Get Real! She Came Out, And Now I’m Questioning Myself

Heather Corinna

While some people will say they "just knew" if they were gay, straight or bi early on, others have a longer period of questioning. Sexual orientation is something it makes sense to take time to determine just by observing ourselves and our lives.

Amy asks:

My friend
came out to me the other day. I’ve never doubted my sexuality, but in
the instant that she told me this, I got this weird feeling. I actually
thought to myself in that instant that I could possibly feel more than
just friendly towards her. I fantasized or a moment that, if she did
come on to me, I wouldn’t be too unhappy about it and might actually be
with her in that way.

I’ve become frustrated with men recently. The guy I’d been crushing
on after mending a broken heart told me he was gay (which would be the
third time in a row this has happened). Could this just be a reaction
to that? I doubt that I’m a lesbian, as I think I’d know something like
that by now. Could I be bi? Could I be straight but still experiment
without being "bi"? Am I taking this teeny thought WAY too seriously?

Heather replies:

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Our sexual orientation is about who we do feel attracted to, sexually and emotionally.

It’s not about who we’re not frustrated with, who we are not attracted to, who might make do or what someone else’s orientation is.

The organization Avert
does a really nice job of laying out what sexual orientation is and how
to define it really nicely. On that page, they also posit this basic

The main points to bear in mind when defining heterosexuality or homosexuality are:

  • The three main factors are sexual attraction, sexual behaviour and
    identity. For most people the factors go together in congruent way. So
    people tend to behave sexually in line with their sexual feelings. i.e.
    People tend to be sexually active with people they are attracted to.
  • However, sexual identity and behavior may be quite fluid over a
    period of time and they may not always coincide with each other as
    people’s feelings change. For example, a person may have at some point
    in their life a partner of the opposite sex and then later on someone
    of the same sex.
  • Applying labels to people is not necessarily a good or accurate way
    of describing them. There may be phases in a person’s life when their
    sexual feelings and behavior are very clearly homosexual or
    heterosexual. However, at other times, labeling them as heterosexual
    or homosexual does not fit exactly with their sexual behavior or

For most of us, whether we are gay, lesbian, bisexual or
heterosexual, the light that turns on that gives us clues about what
our orientation may be is feelings we have — not that we feel we could
have, but that we do have — for other people. That’ll usually start
with a crush or two. Later on, we may have feelings for others who have
mutual feelings for us and date or get involved in relationships.
(Mind: when we’re anything but heterosexual, we may have or pursue
fewer same-sex relationships, even if we want them, because we’re less
socialized to do so and/or more afraid of judgment or being outed
before we’re ready.) Over time, we’ll tend to see patterns of who we
feel drawn to — sexually, emotionally — and then see how we feel in
relationships with those people. We can then interpret those patterns
and our overall feelings to determine what our orientation is or seems
most likely to be. While some people will say they "just knew" if they
were gay, straight or bi early on, others have a longer period of
questioning, so orientation is something it makes sense to take time to
determine just by observing ourselves and our lives. There are people
in their 40’s who are still questioning.

By all means, if orientations other than heterosexuality have never
seemed real to you, or you never really knew anyone close to you who
was gay, lesbian or bisexual, being introduced to that as something
real may well result in you asking yourself some questions, considering
some things you might not have otherwise. If a given career path never
seemed real or valid to me before, and then it’s laid out before me by
someone who feels solid about it, I might see myself in a slightly
different way with other options potentially open to me I didn’t see as
options before. Too, perhaps this moment with your friend may have been
a light bulb for you… or not.

I’d suggest tossing out your feelings of frustration with men right
now when it comes to this issue. How you feel about men doesn’t tell
you anything at all about how you feel about women.

As well, the guys you have had interest in being gay is really not
the central issue with your frustration: the fact that they didn’t
share your interest and were unavailable to you was. It doesn’t much
matter why they were unavailable. Welcome to dating, gal: often we’ll
have a lot of strikeouts before we hit upon a love match, for any
number of reasons. If you had crushes on three women who all turned out
to be uninterested in you or unavailable to you, would that say
anything about how you felt about men? Nope. Would that mean you were
heterosexual? Nope, because how someone else feels about us or if they
reciprocate our feelings doesn’t tell us anything about our own
identity. Our orientation is about who we are attracted to, not about who is or isn’t attracted to us.

