This post explores the topic of sexuality, particularly mine, and is probably a little too candid/overshare, but it’s part of the puzzle and a part I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately.
The year is 1998. My mom is trying to figure out how to handle having a preteen starting to openly express her interest in romance (it was always there, I assure you) as well as all the other things that stereo-typically come with this phase, like boy bands and girl power and admitting to crushes on celebrities, and so on. The movie Titanic has just become a phenomenon and my older cousins have seen it as have my classmates and everybody else in the world. Even John Hagee has seen it and talked about it on his broadcast (I don’t recall if he’d endorsed the film outright, but I vaguely recall him giving it enough of a thumbs up for my mom to eventually cave, since my dad also really wanted to watch it).
The year is 1998. The movie is boring as all get out. And of course certain scenes get the fast-forward treatment while I’m told to look away while other jokes/comments in the film earn me my mom’s infamous “glare” (a glare where she’d look at my dad, me, and/or my sister as if WE should be ashamed for this trash, like it’s our fault it exists, or our fault for not having fled the room as soon as we heard it or… to be honest, we never really have figured out what her intention with that glare was, but thankfully it’s not a thing anymore). But of course all that matters to me, the ten year old sheep that I am, is Jack and Rose have a tragic romance and it’s just not fair Jack (oh so dreamy Leo!!!!) had to die and oh my gosh now Celine is singing and it’s so beautiful.
Even though I never watch the movie again it’s still a major part of my life for a short time. I listen to the soundtrack cassette I’m permitted to have, to the point that my grandmother bans it from being played/sung in her house when any of us are there or else we can listen to it once only if we also listen to “Candle In The Wind” right after. I sing “My Heart Will Go On” at the school talent show (anecdote: one time in rehearsal I had to sing it acapella because the demo tape wasn’t working and I was so freaked out that I closed my eyes the whole time trying not to faint; when I opened my eyes I was suddenly surrounded by all of my classmates cheering for me and saying “encore” and for an extremely bullied child that was the most beautiful moment of my elementary school career). I get a shirt with the emphasis “I’m flying” scene. Then. Then I get the same scene on a poster.
And it’s that poster that I think about just as often as that moment of unexpected accolade from my peers. Because my mom was very against it hanging on the wall, especially beside my bed. She was very anti-poster in general during this period of time. Naturally, I assumed that it was because of Leo, but as it turned out it was also because of Kate. I don’t recall quite when she admitted to me her concern (it had been up for some time at least), but the gist of her concern was it being inappropriate for a girl to have a poster of a woman on her wall. That has stuck with me for years.
I remember laughing outright at her reasoning, even then, because the poster was glorifying a heterosexual relationship (even if I didn’t word it so adequately) and because in my mind having Kate also on the poster should make it more appropriate because it somehow saved it from being all about my lust for Leo (also not worded quite so succinctly at the time).
In retrospect, I always consider it odd that my mom would look at the poster and think of it as, “oh, she’s going to become a lesbian because Kate Winslet is on here.” Which, like, hey I get it. Kate is attractive. I don’t know if she’s my type since I get the feeling we’d be too much alike, but I get it. What I don’t get is whether my mom looked at Kate and thought something herself that made her freak out about impressionable me? Or if it was something she’d read/heard about (like there are, iirc, some anti-gay conversion propaganda I’ve seen where boys even having too many posters of male athletes could be an indicator that it’s more than just about the athletics)? Or if she was just legitimately concerned her tomboy daughter who wanted the boy toys just as much as she wanted her princesses and Barbies was at risk to become a lesbian.
