Manual I Was a Lesbian

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Even now, I find myself hesitating every time I type the word. In these moments of hesitation, my mind often drifts back to a memory of my grandfather. I was 10 years old and sitting in the backseat of his car as we drove to a Mexican restaurant for dinner.

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It was the first time I learned that two women could love each other in the same way that my mom loved my dad, and the memory is tinged with his hatred. In fact, nobody ever told me outright that being a lesbian is bad, but internalized homophobia is tricky in that way. No one has to literally say, "being gay is bad" for the message to burrow into queer people's brains. Those messages subtly form a queer person's sense of self, and the negative thoughts that result manifest in many different ways.

It can make someone deny their feelings for years.

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It can make them avoid being affectionate with partners in public or around family. And, as in my case, it can make them feel weird about naming their identities. Internalized homophobia is so widespread, in fact, that the extremely open queer women and gender non-conforming folk who run the popular queer website, Autostraddle, did a whole roundtable about their experiences. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with my sexuality. They were hilarious, poignant, and so popular that they were chosen to air during the 2o12 Super Bowl. I didn't have to worry about what men thought of me.

I didn't have to sculpt my body to adapt to the male gaze. A woman could really understand me. We didn't have to conform to anyone's ideas of what life should be. I'd never felt so free. Even though my parents thought this was a "phase," or that I'd been brainwashed, they not only came to love my wife as a daughter — they became outspoken LGBTQ advocates. My wife and I had marched with thousands of others for marriage equality.

We'd attended dyke marches and pride parades. My novels featured queer characters, and my poems honored the love between women. At the university I'd become known as a lesbian professor who incorporated queer content into her courses and who had a loving, long-term marriage. Despite all of this, perhaps our beautiful wedding-on-a-boat had just been a way to try to resuscitate a dying relationship.

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It didn't work and it ended for all sorts of reasons. I was devastated.

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I couldn't eat or sleep, haunted by the thoughts going through my mind. I wondered if life was worth living. It took me a few months of darkness and hours of therapy to see how being torn to the ground — as painful as it was — presented me with an opportunity to rebuild. I moved from our old house, where the floors creaked and the electricity and plumbing were iffy into a bright apartment.

I made plans to travel. I'd had good sex with both men and women in the past.

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But for a while, sex with men had pervaded my psyche. I wanted a five o'clock shadow to graze my face. I wanted to feel a man's strength. I wanted to be with a man in bed. Dating men was exciting, but it wasn't a panacea. While some were fun in bed, I met a surprising number of men who had various versions of sexual dysfunction.

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And some whose idea of a good time was — yes — watching TV and drinking beer. Still, it was exciting to be doing something totally different. I craved trying other new things.

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I felt growing in me a kind of tenderness toward the world, an openness to trying new things. Now that I was single, I could do whatever I damn well pleased. I rode my bike 72 miles around Lake Tahoe. I went to a boxing match.

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I read books and watched movies I would have pooh-poohed in the past. I even started wearing makeup again and pretty clothes that made me feel like a girl playing dress-up. And this time, I was dressing for myself, not for the men or women in my life. I traveled alone to Hawaii, taking myself on a divorce honeymoon, drinking a small bottle of champagne on the plane and walking alone for five hours across a volcano.