My ex-husband and I used to take turns selecting films for our movie nights. His choices ran the gamut, and so did mine — until my curiosity was piqued by Netflix’s "Gay and Lesbian" section. Before long, I was searching exclusively within that area, and our queue was glutted with films about queer women: But I’m A Cheerleader, Imagine Me and You, Fingersmith, The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love. The list went on.
For someone chronically guilty of overthinking her actions, it’s noteworthy that I did not interrogate this preoccupation with queer cinema (and for the time being, neither did my ex-husband). Nor had I, in college, questioned my gravitation to courses like Lesbian Fictions, or novels depicting intimate female relationships. After all, academic fascinations don’t necessarily forecast one’s sexual orientation. I might have, however, been made curious by sporadic attractions to women on campus — some of whom I knew, and some I didn’t. I might have acknowledged that boys were not the only people I wanted to kiss. I might have, but I didn’t.
When I look back on these fragments of memory, they reveal a search. I sought out representations of queer women because they proffered a mirror; they bared a dimension of myself I didn’t know yet. And by the second semester of my junior year of college, I would have only regarded a queer sexual self-discovery as derailing. I had entered into a committed relationship with the man who would later become my ex-husband, and — never one for ambiguous narratives — I was determined that we would settle down and live happily ever after. When doubts about my relationship reared their heads, I performed rituals of mental gymnastics to suppress them. I enjoyed vague endings in literature — in life, I relished simplicity.
So, I married at 25, and after discovering the cost of hasty, blinkered decisions, asked for a divorce before I turned 26. Did I then retreat from heterosexual romance and plumb the nuances of my queer desires? I did not. Instead, I had fallen in love with a man named Paul. And as our relationship developed, I came to understand what it meant to be sure about another person, and to love without contingency or reservation.
Paul and I have been married for over two years now; we’ve threaded ourselves together tenderly, inextricably. Our love is steadfast and snug, and yet it is a space where we both breathe deeply. I want nothing more from romance than to spend the rest of my life getting to know him. But the best love allows us to maintain curiosity and continue to grow without endpoints. So, it’s been in this relationship that I’ve allowed myself to push back against the narrative I created and determine that I’m queer.
Of course, this wasn’t a surprise to me. I still remember a female friend from college whom I knew I had always been fiercely attracted to — now I was just admitting it. Labels are always reductive, but in recent years I had become increasingly uneasy defaulting to “straight.”
I cannot and — I have learned — should not maintain a shroud of secrecy just because I’m married.
When I shared my sexual orientation update with Paul, he received the news calmly and kindly, and without judgment. I had recently finished gorging on The L Word and had nearly wept at the sight of Kate McKinnon during Ghostbusters. Any film or television show starring Evan Rachel Wood became an immediate priority. I expect he was as thunderstruck by my announcement as I had been by the internal revelation.
Immediately after my big queer discovery, I questioned whether this fold in my identity mattered in any material way. Members of the queer community are battling to live loudly and safely every day; I, on the other hand, am swaddled in heteronormative privilege. Paul is a white, straight, cis man, and I am a white, cis woman from an upper middle class family. Of course adjusting to a different sexual orientation had been a smooth endeavor for me. The only privilege I lack is maleness, and I pass easily as heterosexual. I’ve suffered neither persecution nor discrimination. Other women in relationships with men have encountered pernicious biphobia, but I haven’t even experienced that.
Then, of course, there’s the question of sex. Under other circumstances, I would be eager to date people of other genders. But Paul and I maintain a monogamous marriage, and that’s a decision we agreed upon together. Personally, I know I’m too jealous for any sort of open arrangement. The thought of Paul fantasizing about someone else agitates me, and were he to sleep with another woman, I could only interpret that as betrayal. Likewise, Paul is uncomfortable with me sleeping with women. So I’m therefore unlikely to experience that sort of erotic intimacy, and I must assume that I never will. Choosing an exclusive union with one person entails a promise not to choose anyone else. It’s a rejection of other possibilities, other pleasures. But now that I identify as queer, I’m no less satisfied with the choices I made prior to coming out.
For now, my paramount role in the queer community is as an ally. And yet, my queerness is not a trifling attribute; I cannot and — I have learned — should not maintain a shroud of secrecy just because I’m married. However much I love Paul, my queerness stands separate from our bond, and it will not be absorbed into heterosexual matrimony. It is mine alone, and living honestly is impossible if I don’t honor the absolute sum of my parts. Not to mention, every time someone declares their queerness, the well-worn straw man argument about “natural” coupling thins and teeters. Not everyone is so fortunate to come out in safety, but because I am, I believe that I should.
It would be disingenuous to say that I’m unfazed by a life in which I never explore my sexual fluidity. I’ve contemplated opportunities I might have had in the past, had I been bolder and more attuned to my predilections. When I adjust the rearview mirror, the retreating landscape has altered and solidified — for so long, I dwelled in self-imposed myopia. But I can only exist in the now, and now is where I love Paul. Recognizing my queerness has not diminished my love or willingness to travel life with him. But it has reminded me that I’m broad and vast — and that my own ambiguities are nothing to fear.
Rachel Vorona Cote is a writer in Washington, D.C. She is a contributor at Jezebel and also writes for a variety of venues, including The New Republic, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Hazlitt, and The Hairpin. You can find her on Twitter here.