I splattered posters of her all over my bedroom walls. In fact, I had so many photos of her that the space above my bed looked like a shrine. I lied and told my overbearing mom it was because she inspired me as an actress. But the truth was that Angelina Jolie was a hottie with a body, and I was crushing HARD.
As a teen, I’d lock my bedroom door at and sneakily see if my late-night favorites were playing on HBO. I had three I would watch religiously. “Gia” was always on repeat after 10 p.m., so that was a weekly delight for me. “If These Walls Could Talk Two” had some of the best lesbian love scenes, and I was hooked on it. And at midnight, the show “Real Sex” taught me about a subject no one at home felt comfortable discussing.
When I kissed Rebecca Mayfield in high school on a dare, I pretended it was just a silly game. But deep down, it was magical. Her lips were soft and full, and she was drop dead gorgeous. I daydreamed about the day when I could openly experiment with girls, just to see if my fantasies could be made real. But instead of saying “yes” to more dares, I spent the vast majority of my high school years having the most awkward time with the male species. It was easier to royally fail at dating teenage boys than it was to admit that I had crushes on girls too.
Then I went to college, and it got even more complicated.
I had decided that when I moved to New York for school, I’d find a new BFF, and we’d totally hit up gay clubs together. But three months into freshman year, I met the guy who would ultimately become my first husband. Ben was the sweetest boy, and we were both theater nerds, so it was easy to date him while also secretly (or not so secretly) enjoying the ladies. We’d go to fundraising parties for plays our friends were doing, or out to bars with fake ID’s. I’d get super drunk, and it would inevitably happen. I’d find several women I thought were pretty and ferociously make out with them like it was the last night on Earth.
Ben tried to stay supportive of something he knew was bigger than us. He saw that he wasn’t enough for me in college, and that I needed the sexual identity exploration I couldn’t easily have while we were together. So he played along, until the amount of college girls I kissed grew to overwhelming numbers.
I dyed my hair red, cut it short, and went home to visit my family. I had also gained the average 15 pounds most college students do while away at school. After years of yo-yo dieting to stay impossibly skinny and keeping my hair long and blonde (the way my control freak of a mother preferred), it felt refreshing AF to physically transform into something else. I had no idea what was waiting for me on the other end of that temporary confidence.
The truth is, I grew up in a house where I was verbally, physically, and mentally abused. According to every single therapist I’ve seen, along with every psychologist my siblings have talked to, my mom has undiagnosed, untreated borderline personality disorder. She was unbearably controlling of me growing up in just about every aspect of life, and co-existing with her led to a constant state of inner panic and shame.
Coming home with short, dyed hair and a little extra weight gain was a much bigger deal than I first thought. But there were so many moments when my mom wasn’t abusing me, and it always made me think I could have emotional intimacy with her that didn’t come at a cost. Every single time, I was proven wrong when she’d fling the details of our heart-to-hearts in my face as she’d rage at me, call me names, and do violent things like hit me or kick my bedroom door down. The day I came home from college was no different.
I remember sitting with my little brother and sister that weekend and talking at our kitchen table. The conversation started out playfully enough, but then the topic turned towards sexual preference. Both of my siblings were teenagers who had gay schoolmates, but I think knowing that their own sister played for both teams was a littler harder to accept. So the talk was a bit choppy to navigate at first.
As I was beating around the bush (pun intended) with answers to their questions, my 15-year old sister point blank asked me if I was attracted to women. I floundered a bit and said something about how I definitely found them to be beautiful, but that I wasn’t entirely sure if I was into them. My mom was predictably eavesdropping and came in, verbal guns a’ blazing.
I’ll never forget what happened next. We got into the usual all-out screaming match my mother had taught me how to engage in from a young age. She viciously described my appearance as “butch.” She said she didn’t know who I was anymore. She accused me of “gaining 50 pounds.” She called me by my dad’s name, which was never a compliment. And she told me she would not allow me to negatively influence her two younger kids with my inappropriate lifestyle.
I moved out of my mom’s house that day and in with my dad. My sister tried to defend me as my mom raged at my siblings, and she was kicked out too. Our belongings were sloppily thrown into giant black trash bags and strewn across the front lawn for our immediate pick up. And my mom kept the door locked every time we tried to visit.
After that moment, my behavior became more reckless. It was as if I hoped deep down that someone would stop me and directly ask if I was bisexual. Or maybe I was hoping Ben would catch me in the act and fight for me to focus only on him. Either way, my mom’s words and actions tipped me over an edge that led to my rebellion.
At a Halloween party during my junior year, I tried tequila for the first time, and it was safe to say that all bets were off. Ben’s theater friend, Sadie, was hosting, and in the middle of playing a stupid board game, she tipsily proclaimed to everyone that she was going to take a shower. I was secretly jonesing to join her, but I blame the alcohol for actively motivating me to follow Sadie. Liquid courage, amiright?
I drunkenly stumbled into the bathroom and proceeded to have my first semi-sexual experience with a woman behind that shower curtain. We enjoyed each other’s bodies and kissed like schoolgirls learning how to do it for the first time. It was glorious.
Except that I was still dating my long-term boyfriend. Ben couldn’t keep in his anger and hurt anymore, but because he was around me every single time I had my moments with the ladies, he couldn’t justify that what I was doing was cheating. So, he channeled his upset and started kissing girls at parties too. It’s no wonder we ultimately divorced.
I was in my early 30s when Ben and I ended our 11-year relationship. And the nine months I spent single were filled with a lot of firsts. But, despite the years of secrecy that built up to this moment of exhilarating freedom, I was too scared to do what I had always thought I wanted. Sure, I selected both “men” and “women” on my dating apps and even found myself flirting online with one particularly adorable gal. But I was too scared of taking the plunge and meeting her in person.
From my teen years on, I’ve struggled to admit to myself and others that I’m as attracted to women as I am to men. Because of my mentally unstable mother, I’m simply too afraid to come out as bisexual. And even though she’s still a small part of my life, our relationship is rife with boundaries I needed to make to survive.
With my mom these days, I know not to reveal too much, get too close, or see her too often. The closest thing she’s ever done to work on herself and heal our past was walking out of our first family therapy session when I was a teen. So I’ve given up on hoping she’ll ever change. And, sadly, even though I’ve worked on myself a ton and see a counselor regularly, I still don’t feel safe enough to openly embrace my true sexual identity. It feels as if my mom will always be lurking behind me no matter how many miles separate us, ready to criticize or punish me for existing as I want to.
I’m now happily married to a guy who has helped me come to terms with my identity. He too struggled during his youth to openly allow himself to experiment with the same gender. Through our vulnerable talks together, we’ve realized that sexuality is beautifully fluid and deserves celebration, not judgment and ridicule.
I still haven’t officially come out to anyone except a close few, and I don’t know if I ever will. My mom terrified me into a deafening silence in this department. But finding someone to heal my broken past with has definitely made it so much easier to be myself. And that’s a hopeful start.