“The birth of the human heart is an ongoing process. It is being birthed in every experience of your life. Everything that happens to you has the potential to deepen you. It brings to birth within you new territories of the heart.”
–John O’Donohue, Anam Cara
Four years ago, when I fell in love with a woman for the first time, one of my best friends warned me not to call myself a lesbian. I asked him why, and he said “why would you cut yourself from the possibility of love with half the population?” I responded: “Because I’m a lesbian.”
It is impossible to describe what the revelation of my own sexuality did for me. For the first time in my entire life, I felt I knew who I was—finally! Things in my life that had never made sense before suddenly did. As I told my daughter, recently, it was like a puzzle I’d been trying to solve all my life finally fell into place, every color where it ought to be, every part matched to its pair. I spent the next few months dismantling my life, piece by piece, and built a whole new one around this newly discovered identity. For the first time in my adult life, I felt completely at peace, as if, for the first time, I was exactly where I was supposed to be. When, two years later, I entered an abusive relationship, I spent the next year after our breakup working with a therapist to figure out what had gone wrong and how to heal so it would never happen again, and over the past few months I’ve come even deeper into that place of peace—that sense of knowing exactly who I am and what I need and where I’m going.
And then… just four short weeks ago, almost exactly four years after the day I fell in love with a woman and everything I knew about myself and the world turned upside down, the exact same thing happened in reverse.
I fell in love with a man.
Is “love” too strong a word to describe what happened between us, at least in the very beginning? Perhaps. We didn’t know each other when we met. We hardly spoke two words to each other the entire time we were together, on a motorcycle trip I’d been lucky enough to be invited on. But how else do I describe the fact that, the day we took a picture together, I embarrassed myself by standing way too close, because I ached to touch him? How else do I describe the fact that, on the day we rode home, I kept looking at him behind me in the mirror while the thought came, unbidden: “this is what I want, for the rest of my life. That man, behind me, on that bike, forever.” How else do I describe the tears that poured down my face the entire next day? Not happy tears, not sad tears, just tears, slowly marking a trail down my cheeks, over and over again? How else do I explain that while this was all happening to me, the same was happening to him?
In a moment much like what I’d experienced four years ago, I had come to yet another crossroads—only this one a thousand times more difficult than any that had come, before. Because THIS time I thought I knew who I was and what I wanted. This time, I was taking a beautiful, completed puzzle that I had built agonizing piece by agonizing piece and destroying it with my own bare hands to start all over again. Once again, questions haunted me, some the same, but some completely reversed:
How could I explain this to Jon?
How could I explain this to my children?
What would happen if I tried?
Was I gay? Was I straight?
Who am I?
I don’t have an answer to that question, and I’m beginning to think I never will. In the words of Jodi O’Brein, whom I quoted here just a few days before the trip that changed my life: “We are capable of creating, taking on, and casting off various identities and cultural institutions. Our potential is limited only by our imagination and our ability to assemble the materials necessary to realize our visions.”
“Somewhere, sometime, someone–for whatever courageous, miraculous reason–finally acknowledge her dragon. She decided to trust what she felt, to know what she knew, and to dare to imagine an unseen order where she might be free. She refused to contain herself any longer. She decided to speak her insides on the outside and just Let It Burn. She raised her hand and said ‘Those labels don’t feel true to me. I don’t want to squeeze myself inside either of those glasses. For me, that’s not exactly it. I am not sure what it is, yet–but it’s not that.’
Someone else heard the first brave one speak and felt electric hope flowing through his veins. he thought: ‘Wait. What if I am not alone? What if I am not broken at all? What if the glasses system is broken?’ He felt his hand rise and voice rise with a ‘Me too!’ Then another person’s hand slowly rose and then another and another until there was a sea of hands, some shaking, some in fists–a chain reaction of truth, hope, freedom.
Maybe we can stop trying so hard to understand the gorgeous mystery of sexuality. Instead, we can just listen to ourselves and each other with curiosity and love, and without fear. We can just let people be who they are and we can believe that the freer each person is, the better we all are. Maybe our understanding of sexuality can become as fluid as sexuality itself. We can remember that no matter how inconvenient it is for us to allow people to emerge from their glasses and flow, it’s worth it. Our willingness to be confused, open, and kind will save lives.
Maybe courage is not just refusing to be afraid of ourselves but refusing to be afraid of others, too. Maybe we can stop trying to find common ground and let everybody be the sea. They already are, anyway. Let it be.”