My first relationship started when I was 23. It was a same sex relationship and I honestly thought it was healthy because we didn’t bicker or cut each other in front of friends. We were together for ten months, then off and on for the next year and a half. Anytime we were off I felt infinitely freer and more grounded, but I always let her come back. Eventually we ended things for good and I went on a trip that put things in perspective.
I matched with this guy on Tinder and every message was speaking directly to my heart and my soul and activating my mind. He lives four hours away, but we were finally able to meet a few months ago and on the Fourth of July he asked if he could be my boyfriend. (I’d never thought about wording on that before, but it seems so profound to me — that he wouldn’t try to possess me even when he was asking if we could be a couple.)
I have some abuse in my past that I’ve been able to work through and some conditioning that men are scary from my mom that she passed onto me, mixing with my own experiences. This guy is absolutely incredible. He listens to me and not just what my voice says but he watches my body language and he’s incredibly kind and patient and understanding and it’s to the point where I will thank him for little things that mean the world to me and they’re the smallest things to him. You know how a lot of people, especially women, apologize too much? While I’m still working on not saying sorry every five minutes, I say thank you constantly. I’m so thankful for him and all the kindness he gives me, he’s not just nice (more of conditioning in my opinion, where kind is more of a choice).
I spent last weekend with him and it was an actual dream. We talked and laughed and learned more about each other in our natural life and walked and ate and we made out and we didn’t have sex, but we did everything but. He held me in the most tender way multiple times and just let me be.
It’s all so new to me. A partner that I can trust. Monogamy, which I believe in and am looking for. Sex with a man is so much different from sex with a woman. It’s new and beautiful and I’m not ready — something we’ve talked about, and he supports me and is more than happy to wait. I’m doing my best to honor not only my body but also my spirit and all of me. My friends are supportive but they don’t fully understand the intricacies of something like this. Maybe I’m just overthinking everything because of old traumas and trying to forgive my ex and move forward and grow. How do I become comfortable with change like this?
Fell in Love With a Boy
Dear Fell in Love With a Boy,
Your letter makes me so happy to read. Your openness to life, to new experiences, and to evolving out of your old thought patterns is clear. You’re making internal changes where you need to, and being open to the external changes happening around you, allowing your expectations to shift.
It’s easy to get what you expect, even when what you’re getting is shitty. It’s easy to go after the same kind of relationship dynamic because it’s what you know, it’s where you’re comfortable. You’ve been there before, so your brain tells you what’s coming and there’s no surprise. It’s easy to judge someone based on your experience with someone else who shared certain qualities — put them all in a box so you know what to reach in there for, or know what to keep locked.
Right before the start of the #MeToo coverage and through Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation hearings, I had a visceral response to the word “men,” let alone any actual human cis man. I had been living with a man, and if being out in the world was really painful, coming home felt like sleeping with my enemy (except we weren’t actually sleeping with each other because #trauma). I joined an all-women’s coworking space, was only part of communities where cis-men never showed up (by choice, which of course only proved my expectation that even though individual men hurt us, none of them show up to fight for us or protect us), and never felt safe. I cut off the men in my life who I felt weren’t showing up for me, and kept myself cocooned in the non-cis male friendships I had.
I’ve written about my anxiety and pain from physical intimacy before, all which began during the relationship I was trying to maintain as I was doing my best to heal. I didn’t feel I could trust anyone with my body, not even him. This, of course, put an intense strain on our relationship, but I’ll never forget his face when I told him I didn’t really trust anyone with my body, not even him. My lived experience had told me my body wasn’t ever safe around men, not even men that were my family, and while this was the world I was moving through, it broke his heart, and thus broke a different kind of trust between us. I wasn’t able to separate system from individual — “men” as a system were wildly dangerous, but this man in front of me wasn’t.
One is never truly separated from the systems we live and breathe in, but to throw all the hurt, blame, and fears we carry onto the person who may closest physically resemble it is a form of taking our power back, demanding that we’re heard — but it is a violent healing. My life was almost destroyed by a man, but here I was continuing to let him destroy it by turning into someone who in her healing had the capacity to hurt others. I read books, listened to the news, heard the tearful stories of my friends, of strangers, of women in my family, and every single moment lived the rage inside me. It had taken me a year after what happened to me to even begin feeling the rage, to even begin tapping into the mess that was inside me — before, I had just been broken. When I found the rage, I finally found something that could hold all my cracked and split open pieces together.
My partner wasn’t perfect, and certainly played into many harmful patriarchal patterns — but those patterns were mostly hurting him. He was struggling with his mental health, meanwhile I berated him for not reading the articles I needed him to, for not using the right words to refer to the right things, for not being able to tangibly understand entirely the literally soul-searing pain that me, and so many other people (mostly femmes), were going through every single time we opened our computers or checked our phones or watched television during #MeToo.
