Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ingrained in the Membrane

Everybody’s good at something.

Some people can read music. (What are you, some kind of fucking genius?  You’re scaring me.  You can read dots. )
Some people can talk to you and really listen.  Really listen, as if you’re the most interesting and important person in the room.
Some people know, intuitively, which flavors will mingle nicely together in a stir-fry.
Some people can make whimsical handbags out of license plates and sell them in upscale, “quirky” women’s boutiques for more than $70. 
Everybody’s got a talent!

Me too.

I can wake up instantly.
Like, instantly.
As in, "I was in deep REM sleep at 3 a.m. and having a sex dream about Tina Fey and Queen Latifah in prison but now there’s a fire alarm in my hotel and I am suddenly outside, fully dressed, with all my stuff, including my toothbrush, nightstand book, and fucking travel candle and NO idea how it happened.”

In less than 2 minutes.

It’s like being in the military.

On days off, I can easily sleep ‘till one or two o’clock and still bitch about having to meet someone for a late brunch.
But if I set an alarm…

I’m out of bed like a gunshot. I sit straight up, gasp, and explode out of bed.  It’s terrifying. You should have seen this shit the other weekend, when I was in Hawaii during the tsunami warning.  The hotel PA system would blast sirens and tell everyone to “remain calm,” while CNN shrieked about a “mammoth wave capable of mass destruction.”  My hotel was right on the beach. 
This extraordinary talent probably stems, like all things worthy, from being a Mormon.

All Mormon children, aged 14-18, attend an early morning, before-school seminary class.  
Monday thru Friday.
For all four years of high school.
This is to indoctrinate you using sleep deprivation, further lowering your resistance to Mormon culture, scripture, and lessons as you get closer to college-going/decision-making age.
I am not bitter.

My seminary class began promptly at 6 a.m.

What’s that?
Doesn’t sound so early, eh?

What if you factor in being a self-conscious teenage girl with acne, braces, and Very Complicated Bangs?
What if you only have two Abercrombie sweaters and both of them are in the wash
What then, huh?

You’re looking at stress-hives and a 4:15 a.m. wake-up call.
For four solid years.

Eventually you’re wide-awake at 3:57 in the morning on a Wednesday, eyes on the clock, just daring that fucker to ring.

Can you train yourself to be gay?

Don't send me hate mail - I'm just throwing the question out there.

I was thinking about a woman who wrote to me here at to tell me her Coming Out story.

Her letter was extremely short.  She said she was a lesbian because her best friend would make her look at nudie magazines whenever her parents weren’t home, which was a lot, apparently.
She says it “trained” her to be gay.

Not the best friend’s behavior, obviously, but the idea that you could train yourself to be gay, just through repetitive exposure to naked ladies.

I must try this repetitive-exposure thing and see if I can train myself to enjoy BDSM. Mostly I just find myself tied up, giggling like a 13-year-old girl reading Tiger Beat.   Omigod, are you going to flog me?

Not only do I find my letter-writer's logic shaky at best, but I also think that kind of thinking is dangerous to queers. 

First of all, our society sells us everything using mostly-naked female bodies.  Using our friend's argument - wouldn't all women be lesbians by now?  We've been repeatedly exposed to naked women all our lives. 
I mean, have you looked in a Cosmo magazine lately?

And second of all: 
Hasn’t the Christian right been working this angle for years? The whole “Homosexuality-is-natural-but-you-can-train-yourself-not-to-act-on-your-impulses-and-lead-a-pure-life-with-Jesus'-help” thing?

You know, Train Yourself To Be Straight!

Obviously this doesn't work.  Look at that faggot Ted Haggard.
I can prove it doesn't work. 
Just like that. 
BOoM!  Problem solved.

...'Cause I seem to have been exposed, repetitively, to heterosexuals all my life.
I guess some lessons just don’t take.

My parting questions are these: 

*What (if any) outside factors influenced our gayness?
*How much of our lives is habit?