You’re not likely to walk into good relationships if a big reason
you’re pursuing them is because you’re frustrated with someone else or
some other group of people. Good relationships are about the people
actually involved in them, not about the people who aren’t. So, if you
want to look into dating women because you earnestly feel attracted to
women, by all means, knock yourself out. However, I’m not hearing that
you have actually yet had those feelings: I hear you saying that you
had a moment where you thought you possibly could feel that way, rather than actually feeling that way.

If you feel like your more central motivation is that you’d want to
do so just to see if that worked out better when it came to having your
feelings returned, or because you see women who are available to you
and have been finding men are not, I’d say that’s a pretty lousy
(however understandable) motivation, especially from the vantage point
of whoever you’d be dating. It also isn’t likely to work out: lesbian
or bisexual women aren’t automatically interested in all women, just
like heterosexual women aren’t interested in all men. And no one is
going to feel good being anyone’s backup plan when what they really
want isn’t working out. Who, in your heart of hearts, if you got to
have exactly who and what you wanted, do you really envision yourself
being with?

Might you be lesbian? Well, if all your feelings have been for guys
and none for women, that’s not likely. Lesbian women are solely or
primarily attracted to women, not to men. Might you be bisexual? I
don’t know, but if you have found, or find in time, that you have
sexual and romantic feelings for people of all genders, then that’s
certainly a possibility.

What I’d suggest is that you just give things some time, and observe
your own patterns when it comes to crushes and dating from here on out.
Don’t expect to discover what your orientation is overnight just
because another possibility has been opened up in your mind, or someone
potentially available has suddenly shown up on the horizon.

Can you be straight and still experiment with being bi? Well, not
really, in the same way that I can’t be white and experiment with being
black. I am who and what I am: sexual orientation can be fluid, but it
isn’t something we can just choose to put on and take off like
different pairs of shoes. But there are plenty of people who are in
periods of questioning, and particularly with younger people, who are
just starting their sexual and romantic lives, questioning and
experimentation are normal. At this moment, you’re questioning. And
yes: some people who are heterosexual experiment with dating or having
sex with someone same-sex, some people who are homosexual experiment
with dating or having sex with someone opposite-sex. Some folks also
get surprised: now and then, someone who was sure they were straight
all of their lives falls in love with someone same-sex and vice-versa.
Love is full of surprises and unpredictability, after all.

If you are going to experiment, be sure you’re doing so in a way
which takes the feelings of others into account. It can be easy, when
you’re younger and gay, lesbian or bisexual to start to feel like
everyone’s personal petrie dish since so many younger people ARE
questioning, and since younger people do tend to be more sexually
flexible (likely in part because there is such a strong need to feel
included, liked and validated) for a while than older people are. And
since so many people presume that anything other than heterosexuality
is just about sex, the way questioning folks often want to "experiment"
with others often tends to be only or primarily sexual, which can
really hurt.

So, before branching out, I’d first take some more time to observe
and sit with your own feelings. The way that you’ve crushed on guys: is
that also happening with girls? Are your feelings just as strong? Have
you met a girl, in particular — and not just because you know she
might be available — who turns your knees to jelly and makes your
heart do a backflip? If and when that happens, and you want to pursue
any kind of relationship (and she does as well), be forthright and
clear that you are questioning your orientation, and that you’re just
not sure how you feel yet. That, for the record, may mean that person
doesn’t really want to get involved with you, which is absolutely
valid, even if it’s disappointing for you: we all have a right to
protect our hearts and only choose to invest them where we feel safe
doing so. Sexual orientation isn’t just about sex: it’s about our
hearts and minds, as well.

If that hasn’t happened yet — if you have not really, truly had
those feelings — then give yourself some more time before considering
dating (and notice I say dating, not sexual experimenting): for your
sake, for the sake of whoever that other person might be.

I hear that you’re feeling lonely and rejected, and of course that
absolutely sucks. Adolescence is often a really lonely time, and all
the more so when your love life isn’t going as you’d like it to, moving
along as fast as you’d like or you just feel like a loser at love so
far. It can also be easy, when we’re feeling like that, to figure that
being with anyone who will have us is better than being alone, but that
doesn’t usually work out as better for anyone. Being lonely in a
relationship feels a lot worse than being lonely when you’re actually
alone. I know it’s tough, but do try and be patient, and be sure that
you’re seeing possible relationships as something more than being
validated or a balm for being lonely. In time, someone who you have
feelings for — whether their gender may be — is going to have
mutually shared feelings for you and return them. It’ll happen, it just
can tend to take a while sometimes.

