Jason Tseng

Coming Out... A Second Time?

Filed By Jason Tseng | October 17, 2008 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: coming out of the closet, lesbian, queer

I had the not uncommon coming out experience for many kids of my generation:

Boy finds out in middle school that he likes boys. Boy represses all of that until he comes out in a flurry of dramatic over-the-top fabulousness in high school. Parents disapprove, cue angst. Shortly followed by reconciliation during college years where boy learns to be himself and not a stereotype... which can ironically be pretty stereotypical. A few years of dating men and living the good ol' gay life and I'm set for the classic narrative of boy meets boy, cue sunset... right?

Or so I thought. Until I fell... for a woman.

I met her in one of my Gender & Sexuality studies classes (the irony does not escape me). She was short, Asian, funny, smart, and had a great laugh. She was also the thing I thought I wasn't supposed to like: a woman. And on top of that, she was a lesbian!

Her andro-lesbian demeanor and her humble yet confident swagger had me weak in the knees. Sure straight women and gay men have had a long-running symbiotic relationship, which has often resulted in unrequited feelings. But gay men and lesbians? The only thing they have in common is that they both like people of the same gender, Romantic feelings aren't supposed come into play... or so common sense would dictate. But against all possible odds, me and my andro-lesbian got together, and had a brief but passionate relationship.

Being with her was unlike any of my past relationships with men. I didn't know what role to play, what I was supposed to do. With guys, I'm pretty comfortable being the pursued and not the pursuer. I know what to expect and how to act. But with her, all the rules went out the door. She was more man than I could ever be, but at the same time she was more woman than I could ever hope to emulate.

Many will be surprised to hear that our relationship was just about as far from heterosexual as you could get. I increasingly found myself thinking less as a man and her as a woman, but more of us as two people. We weren't gay, we weren't straight... we were queer.

While our relationship was short-lived and I went back to dating men after we had parted ways, I continued to hold onto the queer sense of self that I developed with her. However, when I would tell friends, gay and straight, about my queer relationship, I'd get baffled non-responses. No one knew what to do with me. Most wanted to claim that I was bi, but I firmly denied being so. I was not attracted to hetero- femme-performing women. All the women I found myself drawn to had the same androgynous confidence that she had.

And the more I lived in gay male culture, the more I felt removed from it. I became uncomfortable with the obsession with youth and beauty, the racialized hierarchy which positions Asian men on bottom (metaphorically and physically), the valuing of butch and "straight acting" gender over that of femme performance to name a few. I really began to see how mired in patriarchy gay men were.

I'm one of those new breed of non-hetero men and women who are hesitant to identify as gay or lesbian. Those are 20th century political and cultural identities for a 21st century sexual politic. What exactly does that mean? I'm not entirely sure... but I do know that I'm excited to find out.

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heartsounds_amplified | October 17, 2008 1:19 PM

Thank you so much for posting this article! I'm a very femme-presenting girl, who sometimes likes to wear suits, ties, and cologne, with the most devastating crushes on gay men. ( I'm dating a warm masculine girl who I wouldn't trade for the world.) When involved with women, I end up in the feminine role, and if a gay man ever wanted to go out with me, I imagine that I would have the more masculine role. I really can't explain why, but it makes sense to me, and that's all that matters. I always felt out of place, because "lesbian" and "bisexual" just don't fit for me, and there's no way I'm forcing myself into anyone's box of how I should be, and you shouldn't either!.

Thanks for the great account of breaking out of the expectations and boxes we set up for ourselves. I certainly had a similar experience of finally determining that once and for all I am a dyke, then within a month I started dating a guy -- a queer guy. (Boy did we have a hard time picking out porn to watch).

There's a pretty long history of dykes and fags hooking up. We often do have a lot more in common than being attracted to the same gender. Especially when dealing with non-queer-friendly if not outright homophobic straight populations, meeting someone of the "opposite" gender who's just as committed to fighting homophobia can certainly bring up new possibilities that might not have been there before. I've taken up a statement I've heard many other people describe themselves with -- I'm queer, meaning that I'm attracted to queer people.

