Yep. I am 42 years old, healthy, artistically and socially successful, I own my own home, have an amazing relationship with my parents, deep and loving connections with my circle of close friends, I regularly create and perform works of theatre some of which I have toured internationally, I’ve recorded a featured TEDx Talk about gender neutral partner dancing, finished the first drafts of four novels, and I haven’t as much as held hands with another person in a romantic way.
Is it a source of pain and frustration at times? Absolutely. Am I angry or bitter about it? Honestly no. I am where I am because of the choices I have made. Making peace with those choices can definitely be a struggle sometimes but we have to do what we feel is right for ourselves.
How did I end up out here? Not because of any ‘not until marriage’ type of mentality, which for the record I personally see as a perilous concept since sexual compatibility is such a crucial aspect of a committed relationship. Not because I’m faced with any serious physical, spiritual, or medical barriers which others far worse off than I are faced with and have overcome. Not because I have anything against casual sex. I may not be wired for it myself but as long as all involved know what they are in for, wanting, and are clear with one another even casual encounters can be lovely and fulfilling.
I take physical and romantic intimacy very seriously, too seriously by most accounts. I’m not the kind who dates I’m the kind who falls in love with a close friend, demi-sexual in practice though not in nature. I am fully capable of feeling attraction and arousal I just need my connection to the other person to be a deep and serious one in order to actually consider acting on it.
There are times when I truly envy those who are able to see it as ‘just dating’ or ‘just sex’ or ‘just a body’ but my seriousness about it all, excessive or not, has played a major part in forming me into the person I am proud to be.
People feel extremely safe with me including in highly physical spaces such as theatre, martial arts, healing, and ballroom dance which is my full time career. A big part of that stems from the fact I see being given any kind of access to another person’s body as a privilege, one I treat with a great deal of respect.
Living in a culture and society where sex and couplehood are everywhere and universally assumed can feel like a constant reminder of all the things others have done and do which I haven’t and don’t. The current trend towards the casualization of sex doesn’t help either but for me it’s not just about checking off a list of activities, even if my body is fully capable of wanting what the body wants. I need that deeper connection, partly because it’s simply my base nature but also because of the circumstances of my life which have further cemented it in place.
I figured out I was gay at age eleven thanks to the immeasurable gift of having a grade six teacher in small town Ontario in the late 80’s who was able to talk in health class about sexualities in a clear and safe manner. I was lottery lucky to be offered that kind of safe learning and discovery in that time and place. Thanks to Mr. Condren I was able to say “oh, so that’s what that is” and then promptly became ‘eleven going on ninety’ making all sorts of decisions and vows. Realizing that aspect of me would not be well received, managing somehow to keep from seeing myself as wrong or disgusting or evil, I decided to simply keep it to myself.
I vowed I would never be anything or anyone I wasn’t, no lying, no false fronts, no cover-up relationships. I would be myself only with that part of me stepped back. If someone asked I would tell the truth, I just set about conducting myself in a way which ensured it never came up. Not feeling I could be one version of myself at home and another out in the world I kept it from my parents as well, but vowed I would tell them before going away to university.
I never dated or talked about dating so there were whispers and suspicions. I had male and female friends, my natural mannerisms were pretty neutral, I was involved in community theatre, got good grades, and avidly studied martial arts. On the whole I was well liked but people weren’t quite sure what to make of me, especially since I didn’t seem to care much at all about what others thought of me.
Having such certainty about who I was and what I was doing about it gave me that advantage. Once in a blue moon somebody would ask if I was dating anyone but I only ever just shrugged, said ‘nope’, and moved on to something else. Thus it never came up, even among family and friends.
The only break from the plan happened in my mid-teens when the horsing around during sleepovers with my closest friend let a little hormone driven curiosity into the room. What followed were a few profoundly tame rounds of ‘playing doctor’ spread over the final month and a half of my grade eight year. No embracing, no kissing, nothing overtly sexual or romantic, all entirely one way, and no climaxes of any kind. Profoundly tame.
