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Still Not Straight
Dating a man after a decade of dating women does not make me “unqueer”
I was in kindergarten when I met Leila, with her wild, curly brown hair and large, doll-like eyes. We each had our best friends, but we often hung out at the playground together. One day, she and I fought for reasons I don’t remember (why do kindergarten kids fight anyway?), and she offered me my favorite candy while saying sweetly, “Bati na tayo?” (Truce?). Even now, the surest way to get me to accept an apology is to offer me cheap sweets, say those words, and remind me of Leila’s eyes.
In sixth grade, I convinced a good friend of mine to ask Carla for a wallet-sized picture. Carla always seemed unreal to me whenever she passed by in the hallways, with her slim, athletic figure, her sleek black hair, and glowing olive skin. I carried her picture in my wallet until high school when I misplaced it together with my 1,000-peso savings (a fortune back then). I was devastated, and it wasn’t about the money.
Emily was the captain of my high school’s dance troupe. She walked with her chin and chest upturned, light on her feet, the flowery detergent smell of her uniform wafting around her. Whenever I caught that smell, my friend had to snap her fingers in front of my face to get me back to reality and to continue listening to her boy stories.
In college, I fell in love with a girl for the first time when she cried on my shoulder. I’d had a crush on her for the past year, buying her ice cream when she was stressed, studying calculus with her until late, and carrying her piggyback in the department lobby. That night, with her soft, wet face grazing my neck, I imagined raising our future daughter together.
At 20, I had my first girlfriend. I joined the university’s LGBT organization she was a part of. I marched and waved rainbow flags proudly by her side. We were together for four years until I could no longer imagine a future with her and broke her heart.
Soon after, I started a relationship with another woman, this time lasting eight years. We raised four cats together. No longer in our early twenties, we were subtler about raising rainbow flags but stauncher in our resolve to be seen just like any other couple—with careers, families, dreams, and a life to build together… until she couldn’t imagine a future with me anymore and broke my heart.
When my last girlfriend, whom I considered my life partner, broke up with me, I cried in the fetal position for an hour. Then I cried again while washing the dishes. I ran five miles at midnight and chose the darkest alleys walking home. I drank too much, talked to strangers, and did many other unsafe things. Luckily, I had built enough resilience and self-esteem throughout the years that I managed to keep my chin lifted over the water, my arms flailing, and eventually dragged myself back to shore.
Two months later, I met a man who wanted me to be his girlfriend after the second date. He was attractive, funny, sweet, smart, single, and monogamous. In other words, he ticked all the boxes. But I never had any boxes to tick except for: a woman I can fall in love with and who will fall in love with me. That’s one-third of a tick. Still, I found myself in a stable, happy relationship with this lovely man soon after that second date.
Sexual identities are not cages meant to set boundaries on who we can love.
Is he the first guy in my life? Yes and no. In between the Leilas, Carlas, and Emilys, I also had crushes on guys. I had two sort-of boyfriends in high school, I made out with a male classmate when I was a freshman, and I followed a long-haired journalism major with my best friend. Yet I never wove these men into the story of my sexual identity. To me, they were peripheral characters to be written as footnotes of my life.
I have always noticed attractive men, but was always more drawn to women. I have only pursued long-term relationships with women. When people ask me who my celebrity crushes are, I give female names. My identity was lesbian, not bisexual.
And, now, I am in love with a man who is also in love with me. Like most couples in our thirties, we sometimes talk about marriage and kids. Unlike most couples, we check out women together.
The other day, one of my closest friends said to me, “It used to anger you when people would tell lesbians that they ‘just haven’t tried a penis.’ Now you are dating a man.”
“But I still like women,” I told her, quietly shaken that she thought I might be proving that bigoted, hateful statement true.
That friend is heterosexual. When my LGBT friends learn that I am now dating a man, their first reaction is always, “Oh my god, tell me more,” and never, “But why?” Like me, they know it’s not about anatomy or gender expression; it’s about the whole person. The letters of the rainbow acronym describe colors instead of prescribing them. Attraction is often uncontrollable, and being expected to explain it is exhausting.
Loving and being in a serious relationship with a man for the first time in my life does not erase the reality of the women I have loved deeply. I was a lesbian for more than 10 years. It was the identity that best described my sexual and romantic experiences. And now, I guess I’m bisexual, queer, or pansexual. But will it ever cease to matter?
Sexual identities are not cages meant to set boundaries on who we can love. “Should not” and “could not” are phrases that have been forced on LGBT people throughout history, to which we retort, “Why the hell not?”
Queer theorist Judith Butler wrote that the “realities to which we thought we were confined are not written in stone.” Perhaps there is no essential, only performance. Loving a man now is as real to me as loving only women then. We love first, and label second.