*How much did we take away from the training of our childhood? Is there something so ingrained that it's unchangeable? 
                                       and finally,


*Why, every now and again, do I still wake up at 4:15 a.m., heart pounding, even though Seminary was a decade ago?


  1. Ohhhh good one. I can't believe nobody has responded yet.

    This whole "trained" concept is actually why I haven't sent you a coming out story yet... because I feel so sheepish about how I "trained" myself to appear straight FOR SO LONG due to my total and utter fear of the Baptist Church's doctrine. I very firmly believed that people chose to be gay because I was choosing to be straight, every fucking day I woke up.

    And now, sometimes I still flirt for men's attention just because it is PROGRAMMED into my little brain to do it. Even though I have never been attracted to them or enjoyed sex with them... just... cause it's what I started doing when I was 12, to prove to everyone that I wasn't gay [becauseeveryonealreadyknew]. Somehow, it makes me feel less gay than the average dyke, to admit it, like I'm not as genuinely gay, that I didn't come out when I knew I was gay and hid well into adulthood (Hello baptist guilt rollin right on over to my big queer life).

    But guess what. Nobody can train you to cream your pants at the sight of a great pair of melons... although they can teach you to be shameful and hide it. Nobody taught me to love the smell, touch, taste, and sound of a woman in my bed. Nobody taught me to fall head over hills in love with a woman. Because if they could have, I would be straight by now.

    Besides, there's a helluva lot more to being gay and coming out than looking at some magazines.

    Can I get an amen?

  2. I love you even more knowing you were raised LDS. I just moved to Salt Lake City (for school) and as a dyke myself, well, I'm sure you can imagine the difficulties I face.

    I definitely don't think you can train yourself to be gay. I tried for all of high school (and one miserable year in college) to train myself to be straight and it does not work.

    Thank Gawd.

  3. Trained to be gay? I was trained to be a perfect straight Christian girl from the second I could breathe.

    Which resulted in a DECADE of my life wasted on 'deciding' to be straight. Woke up every day. Checked. Nope, still gay. Gotta decide to be straight again. Pray against the gay!

    If only I could have those wasted years and angst and mind numbing fear and genuine heartache back. Fuckers.

  4. yes and then when you finally realise you ARE gay you have so much guilt/shame/fear shit to unlearn also.

  5. Outside factors? Um, GIRLS SCHOOL. Cause before that, my mormon 'hood made sure I thought purely of peen. And then I went BACK EAST and discovered LESBIANS and realized what all those CLOSE FRIENDSHIPS had been over the years. It didn't make me gay, but it opened up a whole new world of snatch.

    ALTHOUGH! Much to my shame, after many happy years of lady-fucking, I ended up with a boy. In fairness he's a bit of a mesbian (sprouts, fleece, chapstick, has slept with as many lesbians as I have) but I still fear a. the scornful dykes who call me a traitor/fake/katy perry and b. the crazy evangelicals who think I'm "proof" of something.

    And if you think coming OUT is awkward, wait until you go back IN. It's particularly disturbing when people who lost your phone number once you started liking the ladies suddenly reappear as if nothing happened. (Hi, mom!)

  6. Why do you wake up at 4:15? PTSD, my friend.

    As for training yourself to be gay, I've flirted with this idea myself. See, this luscious 5-yr-old lived across the breezeway from me (I was 6) and she began to train me in the ways of lady love.

    Some people in my life have suggested this girl was molested and acting out with me, the prob there is her brother tried the same thing with me and I was like ugh. Yuck-o. No way.

    So I've wondered over the years, was I born gay or was it first exposure that got locked in? My conclusion? I don't care. I only fall in love with women so I guess that makes me gay. Thank you, Heather Woodard, whereever you are.

  7. Excellent comments above. I have the Southern Baptist version of the guilt mentioned by all and sundry here. It rocks. I expect the person who wrote you has something like that too - it couldn't be ME, being a lesbian, naturally, because I'm a good person and my religion taught me that I can't be a good person and be a lesbian... something like that... You handled a tough subject very well m'dear. Congrats.

