Archive for the ‘same-sex attraction’ Category

Look at me
I will never pass for a perfect bride
Or a perfect daughter
Can it be
I’m not meant to play this part?
Now I see
That if I were truly to be myself
I would break my fam’ly’s heart

Who is that girl I see
Staring straight
Back at me?
Why is my reflection someone
I don’t know?
Somehow I cannot hide
Who I am
Though I’ve tried
When will my reflection show
Who I am inside?
When will my reflection show
Who I am inside?

(Songwriter: James Merrill Brickman)

When I first saw Mulan, I felt as though I’d finally found a Disney “princess” with whom I could identify. Though my family and the Mormon culture did not take things to quite the same extreme as that of ancient China, I felt her plight in trying to fit into a role for which she felt unsuited. My entire childhood was bombarded with efforts to curb and shape me into the person my parents and my church felt I was meant to be. Meanwhile, I felt as though I was being forced to give up pieces of myself, and especially, as if my mother would never truly love me.. for just being me.

My father did not seem to mind that I was a “tom-boy”. He was glad I wanted to learn how to maintain a vehicle. He was happy to take me camping and fishing and teach me how to build a fire. He gave me a venomous snake identification book so that I could be safe while out catching snakes, frogs, and lizards. He helped me build a tree house. He supported me in my love of dirtbiking. He even seemed flattered by my desire to customize his old army bdu’s so I could wear them myself. I was permitted to dress up as whatever I chose for Halloween, and those costumes included Simba, a ninja turtle, a ghostbuster, a jedi, a ninja, and Robin Hood. I never went as a princess or a witch or anything even remotely feminine.

My mother, however, was always trying to work things in. She wanted me to wear bows in my hair. To wear dresses. To be in ballet and wear a pink tutu. To learn how to french braid. To learn how to cook and sew. Upon hitting puberty, she’d take me shopping in the girls section and insisted on buying me a few outfits that weren’t my older brother’s hand-me-downs. She made fun of me in front of my friends for not wanting to shave my legs or armpits. She tried to convince me to try on some makeup. She wanted to make a dress for me for prom, which I had no desire to attend. Even now, she often tries to get me to go shopping with her, and she’ll pick out pink lacy bras and underwear for me to try on. And she constantly tries to play matchmaker and set me up with guys I have no interest in dating.

While it was generally acceptable for me to enjoy doing “boy things”, it was apparently unacceptable for me to look like a boy while doing it, and it was equally unacceptable for me to NOT enjoy doing “girl things”. At church, I found comfort in songs like “Every Star is Different, and So is Every Child”, while I also had a message jammed down my throat that my gender was “an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose” (The Family Proclamation). From 12 to 18, I participated in the Young Women’s program, designed to prepare the young women of the church for their divine roles as women and mothers. I found many of the activities dull, and pointless, and boring, and I wished I could be part of the boy scouts and join them in their pinewood derby, camping, and other more interesting activities.

Since that was not an option, I attempted to influence the activities we did as young women, participating in planning and brainstorming in the hopes that the other girls shared my desire to have activities on vehicle maintenance, edible plant identification, self defense, carpentry, etc. I reveled in the yearly “girls camp” as an opportunity to finally get out and “rough it”, enjoying two weeks of bliss out in the woods. It was not, however, quite what I’d expected. A couple years had us sleeping in cabins instead of tents. And we spent more time on arts and crafts than we did archery or hiking. Snipe hunting was noticeably absent, as was zip-lining, carving, trail blazing, orienteering, herping, and repelling.

Never once did I consider the possibility that this “system” was what was wrong. I assumed it was me. I assumed I was doing something wrong. That I was somehow missing something that would make me fit better into this feminine role everyone seemed to think was required of me because I had breasts and a uterus. I tolerated those things I really disliked, hoping that such tolerance would shape me into the person I was apparently meant to be. Because I made every effort to fit into the role that was expected of me, I entered a relationship that thrust me into the gender role for which I’d been prepared.

I did not like being called beautiful. I did not like being coddled or babied. I did not like being treated like I was some kind of fragile flower. And I especially did not like it when the “endearing” commentary turned abusive. I did not like it when my husband called me a slut. I did not like it when he claimed my attire meant I was “asking to be raped” (sweatpants? really??). I did not like being expected to passively submit. I did not like “servicing” his sexual needs and desires.

When I entered that relationship, I felt generally good about myself. I was pursuing my “tom-boy” interests, dressing comfortably, and not giving a hoot who felt offended by my lack of femininity. When I left that relationship, I felt awful, and it wasn’t just the emotional turmoil and distress of having been abused. It was the ever present feeling that I somehow did not belong in my own body. I looked in the mirror and I felt ashamed. I avoided pictures. I tried to satisfy my depression by trying to make myself feel beautiful – trying to find clothing that accentuated my curves. I tried diet and exercise in an effort to get my stress weight under control and feel lean, and toned, and fit again. But every effort I made only seemed to make me feel worse.

