After 12 years and two children, Julie Cypher leaves Melissa Etheridge, claiming that she’s not gay and she never was. (Sometimes I called myself a lesbian, willfully ignoring the false note it struck.) But soon after we started having sex, my girlfriend was hospitalized for depression. For months, I fretted over whether I was attracted to her. They were far more interested in the development of my body than they were in the development of my spirit.
In graduate school, I began dating a woman and came out as queer — a self-proclaimed “closer to gay than straight” bisexual woman. In my family, men were angry, unpredictable, judgmental and unavailable.
Where was the evidence that a relationship with a man could be loving and important and deep? For me, accepting my essential sexual attraction to men is akin to accepting that I might not ever date again.
If my past has anything to say about my future, I might not experience romantic love at all. That is, if straight is as straight does on television and in the movies, I don’t want it.
After graduate school, I moved to San Francisco, where I went through a spell of two-week relationships — manufactured and meaningless — with women. When we met to discuss dating, I could barely speak. Boys at school ignored me, or I ignored them; occasional friendships ran up against the iron shield of my entrenched defenses.
I thought, “I want this so badly.” It was the kind of experience commonly described by newly out gay people: “So this is what it can feel like.” But for me, there was something else, a long-held terror of men. Given this experience, why would I want to date men?
And for me, this love translated into romance, and then into sex, though only briefly.
Three times in eight years, I have fallen in love with women — women I would have committed my life to, if I could have.
There were long months of sad, impossible love (sans sex), and then a breakup. It did not feel good to be with them; it did not feel safe.
I’ll summarize my romantic/sexual résumé in one word: Sparse. But when I finally had that dream within my reach, I couldn’t do it.
And that, in fact, I had never wanted to be with women — not sexually, anyway. It has meant confronting old, powerful and deep-seated fears about who I am, what I’m capable of and whether intimate love is available to me. I cherished the emotional intimacy and craved the freedom, power and joy of the queer community, which looked like home.
In college, ditto, with a year of romantic bliss in the middle. We shared a bed, chastely, until her fiancé flew out from the West Coast and broke it up. Meanwhile — and I know how sad this is — I’m afraid of men.
In high school, I had long, obsessive crushes on boys who didn’t want me, and barely noticed the few who did. I was in love with my girlfriend, but I didn’t want to have sex with her.
When I was finally ready to say I wanted to be with men, I had to acknowledge that I couldn’t be with them — I was far too frightened — and that would it take time and a great deal of emotional work to get to a place where I could. I don’t like the patriarchy; I do my best to subvert it.