Here are some extra links to help you think through all this:

Culture & Conversation Human Rights

Let’s Stop Conflating Self-Care and Actual Care

Katie Klabusich

It's time for a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities.

As a chronically ill, chronically poor person, I have feelings about when, why, and how the phrase “self-care” is invoked. When International Self-Care Day came to my attention, I realized that while I laud the effort to prevent some of the 16 million people the World Health Organization reports die prematurely every year from noncommunicable diseases, the American notion of self-care—ironically—needs some work.

I propose a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities. How we think about what constitutes vital versus optional care affects whether/when we do those things we should for our health and well-being. Some of what we have come to designate as self-care—getting sufficient sleep, treating chronic illness, allowing ourselves needed sick days—shouldn’t be seen as optional; our culture should prioritize these things rather than praising us when we scrape by without them.

International Self-Care Day began in China, and it has spread over the past few years to include other countries and an effort seeking official recognition at the United Nations of July 24 (get it? 7/24: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) as an important advocacy day. The online academic journal SelfCare calls its namesake “a very broad concept” that by definition varies from person to person.

“Self-care means different things to different people: to the person with a headache it might mean a buying a tablet, but to the person with a chronic illness it can mean every element of self-management that takes place outside the doctor’s office,” according to SelfCare. “[I]n the broadest sense of the term, self-care is a philosophy that transcends national boundaries and the healthcare systems which they contain.”

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

In short, self-care was never intended to be the health version of duct tape—a way to patch ourselves up when we’re in pieces from the outrageous demands of our work-centric society. It’s supposed to be part of our preventive care plan alongside working out, eating right, getting enough sleep, and/or other activities that are important for our personalized needs.

The notion of self-care has gotten a recent visibility boost as those of us who work in human rights and/or are activists encourage each other publicly to recharge. Most of the people I know who remind themselves and those in our movements to take time off do so to combat the productivity anxiety embedded in our work. We’re underpaid and overworked, but still feel guilty taking a break or, worse, spending money on ourselves when it could go to something movement- or bill-related.

The guilt is intensified by our capitalist system having infected the self-care philosophy, much as it seems to have infected everything else. Our bootstrap, do-it-yourself culture demands we work to the point of exhaustion—some of us because it’s the only way to almost make ends meet and others because putting work/career first is expected and applauded. Our previous president called it “uniquely American” that someone at his Omaha, Nebraska, event promoting “reform” of (aka cuts to) Social Security worked three jobs.

“Uniquely American, isn’t it?” he said. “I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)”

The audience was applauding working hours that are disastrous for health and well-being, laughing at sleep as though our bodies don’t require it to function properly. Bush actually nailed it: Throughout our country, we hold Who Worked the Most Hours This Week competitions and attempt to one-up the people at the coffee shop, bar, gym, or book club with what we accomplished. We have reached a point where we consider getting more than five or six hours of sleep a night to be “self-care” even though it should simply be part of regular care.

Most of us know intuitively that, in general, we don’t take good enough care of ourselves on a day-to-day basis. This isn’t something that just happened; it’s a function of our work culture. Don’t let the statistic that we work on average 34.4 hours per week fool you—that includes people working part time by choice or necessity, which distorts the reality for those of us who work full time. (Full time is defined by the Internal Revenue Service as 30 or more hours per week.) Gallup’s annual Work and Education Survey conducted in 2014 found that 39 percent of us work 50 or more hours per week. Only 8 percent of us on average work less than 40 hours per week. Millennials are projected to enjoy a lifetime of multiple jobs or a full-time job with one or more side hustles via the “gig economy.”

Despite worker productivity skyrocketing during the past 40 years, we don’t work fewer hours or make more money once cost of living is factored in. As Gillian White outlined at the Atlantic last year, despite politicians and “job creators” blaming financial crises for wage stagnation, it’s more about priorities:

Though productivity (defined as the output of goods and services per hours worked) grew by about 74 percent between 1973 and 2013, compensation for workers grew at a much slower rate of only 9 percent during the same time period, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute.

