Lizzi Sandell tells the story of the year she went lez—more specifically, how she met and fell in love with her girlfriend, after having previously only dated men.
2015 was the year that gay marriage, at long last, was made constitutional. It was the year that Carol made lesbianism glamorous. And it was also, incidentally, the year I fell in love with a woman—at the age of 22, for the very first time. It was the first year I attended Pride, and celebrated something I had now become a part of. Somehow it had become something of my own, by virtue of who I was in love with, and I celebrated marriage equality from a personal, and not just political, perspective. This new state of affairs was not entirely an accident, but nor had I really seen it coming.
Men are by no means a foreign entity to me. I recently told my girlfriend about a time when I was a kid and I stole a picture of my teenage sister’s boyfriend, just so I could have it in my room and pretend. This small male in button-up tracksuit bottoms was not particularly appealing to me. In fact, I’d never even met him. His appeal to me lay not in his little gelled quiff but in the ‘Best Boyfriend’ frame that surrounded him.
Having a boyfriend was an early priority for me. I distinctly remember anxiously asking my best friend if she thought we would get boyfriends when we went to Middle School. This was around the same time I would lie on my bunk bed, listen to the pale blue Westlife album, and feel sad about not being heartbroken. Inevitably, we did; eventually, I had my own small male to adorn in tacky frames. And so it all began.
I had a string of boyfriends in my mid and late teens, whom I actually have too much respect for to refer to as a ‘string’. To the bemusement of some and the chagrin of others, they are still friends of mine and still important to me. I grew with them and then in various interims, I grew up alone, and somewhat more chaotically. I dated and didn’t date men who, on the whole, still matter and whom I think of in a mostly amicable and empathetic light.
But then, something changed. I moved into London at 19 and began to meet a certain sort of woman; girls who interested me in a way I didn’t fully understand. I attended an event with a group of feminists who I had previously only communicated with online, and felt confused about my attraction to these strong, bright, outspoken women. Was I simply in awe of them? Projecting my own insecurities onto their perceived brilliance? Or, actually… did I want to fuck them?
I had kissed a handful of girls in the past, but always in a ‘lol we’re at a party’ kind of way, which I suppose I would find obnoxious on hindsight, had it not seemed so natural to me. Natural, maybe: but not revelatory. Dating men felt neither strange nor wrong and I considered myself fairly aware of the nuances of my sexuality, and safe within them. I was also privileged in that I didn’t mind whether I was or I wasn’t gay, and I never really thought to analyse it. And yet now I find myself head-over-heels in love with a girl.
I began, tentatively, to set about finding out about my sexuality during the last couple of years. It seems silly now, but I still maintained a suspicion that, despite my fancies and fixations, I would inevitably reach some sort of essentialist barrier that would convince me, once and for all, of my steadfast heterosexuality. I also felt significant anxiety about the idea of suddenly being revirginised in respect to these new sexual mechanics. And ultimately I felt deceptive, as if I was fooling people into believing something I was not yet sure of myself.
I went to gay bars in Soho with a similarly sapphically-inclined friend and found it wanting. Women were scarce and commonly in couples and, fuck, would I have known what to say or do anyway? This was unchartered territory for someone who had previously found romantic life pretty easy. Instead, my friend and I would do melancholy lines of coke and end up making out with each other, while being ogled at by Italian tourists- my first experience with this type of irritating, asymmetrical homophobia that is now so woefully familiar.
With these rudimentary experiences under my belt, and one encouraging date with a girl in a black polo neck and beret who was heavily into queer politics, I decided last year to work out what was really up. I made a (secret) resolution with myself, to find out whether or not I wanted to date women, the best and really, only way I knew how: the internet way.
I ended up on a crassly named lesbian-dating app that I had read about when it launched. It was pretty much the least sexy virtual space I can imagine; it was all mauve and had perplexingly bad functionality. There were very few girls on it too, defeating the brutish ‘numbers game’ logic of meeting people online. But it worked well for my purposes. It was relaxed and I didn’t feel overwhelmed. It stayed on my phone for a couple of weeks, which was a record for me after Tinder had proven itself to be a bit too much like Ketamine: sort of silly, indulgent but ultimately, disgusting (and bad for you bladder.)
I was asked on the app to classify my sexual preference and I sheepishly selected ‘bicurious’. I felt a fraud. I felt the discomfort similar to when an expectant shop assistant asks you if you need any help and you have to tell them you’re “just looking.” I felt like Annie Hall when Alvy asks her if she’s into photography and she says, “I dabble.” I wished I had taken a “serious” course in lesbianism but I hadn’t—and FYI, there’s no such thing.
My profile was potentially misguided and almost laughably sincere. I wrote: ‘I want to meet someone extraordinary.’ In terms of what I was looking for, I selected the chaste and absurdly British “have a cuppa” option. I suppose I was anxious not to get anyone’s hopes up; I had never slept with a girl, and had barely kissed one in romantic circumstances. I was not a bonafide lesbian at all.
But then I met my girlfriend: the gorgeous, New York filmmaker who immediately intrigued me. She was basically my dream girl and I was instantly involved. And yes, she was ‘extraordinary,’ and found my uncool earnest endearing. Online communication can be totally misleading, but I felt a palpable energy and we met within the week. We skipped the “cuppa” and went for (many) drinks at a dingy Shoreditch gay bar that has since become beloved to us.
Friday night fell into Sunday morning and, as they say, the rest is history. I felt the complexities of my single life melt away. I told university friends, who had previously (half-)joked about their inability to remember the names of the various men I had dated, that there was only one name that they needed to remember now. Somehow, I just knew that.
I wanted to tell my mum about these new advancements and was surprised about how difficult it felt. I was wary of the liberal hypocrisy that allows left-wing parents to feel conflicted when their own children adopt ‘lifestyles’ which they had previously only had to advocate for in abstract terms. Would this news alienate my decidedly blue-blooded mother, or the heterosexual friends who had only ever known me as actively straight?
Falling in love with a female has forced me to challenge the views of those around me, which had previously felt sufficiently liberal or otherwise inconsequential. I have also had to challenge prejudices within myself regarding gender and sexuality. Having previously felt self-conscious about my own physical and personal traits that I considered ‘masculine’—my height, my broad shoulders and palms, my perpetual reluctance to wear make-up, my base level aggression—I now feel otherwise. I have realised that the people who I find most interesting are often peculiar combinations of perceived ‘male’ and ‘female’ attributes, those who are both dominant and submissive. I now feel unthreatened by the elements of my character that are just like a 14-year old boy.
As clichéd as it sounds, I feel more thoroughly myself. I feel more motivated, more confident, and better able to write. Regarding my sexuality more generally—honestly, who knows? Although I do feel transformed, I know this is a consequence of being really, properly in love—whatever the gender. In this respect, words feel awkward, but nor am I averse to being ‘labeled.’ Gay, bi, whatever. What I do know is that life can be surprising, and for that I am totally grateful.
Main image from “But I’m a Cheerleader”