It’s been 7 years since I finished college but I’ve been thinking recently about why I was so closeted there, even to myself. And I think a lot of it is because my sexuality is so tied up in gender and I didn’t have the words even then to see or describe myself. There were also some major barriers that got in my way.
When I first came to University, I was probably one of the most conservative people there, even at my conservative evangelical college. I was just coming out of my fundamentalist homeschooling experience and starting to actually see parts of the world on my own for the first time. And while I was starting to be a little more open to HEARING new ideas, I definitely wasn’t very open to the prospect of changing what I believed. My parents didn’t want me to attend because it was clearly a “liberal” school where they taught evolution. So I came armed with an entire box of books on how to refute evolutionist teachers and “prove” 7 day creationism.
At that point in my life I had never knowingly met an out gay person and I had never even heard of trans people, much less the concept of nonbinary identity. But I was admittedly a very sensitive and naive kid who in part because I wasn’t exposed to a traditional schooling system, hadn’t had much of my gender nonconformity questioned.
My first year I had many hilarious mishaps because I desperately wanted to be friends with the women around me but every time I tried to get close in what I considered to be platonic ways, people always mistook that for attempts to date. Admittedly asking someone to go sing love songs from musicals in a practice room probably would be a date for most people. And when they found out that I wasn’t interested in dating, most people put that together with my sensitive nature and assumed I was gay. There were apparently bets going on about how long it would be before I came out.
And in some ways they were right. I was very gay but they were assuming I was gay for guys and it turns out I was just very gay for women because I mostly am one. But I sadly didn’t figure that out there.
My second year, I screwed up the courage to attend a couple events at the campus’ controversial LGBT discussion club, mostly because I am insatiably curious. And one of those events was a panel with trans people which is where I met my first out trans person who I am still friends with to this day. My mind was blown by the idea that you could reject the gender you were assigned at birth but still my only exposure at that point was to AFAB transmasculine people and binary trans women. And I didn’t think I could ever get to the point where people would believe I was a woman so I dismissed the idea pretty quickly.
When I joined the club the next year as a regular member I started identifying myself as a gender nonconforming ally since I didn’t know where else I fit. I knew I wasn’t gay for guys and I didn’t really know much about bisexuality so I assumed me being interested in women settled the matter. I also made the very terrible choice to get married to a cis woman the summer before my Junior year, mostly so I could pay for school since my dad was trying to use money as a leverage to keep me from becoming too liberal. And at that point I assumed that your sexuality was defined by who you dated and that marriage made me straight. Being in a marriage that I thought put the questions about my sexuality to bed also helped my confidence in being part of such a controversial group.
The next couple years where very chaotic for me, both as a member of the queer club and for my marriage. This was a campus that banned all “homosexual activity” so the group was constantly at risk of being shut down. My junior year they tried to kick us off campus but we eventually rebelled and kept meeting anyway. My senior year I joined the leadership team and it ended up being a pretty crucial year. They tried to shut us down completely by telling us that we didn’t exist anymore and that we absolutely could not reserve rooms. So of course we met in the common areas which made the group less safe but definitely made our point. We weren’t going away. A 6 week intense struggle with the administration ensued where I became the de facto spokesperson for the group, even as a “ally”, and was on the front page of the school paper 4 weeks in a row and interviewed by several news outlets. Eventually the alumni organized a successful letter writing campaign and once the administration realized there was donor money on both sides they backed off and offered a private apology with the permission to not only meet on campus but advertise for the first time. The focus on our mere existence as a group definitely effected how much we could think about our own identities though.
All that time I was also going through a crisis in my marriage that forced me to put any exploration of my gender and sexuality on the back burner. Since I had come out of fundamentalism I had never dated or even kissed anyone before my ex wife. And while we had experimented with some sexual acts before marriage, that all went away about the time I got engaged. It turns out she was likely somewhere on the asexuality spectrum but didn’t have the self awareness or even willingness to confront that to figure it out. So me, a very allosexual (opposite of asexual) person at the time, was very confused when once we were married we never had sex. (The first time I had “traditional” PIV sex wasn’t until 5 years later).
She also was treating me very poorly during this time and increasingly being emotionally and verbally abusive and controlling. So I focused all my emotional energy onto trying to find the solution to fixing my marriage instead of figuring out who I actually was. After college that kept up for far too long until I eventually had the courage to leave her after 6 years of marriage. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I did finally start to figure myself out and wanted to come out as genderqueer and pansexual and she didn’t want me to tell anyone because she didn’t want to have to answer questions about what that meant for her. She had some very deep set biphobia and it turns out her mom had been whispering in her ear the whole time that I was gay and was eventually going to leave her for a man.
The way I finally figured out my identity was through dating once I became polyamorous as a last ditch attempt to figure out how to make a sexless marriage work. I knew by that point I was not only attracted to women but also to nonbinary people and it was a fellow enby who pushed me to think about how to broaden the definitions of androgyny and think about myself in that context. And by realizing I was attracted to transmasculine people, it helped me unlock my queerness and realize that I was also attracted to a variety of body parts.
Anyway, the point of that story is that there are lots of barriers in life that can prevent you from discovering who you really are. And sometimes it requires addressing those barriers or figuring out the complex intertwining of gender and sex that unlocks that door. I really wish I had figured out who I was sooner but in the end it worked out for me.