It’s no wonder we don’t sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been sounding the alarm for some time. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend people between 18 and 60 years old get seven or more hours sleep each night “to promote optimal health and well-being.” The CDC website has an entire section under the heading “Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Problem,” outlining statistics and negative outcomes from our inability to find time to tend to this most basic need.

We also don’t get to the doctor when we should for preventive care. Roughly half of us, according to the CDC, never visit a primary care or family physician for an annual check-up. We go in when we are sick, but not to have screenings and discuss a basic wellness plan. And rarely do those of us who do go tell our doctors about all of our symptoms.

I recently had my first really wonderful check-up with a new primary care physician who made a point of asking about all the “little things” leading her to encourage me to consider further diagnosis for fibromyalgia. I started crying in her office, relieved that someone had finally listened and at the idea that my headaches, difficulty sleeping, recovering from illness, exhaustion, and pain might have an actual source.

Considering our deeply-ingrained priority problems, it’s no wonder that when I post on social media that I’ve taken a sick day—a concept I’ve struggled with after 20 years of working multiple jobs, often more than 80 hours a week trying to make ends meet—people applaud me for “doing self-care.” Calling my sick day “self-care” tells me that the commenter sees my post-traumatic stress disorder or depression as something I could work through if I so chose, amplifying the stigma I’m pushing back on by owning that a mental illness is an appropriate reason to take off work. And it’s not the commenter’s fault; the notion that working constantly is a virtue is so pervasive, it affects all of us.

Things in addition to sick days and sleep that I’ve had to learn are not engaging in self-care: going to the doctor, eating, taking my meds, going to therapy, turning off my computer after a 12-hour day, drinking enough water, writing, and traveling for work. Because it’s so important, I’m going to say it separately: Preventive health care—Pap smears, check-ups, cancer screenings, follow-ups—is not self-care. We do extras and nice things for ourselves to prevent burnout, not as bandaids to put ourselves back together when we break down. You can’t bandaid over skipping doctors appointments, not sleeping, and working your body until it’s a breath away from collapsing. If you’re already at that point, you need straight-up care.

Plenty of activities are self-care! My absolutely not comprehensive personal list includes: brunch with friends, adult coloring (especially the swear word books and glitter pens), soy wax with essential oils, painting my toenails, reading a book that’s not for review, a glass of wine with dinner, ice cream, spending time outside, last-minute dinner with my boyfriend, the puzzle app on my iPad, Netflix, participating in Caturday, and alone time.

My someday self-care wish list includes things like vacation, concerts, the theater, regular massages, visiting my nieces, decent wine, the occasional dinner out, and so very, very many books. A lot of what constitutes self-care is rather expensive (think weekly pedicures, spa days, and hobbies with gear and/or outfit requirements)—which leads to the privilege of getting to call any part of one’s routine self-care in the first place.

It would serve us well to consciously add an intersectional view to our enthusiasm for self-care when encouraging others to engage in activities that may be out of reach financially, may disregard disability, or may not be right for them for a variety of other reasons, including compounded oppression and violence, which affects women of color differently.

Over the past year I’ve noticed a spike in articles on how much of the emotional labor burden women carry—at the Toast, the Atlantic, Slate, the Guardian, and the Huffington Post. This category of labor disproportionately affects women of color. As Minaa B described at the Huffington Post last month:

I hear the term self-care a lot and often it is defined as practicing yoga, journaling, speaking positive affirmations and meditation. I agree that those are successful and inspiring forms of self-care, but what we often don’t hear people talking about is self-care at the intersection of race and trauma, social justice and most importantly, the unawareness of repressed emotional issues that make us victims of our past.

The often-quoted Audre Lorde wrote in A Burst of Light: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

While her words ring true for me, they are certainly more weighted and applicable for those who don’t share my white and cisgender privilege. As covered at Ravishly, the Feminist Wire, Blavity, the Root, and the Crunk Feminist Collective recently, self-care for Black women will always have different expressions and roots than for white women.

But as we continue to talk about self-care, we need to be clear about the difference between self-care and actual care and work to bring the necessities of life within reach for everyone. Actual care should not have to be optional. It should be a priority in our culture so that it can be a priority in all our lives.

Commentary Race

Have a Problem With Black-Only Spaces? Get Over It

Ruth Jeannoel

As the parade of police killings of Black people continues, Black people have a right to mourn together—and without white people.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

Dear Non-Black People:

If you hear about a healing space being organized for Black folks only, don’t question or try to be part of that space.

