I first had an inkling I wasn’t straight when I was 11 or 12. I was fascinated with certain actresses in a different way than my peers. I had little interest in boys. I remember my first crush — the musical director at my childhood church — and a number of other little odd things that slowly added up. When I was 15, I just knew I was bi but was clueless about how to go about telling people.

There really is no right or wrong way to come out, but I hobbled and stumbled through it. There was some fallout with my best friend, who was in her own phase of teenage self-discovery as a born-again Christian. That did not go over well, and even resulted in blowouts with my own family, most specifically with my mother: “Well maybe if you weren’t shoving it down her throat!” (This was after precisely two conversations with the friend about it; one where I came out, and the next where she told me she didn’t want to see me “doing that” around her.)

Later, that morphed into something different: shame and punishment for heterosexual behavior, and weak attempts to encourage homosexual behavior. My parents (mother and stepfather) would hand me porn, or ask my opinion of swimsuit models on TV. If I went to a concert by a female entertainer (and in the early aughts there were many, bless them all), I would be grilled about what she wore, the way she moved, how it made me feel. Although I’d been a shy and reserved teenager up to that point without any fanfare, my dating and social life suddenly became of much interest to my family. Who was I visiting that weekend? Was she a special friend? What were our plans; where were we going? Were we going to be, you know… alone?

Around the age of 18, I’d noticed myself getting more comfortable with the idea that maybe I was just a lesbian instead. My mother nodded and lit another cigarette: “Most do choose one way or another and stick with that.”

I met Mark in my early 20s. We were two peas in a pod; mostly gay, definitely in denial, really confused, and not sure what the hell to do about it. Somehow we turned that internalized fear about how gay we were or weren’t onto each other and got wrapped up in something bizarre and confusing for several years, where he latched onto me with the emotional vice grips that only a true malignant narcissist possesses.

Mark convinced me I was unlovable, apart from him; that he was the only one who could ever do it. He gutted me of all my emotional intimacy, soaked it overnight in codependency, then smeared it on toast and washed it down with black coffee for breakfast. He made sure that I never strayed far, even when he was cold and absent, grilled me about my sex life, then mocked me for it, for years.

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