I was nine years old the first time I had the thought, “something is wrong with me,” regarding my sexuality. My big sister and stepmom were perusing magazines and gawking at pictures of half-naked men. Most of the pictures were the same: the model standing shirtless, exposing a ridiculously ripped set of abs, the thumb of one hand casually tucked into the front of ripped or dirtied jeans, pulling them down ever so slightly so you could catch a glimpse of the apparently coveted v-shaped muscles leading to the genitals. He always wore a slight smirk and a smoldering stare and a cowboy hat was a common accessory.
They were moved, blushing, riveted by the picture.
“OOH BABY! YES.” I remember Krystal’s voice, still hers but with a subtly animalistic undertone. She waved the picture in my face and I felt nothing. I had experienced feelings of lust before, but never while looking at a picture of a half-dressed male. I tried to feel it. I forced my eyes to follow the contours of his muscles, to take in the sexual intent of his eyes, but it just didn’t spark any feeling inside of me.
“Whatever, you know you love it,” my stepmom taunted.
Why don’t I feel anything? What’s wrong with me? This thought-seed was planted in my mind at this time. It grew strong and took up residence there for many years to come.
This scene repeated itself countless times over the next several years. Be it a movie, a magazine, a stranger in a store, my sister and stepmom, and sometimes their friends, always pointed out men whose mere existence turned them on, and without fail teased me for not expressing the same heat they obviously felt.
It wasn’t just from family members. I heard girls at school and in youth group talk about men in the same way. The more conversations like this I overheard, the more exposed my differences became. During my preteen years, I was increasingly concerned I was a lesbian. I tested myself constantly by putting different images in my mind and judging my own reactions. I didn’t feel turned on by models in bikinis or simply the idea of a naked woman so I couldn’t even say I was attracted to one sex over the other. I was monumentally relieved about this, knowing how my family and church feel about homosexuality, but I was still confused.
I decided I’d need to start showing some attraction towards males who were commonly considered “hot.” I knew if I didn’t, someone would find me out. One night, in the summer of 2003, my stepmom ordered pizza and rented How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. It had just come out earlier that year. There is a scene in it early on when Matthew Mcconaughey changes his shirt in his work office. When his shirt came off, my stepmom and sister hooted and whistled. I looked at them both and joined in. I thought, Matthew Mcconaughey would make a great beard. I printed out pictures of him and plastered them on my bedroom wall next to the drawings my little siblings made me.
In my two years in public high school I did develop some crushes. Living with my dad, I was allowed to have friends and do things outside of going to school and church. I got to know some people in ways I had never known strangers outside of my home. For me, a crush was never inspired by the way a person dressed or carried themselves or by the standard way of rating someone’s looks. I never found the “hottest guy” attractive at all. In fact, if it weren’t for all the other girls telling me who was hottest, I’d have no idea how to gauge that. I did end up getting to know someone and becoming captivated by him. He and I dated for 9 months, an eternity to your typical teenager. However, had we not shared intimate secrets and our deepest desires, I may have never truly fallen for him. It was the depth of our connection that awakened me sensually.
During this time in high school, I also fell for a friend of mine. I never intended to. We were just very close friends, spent the night at one another’s houses, cried with each other when we were heartbroken over boys, other friends, or family. Through our time spent together, I began to see how beautiful a person she truly was. It was the things you can’t see, her heart, her mind, her loyalty, her love, that turned me on. We had been friends for nearly a year before I realized I was attracted to her in a way larger than friendship. It was the Fourth of July celebration on base. She was wearing jeans and a tan loose fitting t-shirt. Her lips were shiny with layers of gloss and her dark brown hair flowed freely down effortlessly accentuating the curve of her back. We sat on the grass, side by side, our arms touching. The fireworks on the outside were no match for what I felt inside. I willed her to feel what I felt. I had never possessed a desire as strong as this, to feel her lips on mine. She sat, staring at the sky, oblivious. When we hugged goodnight as we always did when parting, I tingled all over but nearly cried knowing I’d never do anything with this feeling. Later that night, I questioned once more my sexuality, and failed to make sense of it. Instead, I shoved aside the feelings for my friend and reverted back to a life of disguise. Our friendship dwindled after that. Though she made a reprise in my life a couple of times, I could never bring myself to be completely open with her. She worked for a long time to keep our friendship alive, and then I just let her fall away.
