Dear Dr. Ren,
I’m a 30-year-old woman who’s confused about my orientation. I’ve always dated men but in the last few years have been drawn more and more to women.
I’ve dated several women now but still see guys too. My social circle is dominated by sports, so I’m surrounded by lesbians and that’s where I met the women I’ve dated.
The reason I worry is that I feel weird when I kiss girls and when I go down on them, although I really like everything else about the sex and even feel more comfortable socially now with women than I do with guys. I mean, I’d rather spend my time with my women friends than with the men I still date, except the sex seems so unfamiliar.
Can you recommend some books I can read to help me figure this out or give me some advice?
Fish Out of Water
Dear Fish Out of Water,
Ah, yes. Is it sort of like finding yourself driving on a magnificent country road in a fine English roadster, sun shining, wind in your hair, and all of a sudden there is a line of traffic approaching in your lane, beeping and waving? By golly, you’re in a dream and you’ve landed yourself in jolly old England driving on the wrong side of the road!
Blissful as the setting is, navigating on this side is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Do you want to wake up even if it means losing the idyllic dream?
Or perhaps you’ve been playing softball (or soccer, or basketball) with someone for ages now and you consider her a good friend. Now you realize you feel something romantic or maybe sexual for her, too. You ask her out and she accepts.
When you kiss her, it feels too… familiar… to be erotic. Then again, going down on her feels too un familiar! Is this because you are not cut out to be a lesbian?
Are these the thoughts that are driving you crazy? I assure you that this is quite typical of the coming out process, especially with a later start.
First of all, let me address the issue of women’s sexuality, which, until recently, was considered to be like men’s, only less visual and demanding. We know now that is misleading — indeed, our sexuality is fluid, expansive and culturally manipulated. If you are feeling a shift on a personal level, it is no wonder it feels confusing. How not?
Secondly, erotic intention depends upon difference to ignite our interest, which is why we are not erotically attracted to those we grow up with (or long time friends). It is the basis for the fairytale excitement of eyes meeting across a crowded room. There is an evolutionary basis for this so we don’t inbreed, leaving us with the exhilaration of erotic awareness when we meet certain strangers.
So far in your experience, gender has been one of those differences, but you will learn that they appear in many forms. Chances are that someone will come along that you long to kiss and with whom sex feels completely right. However that is expressed and regardless the gender of that person, you will no longer feel any confusion.
Thirdly, this is not happening in a vacuum. You will be torn in many directions, experience conflicting emotions, hear judgments, long for peace. You have friends, lovers, family, co-workers and your community at large to consider, as well as your own state of happiness. You will want to please everyone and be unable to do so.
You may wonder why you ever took this step — and simultaneously wonder whatever took you so long. At 30, you may feel like you have entered another sort of social adolescence without the camaraderie of the high school peer group.
Coming out is regulated more by a rheostat than an on/off switch. You may well find that you date women and men interchangeably for a while. You may also want a period of sexual abstinence.
There are no right or wrong policies, nor any time lines. This is a journey rather than a destination and you don’t have to choose — ever — though most do.
I suggest you join a coming out group at your LGBT Centre, go to your gay-friendly bookstore and choose the books that speak to you, and consider finding a therapist sensitive to your needs.
Coming out involves so much more than sex. Though there is no single guidebook, you do not need to do this alone. Many have gone before you and are willing to show you the way. Take advantage of the many individuals and agencies available to help you navigate what can be the choppy waters of our homophobic and eroto-phobic society.
You stand poised at what may be the juncture of many great discoveries. Remember that the outcome is irrelevant. What matters is that you remain open to possibility, that you take some risk while keeping yourself safe, and that you learn all you can along the way.
And, oh yes, do have some fun!