I am a 26-year old mostly-female-identified-but-slightly-genderqueer individual. I identify as pansexual, which is someone who doesn't even "see" gender, but loves people for who they are regardless of their gender identity. For the first 23 years of my life, I knew that I liked men and that was the socially acceptable thing for me. I was brought up in a conservative family in a conservative community, and was homeschooled from 2nd grade all the way through high school. After that I attended a small, private Christian college.
I realize now that when I was growing up, I did have attractions to women as well, but I was brought up being told it was wrong. To be more specific, I didn't even know that same-sex attraction existed. I don't think I actually knew what being gay was until halfway through high school; I was so sheltered. As I grew up, I dated boys because that's what girls did. In undergrad I gained some friends in the LGBT community, counted myself as an ally and was quite vocal for gay rights. Though I was passionate about it, I still viewed myself as only an ally.
It wasn't until the middle of my grad school experience that I finally began to come out to myself, to realize that I was attracted to women and transgendered individuals and people who identified as genderqueer. It wasn't until grad school that I began to allow myself to entertain the idea of dating people other than cis-gendered men. Until that point I had dated men because it was the easy thing to do, and because I was attracted to some of them, and as long as I didn't meet any women I was interested in dating, I was good and safe and wouldn't have to worry about coming out to my family and friends and everyone.
This realization, along with allowing myself to feel attraction for transmen and cis-gendered women, really only came about when I was seriously dating this guy in grad school, who I thought I would probably marry. I told myself that I had found the person I was meant to be with and wouldn't ever have to worry about coming out. But that relationship ended abruptly, and my casual relationships with men afterwards seemed much less fulfilling than they used to. I began to realize that I really did feel those "same sex" attractions, and that I was doing myself a disservice by not at least trying them out. I had finally come to terms with the fact that it wasn't a sin, and stopped justifying to myself that I "still liked men, isn't that good enough?"
I found my last ex on OKCupid, and thus began a short-lived relationship with a transgendered man my 3rd year of grad school. It was at that point that I "came out" to my parents as pansexual in an email, which they had a really difficult time with. But there was still the fact that I was dating a "man" to the outside world, which meant I didn't have to lie to my extended family and could go on in public viewed as "straight." My parents are amazing people, so they took it well, all things considered. They still talked to me and tried to carry on life as usual.
This transguy and I weren't really a good fit, and we both realized it. Through dating him, however, I became more comfortable being viewed as "queer," which is actually the term I prefer now. He wasn't out as trans in most places, living stealth as a guy without anyone knowing the difference. My parents were trying hard, but were still baffled by the transgendered thing. I began to resent still being viewed as straight by all but my very closest friends at school. It was now very clear that I wasn't straight, and I had finally fully accepted myself as queer.
It was less than a week after he and I parted ways that Carmen, my current long-time-girlfriend/partner/forever-penguin/fiancée-when-we-can-afford-rings messaged me on OKCupid. I was open to dating anyone on the gender spectrum at this point, but had realized that I was no longer very attracted to men. I realized that being with women was something I needed to at least try, in order to be true to myself.
Carmen is nine years older than me, and has been out as a lesbian for about as long as I've been alive. She was so charming, and we were soon talking every night on the phone. She lived in the city to which I was going to move three weeks later. The night I moved there, where I am now, I met Carmen in person for the first time. It has now been over a year and a half, and there is no doubt in either of our minds that this is it.
I don't love Carmen because she's a woman. I don't love her because I'm queer. If she were a man, I'd still consider myself to be queer, and I'd still love that man-Carmen. I love the person that is Carmen. And Carmen happens to be a woman.
It was only a couple months ago that I was able to come out to the entirety of my very conservative extended family, minus my grandparents and the younger kids on my dad's side. It was an extremely scary process, but I knew I needed to do it because Carmen was not someone who was going to go away, and it's important that she be a part of all aspects of my life. She just spent this past Thanksgiving with my family and has been embraced beautifully by them. Even though they are even more conservative than my parents, they are all beautiful and loving people, and have done their very best to not let their beliefs color the way they treat and love us. My mom and dad really love her, and are finally becoming more comfortable with the fact that she's here to stay. I'm so proud of them for all they've done, and they have been really great to Carmen, as much as they can. My sister loves her too; she and Carmen are quickly becoming good friends.
It's not that I kept my deep-seated sexuality a secret from everyone growing up. I didn't really know; didn't realize. It's been a long and complex process for me to fully accept myself and all that I am. I view my sexuality as something very fluid. I feel like so many people try to put it in a box. You're gay or you're straight or you're bisexual. For me, I just love the person.
I consider myself lucky to be a costume designer and technician. In theater and design, being gay is something quite commonplace. I have always felt comfortable being transparent about my sexuality at work, and don't have to worry about my job security based on being "out." I am grateful that I have had this extremely queer support system around me all these years that I've been involved with the theatre community, showing me just how "normal" being gay can be. Any friends that mattered didn't bat an eye when I told them I was queer, and many, quite honestly, knew before I did.
2013 may be a big year for gay marriage in Illinois, and this may be the year I can call Carmen my wife. I never thought my life would end up like this, but I'm so glad it has.