Throughout the next decade, when I heard of hate crimes against the gay community, shame would wash over me. I knew somehow not speaking up was hurting not only myself but others. When there were gay pride parades or events or when it became a topic of conversation in the media, I withdrew myself from the conversation, from the idea. I longed to be there, marching with them, supporting them, knowing I, myself, though not entirely sure I was gay, was different just like they are, but I stayed mute.
Years passed. I suppressed the thoughts and the confusion. After a time of separation from my little sister, we were catching up with a whirlwind of deep conversations. She was the first person whom I ever confided my confusing sexuality in. I described to her how I was not attracted to people physically, but rather to their person, their character, who they are. I don’t think about or look at a penis or a vagina or boobs or butts and get hot. I told her I don’t think it’s wrong that other people do, I’ve just never experienced it. I explained to her that it doesn’t mean I don’t get turned on, I just have to know the person first before I feel sexual desire towards them and then, it doesn’t matter what parts they have because the parts aren’t what I find attractive. She listened intently before saying with ease and without even a hint of judgement, “oh, you’re pansexual.”
It was a turning point for me, a light bulb moment. I had never even heard the term. I looked it up, read others’ accounts and for the first time realized I wasn’t completely alone in my different-ness. There wasn’t something wrong with me. Though I’m still not a proponent of labels, sometimes they are there to help us identify ourselves and to identify with one another, to help us not feel so alone. That’s what discovering the word “pansexual” did for me.
Since this revelation two years ago, I’ve told only exactly 4 people about my sexuality, excluding Hope, 3 of whom were coworkers I was certain would not judge me… not exactly courageous but still a small step of progress for me. Earlier this year I discovered Simone De Beauvoir for the first time. I instantly related to her, feeling she understood a part of me no one else fully had. I posted one of her quotes, “In itself, homosexuality is as limiting as heterosexuality: the ideal should be to be capable of loving a woman or a man; either, a human being, without feeling fear, restraint, or obligation.” It was a cryptic and half-assed attempt at coming out.
Recently I overheard two gay men at work making fun of someone they encountered who identified as pansexual. The ridicule was something like, “oh, now people are just making stuff up. You’re either gay or straight.” I was shocked, two men who have undoubtedly been discriminated against for their “differences” are now making fun of others in the same way. It hurt me, not only for myself, but for the many others out there who are “different” than those they are around, whether by their sexuality or race or religion. Enough is enough. I spoke up to those men that day and intend to continue speaking up.
Until this day, most of my family and my acquaintances have assumed I’m straight because the person I’m in love with now happens to be male. For a long time I considered myself lucky to have found a male companion, I thought if we make it for the long haul, I’ll never have to be honest with my loved ones or face the ramifications of coming out. I was fortunate to find him because in the world we live in, life is just easier for male-female couples. I was more than happy to hide behind the assumptions. However, for me this whole year has been about shedding the weight of expectations and shattering the glass box my family and society has put around me. It’s been about being true to myself, no matter the consequence. So today, to all of you I finally say, I’m not straight and I am not ashamed.
This isn’t as profound a statement as it may be for some others to make. I don’t anticipate my life to change in many ways because of it, and I’m ever aware of that luck. For many, coming out completely and utterly upturns their lives, but I still feel my honesty is important. We are in a unique situation in the year 2016. The LGBTQ community has more rights than ever before, but this election season has given the public approval to spew hate once again. It’s becoming socially acceptable, the hate crimes, the disgusting offensive vernacular often used to describe this community. These are your brothers and sisters, your children, your friends, your parents, your cousins, your colleagues, people who are out and people who are so scared they may never come out. One of my deepest regrets is being too cowardly to speak out sooner. I will no longer remain voiceless. When you stay silent, you contribute to the pain and suffering inflicted on each of them.
If you’ve been quiet, whether about your own sexuality or simply your personal opinion on human rights, today, please, at the very least, consider coming out as an ally.
“The words of our enemies aren’t as awful as the silence of our friends.” -Daisy Coleman