Simply, DON’T.

After again witnessing the recorded killings of Black people by police, I am trying to show up for my family, my community, and victims such as Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I am tired of injustice and ready for action.

But as a Black trans youth from the Miami, Florida-based S.O.U.L. Sisters Leadership Collective told me, “Before taking action, we must create space for healing.” With this comment, they led us in the right direction.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Together, this trans young person, my fellow organizers, and I planned a Black-only community healing circle in Miami. We recognized a need for Black people to come together and care for each other. A collective space to heal is better than suffering and grieving alone.

As we began mobilizing people to attend the community circle, our efforts were met with confusion and resistance by white and Latinx people alike. Social media comments questioned why there needed to be a Black-only space and alleged that such an event was “not fair” and exclusionary.

We know the struggle against white supremacy is a multiracial movement and needs all people. So we planned and shared that there would be spaces for non-Black people of color and white people at the same time. We explained that this particular healing circle—and the fight against police violence—must be centered around Blackness.

But there was still blowback. One Facebook commenter wrote,

Segregation and racial separation is not acceptable. Disappointing.

That is straight bullshit.

To be clear, Black-only space is itself acceptable, and there’s a difference between Black people choosing to come together and white people systematically excluding others from their institutions and definitions of humanity.

But as I recognize that Black people can’t have room to mourn by ourselves without white tears, white shame, white guilt—and, yes, white supremacy—I am angry.

That is what racist laws have often tried to do: Control how Black people assemble. Enslaved people were often barred from gathering, unless it was with white consent or for church.

Even today, we see resistance when Black folks come together, for a variety of reasons. Earlier this year, in Nashville, Tennessee, Black Lives Matter activists were forced to move their meeting out of a library because it was a Black-only meeting. Last year, students at University of Missouri held a series of protests to demand an end to systemic racism and structural racism on their campus. The student group, Concerned Students 1950, called for their own Black-only-healing space, and they too received backlash from their white counterparts and the media.

At our healing circle in Miami, a couple of white people tried to be part of the Black-only space, which was held in another room. One of the white youths came late and asked why she had to be in a different room from Black attendees. I asked her this question: Do you feel like you are treated the same as your Black peers when they walk down the street?

When she answered no, I told her that difference made it important for Black people to connect without white people in the room. We talked about how to engage in political study that can shape how we view—and change—this world.

She understood. It was simple.

I have less compassion for adults who are doing social justice work and who do not understand. If you do not recognize your privilege as a non-Black person, then you need to reassess why you are in this movement.

Are you here to save the world? Do you feel guilty because of what your family may have done in the past or present? Are you marching to show that you are a “good” person?

If you are organizing to shift and shake up white supremacy but can’t understand your privilege under this construct, then this movement is not for you.

For the white folk and non-Black people of color who are sincerely fighting the anti-Blackness at the root of most police killings, get your people. Many of them are “progressive” allies with whom I’ve been in meetings, rallies, or protests. It is time for you to organize actions and events for yourselves to challenge each other on anti-Blackness and identify ways to fight against racial oppression, instead of asking to be in Black-only spaces.

Objecting to a Black-only space is about self-interest and determining who gets to participate. And it shows how little our allies understand that white supremacy gives European-descended people power, privilege, and profit—or that non-Black people of color often also benefit from white supremacy just because they aren’t Black in this anti-Black world.

Our critics were using racial privilege to access a space that was not for them or by them. In the way that white supremacy and capitalism are about individualism and racing to the top, they were putting their individual feelings, rights, and power above Black people’s rights to fellowship and talk about how racism has affected them.

We deserve Black-only community healing because this is our pain. We are the ones who are most frequently affected by police violence and killings. And we know there is a racial empathy gap, which means that white Americans, in particular, are less likely to feel our pain. And the last thing Black people need right now is to be in a room with people who can’t or won’t try to comprehend, who make our hurt into a spectacle, or who deny it with their defensiveness.

Our communal responses to that pain and healing are not about you. And non-Black people can’t determine the agenda for Black action—or who gets a seat at our table.

To Black folks reading this article, just know that we deserve to come together to cry, be angry, be confused, and be ready to fight without shame, pain, or apologies.

And, actually, we don’t need to explain this, any more than we need to explain that Black people are oppressed in this country.