“Love is love.” My five-year-old niece handed me a glittery, scrunched-up sheet of construction paper. There were those words, shameless on the page, curly letters in a forest of stretchy red hearts. I nodded, and told her she was very, very wise.
It is always the little ones who know the most, really. It’s as if we’re born with the essence of how to live inside us, then as we move through adolescence we somehow shed or bury that spiritual knowingness, only to move through some sort of crisis that splits us open and forces us to retrieve all that knowledge once again. Turns out the adage is true: we do have to lose ourselves to find ourselves. There’s no shortcut to being awakened.
At least, that’s how it happened for me. In my bones, of course, I knew that love is love, that it transcended anything tangible or categorical—gender identities, sexuality, race, any kind of label—and yet I was fighting the way in which it was showing up in my life because it was threatening who I knew myself to be, my identity as a straight woman.
There was solace in the simplicity of that label, and yet I discovered I’m more than what I feel comfortable being. Most of us are, but we repress the parts of us that upend the labels that serve as the foundations of our identities. Now I consider my identity to span the breadth of all sexuality, in all of its varying shades. I can say that now, with confidence, without perspiring or physically caving in from self-consciousness.
It took time to get to this level of comfort though. I was that girl who was attracted to the quintessential tall, dark and handsome man, rugged and manly. I was the girl who had sexy trysts with hairy-chested hunks with sea-colored eyes. I liked the kind of guy who could build a log cabin on a whim with his bare, callused hands. I was also the daughter of an Indian woman who was expected to marry a man, part of a culture where there is still shame around sexuality, especially sexuality that veers from traditional norms.
So when I fell in love with a woman, the shape and skin of her, the smoothness of her voice and body, the scent of her—like sunshine mixed with cake icing—I staggered in surprise, and then ventured forward, needing to know what was on the other side. We braved a relationship and it didn’t work out for the same reasons it often doesn’t work out between people, gender aside—timing, readiness, emotional availability.
It was a sad ending that cracked me open, but grief is a gift. When we experience the darkness, we always come back with more than what we had. When we allow ourselves to grow beyond who we know ourselves to be, we become the most expansive versions of ourselves. The kind of person who can just say love is love and really mean it.