By Jennifer Miracle
When did I know? Hmm…that is quite the precarious question…at least for me…as I suspect it to be for most women. For the first 19 years of my life, I was a straight girl. That’s how I identified anyway. In my family the stan-dard operating procedure was that you graduate from high school, get married and have babies, not necessarily in that order. However, the Universe had much bigger – or at least different, but I like to think of them as bigger – plans for me. The first and only in my family to go to college, I had the opportunity to go on the Walt Disney World College Program during the second semester of my freshman year. It was there that I had the first experience that made me question my heterosexuality.
Despite getting engaged during my program to a guy from home, I fell head over heels in love with a woman that I worked with in the park. Having only dated boys during my youth and knowing my parents would lose their minds if I told them I was in love with a woman, let alone declared myself a lesbian, I came home from Florida, broke off my engagement (under false pretenses) and attempted to maintain a long distance relationship with my first female lover. Eventually, my dad got wise to the situation and my otherwise doting father condemned me to Hell for my immoral behavior. Both he and my mom suggested I simply stop talking to her and “it would go away.” Although I could not confidently declare my lesbian identity at the time, I knew that loving a woman was clearly an option for me and believed it probably always would be.
I refused to end the relationship and my parents refused to condone it, so essentially we agreed to disagree. Six months later, my father was diagnosed with cancer. It was at that point that, for whatever reason in my mind, my love for my girlfriend and my love for my father could no longer co-exist. I broke off the relationship with my girlfriend and tried to convince myself that perhaps it really was just a phase, or only that particular woman. It seemed the best way to convince myself of this was to date a guy. So I did. However, I found myself sometimes thinking “I hope this doesn’t make them think that I’ll never be with a woman again,’ and ‘Maybe I’m bisexual… if I tell them that, they won’t be so upset because there’s still the possibility of me ending up with a man.” Clearly, I wasn’t fooling myself. Sadly, my dad died just five months after being diagnosed. Somehow, I felt relieved that he passed knowing that I was dating a guy and no longer in a relationship with a woman.
I continued dating the same guy for another year, until I returned to college that Fall and fell in love with the girl next door. At the start of this relationship, I still couldn’t confidently call myself a lesbian. But after a four and a half year relationship I felt safe publicly joining the world of Ellen and Rosie.
As I began my professional career, I made the conscious decision that I would never hide my identity as a lesbian. I proudly and confidently claimed my lesbian identity from day one…and then almost immediately found myself feverishly attracted to one of the guys working in our department. I could not understand it. Past relationships with guys had felt more like an obligation, or what I was expected to do. This was the first time that I could ever remember a guy mesmerizing me; however, all it took was getting remotely emotionally involved with him to pretty much seal the deal on that lesbian label I had so confidently embraced just months earlier.
For the next 10 years, I solely dated women, many of them on the more butch end of the spectrum. (I often described my “types” as sporty femme and rock-n-roll/bad ass chick), but they were all women nonetheless.) I prided myself on being the ultra femme lesbian and thoroughly enjoyed challenging people’s stereotypes about “what a lesbian looks like.” So much so that I made it a career.
After three years of doing queer education and advocacy work in student affairs, and as many playing the field, I recently reconnected with an old friend from my college days. Although our paths had crossed a number of times over the last 14 years and there was always a strong connection between the two of us, we became more regularly in touch through Facebook. Shortly after reconnecting there, my friend, who I’d always known as a woman who dated women, posted his new Facebook page introducing himself to the world as Ethan. Having known him for so long, this announcement to me was no shocker. Rather, the shocker for me was my falling completely in love with him. The shocker for my friends and family is my being engaged…to a man!
Needless to say, my relationship with Ethan has certainly messed with my sense of identity a bit. Truth be told, I don’t know that there is a label that I feel comfortable using at this point. However, what I’ve learned is that labels are for other people – not for ourselves. What I know is that I am in love with Ethan, and Ethan has always been Ethan, even in a female body.
When did I know, you ask? I think the short answer to that question is I don’t know, and I don’t care.
Jennifer is the director of the LGBT Resource Center at The University of Georgia. Although she has a passion for the work she does and believes it to be her life’s work, she’s always dreamed of becoming a writer.