A lesbian, to be specific.
Poor me. Doomed to a life of being different by something hardwired in my system, something pressed into my DNA, something I have no control over.
Or at least that’s the story we hear so often these days. We hear about the possibility of a gay gene. We hear people argue that God wouldn’t have made gay people if He didn’t want them to live that way. There is even a video on YouTube where an interviewer asks people whether they believe being gay is a choice. If they answer yes, the interviewer quickly asks them to recount the moment they chose to be straight.
For the most part, I take this as a sign of progress but I have to confess, the more I’ve heard this line of reasoning repeated, the more I’ve felt painted into a corner. I mean, what if I told you that I chose to be gay? Would that suddenly mean that it wasn’t okay? Is it only justifiable to be gay so long as we gays have absolutely no choice whatsoever in the decision? That’s how it’s beginning to feel.
I started to come out in 1999. (I say started because coming out never ends. I just came out to you a couple of paragraphs ago.)
I sat down across from the table with countless people, looked in their eyes and told them that I was gay. I was certain that some of these people, whom I loved dearly, would disown me.
I did not want to have these conversations.
I did not want to say the word lesbian.
I did not want to be gay.
Choosing to be gay, in my opinion, was like choosing to have one leg shorter than the other, which is to say it wasn’t a choice at all. Who would choose to spend their life limping around or wearing a lift in one shoe?
After coming out, I spent some time getting my feet wet in the gay world. I dated a few women, made friends with a group of lesbians and had a handful of lovely sexual experiences. I accepted the idea that I had no choice in the matter. If I could’ve chosen another path I would’ve. In a heartbeat, in the blink of an eye, without a doubt.
Or so I said.
About a year and a half after I came out, I moved to Miami where I fell in love for the first time, which would have been wonderful if not for the fact that the person I fell in love with was a man. (For the purposes of this story, I’ll call him Jacob; and for the record, yes, he knew I was gay and no, he was not a closeted gay man as is often the case when a lesbian falls in love with a man.)
At the time, I was building houses with Habitat for Humanity and Jacob was a fellow Americorps members. We both had “sort-of” girlfriends—women we’d left behind with no expectation of exclusivity. We started out as friends, but we found ourselves inexplicably drawn to each other. We spent all of our free time together, had deep, meaningful conversations while gazing into each other’s eyes, curled our bodies into each other when we took naps (yes, naps!), held hands when we went to the movies, cuddled on the couch. We did all of the things that couples do. Well, almost.
At a certain point, I realized that I’d fallen in love with him, which seemed impossible. How does a gay woman fall in love with a man? Maybe I was simply closer to the middle of Kinsey’s famous spectrum but still teetering towards being gay? Or maybe I was one of those people who fell in love with the person regardless of gender? I didn’t know what I was; I just knew that somehow I’d fallen in love with this man. It seemed odd but I figured that maybe I wasn’t going to have to spend my life hobbling around with my bum leg after all.
Perhaps a bit ironically, Jacob looked like the white man’s version of Jesus, with long brown hair that he kept pulled back in a ponytail, a neatly trimmed beard and blue almond shaped eyes. He was handsome and charming and hilariously sarcastic. He also had a knack for asking me questions that forced me to reexamine long held beliefs.
After four months of this pseudo relationship, we finally kissed.
While we were kissing I thought, “Oh, okay, we’re kissing.” Then I thought, “Stop thinking about the fact that we’re kissing and just kiss him.” But I couldn’t. I was conscious of all the wrong things: the way our breathing sounded, the way his beard felt against my face, the fact that I wanted to love kissing him, but I just didn’t.
When we finished, I wanted to cry. I think he did too. We both knew. We didn’t talk much about it, just tried to let things go back to the way they’d been. Neither of us wanted to lose the other.
Shortly after our disastrous kiss, I flew home over Christmas and saw my “sort of” girlfriend. When our lips locked on the dance floor of a club, I thought my whole body might burst into flames.
All of this seemed only to firm up my already drawn conclusion that my being gay was not a choice. After all, I had no control over the way that my body reacted to those two kisses.
But then again, I had no control over the intense attraction I felt toward Jacob. Sure, it seemed to be lacking a physical component but that didn’t mean I could disregard it. It was as though my attraction to Jacob transcended the physical, as though we had leapfrogged into the realm of some “relationship future,” where the initial buzz of electricity that two individuals feel disappears and all of the other stuff—their mind and their character—become the life sustaining forces.
Jacob was wonderful and kind and handsome, and I have always thought that we might have had a very happy life together if I had chosen to be with him.
And I could have made that choice.
I’m not advocating that gay people get into straight relationships so that they can avoid living as a gay person. I’m merely saying that I had a choice between living a straight existence with him and living a gay existence.
I chose women. I chose my “sort of” girlfriend and I am grateful for this because it led me, albeit very circuitously, to the woman I married.
Did I choose to “be gay” or did I choose simply to live the way that I was made? I don’t know, but I do know that the answer to that question should not dictate the way that I am treated in this world. I do know that it’s not as black and white as many people want to make it out to be.
The word tolerance comes from tolerantia, Latin for endurance. Endurance. A thing we have to work to build. A thing that requires willful effort. Day after day, until we can withstand things that we otherwise would not. It’s not supposed to be easy.
If I chose this life, it should be okay, even if that’s difficult to understand.
I’ve come to believe that being gay and living as a gay woman is what makes me happiest. And for the record, I’m not wearing lifts and I do not walk with a limp.
Danielle Ariano is a writer by night and a cabinetmaker by day. She holds an M.F.A in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Baltimore. Her work has also appeared in The Huffington Post, the light ekphrastic and Rufuos City Review.