Trigger warning: sexual trauma, queerphobia
In November 2017, I told my closest friends that I’m a lesbian. My six years prior to that spent identifying as bi could be attributed to my internalized queerphobia, feeling like identifying as bisexual meant I wasn’t fully gay and could pretend to be straight if I had to. 22-year-old me knows how deeply messed up this way of thinking is, but at the time, I was unable to think critically about my identity—all I cared about was walking a line between being myself and being safe.
Back then, this meant being outwardly queer, but still being able to hide behind heteronormativity and an attraction to men: the “safe option,” the “normal” lifestyle, the “easy way out.” There are many problems with this, and I’m not excusing my past self’s blatant biphobia. She was a mess, and she knows better now. But in amongst all of the obvious problems, there is one that has seeped into my current lifestyle. One that influences who I am as a person. One that causes significant problems for me in my life, which is the main purpose of my writing this.
That problem is that I’ve never been attracted to men.
To this end, November 2017 was a massive relief. I was able to identify with a word, with a community, that accurately represented me. No need to hide, no need to shy away from my authentic self. I didn’t need to feign attraction to generic sadbois anymore, nor did I need to pretend to know the words to Mr. Brightside, walk slowly all the time, or laugh at jokes about men hating their wives. I embraced my life as an out lesbian. I felt confident in myself.
If the story ended there, I’d live happily ever after as a homosexual woman with my Docs, plaid jackets, short nails, and collection of Sappho poetry. Unfortunately for me, though, the story is ongoing. The story will not be ending anytime soon, and I feel like I’m stuck in the tumultuous second act of the novel of my life whose momentum has gotten out of the author’s control. This second act started a month after I came out as bi, in 2011, when a man on a cadet camp felt entitled enough to my body to “fake rape” me as I was lying desperately homesick in my bed. It continued through 2018, when a dear friend of mine became my abuser. Rising action took the form of PTSD, hospitalization, and isolation—and with that isolation came a new coping mechanism.
Hypersexuality is a common response to sexual trauma, but that definition doesn’t quite fit with my situation; I blindly swiped right on Tinder, not even checking the names of the men I knew I wouldn’t be attracted to. I didn’t need to. They weren’t there for relationships, they weren’t there for me to get to know. I had one goal, and one goal only.
To punish myself.
Retraumatization is the technical term. Reminders that reinduce the dynamics of the initial trauma, that take you back to that moment, trap you there. But the nightmares, panic attacks, and purges that came with this felt good. I deserved them; I deserved to suffer for my own decisions, for leading people on, for making mountains out of molehills, for making myself a victim. I didn’t get catharsis from talking about what happened, because talking about it was just me trying to validate an experience that was my own fault, that I could only blame myself for. Only my actions could make me feel better; only by forcing these visceral responses on myself could I atone for my own victimhood. I was acting with no regard for my own safety, and I didn’t care enough to do anything about it. It felt good. It felt right.
My moment of clarity came when I was sat on my own in a familiar café, my body twitching uncontrollably from unknown drugs that my partner for the day had oh-so-courteously given me. What I’d been doing to myself suddenly made sense. The man who had told me that my lesbianism wasn’t real, that I was bi on some level, had kept his hold on me all this time. Maybe I was trying to prove him wrong. Maybe I subconsciously believed him. Either way, he was still in my head, guiding all my interactions, controlling me a year on. I hated him. I hated all men by extension, worried that they would do the same to me as he did. Above all, though, I hated myself, and this cocktail resulted in a hangover that would span the rest of my days up to now. I knew how to hurt myself, so I did. And it wasn’t getting me anywhere except alone in a café, crying into my glass of water, realizing I was broken.
I turned men off on my Tinder settings. I went to therapy. I started dating a wonderful girl.
I hung my lesbian flag up in my new flat, and the confidence I’d felt in November 2017 finally started coming back to me.