I also want to mention that while it is certainly possible to be bi and not be attracted to hetero-femme-performing women (or men), that's one of the same problems I've had with the term. When I have said that I'm bi, people have assumed that I'm into "normal" type guys and think that I'm fair game to discuss this hot movie star or another. While if I say I'm a dyke, no one assumes that I'm going to be interested in today's big supermodels.

That's one reason I've taken to calling myself a PanDyke, or a dyke who dates a guy now and then. People hold off on their assumptions -- or maybe make assumptions that are more true for me. It's an awkward way to stave off bi-invisibility while acknowledging that "bi" isn't the label for me.

To be honest this is quite interesting to me. I am sad to say i am still very immature compared to all of you in respects to my orientation-journy!

I have a strong tendany to avoid any kind of label at all costs. i was once the token "straight chick" but to this day i have kissed more girls than guys. Generally i simply have a fully open emotional sexuality (i really could fall in love with any gender, and i dont just mean the two.) But with a physical attraction to the penis. however Its all about the individual. I confuse so many people with my dating choices. I had my first official crush on a girl recently (got rejected...still waiting around for her to be available really) She was a punky feminine but not really that feminine girl who was undeniably attractive to me, more than any guy has been on an emotional level (is it fair to say i find guys hot but rarely like them at all???)

Her being the exception, i usually am only attracted to the andrgynous in both male and female. Masculine males and feminine females really do nothing for me. Push the limits, give me an edgy "gender undefined" any day. That counts in both friends and crushes!

As i said before, my experiences in relationships are still somewhat young and immature.

Anthony in Nashville | October 17, 2008 2:59 PM

I'll admit that my understanding of the fluidity of sexuality needs a lot of work. My reaction to hearing about cross-orientation relationships is usually confusion. I guess I still cling to binary/limited categories of people, and "queer" throws me for a loop. For some reason it reminds me of the movie Shortbus, which I enjoyed but had several moments where I was thinking "what is going on here?"

Thanks for a thought-provoking piece.

Well spoken. I've lived a similar life relationally, such that identity traps and limits rather than frees. From freedom, always choice. I believe we pick lovers--not just sexual--for a number of reasons. Body parts--the sexual body--represent a singular view of the human relationship. Let's look a little past sex for a moment; we can always come back to it.

By setting up strict categories and policing them a large number of folks find themselves "not quite".

If, at least in your own mind, you replace the plumbing issues with taking the individual as a package, you might be surprised to find exactly how much you jump categories on occasion with the added benefit of less personal angst about what that makes you.

For some the plumbing is important, for others it isn't but the personality is. It shouldn't be rocket science. Those boxes we put ourselves into can be traps as well as identities.

In a recent pirate movie the line went "You must follow the code" with the reply "They're more like guidelines actually"........funny line with a lot of hidden truth as much humour has.

thank you for this piece. I have found the lesbian community particularly harsh on women who have enjoyed sexual relationships with men- then they must be bi.

I don't think so. I think you can be whatever you want to be and identify however you want and that the world is not black and white.

While I have personally never been physically attracted to men- I just haven't- I know plenty of lesbians who have been. like my wife. who loved her some men along the line, deeply, enjoyed the sex immensely and rarely understands my one sex attraction.

but she's a lesbian. part of that is because we're old and it always felt like you had to choose- which leads to a painful misunderstanding of bisexuality.

I think what you say is true- it's about being queer. enough already with the labels.

The world is full of gray and not much black and white. When we step outside of our boxes, we can see in color.

"I'm one of those new breed of non-hetero men and women who are hesitant to identify as gay or lesbian."

I'm feeling that one...

Yes! Exactly. As I wrote in my article for the Journal of Lesbian Studies last year: the tension between identities, the need to distinguish clearly between them, and the arguments about who is ‘really’ gay, 'really' lesbian or 'really' trans may be of supreme unimportance to the next generation. You can read it here.