I met him outside the party on the front steps. He was holding a half-finished beer, and I carried an empty bottle of wine. We talked about everything and nothing. He leaned in and I grabbed his shirt. We kissed briefly before I took his hand and led him inside.
I never got his name and when I woke up the next morning he was gone. By this point I already knew in the back of my head that I wasn’t into this. But my friends were occupied, I was bored, and he was there.
The reality was I wasn’t attracted to men. At all. Objectively, I could tell when a guy was attractive, but it didn’t matter. In my eyes they were all the same, so it was easy to push that voice to the back of my brain as I continued to pursue them. I knew I liked women, but I didn’t want to let go of also liking men.
The summer after I graduated high school I decided that I was going to be a slut. I was newly single and wanted to try out my sexual freedom. I was making a feminist statement by reclaiming the word that had been thrown at me many times in my life, or so I told myself. I was engaging in casual sex, kissing strangers for free drinks, and perusing Tinder when it was brand new and laden with stigma. But most importantly, after a relationship full of sexual coercion and gaslighting, I was finally in control.
Actively pursuing anyone, including men, was brand new territory for me. I was tentative at first, and often I needed to down a few drinks before I could flirt with a man and let him know my intentions. But as I got more comfortable, I slowly realized something. Guys wanted to have sex with me. They thought I was attractive and they would do whatever it took to be with me.
Many times, after an unsatisfying hook up, I would think about how much better it might have been had I been with a girl. But in my mind, I had no choice. There’s no guide on how a queer woman could comfortably “pick up” a girl. The rules were different, and there were no models to look to as there were with men.
In retrospect, I probably thought that because of the dichotomy queer women exist in according to our media and society. We are either sexual objects of the porn industry lacking autonomy and usually tied to a man, or we are in sexless, boring relationship thanks to the myth of lesbian bed death.
The phrase “lesbian bed death” loomed in my head for years. It’s an unfounded phenomenon that when two women have been together for a long time they stop having sex entirely. It kept me from exploring what I really wanted—a casual but enjoyable relationship with someone I was actually attracted to.
I didn’t even know how to broach the topic of casual sex with women, but with men I didn’t have to. It was just assumed. Our culture tells us men only want “that one thing” and that women are expected to simultaneously be sexual objects and sexless. I had chosen the extreme end of that binary, and it put me in a position where I was much more vulnerable to their advances, but also had more autonomy in how I chose them. I didn’t have to do any of the work and I didn’t risk rejection.
But with women, I didn’t always know if they were queer, let alone into me. Even the thought of approaching a woman at a party made me clam up.
I finally decided to foray into sexual relationships with women. It was a slow transition, as I started to be more honest with women about what I wanted and after much deliberation changed my Tinder settings to only women. I met some wonderful women in the process, women I could talk to and cuddle with and get coffee with after we hooked up. And I discovered, to my great surprise, that I was not the only queer woman with a sex drive. It was hard at first, and often the other person had to take the lead. But online dating especially helped me find other women with similar interests and desires that I otherwise would have never interacted with.
This spring, I finally gave up sleeping with men. My sexual adventures were less frequent and often had to be pre-planned. But it was different. It was better. I was connecting with people I was actually attracted to and I was communicating my wants and needs. I realized there was more than one way to reclaim my autonomy.
Recently, I got intimate with a girl I’ve been casually dating. We made pizza together and talked about our feelings and what being queer meant to us—the sex was just a bonus. Afterwards, we put on face masks and cuddled while watching a Disney movie. It had been months at this point since the last time I had been with someone, but I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything. A new adventure was just beginning.