Sometimes, I think it’s the last one. Because there are similar examples in my youth that indicate she wanted to isolate me from girls just as much as from boys. She wasn’t fond of girl music groups. She wasn’t fond of teen female singers (even Christian ones) or my obsession with them (to be fair she may have also been afraid I was a feminist or something for my preference for female voices, characters etc.). She didn’t like my obsession with female characters like Ariel or Eowyn or Mary-Jane Watson, a few off the top of my head, and only seemed to come to terms with it when she processed it as my identifying strongly with the characters’ personalities (but, FYI, I’m pretty sure I was as equally attracted to M.J. as I was envious of her; it’s the darned red hair, I can’t help it). She also didn’t like the idea of girls being super close as friends. Like you know how normal teenage girls who are friends share things? She didn’t like that. She didn’t really like sleepovers, because you might do things you shouldn’t including talking about boys and sharing a bed). She didn’t really want me changing in the locker room in front of other girls. Girl-only was as bad as co-ed somehow. Etc. Etc.
Maybe it’s because I was obsessed with D.J. Tanner just as much as I was with her boyfriend, Steve (and let’s not even get started on my Stephanie Tanner phase since she was the rebel and my mom hated her risque friendship with Gia)? Maybe it’s because I loved Ariel, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Belle, Cinderella, Esmeralda, etc. so much? Maybe it’s because I vehemently denied that I had a crush on J.T.T. while also so obviously having a crush on J.T.T. (and Jeremy Irons and Robin Williams and John Stamos and lots of other way too old for me actors). Maybe it’s because I continued to vehemently deny my crushes on boys? Maybe it’s because of something I don’t even remember?
But, I don’t know, sometimes I simply wonder if something made her think/worry I was going to be a lesbian. (Note: bisexuality probably wouldn’t have crossed her mind because I recall at one point in my late teens her not getting the concept; like it was just promiscuity with both sexes instead of one and teens ‘experimenting’ and not a real thing.)
If so she missed the bulls-eye, but got close enough.
I one hundred percent identify as a grey-area asexual. As a single person, there are people/characteristics/etc. that make me sexually aroused like any other person (though they are usually very specific and very rarely with people am I actually aroused to a point of actually entertaining the notion of sex with said person) or days where I’m hornier than others. As a person in a relationship? I don’t know since I don’t have any qualifiers, but my theory is I’m probably more specifically demisexual because I’m not going to be sexually attracted to you unless I fall in love with you and feel comfortable enough to be intimate. I see the indication of grey-a/demisexuality easily in my youth. I had crushes but I didn’t like the idea of being overly physical with a crush, like let’s just get married and adopt (it was always adoption in my mind) kids and build a dream house and forget the kissing stuff. I vehemently denied crushes (see: J.T.T.) because I found them attractive usually more than just physically but by personality and again didn’t want people to think I wanted to kiss them or be intimate because I did. not. It made the ‘no dating’ rule easy because I really didn’t want the physicality that apparently all hormonal teens want (the purity commitment wasn’t really hard for me to get behind since I didn’t want it 80% of the time anyways). On the other hand it made the ‘no dating’ rule difficult because I wanted the emotional intimacy and romantic gestures and, by that time, the cuddling and hand holding. At the same time, I had the occasional sex dream or curiosity about sex or so on as a kid. And that’s where it gets tricky.
Early on, I liked the female body. I just did. It was attractive to me. Female faces were better to look at. Breasts were nice. I didn’t care too much about the lower half of either sex – and still don’t with the exception of legs – but liked the general shape of the lower half. Like princess dresses that were fitted at the top and then flowed on the bottom, accentuating the waste and, I don’t know, giving the rounded bottom affect, were just as appealing to look at as they were for me to imagine myself in them. And fun fact: as a young teen I was obsessed with drawing dresses. I drew them left and right. But never with girls in them – even faceless girls – because I was afraid to. By this time I was repressing big time and knew my mother would disapprove because one time I drew a cartoon girl and gave her ‘breasts’ (and probably cleavage too, lol, because I liked it even if I had to repress that) and she freaked the freak out. I wanted to draw more than just the dresses and they looked weird as like dresses with no bodies in them in retrospect, but I couldn’t.