    FTR I, too, am a lesbian in spite of being trained otherwise. Yep, see that twitch over my left eyebrow and my therapy bill...

  8. Thats hilarious. :o I wish I could wake up like that.
    It takes me like an hour to even get out of bed.

    I don't think its possible to "train" yourself to be gay or straight.
    Its just the way you are. :)

  9. Hmm,I enjoyed reading all of the above comments, and now have to add my somewhat controversial two cents.
    I don't necessarily think I was "born gay". Maybe I had some sort of predisposition to it, but I'm not sure. We all have those looking back and going "hm...well, maybe that's why I acted like a fool around her?"
    I'm not necessarily completely a social constructionist around this, though. I have friends who have known they were gay since pre-school. I, on the other hand, 100% believed I was straight until college. In which case,I was dating a woman (but NOT gay, dammit!)and decided one night that I didn't want to be a nothing, not gay, not straight, not bi. I had said before that I was in a relationship with a woman but didn't have a sexual orientation. And I honestly believed I didn't.
    So I constructed myself as a lesbian. I threw myself into dyke activities, hung out with dykes, even tossed out the high heels in favor of practical shoes. And lo and behold, I started to feel like a lesbian. And then I started to be a lesbian.
    Which seems backwards,I know. But I think it's some of each, sometimes. Maybe I was a little bit gay from birth, but I made the conscious choice to be queer.
    But then again, I also shoot out of bed when the alarm goes off, so maybe I'm just strange.

  10. RadDyke, I have a similar story, and it definitely makes me feel less gay sometimes because I never considered it before I was 16 and never acted on it until college. But my therapist tells me I may have just turned to women because they seem more safe to me. Hmm...doesn't change the fact that women's bodies really turn me on. So maybe I'm bi, maybe I'm queer, maybe I'm going through a phase. But I totally understand the concept of constructing oneself as a queer, because I've definitely done that, and I'm a little worried sometimes that after all of this coming out business, I may have to go back "in," like Button Guinnett said up there...

    Who knows? I think at some level we all just have to go with what feels right. The social constrictions are the hard part to get used to.

  11. I love all you dykes and your comments. I spent 27.2 years being really bad at being straight (and like 25 years being an obnoxious homophobe <--- hello self loathing?). I've spent .3 years being really fantastic at being a lesbian. I guess my training didn't take.

  12. Love this post!

    Like V (Hi, V!!!) knowing you were raised LDS does warm my heart a little. I grew up in a mostly-Mormon community, and I didn't come out until (eep!) after college, after almost marrying a completely wonderful boy from back home. I had my first homo-stirrings reading a Hustler with the girl next door when I was, oh, a hair shy of 8 years old, but it sure didn't "train" me to be gay. But from then on I can say that I was trained to believe that my preferences were illegitimate. That's why visibility is still so important. While dykes still don't get the (quality) exposure I'd like them to have, the visibility of more and more total lesbos has inoculated me against all that icky internalized homophobia.

  13. Very much love this post. I can't say I was really trained to be straight, kinda the opposite actually. I grew up in a neighborhood full of guys. I played any sport I possibly could and was raised by my father who treated me like the son he always wanted. I had very few females roles in my life, but I always told myself I was straight, because of my Christian background and my southern small-minded town in the south. I didn't come out until I was living in a house with two of my closest friends, both males. I think my family had figured it out on there own, bc I never take anyone to meet them or discuss my personal life with them. lol The people that I did tell were just like, really? you just now figured this out. I honestly just wish someone would of told me. lol

  14. I don't think you can train yourself to be gay any more than you can train yourself to be straight, but it is true that the more you're exposed to something the more aware of and comfortable with it you become.

    I managed to internalize "ew, girly bits!" at a young age, and before I could really embrace my gay half I exposed myself to other girls and girl sex and girly bits (yay porn!) to re-associate girly bits with hotness. I don't think that getting hot for girls would have been possible if I hadn't already had a gay leaning, but the exposure helped me get over other internalized issues.

