OPINION: Queering straightforward narratives
"There was no space for finding myself, except on the precipice of despair"
Until about five years ago I had never questioned my sexuality. Not because I always knew I was gay, but because it never occurred to me that I could be anything but straight. For over 30 years, I had no sense of being in the closet or of having a secret I couldn’t bear to know or share. The narratives that surrounded queerness always seemed to centre on the experience of always having “known” and because I didn’t have that sense, I was locked into straightness.
From the age of 14, my life was put on hold due to an eating disorder and severe depression. I isolated myself from peers and shied away from what I considered to be base, primitive, and unruly needs. I did not see myself as someone with sexual desire; I had an ethereal sense of myself as transcending the human condition through deprivation both physical and emotional. There was no space for experimentation or finding myself, except on the precipice of despair.
There were sexual encounters with men, but they were about ticking boxes, doing what was expected. I was never in my body during sex with men; I vacated myself and waited for it to be over. Often, I would be left in deep distress, once even cutting the word “remember” into my leg to remind myself how awful sex made me feel. Still, I never thought it was because I wasn’t attracted to men, just that I didn’t need sex, that I would probably end up a spinster.
And then five years ago I found myself setting up a profile on a lesbian dating app. It was as if a part of me was quietly signalling the existence of an estranged aspect of myself that was still just a whisper. I didn’t go on any actual dates for a couple of years, because I felt like an imposter. How could I really know that I was attracted to women if I had never been with a woman before? Would I be accepted? How would I learn to navigate a place in the LGBTQ+ community when my experiences felt like they were anathema to the sense of having been born this way, of always knowing? But then straight people seem confident in their capacity to know they are straight before they’ve been in a relationship.
And so I came to identify as queer, because it seemed a less definitive category, more accommodating of my story, something that couldn’t quite be pinned down. I knew I was attracted to women but didn’t know where men and people of other genders figured into it so I didn’t feel confident claiming myself to be lesbian. With this newfound identity, or start of one, I felt able to dip my toe in the dating pool. I met some lovely women, but didn’t feel that elusive “spark”.
That was until recently when I met a woman with whom I clicked straight away. I found myself being accepted for who I am, my experiences respected, and the sense of being an imposter gave way to a very clear sense of myself as a gay woman. It has felt like coming home to myself, a coming-to-know, rather than a straightforward coming-out. For the first time in my life I am feeling a sense of ease in my skin, a sense of finding and recognising myself, as well as of meeting pieces of myself I didn’t know existed.
I am writing this for those of us who queer the straightforward narratives that exist in the mainstream media. For those of us who didn’t “always know”. Your desires are still valid, there’s still a place for you, and we must hold each other’s stories with care and acceptance so that we all have a chance of coming to know ourselves and fulfilling our desires. We all deserve that.
Eleanor Higgins is a queer writer of non-fiction prose and poetry, a feminist activist, and is studying for an MA in psychoanalytic studies. She lives in London.
Opinions expressed by contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors of DIVA magazine or its publishers.
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