Everyone’s “coming out story” is different – and they always have more to do with self-acceptance than telling others about yourself. Amanda Lang recounts how she came to stop worrying and love her sexual fluidity.
I have this very vivid memory of the night I obtained my first-ever boyfriend. I was 15 years-old, and I had never kissed anyone – and truthfully had very little interest in doing so. But I knew I wanted a boyfriend. I wanted a boyfriend almost as much as I wanted a pair of distressed Abercrombie & Fitch jeans. At that point, the likelihood of getting either of those things was pretty much the same and I would have been just as happy to have either.
He asked me out over AIM and I bounced over to my father – who had pneumonia at the time – screaming something shrill and unintelligible. Even in his comatose state my father was able to articulate the following very good advice: “Don’t go out with him just because you like the idea of having a boyfriend.”
I of course ignored this because it didn’t matter whether I liked this kid or not. He was a status symbol and from the perspective of an awkward, skinny Jewish girl with poor social skills and bad teeth, his presence by my side was expected if I wanted to be mistaken for normal.
The truth was that I wasn’t attracted to anyone at this time in my life. I hadn’t felt comfortable enough with anyone to strike up even a shallow friendship, which is probably why I didn’t begin to even experiment with my sexuality until way later in life. I didn’t know anything about sexual preference. I didn’t know anything about romance. And there was no one I could talk to about it if I had wanted to, which I didn’t. So what if my boyfriend’s greasy attempts to hold my hand made me want to projectile vomit strawberry Special K bars all over the school bus? At least I had a date to the Sophomore year semi formal and as far as I was concerned that was priority number one.
I was very sheltered. I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing, but it did mean I wasn’t exposed to much beyond the hetero norm. I knew of identities only as concepts. Gay and straight were pretty much all I had ever been exposed to, and the former was only thanks to a Seinfeld rerun. At that age it seemed unlikely I would ever know anyone of that sexual orientation personally.
And then I went to the psych ward.
Oh man, that was fun. Imagine an all-girls sleepaway camp except you aren’t allowed to do anything athletic or even go outdoors without permission. I sound sarcastic but I’m not. I loved it. The real world was so stressful and I was exhausted, plus I was allowed to talk about myself all day everyday and what teenager doesn’t love that?
That was also the first time I ever felt any sort of sexual attraction. I had had my first kiss before then (the Valentine’s Dance with my greasy boyfriend), but my kiss with this girl who, after only a week, already knew more about me than my own family, felt like my real first kiss.
For the first time, it wasn’t performative. I didn’t cringe away from someone’s touch. Considering how unhealthy we all were, the relationships I developed there were miraculously healthy – maybe because all of our deeper issues had already been aired. There was no point in artifice.
When I returned home from the psych ward, everything was different. Duh. I mean, everyone knew where I had been, so whatever social life I had flew out the window. I started smearing black stuff on my eyes and stopped participating in class. You know, all the super safe rebellion that kids engage in if they still want to actually go to college at some point.
Needless to say, my boyfriend broke up with me. But I didn’t care. I was pretty sure I was a lesbian at that point but I still had so many questions, for once I wished I had someone to talk to.
My family was out of the question. There was a time when I could sit at the dinner table and speak ad nauseam about my boyfriend, but bringing up a girl I liked kissing would stop the conversation dead in its tracks. I realized, like many queer people, that while my parents may not have had anything against homosexuality in general, they did have something against their daughter identifying that way.
Either way, I was done performing by that point. I decided to go the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City (isn’t moving to NYC what all weirdos decide to do eventually?). I had sex with a man for the first time while blackout drunk, against the bathroom wall of my friend’s college dorm. I didn’t feel the need to really continue experimenting with guys, but I figured it was something to check off my bucket list.
I made a lot of new friends in New York, but I didn’t strike up any sort of romantic or sexual connection with anyone for the first six months I was there – even though everyone else I knew was definitely playing the field. I went to clubs, drank at bars with my South Carolina fake ID, and got sick drunk in dorms, but I never found that visceral desire I had once had in the hospital wardrobes. Not with women, men, or anyone else. So I stopped looking for it.
Isn’t that always how it finds you?
I saw him on the first day of my internship at Paper magazine. James* was slouched over the front desk, his head almost entirely obscured by a black hood. His personality was awful. He was smart in a pompous way, a narcissist, and completely lacking in empathy. Of course this was (and remains) the only man I have ever been in love with. What went on between this man and me is strange enough that it could easily populate its own article or even novel but in short, after five years of being fuck buddies, enemies and then lovers, we started to date. Naturally, I went through the usual self-interrogation: What does this make me? Am I straight now? I hadn’t been with a woman in so long at that point that I couldn’t help feeling kind of, well, stupid. Needless to say, sexuality was on my mind a lot in those days.
James had a lot of bad qualities, but I will always grateful to him for introducing me to BDSM, and for being the first person with whom I tried polyamory. We experimented with everything from basic bondage to waterboarding (don’t try this at home kids). We also shared our lives with many women. Whether it was for a one night threesome or a series of dates, the excitement of having someone new in such an intimate setting, and of feeling unencumbered by the societal expectation of choosing one person, kept our relationship in constant flux. We were both terribly afraid of becoming bored.
None of the women we were with were simply throwaway partners. These were women who became friends as well as lovers, confidantes as well as play partners and subs. Over time I realized that I had fallen a little bit in love with each of them. And this made me even more confused. I started to worry that I had been faking being straight (ish) this whole time, that I had convinced myself I was in love with my boyfriend just to keep from feeling so hopelessly alone.
In the past I had kept these concerns to myself. For the first time though, I had this network of weirdos, people whose own journeys of self identification and discovery were similar to mine. I met them at fetish parties, in dungeons, anywhere where those looking for a safe place to experiment and develop their sexualities would meet and play.
This sense of community made me feel safe, and therefore more comfortable with myself. I attribute this newfound self confidence to my decision to reach out to my family for advice. I told my father that I had no idea who or what I had a preference for. That it seemed to change on a dime. That I couldn’t pick just one, and that I was afraid if I didn’t I would end up with nothing. For all his faults, my father has always been an amazing source of advice. Mostly because he always states the obvious answer. In my experience, the obvious answer to a problem often goes over our heads because it seems too simple. How could it really be this easy? How can we reach a solution without suffering?
“Why do you have to make a decision? Just see what happens, everything doesn’t have to be so difficult all the time, Amanda.” It was so simple and to this day I think it might have been the best possible thing he could have said at that moment.
Of course I didn’t magically become completely comfortable with myself the minute I heard those words, as if they were some sort of spell. It’s been a process, and I believe it will continue to be a process as I continue to grow.
My “coming out story” spans a very long time. To sum it up into only a few sentences seems impossible, since sexuality is such a complex and personal thing, and yet that is exactly what I am about to do.
I don’t love very often, but when I do it is strong and endless. It also has more to do with the person underneath the skin than with their gender, and I have (and continue) to love multiple people at the same time. Even if we never enter into a sexual relationship, they remain in my life in one form or another because I have never been able to let go of anything. Seriously, I am looking at the amount of broken hair elastics on my desk right now that I refuse to throw away for absolutely no reason.
What other point is there to life than to know yourself, and to know other people? I still get insecure from time to time – about my sexuality, my hair, my writing. But then I look back on how much time I wasted questioning every minor detail about my personality, every choice that I made, and I feel relieved. Because now, instead of the incessant over-analysis, I am able to simply exist, and I am happier for it. Because I actually like this person I’ve become. I’m ok.