Just Because I'm A Lesbian Doesn't Mean I Didn't Love My Boyfriends

by Zara Barrie
Owen Gould

I've had acute sexual feelings for women for as long as I've had feelings of any kind at all.

Hell no, I didn’t tell a single soul about my explicit girl fantasies. I didn't even really know what the word lesbian meant. It sounded like something I would have removed from my tooth at the dentist's office.

I didn't know it was a real thing until I was about 12 or 13 when my mother explained to me that her friend Liz, the chef, had a "partner." But I didn't identify at all with Liz and her partner. They were two stone faced, middle-aged women who never held hands in public or kissed on the mouth.

So when the lights were off in my little pink bedroom and I touched myself beneath the daisy-adorned sheets of my four-poster bed, I tried, desperately tried, to think about boys. Boys at school. Boys in movies. Boys in bands.

But my imagination always circled back to that sexy girl in math glass with the black plastic frame glasses and the plaid shirt. I blame her for my failing math grades. I mean, who can focus on something as boring as algebra when a hot girl is present?

Even though I was secretly teeming with wild, unabashed lust for girls, I had boyfriends. Boys liked me. Maybe they could sense my indifference and found my emotional unattainability attractive. Maybe I was just slutty and easy. Who knows? Who cares?

I started experimenting with my sexuality super young, subconsciously hoping that maybe if I played dirty with enough boys I would stop thinking about doing dirty things with girls. I had my first tongue kiss at 11. I let a boy feel me up at 12. I gave a hand job at 13. Girl, I tried. 

In high school, my romantic relationships were entirely with boys. I quietly experimented with other curious girls here and there (we always find each other), but it's not like there was a massive pool of out and proud lesbians in my preppy Westport Connecticut High School in the early 2000s.

So I squashed down my desires and did what was expected of girls with long, pretty hair and glossy lips: dated dudes.

But my reason for dating boys cut deeper than the lack of lesbians in suburban Connecticut.

Boys were my safe place. I understood the mentality of boys: the way they quietly lusted after the popular girls, the way they stuffed their feelings down and were left flummoxed and fumbling for words by female presence. Boys were my comfort zone. I identified with boys in a very real way.

I was terrified around girls (and still sort of am). I was terrified of the intense feelings they triggered. So I found companionship and solace in the arms of my lovely boyfriends. And I knew how to pick boyfriends (if only my taste in women was as stable as my taste in men).

I dated boys who listened to me, boys who cared about me, boys who picked me up off the ground when I was falling apart.

But none of them ever made me straight. I distinctly remember the moment that I first understood this whole lesbian thing was in fact real and what I wanted. I was sitting in a trendy restaurant in a trendy part of Boston with my entire family.

My parents, being the reckless Europeans they are, let me drink wine. I was enjoying a slight buzzed blissfulness when I saw a lesbian couple that would change the entire course of my existence. (I desperately wish I could find them and send them a "thank you" note or some flowers or an expensive dildo or something).

One of the girls had flawless honey-colored skin and a horse mane of thick, long black hair cascading down her tattooed back. The other girl had short platinum hair and looked chic as f*ck in her fitted blazer and steel-toed boots. The blonde, short-haired girl was rubbing her hand against the long black haired girl's upper thigh.

My heart fluttered as I watched them. They drank dark liquor with no ice. I could feel the tension of pent up sexual longing radiating between their bodies. It was palpable. Vibrational. I felt a tidal wave of sexual arousal wash over me.

OK, so this is what feeling hot really is. I was wet in the middle of the restaurant at family dinner just from watching the crazy sexual chemistry between these two hot strangers.

Two days later, I went back home to Connecticut to my normal routine of skipping classes, sneaking cigarettes and kissing my Smashing Pumpkins-obsessed boyfriend in his attic cum bedroom.

Except this time when his lips met mine, I visualized the girl with the short blonde hair.

Today, the love I have with women is now the only love I desire sexually, viscerally, emotionally. But the love I had with men was powerful in its own way, too. And I am the person I am today for experiencing both.

However, whenever I reference a boy from my past, people always respond the same way: "Oh, but you're a lesbian, why do you care what he's up to now?" Or "Zara how could you have loved him? You're a lesbian."

As if just because I'm a lesbian, my feelings toward my past male lovers should be nothing but callous and cold. When, in fact, I feel the exact opposite. I have nothing but strong feelings of warmth and deep-rooted respect for all the men I dated. I loved them. Just in a different way.

There are so many different types of love in the world. There is the passionate, sex-fueled, irrepressible, pull-your-hair-out-of your-head, rip-your-clothes-off kind of love that I've only ever experienced with women. But then there was this special, pure, caring, innocent and stable love that I had with men. Was the latter enough to fulfill me romantically in the long term? Not even close. But it doesn't lessen or demean the love we shared.

Much to my friend's and family's surprise, I cried real saltwater tears when I heard one of my ex-boyfriends got engaged. Not because I wished it were me. I wasn't crying because I seeped in regret or questioning my sexuality or my life choices. I cried out of deep appreciation.

His engagement stirred up memories from a positive part of my past and made me reflect on the beautiful time we had together. He was a wonderful human being who shaped who I am as a person, and I'm so f*cking blessed that I got him for awhile. Gender and sex is irrelevant to the impact a person can have on your life.

I've accepted that most people won't understand how it's possible that I experienced genuine love with my ex-boyfriends as a lesbian. But you know what? I've learned that it doesn't really matter if anyone understands anything about you.

And what I've taken away from my diverse dating life is this: Love isn't so black and white. Love doesn't have to be structured or make sense or have labels. Love comes in so many different ways. Different loves will serve us in different ways at different times of our lives. I'm grateful to have experienced such a broad spectrum of love.