“I’m really attracted to you, you know?” I sat in the middle of an Italian restaurant, frozen in disbelief at this audacious declaration. I sipped some wine and awkwardly laughed, my cheeks growing redder by the minute. Waiters and waitresses drifted past. I nibbled a tiramisu and drank another glass of rosé. But all I could think was, I’m really attracted to you, too.
On the surface, this sounds like a typical first date: a guy takes you out to dinner and says he finds you attractive; you flirt back and wonder if he’s going to kiss you goodnight; you’re nervous and jittery; you try to be funny while carefully maintaining that mysterious façade that originally peaked his interest.
Except that this wasn’t a typical date, at least for me.: I was actually out to dinner with a woman. And all I thought about the entire time was how badly I wanted to kiss her.
Admittedly, I’d had several crushes on women before then. I’d flip through magazines and feel attracted to the beautiful models in the fashion ads. Sometimes I’d catch myself checking out those stunning women who incite entire rooms of people to pause and ogle at their beauty. During a giggly conversation with girl friends, I’d once said that I’d only consider hooking up with a woman if she were blonde and curvaceous, like Lara Stone or Kate Upton. But up until that November night in 2011, I had identified as a straight woman. I had flings, relationships, and heartbreak exclusively with men. Whenever I used to walk into a house party or a coffee shop, I’d scan to see if there were any attractive men around. I remember my heart skipping beats whenever a cute guy sat next to me on a plane. I’d fantasize about Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt. In other words, I was your average heterosexual 22-year-old.
A few months prior to my dinner date with Charlotte,* I noticed her at my then-new office. She was blonde and very curvaceous. I unabashedly admired her womanly hips, slightly soft belly, and generous chest. I’d never seen a woman who owned her feminine forms as well as she did. She seemed so confident and had this incredible natural sexiness about her. It was exhilarating to go to work everyday, but also scary, because I found myself physically attracted to her.
Fast forward a few months later. She picked up the check at the Italian restaurant. We slowly strolled to the subway station, chatting, until I stopped dead in the middle of the sidewalk and asked, “Did you really mean it when you said you were attracted to me in there?” “Of course I did,” she replied. I said nothing and started walking again. We remained silent until we arrived in front of the subway station. Taxis whizzed past on the street and lights from illuminated storefront signs flashed in our eyes. I moved closer to Charlotte and gently placed my head on her shoulder. Our mouths found each other and we kissed. We kissed for what seemed like hours.
Afterwards we smiled that kind of smile that can only happen during a moment like that. I call it “feeling smiley,” when your heart races and you’re so damn happy that you could shout it out to everyone. I thought about Charlotte during my long ride home, what it would be like to spend a night with her. It was terrifying and thrilling to consider.
Nearly three years have passed since that night. Today I’m married to Charlotte and couldn’t be happier. Yet it wasn’t easy being suddenly thrown into a world that I knew nothing about. On the surface, it appeared to others that I was a lesbian. To all of those people in the street who saw us holding hands or kissing, we were gay. In actuality, I knew nothing about lesbian culture, or I’d never had any lesbian friends before. Being gay was an identity that I was willing to bear, but the new label came with implications. For example, some people viewed my abrupt change in sexual orientation as a rebellious stage. Others assumed that I was just a raging lesbian who had been afraid to come out of the closet all those years. Still more believed I was looking to shock everyone by dating a woman. But for me, I just simply fell in love with someone who happens to be a woman.
I quickly became exposed to how differently I would be treated now that I was perceived as gay: people stareat two women holding hands or kissing. Men say things like, “Can I join in tonight? How much?”
When people see my wedding ring, they automatically ask me what my “husband” does, and I have to inform them that my wife is an art director/graphic designer. The “Ohhh, I’m so sorry! I shouldn’t have assumed!” line comes from pretty much everyone. Sometimes I can feel them looking me over, wondering how a lesbian can be wearing a dress, heels, and makeup … how I can look so straight. There was one incident in the subway where a man became completely enraged over the fact that Charlotte and I were holding hands. Feeling his anger reaching the tipping point, I begged Charlotte to get out at the next stop and switch train cars. I was honestly afraid for our safety.
It’s a bit of a shock to the system to discover what it’s like to face the world as a woman who’s in love with a woman. I deal with the burden of homophobia and judgment and consternation when none of that existed in my life before. I know what it’s like to be fearful just because I happen to love a woman. I am proud of all of the other women who’ve publicly come out and shared their stories of leaving men for a woman, such as Cynthia Nixon, Jenna Lyons, and Maria Bello, who recently came out in an eloquent essay published in The New York Times. I’m happy to know that there are others like me out there who are fighting the same battles and making the same discoveries.
Still despite these new hardships, I wouldn’t trade my present life in for anything. Every morning I wake up to the person I love, the person who I want to spend the rest of my life with. And I feel incredibly lucky because of it. I make coffee and gently kiss her as she stirs. She groggily opens her eyes and smiles. “I love you, baby” is usually the first she says. I can only hope that the rest of my days begin this way.
Victorine Lamothe is an editor, writer, and translator based in New York.
[Photo of lesbians via Shutterstock]