    I do know at least one woman who made the choice to be lesbian. Her father was abusive and her first husband went crazy and tried to kill her. After that she decided to date only women, and had a female partner for years. So I do think choice can play a part, but I'm not sure that's any healthier than lesbians trying to be straight -- and it's entirely possible she was bi to begin with. (I think a lot more people are bi than admit it. *grins*)

    As for the alarm -- that's totally PTSD. ;-D


  15. I was (am) married for 8 years and then fell for my best girl friend this year. It's a no go with her, but it's left me spending months trying to figure out what my sexuality was. I didn't really have an inkling of being gay as a kid. I was a tomboy, but knew nothing about homosexuality and was trying to live up to huge abstinence only expectations. I was just freaked out that I was dreaming about sex at 12--I didn't spend the time to realize I was dreaming about breasts almost exclusively. When marriage rolled along, if I questioned it, it was just b/c I didn't know what men looked like.

    When I fell for my friend I had two competing value systems in my head--academia and conservative Christian. I thought I was all cool with gays and had rejected most of my Christian thoughts, but man that early conditioning really impresses itself on ya. It's one thing to be all cool with friends being gay, another thing entirely to be cool with yourself being gay.

    This last year I've been exposing myself to all kinds of lesbian things--blogs, porn, literature. Went to my first lesbian bar this weekend. I've been massively trying to interpret my every little spark of attraction. Do this affection over hear mean I have to go back to my husband? Does this affection over here mean I was right to leave? etc etc etc. It doesn't help that my husband is absolutely, completely devastated. I think he was just as unhappy as I was, but now he's acting like we were all hunky dory before I left. So there's the guilt for leaving him, the guilt for "choosing" an "alternative" lifestyle that I have to wade through to find out if I am legitimately gay (yay! breasts!) or just "acting out." And then my parents figured out my questioning before I'd really figured it out, so to them it does seem like I'm "choosing" this lifestyle.

    Feeling totally comfortable worshiping at the feet of professional dancers at the lesbian club sure helped. Couldn't imagine myself doing the same thing at a ripped guy's feet.

    A couple months ago I was at an academic conference where one presenter talked about feminist women in the 70s choosing to love women because they were sick of men, and the choice being wonderful. I really liked that story, because it felt like I was sort of choosing to be a lesbian, but it was because women were wonderful.

    Now, I feel more like I am growing into, opening up into, a legitimate identity for my core self. But in the beginning, I definitely felt like I was choosing it.

  16. I am so excited to read a post like this, I have been almost terrified of even talking about this, even with my progressive/liberal/what-have-you friends because I'm terribly scared of being misconstrued as some kind of internally self-loathing gay-basher. You delt with this issue so well and so creatively, and I felt a definite wave of relief: someone else thinks about this too.

    I remember talking with my psychology teacher in 9th grade, and at the time I felt very certain that my gayness was my own choice, or at the very least, that my surroundings and my experiences are what had allowed me to be gay. I grew up in a very open community in which I felt completely comfortable coming out at the tender age of 14. Yet, because of this, I never really had to "deal" with my "gayness". I didn't really have the indoctrinated gay hating, and while there was certainly more heterovisibility in the media where I lived too, I also grew up with gay role models. I didn't even have to reconcile my spirituality and my orientation; my reverend at church was not only a strong woman, but a lesbian. She had just split from her life partner who was at the time barring her access to the daughter they had adopted together. And yet I saw in her not dyke-bashing of her ex, or anger at the heteronormative legislation that let her ex do something like that, but only love, and the appreciation of the complexity of human relationships, not just homo or heterosexual ones.