I eventually tried to nudge things a tiny step in a more mutual and romantic direction, a brief embrace but still no kissing, and that exhausted the extent of his curiosity. He waited until I was asleep in my bed, snuck out of his sleeping bag on the other side of the room, left ‘sorry’ scribbled on a scrap of paper where I would find it, rode his bike home in the dark, and never spoke to me again. No shouting, no name calling, he never accused me of being ‘wrong’ or disgusting or any of that, just complete radio silence. I stopped trying after a half dozen refusals to answer the phone and spent the entire summer feeling extremely guilt ridden. I never did manage to apologize to him.
Yes, we were just hormonal teenagers and the initial curiosity had been mutual but I was the one who had already turned ‘ninety’ and made all my lofty vows. I was supposed to have known better, or so I spent many years beating myself over the head with. The message was clear though. I had been right the first time. That aspect of me was truly not welcome and had destroyed a near sibling level friendship. The closet doors stayed firmly closed after that until I graduated, when I told my parents as I had vowed I would.
Before I reached that point however, in the middle of my second year of high school, I fell in love for the first time. Not a crush, or an infatuation, or lust driven obsession. I had plenty of those at the time. No, my feelings for him were on a whole other level like my heart was pumping pure liquid sunshine through my veins just at the thought of him. I actually wasn’t able to sexually fantasize about him, reducing my thoughts of him to only that felt jarringly disrespectful. I fell soul-consumingly in love with a lovely, caring, brilliantly creative, friend who was part of the group I hung out with every weekend. He also happened to be straight.
I felt everything they wrote all the songs about but it didn’t matter, there was no point. There would never be anything I could say, wear, or do to inspire feelings he simply wasn’t capable of and the clash between wanting something so powerfully and the certainty it was impossible felt at times like being stabbed in the chest with an ice-pick. He handled it well if bashfully when I told him about it many years later, though he confirmed that at the time he wouldn’t have and likely would have permanently ghosted it in pretty short order. Again the message was clear. That aspect of me was unwelcome, those kinds of connections and experiences were for other people. I spent my years of high school with my face pressed up against a glass wall, able to see and feel but unable to do anything with or about it.
Coming out to my parents before I left for university they were far more surprised than I thought they would be but, the exceptional human beings they are, it took them all of two or three heart beats to pivot their thinking around and it simply became a new set of hopes and concerns for them to fret over on my behalf.
When I came home that first university Christmas break I told everyone else. They all handled it exactly as I’d hoped they would, not expected but not particularly shocked either. I was still me, just with more of me out in the open, and they all still loved me. Far too many people aren’t nearly so fortunate.
That Christmas break I also watched my first porn movie which I’d ordered online while at school but sent home. We were before the age of streaming such things online and I wasn’t about to use the VCR in the dorm common lounge. I warned my parents what was coming since I had no idea how it would be packaged.
The night I popped the tape in my mother cracked the door to the TV room open and poked her head in asking briefly what I thought. I waved her in and we actually sat there for a spell giving it the Siskel and Ebert treatment. It felt too ‘professional’ and fake for my tastes and I ended up watching it just one other time months later before throwing it away.
Yep. I watched my first porn movie with my mother. I never tire of the horrified looks on people’s faces when I tell that story.
I returned to university fully out. Thanks to the growing world of the internet and now having my own personal computer I was able to research and explore the sexual side of myself, if only in a safely conceptual way. I joined the on campus LGBTQ+ club, which I later went on to be co-president of the next three years in a row, and on one level I was no longer an outsider. I was in a space where my sexuality was safe and welcome. Yet I still felt on the outside looking in.
Everyone around me either already had plenty of sexual and romantic experience or they were diving into the experimentation denied them in their high school years. My friends and family assumed I would join in with the latter but I couldn’t. Both because I had been spoiled by knowing what it felt like to have my heart explode with that liquid sunshine and also because I couldn’t shake the memory of how it felt to have the first and only person I ever touched pretend he didn’t know me as we passed in the hallways.
