“I want to move to Iowa to get married, and make you pancakes every morning.”
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment I fell in love with her, but reading that text message on the first Friday night of April 2009 ranks fairly high. She had a knack for making grand romantic gestures in the simplest of words. For the first time I imagined a future with a girl — this girl — and the thought didn’t terrify me. I had once told her I could live a lie for the rest of my life, but the appeal of that future now gave way to one where I’d get to recreate again and again the memory of waking up next to her. That alone would make every disappointed look I’d later have to bear entirely worth it.
Before I met her in October 2008 I had never given my sexuality a second thought. I spent most of high school living on a tropical island where homosexuality still carries a 12 year jail sentence (not that I felt this had any bearing on my life back then). I’ll never forget my first serious boyfriend telling me that before I dolled up around the age of 16 he thought I was a dyke because I played soccer and didn’t ever wear skirts. Not exactly “classic” homophobia, but I definitely bought into the stereotype that lesbians were unattractive women who resorted to dating each other because they couldn’t land a man. I had an ugly duckling complex growing up, and dating good looking men made me feel validated as a woman.
But this girl, who I met in a class during my sophomore year at college in New York, defied my preconceived notion of gay women. When I first suspected she had a crush on me I remember thinking, “she doesn’t look like a lesbian,” but looks weren’t even half the story. She’d fight for the seat next to me in lecture just to ask me how my weekend was and she’d sit opposite me during recitations to maximize the chance of making eye contact. I found her attention flattering. We eventually went out for coffee after I pitched an essay idea about mental illness to our class and she volunteered to be interviewed about her adolescent anorexia. It slipped out during our conversation that I was sexually abused as a child, which was the first of many things I revealed to her before I could even admit to myself.
What happened between our first kiss on my birthday in January 2009 and the day I flew back to Sri Lanka for that summer I could say is too much or too complicated to explain, but really it’s just too painful to relive. Let’s just say I was only able to confess my feelings for her because I believed my coming out story would double as the greatest loved story ever told.
It did not.
For months we oscillated between vicious arguments and spells of silence, hooking up and going off the grid, feeling liberated and feeling imprisoned. The moment I declared I was finally ready to openly be with her, she decided I wasn’t actually worth the risk. She once told me “the worst thing to be is single and gay,” and she had just rendered me heartbroken and ashamed. Coming out stories are often painful because they don’t always have happy endings, but the most traumatic ones don’t have happy beginnings either.
But as I mended myself over that summer I realized the process didn’t involve reasserting my heterosexuality. In fact, the solution to my ugly duckling problem and how I reconciled myself with my queer nature were the same: I learned to be proud of who I am regardless of who I am with.
Whatever her intentions for luring me in love with her, the fact remains that she challenged me to be more myself than I ever dreamt was permissible. She and I are friends again. I’m still single and gay. Though the thought of that may terrify her, for now the reality of it kind of suits me.