    How lucky, right? And this is what I told my teacher. But he was very adamant that being gay was something you were born with, probably because he was much more aware of the Christian right train-yourself-to-be-gay issues that I was still ignorant to. And so this puzzled me, a lot. This was also in the context of talking about schizophrenia and depression, and other high-school psychology class material, and so I was thinking he meant being "gay" was a disease you were born with, instead of a lifestyle that you should be happy to choose (at that time, choosing to be gay seemed just as important to my life as choosing what friend group to hang out with, or occasionally as trivial as what to wear: dikey pre-hipster flannel or femme pleated skirt? Either way, I was happy to rejoice in the queer identity I was constructing).

    This has gotten really long, so I'm going to try to sum up. I mostly wanted to write this to let you know how much I appreciated your entry. It prompted these reflections, but also a very extended breakfast conversation on these issues that will now be pervading my day (or life). The main conclusion of our discussions was our ability to train/construct our identity, if not our orientation. Essentially, while we many be born anywhere along the gay-straight spectrum, we are, ultimately, made to choose our identity. While we currently aren't demanded to "come out" as straight, it is in itself still a choice in the way you want to live your life.

    And I'm now forced to wonder, how problematic is this? Isn't it kind of fucked up? I mean, I love reveling in my queer identity (just recently shaved my head, SO EXCITING), but why can't we live and allow people to live in the limbo, why is it so important for us to construct a new binary of identity? so to RadDyke, who wrote that they "didn't have a sexual orientation," I say, right on. I respect that. I don't have a sexual orientation. I'm a being who feels and searches for love in other beings.

  17. i feel compelled to answer that first open question. i've just discovered your blog and have been dutifully and happily reading it for the past hour. or 2. so...

    outside factors influencing gayness? i personally can't recall that i had any. i knew from day one that ladies were my primary target. i'm talking, on the playground for kindergarten? 1st grade? recess and being the "old injured man" that "needed help" which apparently meant that every available girl on the playground had to gather up and guide me to a safe place. i also inherently knew though that i should not display or talk about such things. my dad constantly preached that the bible proclaimed that homosexuality is wrong. odd approach seeing as how we never went to church and to this day i still haven't read that damn book...

    i truly don't think anything could "influence" my "gayness"... just perhaps whether or not i expressed it in certain settings or admitted it to my parents. which is a whole other thing.

    so back to reading this blog. and thank you for it.

  18. Hmmmmmmmm....

    What does it mean to be gay? I could tell you like hell I'd lose in an Ani DiFranco throw down. I'm fiercely femme, and never got "that one dyke haircut" (lol I totally smirk though.)

    I went through my little high school la di da you gay people are fabulous and all. And I never thought I could be one. I never thought I could be an *anything*. No crush, no kiss, no "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" growing up experiences at alllll. I read too much. And played outside too much. But I still was a horny little teenager, just didn't know what I was horny *for*.

    Along comes college. My friend is giving me the flirting eyes, and I'm completely in new waters so I decide to try giving flirting eyes back. And it was fun. And then I slept with a lady. And it was fun.

    A penis has yet to give me flirty eyes, and should one do so, who knows? All I know is that I find ladies extremely attractive, more aesthetically enjoyable, and hell, yes, it does feel safer than dating dudes. I've never really had many dude friends. Maybe one day, but right now, I'm an effing dyke, and enjoying myself.

  19. If I could stop being gay I would. The more I open myself up to the possibility of being gay--rather than simply having had mind blowing sex with a woman being a fluke--the stronger my same sex attraction gets. I'm still married to a man. I love him, but I have to think about men to enjoy sex. Again, if I train myself to be straight I would.

  20. I am fourteen and realized I am omigodsuchaHOMO! the week before my birthday this year. Happy birthday, self! I've wondered this a couple times and then thought, "hell nah. NOT POLITICALLY CORRECT LALALALALA" but I think it is kind of true. But I think you have to have a little bit of a leaning in that direction to start with.

    Until recently, I thought I was so super-duper straight. I'd thought about it strangely often, but always come to the conclusion that "no way. I'm so straight. So straight. So very stra--OOH look she's so hot." But the thing was, that kind of made sense. I'd never really had a crush on a girl A few months ago, I started really thinking about it. I started thinking about what kind of girl would be my type and what girls at school are cute and um booooooobs.