Trying to just be yourself in a world that doesn’t accept you the way you are is an emotional roller coaster. I had no words to explain my plight until recently. I did not even understand what was wrong. I did not understand why I was struggling so much to feel happy and complete. While I was warring with my own inner turmoil, I was becoming educated about homosexuality and gender identity in an effort to be supportive of my friends in the LGBTQ community. I supported them as an ally, but I had no idea that their battle was my own.

Deep down, I understood what it felt like to be uncomfortable in your own skin, to being forced into conformity, but I still considered myself a straight woman. I was supportive, because what decent human being wouldn’t be supportive of individuals striving to overcome a social stigma that drives them to suicide?lgbtq_awareness001

I read stories like Leelah’s, and I was heartbroken. I came to realize that my own church was creating an environment that was hostile to people just trying to feel comfortable in their own skin. I realized that my tithes were funding an organization that was politicking for discrimination against their own children who were attempting and committing suicide at record rates in Utah, because of the teachings and doctrine of the church that told them their very existence was sinful and evil. I realized that countless parents have disowned their children and tossed them on the street for coming out queer, or bisexual, or transgender… or anything different from what the world expected them to be.

 As I started to educate myself on the biology of sexual and gender development (among other things), I found myself finally able to let go of the teachings I had long considered “true” but which had cause me and so many others distress. I accepted that my church leaders and teachers were WRONG about gender. It is not “divine”, and it does not always “match”. Sex and gender are two different things. While most people are either male identifying men or female identifying women, there are some who are male identifying women and female identifying men. Exactly how this gets “flipped” is still being studied, but it is clearly influenced by a combination of genetics, hormonal exposure, and environmental and cultural factors. Development isn’t “perfect”, and it does not always result in what would be considered normal and acceptable by the general populace.

In studying and accepting the facts, instead of assuming the teachings I grew up with were correct and trumped scientific evidences, I was finally able to evaluate my own experiences, feelings, and disparities and come to a conclusion that didn’t leave me wondering what was “wrong” with me. When I finally accepted that there was nothing wrong with me, and I do not need to force myself to fit into any stereotypical roles, everything fell into place.

Admitting that I was sexually attracted to women felt liberating. (For more information on that, you can read my post “Coming Out”.) For some reason though, admitting I was also transgender was terrifying. I think it was because, more than admitting being attracted to women, admitting this meant absolutely rejecting everything I was taught and brought up to be. It meant completely throwing away the stereotypes. It meant changing the way I try to present myself. And it meant facing a world-wide society that considers my deviation from the norm abhorrent.

However, despite the fear, it also meant I could let go of so many psychological chains that had been holding me back and pinning me down. I didn’t HAVE to be “beautiful”. I didn’t HAVE to feel “feminine”. I didn’t HAVE to even present myself as a woman! And I could also choose how far I was willing to take the transition. I don’t have to go through hormone replacement therapy or seek out a sex change if I don’t feel ready for or even desire such a huge change. I can just let go of everything society has always expected of me and just be the person I’m comfortable being.

I can accept myself and feel comfortable in my own skin, and it is amazing how just a few simple changes can make such a huge difference in how I feel about myself. I purchased men’s underwear, men’s hygiene products, stopped wearing a bra, bound my chest, and put on men’s attire, and I finally feel like I can look in the mirror and see ME. I finally feel comfortable taking pictures of myself. It doesn’t matter that the world will see me as an oddity. I’m accepting myself for who I am, and I don’t feel forced any more. I feel free.

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As a little girl, I was seen as a tom-boy. I hated wearing pink. Didn’t like anything frilly or lacy. Couldn’t stand being called by nicknames that sounded girly or “prissy”. And I loved doing “boy” things. I had a brother just two years older than me and a sister one year younger than me, and rather than play house or dolls with my sister, I preferred laser tag in the woods or cops and robbers around the house.

Watching childhood videos and cartoons, I never once saw myself in the role of a princess or damsel in distress. I was always the “hero”. When playing make-believe with my kindergarten friends, I’d want to play the part of Dar’tangan from the Three Musketeers, or the green ranger from Power Rangers, or Leonardo from Ninja Turtles, or my favorite – Spiderman. Never Spiderwoman – I didn’t like her. It had to be Spiderman.

When I started hitting puberty, I had absolutely no interest in wearing makeup, no interest in fiddling with my hair, no interest in dresses. I preferred wearing my older brother’s hand-me-downs and shopping in the boys section for cargo pants to trying on dresses or skirts or tank tops from the girls section. By now, I was “one of the guys”, and I seemed to understand boys far better than I did my own gender.