The point is. I liked girls too. I cared about what they thought of me more than I cared about what boys thought of me. Oh, and the prettier I thought a girl was, the more it bothered me when they made fun of me. I’m sure there’s socialization issues tied up in that, the competition between females set up by our society, but I also know it was a little more than just that. Boy bullies didn’t do nearly as much damage and at times I would laugh and say, ‘you can do better than that.’ With only the exception of the boys that I did like. When they were mean it really hurt. I denied any possibility that I liked girls, of course. Like, it wasn’t possible. Even though I desperately wanted to give in and ship male characters together even though it would be a sin, doing the same with female characters didn’t enter my mind because it couldn’t. Even though my eyes were more drawn to Jasmine’s body than Aladdin’s. Even though my vague sex dreams as a kid often entailed femme-skewing androgynous faceless humanoids (haha, I really don’t know how else to describe it) just sort of simulating whatever my sheltered child brain imagined sex must be like. Even though I thought feminine faces on a whole were more pleasant to look at (and even then I’ve consistently preferred pretty-boy or clean cut faces more often than the rough, scruffy, or similar type faces on men) – and, yes, I find some girls prettier than others too, however problematic that is. EVEN THOUGH. EVEN THOUGH. EVEN THOUGH.
It didn’t enter my mind because I’d already learned to repress it. I’d learned how to justify any interest in girls. By time my mom mentioned her concern about the poster, it couldn’t possibly be a thing because my interest in females was already rationalized. My interest in females as characters were because they were like me or how I wanted to be. My interest in real life females were because they were role models or girls I wanted to be ‘in with’. My ‘obsession’ with a girl in my kid’s church because she was so pretty and a good singer and all the girls and boys wanted to be her friend or boyfriend and mom, it’s just not fair because she seems so stuck up and she won’t even talk to me was obviously just jealousy and not a desire to be on her radar. (She actually became my best friend when we were teens, and she was one of the most vibrantly amazing and also incredibly frustrating people in my youth because of feelings I had to make up other names for because I couldn’t see it for what it was, let alone call it that.) And obviously my interest in the female physique was purely aesthetically driven. I wanted to have her hair or her body or her face for my own. #LooksGoals!
But there was the one thing I couldn’t reconcile. The small crack in the wall. Something so cognitively dissonant and dangerously sinful that rather than confront it, I lied about it. I buried my head in the sand and tried to pretend it didn’t happen. I knew when I was being sinful dreaming about boys, or being obsessed with boys, or having sexually deviant thoughts/dreams involving boys and girls, or just shy of deviant thoughts about male characters together (I’d always bait-and-switch my thoughts to force them hetero again – e.g. in my imagination the two very best guy friends would hug and I’d want them to kiss, but just kidding, their amazing girlfriends would show up and they’d kiss them instead and that was satisfying enough). I knew those things.
But I had no freaking idea how to cope with frequent romantic (if not sexual, beyond maybe kissing to my recollection) dreams where I would start as the female character in the dream and by the end of it be the male. Or where I’d be the male character only throughout. If you’re unsure what I mean, here’s one very specific example:
One time in the eighth grade I was going through a very serious Mary Poppins stage. That was my favorite movie and I read all the books and you better believe I was absolutely in love with the idea of Mary and Bert being together romantically. So, one night that manifested in a dream. In the dream, Mary and Bert were on a date. Only I was Mary. I was aware in my dream that I was acting as Mary in this and not Julie Andrews. If that makes sense. And I loved it. It was romantic and you can sign me up to this day for being wooed by Dick Van Dyke. Only, halfway through the romantic date, I became Bert. It was no longer Dick Van Dyke. And I wasn’t Mary simultaneously. I was very conscious of Mary being a separate person/character. As Bert, the romantic date continued on as if nothing had changed only I was aware of butterflies in my stomach as I took on this role as the man instead and a sense of ‘this is okay/natural/etc.’ and I kissed Mary and then promptly woke up. Now, obviously, I was just as obsessed with Julie Andrews as Dick Van Dyke so this makes sense in retrospect. I adored Julie. Idolized her. Thought she was the most beautiful, perfect angel ever with a voice to match (I still do), but unlike some other actresses I feel this way about (say, Doris Day or Judy Garland), I was probably physically attracted to her too and it manifested in that particular dream. And it had me shook.
