Coming out is a process for most people, myself included. I tried to write about it and realized that to do so in one post would be possible but not ideal. For me, it was an evolution. A collection of starts, stops, and pauses. I will write it as such.
Read previous installments in the Coming Out series.
I attended college at a little hippie school with just over 2,000 students. By the beginning of my sophomore year, I had decided that I wanted to attempt to date a girl and had scoped out the 20 or so chicks I knew who advertised their girl-on-girl persuasions. It was clear that each person was either too good for me (Morgan Hersill), not good enough, or attached.
It wouldn’t have mattered anyway: I was too scared to test the waters for fear of being outed. There was no way that I was going to tell the world that I was bi, or gay, or whatever before I had had the chance to do some physical investigation.
For me, the choice was simple. I would go online.
Online personals offered me a free way to find someone to date without having to tell someone else and potentially commit to a lifestyle that I wasn’t ready to adopt. I could continue to hide my attraction from everyone I knew.
I imagine that online dating is easier for many LGBTQ individuals. It’s incredibly hard to date in small towns, places that aren’t accepting of gayness, etc. Especially if you are too young for bars and/or don’t have access to LGBTQ community groups.
The decision to cast my line into the online dating pool doesn’t sound like a big deal now but, at the time, I was a risk-taker. In the year 2000, very few college-age adults were dating this way. It was still considered to be a fairly dangerous and kind of lame option. Using online dating tools was something that many people found disdainful and/or shameful.
Not me. I thought Yahoo! Personals was a godsend. I had used it only once before, in high school, to meet a boy outside of my teeny tiny town. It was relatively successful. He was fine at first then turned out to be lame, like many other high school boys. But, I felt like I had accomplished something because the ultimate goal of ditching my virginity had been met. And, my previous experience taught me that that online anonymity combined with the ability to meet interested partners was just what I needed.
At first, when I went looking for nearby “townies” my age, I found the pickings to be pretty slim. Under-enthused, I quietly cyber watched and waited until, eventually, I got bored with the wait and busy with school. I forgot the whole plan for several weeks and then I was contacted by a girl named Dana.
Dana was a year younger than me, lived 20 minutes away, and worked at a children’s day care. She was not particularly smart and we had very different lifestyles because I was in school and she was working. However, she was pretty, seemed nice, and wanted a date with me. A perfectly neutral test case. I said, “yes” with a lot of trepidation but no reservations.
It turns out that I had nothing to be afraid of. My first date with a girl was lamer than many of the dates I’d had back in middle school. I was nervous, we met for dinner, and it was just okay. We didn’t have anything in common but had little trouble making conversation.
Much to my dismay, there was no opportunity for any sort of physical touching on the date. I already knew that I liked to talk to girls. I wanted to know if I liked to touch them.
For the first time, I realized one of the many practical complications of same-sex dating: the inability to demonstrate physical affection in public makes getting close to someone harder. One of the best ways to generate physical attraction is through flirty touches, and that possibility is nearly eliminated by being in the closet or simply afraid of being affectionate in public (with good reason). I had always taken this type of flirtation for granted. On this date, I learned that it’s hard to create a spark with your date when you can’t even hold hands.
We could have tried it, I guess. But, nothing ruins a date faster than anti-gay hate crime or hate speech. We certainly would have had a run-in with at least one of those things in southern Maryland in the year 2000.
I was disappointed that we hadn’t really connected but it was easy for us to decide to see each other again- we had both seen how dismal the Lexington Park, MD, lesbian dating scene was. Neither of us could afford to be picky.
The second date was better. More food and some alcohol led us to the tattoo parlor down the street. She got a little lizard that she’d been meaning to add to her collection and I added some stars to the moon that was already inked into my back. The shared experience helped. I was starting to get interested and, when she drove me to my apartment, I invited her inside.
Suddenly, I was an adolescent again. As the last vestiges of alcohol wore off, not even the sting from my new tattoo could distract me from the situation at hand. I had to know what it was like to kiss her and I was determined that it would happen that night. At the time, I was hyper-aware of every dumb thing that I said, trying to work my way into a good night kiss. Now, I can’t remember a word of it.
Instead, I remember that Incubus was playing on my computer because I had left the music on when I ran out for my date. The lights were low because I had intentionally left some off while I gave her the 10-second tour and she looked more attractive in the shadows of my living room. I remember thinking that her lips were softer than most of the guys that I’d kissed before and that she was shorter than I. That was a new experience for me. At 5’4″, all the boys I had kissed were the same height or taller.
It was an average kiss. Short, sweet, and not passionate at all. If I had a top 100 kisses list, this would not make the cut.
Like many first kisses, it was mind-blowingly momentous and completely forgettable at the same time.
It was normal.
Kissing a girl felt normal.
Not gross. Not wrong, Not illicit.
After she left, I took stock of things. If anything, kissing Dana was just like kissing a boy except maybe less aggressive*. Certainly, I felt the same way about her as I had many boys before her: I wasn’t sure if we were compatible but I wanted more opportunities to find out. The kiss made everything seem so much more real. I wanted more kisses. Girl kisses.
I never locked lips with Dana again, though. The next time I saw her was at an Applebee’s (small town, sucky food options). It was the night of the Bush/Gore election. Turns out, I wasn’t bi-curious enough to put up with dating someone who voted for Bush. When I found out how she cast her vote, I made a hasty exit and never look back.
As I was leaving, I felt lighter, just like every other time I’d broken up with someone who wasn’t right for me. But, I knew that my investigation wasn’t over and knew that there were plenty of other girls with which I could continue to figure out my dating preferences. And, suddenly, I figured out that something unexpected had happened during my experiment: my dating pool had become much larger. Before that night, my biggest romantic issue had been that I was attracted to men but couldn’t seem to connect to them emotionally. What if I had found a solution?
I had tested this new water and found it to be warm. Now, it was time to learn to swim and I was going to need help. I needed to enlist some friends.
*Sidenote: In my experience, the biggest difference between kissing men and kissing women is not their lips or height differences. Men tend to be much more aggressive kissers, straight off the bat. Usually a woman will wait a bit before she starts pulling at your face or grabbing your ass. Guys often seem to demand a kiss, while women seek it out.