By Theresa Tyree
“Hey, are you still there?”
It was the 26th of March, the day before my birthday and the midpoint of my spring break, and Jordan and I were on Facebook again. She was half a world away in Croatia, touring the country with our university choir and I was trapped at home with a family turned dysfunctional by grief. Needless to say, between her homesickness and my escapism, we were talking a lot. But our conversations didn’t usually lull unless Jordan or I had to go – and she hadn’t mentioned needing to go anywhere.
Finally she responded.
“I’m so sorry! A friend just confessed feelings for me, and I’m not sure how I feel, because I think I might like someone else.”
My initial thoughts after I read Jordan’s message were, “That’s right you have feelings for someone else! It’s me, right? Please tell me it’s me.”
My follow-up thought was, “Wait, I’m in love with a woman?”
Until the day when I wished for Jordan to tell me she had feelings for me, I had identified as a heterosexual female. My dating history was made up of men, and only men. The closest thing I’d ever had to a homosexual impulse was wanting to hug and kiss a close friend when she was going through a rough break-up. I’d never considered the idea that I might one day end up attracted to another woman.
So then what did having feelings for Jordan mean for me and my sexual identity? Did this make me a lesbian? Did my attraction to one person of the same gender mean I was suddenly gay?
I didn’t have the answers to those questions when I was first entering into these uncharted waters. All I had were the questions and a few more messages from Jordan.
“I’m so sorry to do this over Facebook, but I think I might like you as more than a friend, and I feel so stupid, because these feelings completely blindsided me, and I promise I’ll completely drop this after we chat if you don’t feel the same; I just don’t want our friendship to be ruined…”
My response was immediate and fluid. My fingers moved before I could really process what I had typed.
“I actually think I might like you as more than a friend too.”
But by then, Jordan was too worked up to read my messages and continued to apologize for another minute before she realized what I had said.
“Really?” she asked, once she had processed that I wasn’t rejecting her.
That felt like the moment of truth. I hadn’t hesitated when Jordan had told me she had feelings for me. I had openly told her that I thought I might have feelings for her too. It was new. Very new. I wasn’t sure I was ready to convince someone else of a realization I had just had myself. I didn’t think it was a lie, but I didn’t know what it meant for me, or for Jordan, or for us. So, instead of trying to make those decisions, I decided to be honest with her.
“I’ve never actually seriously considered a woman as a romantic partner,” I confessed. “But that’s not because I think I couldn’t. I think that’s because I never found the right person.”
Finding the right person had been pretty tricky over the last couple years. I had been single since I had started attending university three years previously. You could say my last relationship left me with high standards; I felt it had just left me with standards, and a really good sense of what I was looking for in a partner.
That list didn’t include a gender, but it did assume one.
By my senior year, what I was looking for was “not love.” My last relationship had ended because my boyfriend and I had chosen to go to separate universities. So close to another graduation date, I was worried dating would just lead to a repeat experience, and so I actively avoided romantic attachments.
But with Jordan it was different. I hadn’t expected to form any romantic feelings for anyone who wasn’t male. I thought that I was either gay or straight, and didn’t actually take time to consider the middle ground of “bisexuality.” I knew I was attracted to men, and so that must mean that I wasn’t attracted to women. Or so I thought; but the way I had spent my drive home from school convinced me that I wasn’t just playing along with Jordan’s love confession.
The drive from Bellingham, Washington, to Boring, Oregon, usually takes five or six hours. I spent the majority of that time listening to the same song on repeat (a song that, coincidentally, reminded me of Jordan) and intermittently crying.
The turmoil that my family had been going through had left me with a very small supply of energy at the beginning of the year and I had taken to conserving that small amount to get me through my days. This meant I was spending a lot of time in my room reading and generally not interacting with people. But then I met Jordan, and we started eating together: first on campus, then of campus, and then in each other’s homes. We started spending time together that had nothing to do with school work, and then I was helping her complete her last-minute term papers after I finished all of mine so she could stop stressing and we could relax and watch a movie.
All in all, I was spending a lot of energy on Jordan. In fact, I was spending so much energy on her that I was afraid I was spending too much. What if I needed that energy for me and by spending it on Jordan I was depleting my stores? That would mean I would need to find more somewhere, which would mean I would have to depend on people to give it to me – which, at the time, was a terrifying thought.
Only, it never happened. Either the energy cost me nothing because I wanted to spend it on making Jordan happy, or Jordan’s happiness was actually supplying me with more energy.
Whatever the reason, by the time I turned into my driveway and stopped crying, I had come to the resolution that, whatever I felt for Jordan, she could have whatever she wanted from me. I liked being with her. I liked making her happy. I liked the way our dynamic felt. Even if continuing to be around her was a big scary risk, I wanted to take it.
Maybe if I hadn’t been so convinced that I wasn’t bisexual at the time, I would have recognized those signs and known I was in love with her then.
But very quickly after we became a couple, the labels started flying around me. I, of course, had to tell my close friends of the new development in my life. Everyone I told accepted me and my new partner, but there was something about the way they each summed it up and chose to describe it that bothered me.
One of my roommates tried to give me a way out of changing the label for my sexual identity by calling me “straight with an asterisk.” Another friend advised me not to tell my family until I’d felt it out. And then there were my schoolmates. As soon as we got back to school, Jordan started telling everyone from close friends to acquaintances that we were an item. Although I had absolutely no qualms whatsoever about being attracted to Jordan and didn’t feel the need to hide my new relationship from anyone, I did have a problem with the look my classmates kept giving me; the look of “Oh, you’re with a girl? I knew you were a lesbian! That explains why you’re always so aggressive and dominant. Know that I support you and your gayness!”
That was when I decided I needed to find a new label for my sexual identity that I could really identify with. I was in a relationship with a woman, but that didn’t mean my sexuality was as cut and dry as that. I started to identify as bisexual, and when I did, I started noticing the intrinsic and restricting binary of sexuality our society wanted me to silently subscribe to.
In the end, I believe the way I expressed my bisexuality to Jordan on the day I became her partner was best: “I’m not in love with a gender, anyway. I’m in love with you.”
Theresa Tyree is a graduate of Western Washington University and a student of the PSU book-publishing program. When she’s not busy studying and publishing books, she sleeps.