With all this build-up, you’d think it’d be obvious I’d develop an attraction for women, but when my fellow pubescent teens started experimenting and showing interest in boyfriends and girlfriends… I just wasn’t interested in anyone. At that point in time, dating just wasn’t even a consideration in my mind. I had other interests to pursue. So, to add to my “tom-boyish” oddity, I became the bookish “know-it-all”. I didn’t really fit in anywhere socially, but I didn’t care. I did have friends, but there was always this sense that I was on the edge of the crowd. Aloof. Apart.

I attributed my lack of interest to faith and spirituality. See, I grew up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka the Mormon Church), and in that church they had some very rigid teachings about sex and relationships. As little children, our understanding of love and family was indoctrinated with songs like “I Love to See the Temple” in which we’d sing about “going there some day” to wed for all eternity. In the Young Women’s program (age 12-18) we prepared for “womanhood and motherhood” and made temple time capsules in which we’d write our plans for our temple weddings to a worthy Priesthood holder and write a letter to the man we were saving ourselves for.

I was taught that ANYTHING sexual outside marriage was sinful. To have even feelings of lust or attraction toward another was to be suppressed, because such feelings were to be saved and only experienced with “the one”. So naturally, I thought the fact that I seemed to feel nothing was merely a sign that I was living a strongly spiritual life guarded against temptations and that I had not yet met the man I was destined to marry in the temple.

My parents whole-heartedly believed (and still believe) these teachings, and they would often share their own story as an example. My mother did not grow up in the church and she had a troubled childhood filled with abuse, but she came to church on her own as a teen for a respite from her traumatic home and wanted badly to believe in the kind of love they promised – a love that would last for eternity. My father did grow up in the church, and he believed he’d promised himself to his soul mate in heaven before coming to earth. He treated dating like a mission to find this person he’d promised himself to. He would take a girl out on a single date, and then pray to the Lord to ask if she was “the one”. With each date, he felt he kept receiving a “no” in answer, so he’d move on and keep looking.

Eventually, my father met my mother (of course). He didn’t expect her to be “the one”. He didn’t even ask her out – a friend set them up on a date. But when he prayed about her, he felt like he received his “yes”. My mother had also prayed and felt like she’d received a “yes” concerning my father. So, when they went on their second date, my father popped the question and my mother said yes. Crazy, right? Well, they’ve been married for 29 years now and while their marriage certainly isn’t perfect, they are genuinely in love and relatively happy. As a child growing up in a home like that, with parents sporting a love story like that, what was to be expected other than believing in “happily ever after” romance and the obvious connection of a “one true love”?

So, while I didn’t feel attracted to anyone, and while I was an obvious tom-boy, and while I clearly felt disconnected socially from my peers, I never suspected anything amiss, and I had my hopes that I would one day find the man I was attracted to and have my own “happily ever after” story. Enter high school and my first exposure to individuals identifying as gay or lesbian or bisexual:

“Same-sex attraction”, as the church called it, was a “temptation” some individuals faced in their lives. It was, of course, to be repressed and not acted upon, just like every other sexual feelings or attractions a person might feel toward someone they did not plan to marry in the temple. Many people felt rather uncomfortable associating with those who identified as “queer”, so in a cliquish high school these teens had little recourse but to band together with the other “outcasts” and “misfits”. I fit right in…

I am sad to say, I was not a true friend to these people. I saw their plight as a perfect missionary opportunity. Oh, I was kind to them, friendly, not judgmental… but I was constantly looking for plugs to share with them a scripture and invite them to come with me to a church activity. So it was that one of these girls (a lesbian with some serious anger-management problems due to post-traumatic stress after having been molested by a family member) came to church with me. I thought I was doing her a favor. Little did I know the leaders in my church were just as uncomfortable associating with “gender-queer” individuals as most of my high school classmates.

She attended numerous Young Women’s activities with me, but she would often go wandering when the topics did not interest her, and a few of the girls who also lacked interest started wandering off with her. It was harmless. They played basketball in the gym or walked around just outside the building, talking, but the Young Women’s president acted as if her “flock” was under attack. She spoke with our bishop, and he pulled my friend aside to tell her that if she wanted to continue attending our church activities, she needed to “dress accordingly”, remove her ring accessories, and participate in the actual planned activities. After that, my friend told me she wasn’t interested in a church that wouldn’t accept her for who she was, and she never came back. I was crushed.