    And now Imma be a dyke. Craaaaazy shit. My best friend keeps forgetting and trying to set me up with guys, but oh well. She's fine with it otherwise, so that's good.

  21. If I'm motivated, I spring out of bed like you do at the sound of an alarm, however most days I press snooze 3 or 4 times then I just decide to stop the alarm and sleep in till morning tea.

    Well I had a very "I'm straight, one hundred percent" teenage life from 13-16..I now call this the denial period. The last few years have definitely cause me to question orientation A LOT! I remember baaaack when I was 6 looking at the playground thinking if it was okay to like girls. See growing up I always had a little boyfirend. I remember when I was 12 telling my friend I was bisexual, because whenever I was around girls or saw a girl who was really pretty, I felt weird in a way uncomfortable, because I thought it was weird to acknowledge that a girl is attractive- HELLO catholic school teachings.

    Anyway I focused on males and rarely had relationships that lasted around 2 months, then I'd feel like I couldn't go on any longer so I'd dump them for non legitimate reasons. It wasn't until I was 16 that I fell for my best friend, I was so freaked out and I was also a homophobe around that time too. But here I am, I've finished highschool and although I'm still not sure what my orientation is, I do know who I'm attracted to and it's primarily women. My parents are rather open minded people and let me grow into who I am without trying to influence me, but I do believe that you are born gay, some just realise it later in life.

  22. Q: "What factors influenced your gayness?"
    I'm like that other commenter who said she added a picture of a guy to the collection of women's photos in her locker in middle school so that her friends wouldn't think she was lesbian. I wasn't lesbian; I liked guys! (the voice in my head that added 'also' was very quiet). In eighth grade, I knew how I felt about women but everyone around me labeled me straight, so I assumed I was. At that age, I knew myself, but didn't know that I knew - facts in general weren't true for me until confirmed by a trusted adult.
    I didn't recognize my attraction to women for what it was (sexual) because of a heteronormative up-bringing. Growing up I was taught that gays were gay men who lived in SF and wore leather and/or rainbows, lesbians were invisible (no known examples) or butch (which did not describe me), and bisexuals were just confused people or didn't exist (again, no examples, so they were hypothetical to me, almost mythological -- they might not even be real). Gays were presented as very different people, who looked, dressed and acted in a recognizably gay way, and if you were gay, you knew it (so obviously, I wasn't, otherwise my teachers would refer to me as gay and would probably arrange it so I would have to use the locker room after everyone else was done, or something ... lol). So, growing up I categorized my feelings according to heterosexual standards (I stared at women because they were beautiful, not because I actually wanted to get them into bed; since I'm not a lesbian, that means the milestones in my life like losing my virginity and falling in love and getting married will all be with a man). Thank god for gays and gay pride and uncensored internet blogs such as EffingDykes. I didn't teach myself to be bi, but I did have to learn to recognize that's what I am in a conscious, deliberate way, and it's amazing to me what a long and slow process it was, and how subtle it seemed at first --"so *that's* why I have such a clear memory of staring at the back of Andrea's neck in grade school!" -- until I finally accepted and labeled myself accurately, and now it's completely not subtle and I blatantly ogle the hot waitress, amused at my explicitly pervy imagination. A big moment was wearing a 'Legalize Gay' t shirt on national coming out day: even though people still assume I'm straight, I had to really, *really* accept that I was bi to wear that shirt in public (all day! at WORK!), so it was an important step for me. So, I think gay culture helps people find themselves and helps straights and gays understand each other better. In my case, reading about and experiencing gay culture informed and accelerated self-awareness, but didn't make me bi. I wish I had been taught differently; that my teachers/parents hadn't just labeled us all straight until proven otherwise, that all the possible sexual orientations were presented equally or at least not assumed. To answer the question, the outside factors that influenced my gayness were that straight culture confused me, and gay culture helped me, but I was born bi.