The reason I recall it so much is because it wasn’t the only one I’d ever had, but it was the first one where I actively had to acknowledge it happened and then decide what to do with it. The next day at school lunch we were ironically talking about dreams and I was confronted with the clear memory of what I dreamed about. I couldn’t tell my friends, all girls, that I had dreamed I was both a man and a woman. I couldn’t. So I lied. I lied and said, I dreamed I was Mary Poppins on a date with Bert and… it was really romantic. It was. It was a really nice dream. But that wasn’t the truth. And I remember being reminded in that moment of all the other similar dreams I had that scared me because they just couldn’t exist. I’d even go on to lie about one of them as well as the topic of dreams at that lunch table continued and veered toward really weird dreams (since apparently it was weird enough that I dreamed I was Mary Poppins or that I thought Bert was attractive, the heathens). I lied and said the weirdest dream I’d ever had was marrying Bonkers T. Bobcat. The truth? I was Bonkers T. Bobcat. And I was marrying Miranda Wright. And, actually, weird as that was, it was also one of the best dreams I’d had. I remembered that dream well. And it had been nice too.
I had to pretend it wasn’t true because it shouldn’t be true. It was a bump in the road. Or maybe sinful nature. As long as no one knew, I was innocent. And I could deal with it by myself. And with God of course. They didn’t mean anything no matter how often it happened. After all, I just as frequently dreamed I was only the female character. I dreamed about the boys I liked where I was me. I didn’t dream about girls I liked, because I didn’t like girls. That dream about that girl I became best friends with where we were in love was just a fluke too, because she just so happened to be staying the night and we’d been jokingly singing romantic (mostly Disney) duets together so it was obviously just a rogue idea fresh in my mind…
I still have those dreams. Maybe not as frequently since I don’t dream as frequently – thank God, and I mean that literally because my dreams have always been rather lucid and I don’t enjoy them most of the time – but I still do on occasion. Sometimes romance isn’t even involved, I’m just a man/male character one minute and a woman/female character the next. Nbd. (I’ve always had traces of gender confusion in my life, albeit mostly superficial and nothing to the extreme that I don’t identify myself as my biological sex or want to become male. But that is an extremely long and muddled post for another time.)
In fact, I had one not even a week ago, which got me thinking about finally writing this post – a post I’ve been considering tackling for a good few months at least. It was vague, but I was dreaming about two random people, a man and woman, and eventually I transitioned to the male pov as I proposed to the woman. As usual, it was fine. Natural. I was feeling the feelings of this ‘male’ character in love with this random female and they were happy feelings. And, as usual, I remembered it when I woke up and started thinking about, well, the repression and lies over the years. I started thinking about how nobody is (was) ever supposed to know this about me. And, of course, I started thinking about my faith and my family and all the arguments back and forth about what is a sin and what isn’t and what’s covered and what’s not covered by grace and whether or not it’s a choice.
Then, in the midst of my ongoing depression, a couple of days ago I over-dramatically declared in a conversation with my mother, “Nobody loves me.” My mother insisted several times, “I love you.” In my head I responded, “But you wouldn’t if you really knew me.”
In my head I dismissed the idea that her love is unconditional. In my head I easily imagined a scenario where I said, “Hey, mom, so I’m still very much asexual even though you don’t seem to believe me and seem to think others think it’s code for gay but pretending not to be, and yeah about that…” only for it to go bad. Really bad. And fast.
To be fair, I don’t know that this is true, maybe I would be surprised, but I don’t know that I want to take that chance. Not when I have years and years of experiences that seem to say at best she’d freak out and declare aggressive spiritual warfare or something, my dad along with her I’m sure. Not when she wouldn’t grasp the extra layer of being mostly uninterested with the hypothetical bisexuality (or biromanticism as it might better be considered, who knows). And that poster and immunizations and baby formula and exposure to secular media and public school and demonic oppression would probably all be to blame. I just don’t know that I’m ready to go there with her even when part of me wants to just get it out there in the open and be done with it.
“I love you,” she says.
“But do you really?” I wonder.