Rather than be constantly tormented by it I embraced it instead. I settled into being on the outside looking in and accepting the notion that the romantic world was simply for other people. I was able to talk about attraction and relationships, which was sometimes surprising for the friends who had known me all through the ‘it never came up’ years, but despite being out I was still keeping that aspect of myself to myself only now in different way.
Just shy of a decade and a half after I graduated from university the constellations aligned and to my complete shock and surprise I ended up falling in love a second time. Another lovely, caring, creative soul and this time he was actually capable of having feelings for another man. An important step in the right direction.
We met as cast mates in a play and the friendship didn’t take long to lock into place. We bonded over our shared love of music, creative projects, and marathon conversations about virtually every topic under the sun. After a couple years of collaborations and conversations one of our several hour yapping sessions took an unexpected turn and somehow the idea of the two of us sort of tripped into the mix. It honestly hadn’t occurred to me in the slightest but when neither of us snorted or rushed to dismiss it away the idea then turned into a question.
For a brief period it actually seemed possible, something which I had never felt before, and without any real warning I was suddenly and truly ‘all in’. This time the liquid sunshine went supernova. Knowing each other as well as we did he knew exactly who he was dealing with, how seriously I took things, and that I would put my entire soul on the table.
He also knew himself well enough to know that wasn’t the kind of relationship he was ready for so the answer was both immediately obvious and incredibly difficult to say because he desperately didn’t want to hurt me. He was kind, honest, and patient and our friendship survived intact but once again the message was clear. That aspect of me wasn’t wanted.
Thinking it might actually have been possible made the heights higher and thus the crash more devastating, you don’t truly want something until you think might really be able to have it. But after a couple weeks of crying and self-pity I got fed up with myself, I got furious.
It wasn’t just that I had again tried to invite myself where I wasn’t wanted, I had let myself get so completely blindsided by it all. I had left the idea of that kind of relationship so far up on a pedestal in my internal museum I had left myself entirely unprepared to actually have any connection to it whatsoever. I couldn’t just snap my fingers and control my feelings, or his, but I could do something about that at least.
So I set about trying to figure out just how that part of me actually worked, if it even did. I read everything I could get my hands on, talked with everyone who knew me and even some who didn’t. The conversations unfortunately always ended up snagging on the same two things. People couldn’t understand how daunting that long list of firsts was since they’d dealt with first kisses in their early teens not early 40’s. And no one was able to wrap their mind around what it was like having spent so much of my life feeling truly certain it wasn’t possible, at all.
I am immensely grateful for the people I have in my life who care about me and have tried so hard to help. There have been several well-intentioned but misfired attempts from friends and family which lead to instances of needing to count to 10 slowly but eventually a peace within and without was reached. Sounding it out helped give me a clearer picture of myself, how that part of me works. How all of my experiences, as painful as they might have been, helped shape me into who I am and proud to be.
I’m still good friends with both men I fell in love with. I’ve accepted that my path is an unusual and improbable one, given it requires a ‘once in a lifetime’ kind of connection, and I do my best to focus on the amazing connections and opportunities I do have rather than dwell over the ones I don’t. Not always easy, I don’t always win the struggle, but the incredible people and privileges I have in my life deserve better than the twenty-four-hour pity ditty network. And so do I.
So why have a laid all this out?
In part to set the ground work for Part Two which will be more specifically about the kind of day to day impact, the struggle with other people’s assumptions, being on the outside of major social norms can have. But also because I haven’t encountered other stories like mine. I know I’m not the only one on the outside of this particular norm, there are those who have far more difficult and painful circumstances than mine, but I wanted to share my story on the chance something in it might offer some support or kinship to someone else who may not have encountered a story like theirs either.
There are no universally ‘right’ answers, no ‘one size fits all’ solutions. We all have paths and answers which are right for us. Sometimes those will match up with the world around us, sometimes they won’t. Being someone who doesn’t fit, being an outlier, can be isolating and painful but it can also offer us a unique perspective and powers of examination few others can access. Making peace between the two is the ever present challenge.