That experience stuck with me, and I started to wonder about my own gender identity. Was I a “tom-boy” because deep down, I was really a lesbian? Was I really not attracted to *anyone*, or deep down, was I really attracted to other women? Did this incident bother me so deeply, for years on end, because it actually struck a very personal cord I didn’t have the guts to recognize in myself? I examined these thoughts over and over again. I stared at men and women in passing and at pictures of men and women and constantly asked myself – do I find that attractive? Does anything about this person arouse me? Over and over, my answers kept coming up “no”, and I started wondering if maybe I was some other kind of broken. Maybe I wouldn’t ever feel attracted to anyone…

To reconcile my turmoil, I turned deeper into the teachings of my church and reassured myself that *someday* I would find “the one” and we’d be married in the temple for all eternity like my parents. I told myself that I was just a late bloomer…

College years came, and I started socializing more. I found a great group of friends, but once again found myself feeling a bit odd and aloof, especially when all the girls would ooh and aah over muscular men. One of my friends had a particular fascination with Vin Diesel, and while I loved his films it was really because I loved the action and kinda wanted to BE Vin Diesel. To reconcile, I just played along. I started oohing and aahing with my friends and pretended I also had a Vin Diesel crush.

More questions about my own sexuality and feelings started cropping up though when my hormones finally started to kick in and all my friends started finding boyfriends. There still wasn’t really anyone I was interested in, but I was definitely starting to have odd feelings I couldn’t quite explain. I tried exploring it as an academic interest and to let out my pent up frustrations started participating in online text-based erotic role-plays. Only… I always cast myself in the role of the man. This led to exploration with pornography, and no matter how much I tried to convince myself otherwise, looking at the women was what got me going.

Being the “goody-two-shoes” Christian I was, I felt wracked with guilt. My self-esteem plummeted as I saw my struggles to control my hormones as a vile temptation, my viewing of pornography as an addiction, and my eventual experimentation with masturbation as a sin. So it was that when a man FINALLY seemed to show a romantic interest in me, I leaped on the opportunity. My “tom-boy” ways weren’t a problem for him. We had a shared interest in martial arts and wrestling, and he considered it immensely attractive that I wanted to practice my judo throws and pins with him.

There were certainly qualities about his masculinity that attracted me. He was very large, about twice my size at least (I’m a small person – I was 5’0″ and weighed 125lbs when we met), and it felt great to lean into his embrace with his bulk against my back. Like a giant bear hug. And I liked his beard. If there’s anything about men I DO find attractive, it’s a nicely kept beard. Mmm.. But everything else, honestly, could be attributed to nothing more than the emotional rush of a first relationship and the joy of finally having “someone”.

I convinced myself he was “the one” and allowed myself to become vulnerable. For those who’d like more details on what transpired with him, you can check out my previous blog posts “Broken Trust” and “The Abuse We Teach”. For this post, all that really matters here is that the relationship was terribly unhealthy and abusive. It ended with many scars from which I’m still healing.

Now many Christians (and especially Mormons) will say this bad relationship warped my perceptions of men. That it is because I lost trust in men that I no longer find them attractive, and that I need to open myself up to the healing offered through Christ’s atonement. To that, I say BULLSHIT. I still trust my father. I still trust my brothers. I still trust my many, many male friends. And I have no problem getting along with men in the platonic sense. Look at all the evidences that have been piled up throughout this story and you will realize that entering that relationship was a mistake not just because the man was abusive, but because I did not even understand my own feelings and attractions.

Because of the teachings of my church, I did not even consider the possibility that I might be attracted to women. Dating women wasn’t an option. If I DID feel attracted to women, such was a temptation to be repressed, suppressed, ignored, and avoided at all costs. My ONLY option was to find a MAN who could take me to the temple, because that was the only righteous way to allow sexual feelings to find release – between a man and a women lawfully wed under God.

Even when I let go of religious indoctrinations and came to the conclusion that God and Jesus were little more than imaginary friends people rely on to comfort them from the unknown, I still had a hard time entertaining the thought that I might be attracted to women. When I came out atheist, I asserted that I *might* be bisexual, but I wasn’t certain, and after a couple months of contemplation I determined that I was not. HOWEVER:

I am NOW coming out. While I may have felt some minute attraction toward men before my failed relationship, such attractions would have marked me bisexual, because I most definitely *am* attracted to women. I’ve only recently come to admit to myself that when I walk through my college campus I’ll quickly glance over the men without giving them much of a thought while I find myself staring at a woman’s ass. I love breasts. I love curves. I love the way women look when they dress up and do crazy things with their hair and makeup, and I love the way heels just do amazing things to the curve of their legs.

I love looking at women, and I often find myself wondering what it would be like to kiss them, or yes, grope them. While I do miss the feeling of security brought on by the bulk of a man’s body behind my back as he wraps his arms around me in a reassuring hug, and while I do still like beards, I cannot hide from the obvious feelings that have been warring within me for release for so long. I like women. I’m ATTRACTED to women. And that’s okay.

AYRYW1 Hand of a child opening a cupboard door