night to God to change my sexual orientation”
Michael, 24 M, gay. Michael knew he was gay since the 4th grade, though he didn’t start coming out to his family until he was 16. “My sister was the first person I told, it was emotional but positive and accepting. My mom was the second person and she was more in denial and claiming/holding on to the concept that it might be a ‘phase’.” He came out publicly his senior year of high school and never really had any issues. “I really enjoyed high school post-coming out because I felt accepted for who I was and I knew my friends were true friends.” Though everything ended up turning out great for Michael, he wasn’t always so accepting of himself. “In the beginning, I was in denial and not accepting of myself, I would pray every night to God to change my sexual orientation.” He also admits to dating a girl his freshman year of high school as a “cover up” for his sexuality.
Figuring It Out in Your 20s/30s
“I did what was easy culturally”
Wendy, 28 F, bisexual/pansexual. “I think I was attracted to both men and women in high school (2006-2010) but didn’t act on it until 2011/2012, repressed it for a while, secretly dated a girl in 2013/2014, repressed it some more, got married to a man then came to terms that I was attracted to all genders in 2016.” She feels she repressed her sexuality so much over the years because she just wanted to do what was ‘easiest’ and didn’t want to rock the boat of society. It didn’t help that she went to a conservative Christian college as well. Now that she’s come to terms with her attractions, she is open about her sexuality if it ever comes up in conversation, though she says it normally doesn’t. Her husband doesn’t have any problems with it and has always been supportive.
“Who would have thought I’d learn so much about my sexuality in my 30s?”
Victoria, 30 F, bisexual. When I asked Victoria how she identified in terms of sexuality, she said, “Well, I always thought straight but with recent events, I’m leaning more toward bi.” Interestingly, when I asked whether there were obvious signs in her past of her being bi, she said, “Yeah. I’ve always been attracted to other women.” I then asked, if she has always found women attractive, why is she just starting to identify as bi. To which, she responded, “You’re asking me questions that I’ve never ever thought about myself. [I guess] because I’ve actually acted on my attraction and have become intimate with other women but I still love intimacy with men too.” This is a very interesting phenomena seen among many ‘straight’ people, as we saw earlier from some of the other bisexual poly women who also just saw themselves as straight until they actually acted on their desires.
Victoria spent most of her life, up until this last year, repressing her desires for other women. Though she would often comment on the attractiveness of other women to her husband, she never felt comfortable admitting that she would actually like to be romantic or sexual with other women. Her and her husband have dated on and off since high school, and she wasn’t sure what he would think of her if she brought it up. Some of this hesitation might come from the fact that she didn’t always agree that being gay was right. “At one point in my life, I was kind of a bigot and didn’t agree with homosexuality, until my friends came out, and it still took me a little bit to accept.” She actually didn’t talk to one of her best friends for over 3 years after he came out as gay. Her husband ended up being fine with it and encouraging her to explore that side of her sexuality. “He was all about me wanting to hook up with other women.”
Since this is such a new part of her identity, she is not very open about it with others. So far, she’s really only told her best friend who is gay, “I know she won’t judge me.” Her family, on the other hand, is in the dark for two reasons. “I haven’t told any of my family because they are very conservative and not sure how they would react especially since I’m married.”
All in all, everyone’s story is different, but there are a lot of elements that are similar. One of the people I was interviewing said, “It’s a very bizarre circumstance.” And I replied, “Not as bizarre as you might think. I’m currently interviewing someone who was in a very similar situation.” That’s not to minimize anyone’s experiences at all, but just to show that there is probably someone else in the world going through similar experiences to you. You are not alone.