My relationship ended (for many reasons, but certainly our incompatibility through my healing process was part of it, although he really did do his best), and for the first time I had the choice to decide whether I wanted to be around men or not.
All of a sudden there wasn’t a man in my house when I was going to sleep. All of a sudden I didn’t need to work in a space surrounded by women, because I realized I could choose what men I let around me. All of a sudden I didn’t feel like I needed to scream about men all the time. All of a sudden I was beginning to heal.
I had patience when men asked questions, I tapped into the parts of me that had nothing to do with rage, but with my happiness. I started dancing again, I booked last minute trips to visit my friends halfway around the world, and when I finally downloaded Tinder while walking the beaches of Tel Aviv, I met someone on an old rooftop and we had sex. It was my first and only time hooking up with a total stranger, and a year later, it’s still the most consensual sexual experience I’ve ever had. For two years I had been experiencing so much pain and fear with sexual experiences, and this was the first time I hadn’t even cried.
I was proving to myself over and over that good men existed. I had straight guy friends again, I started working with men, and when I would go on dates with men I met online (after vetting through phone calls before we met), I didn’t feel scared, only powerful — often so powerful that I could sense the awkwardness and intimidation coming from the man next to me at the bar.
Right before the breakup, I had come out to my then partner, but I knew that I didn’t want to take solace in my new identity which still felt so uncomfortable. I wasn’t open to experiencing other genders without confronting my fear around men. So I stopped listening to the news so I wouldn’t be constantly triggered. I downloaded a kinky app to practice being dominant, making men buy Inga Muscio’s “C**t” and writing me book reports. I went to therapy once a week. I started exposing more of my body when I dressed, and even began wearing makeup and heels sometimes. I leaned into all the things I could find that made me uncomfortable and that I’d been blocking to protect myself.
I’m still in the middle of this process, and perhaps I’ll always be in the middle of it — I’m not sure there’s ever an “other” side — but things have shifted. I am different. I put myself first, not my trauma. I put people first, not their gender identity. This whole process has even taught me to have compassion, and no tolerance, for folks who engage in individual public shaming and cancel culture — particularly when it could be handled with a conversation, should all parties feel safe enough. Just because you expect someone to act a certain way or carry certain intentions, doesn’t mean they belong in that box you put them in, but if you’re hurting and healing, I understand why you’d put them in that box in the first place.
I share all of this because there isn’t much advice to give here, you just need some confirmation that what you’re experiencing is valid. Your traumas, society, and your mother have helped you believe that the sheer joy you’re experiencing shouldn’t be trusted because you can’t trust men, and you can’t trust yourself. Everything and everyone outside of you points to the person who is currently making you feel so safe as a threat and a danger.
You were previously in a same-sex relationship — one in which by all accounts should be “safer” and non-threatening because it wasn’t with a man. It didn’t sound like a very healthy relationship or one where you felt the kind of safety and stability you’re experiencing now.
What if you took away gender in this situation? With who do you feel safer?
The woman you were with when you were younger was a woman, but she was also a person. The man you’re with now is a man, but he’s also a person. If the person you’re with now makes you feel wonderful, safe, and heard — that’s what you need to trust. You want to put him in a box with the rest of “men,” but maybe that’s not where he fits. If he keeps showing up for you in the ways that he has, maybe there’s a new box just for him. You put your ex in a box that was “not men = safe”, but maybe that’s not where she fits. Maybe she belongs in her own box too.
We each deserve the chance to make our own box and do our best to heal the systematic oppression in which we inevitably participate. We each deserve to be seen for who we are, not just what we look like — and while very often that helps determine who we are, it doesn’t always, and that’s enough to give ourselves the chance to not turn away someone wonderful.
You are listening to your body and your spirit, and he is honoring that. Continue to honor it for yourself. Sex with any person is different — doesn’t matter what gender they are or what body parts they have. Sex with one woman is different than sex with another woman. Sex with a man is different than sex with another man. And although I know that even though we can rationally make sense of this, it doesn’t mean the anxieties and vulnerabilities go away. So be patient with yourself, have compassion for yourself, and follow your own timing. There isn’t any finish line here.
While you are trying to feel comfortable having sex with a man, I’m just beginning to wrap my mind around exploring my sexuality with other genders. We’re in the same boat, still. Anything that feels really new or different is scary — but if we feel safe with the people we’re going on the journey with, it makes it OK.
You ask how you can become comfortable with change — you can’t. Change is uncomfortable, otherwise it wouldn’t be changing anything. It’s about determining what you want and if you’re open to the change you’ll need to get there, having the resources and supports in place to help you navigate as gracefully as you’re able to. Change is terrifying, but change can be so fun. There are so many new experiences and adventures ahead of you, and as long as you honor where you’re at and where you want to go, you’ll get to live everything that is meant for you.