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Many years ago I told a friend that I might be gay. She asked if it wasn’t just an “admiration crush” and I brushed it off accordingly. Perhaps I just thought certain friends were really cool – and is anyone not in love with PJ Harvey? 

I never ruled out dating women, and was happy to say that, but I never really explored it. Much as sexuality is — for most of us — increasingly less of a big deal, society is set up for us to date the opposite sex. And sometimes it’s easier not to question the status quo. As a woman, it was very easy to date men. They seek you out, they chat you up. It is generally easy to tell if a man fancies you. It doesn’t require much effort on your part, and you can be quite passive in terms of making things happen. 

It seems many of us, particularly women, often follow the path of least resistance, rather than making active decisions about the life we want.

But my sister is a lesbian — surely we couldn’t both be gay? And in all honesty, coming out seemed like a load of drama. Who would want that? Plus I fancied men, right? I’d had boyfriends and, at that point, I had a male partner that I’d been with for years; mortgaged up. I’d had lots of sex and most of it had been pretty good. Some had been awesome. 

Covid Lockdown brought much self discovery for many. Some of us found hiking (tick), wild swimming, bouldering and banana bread. Some of us realised we loved box sets, hated our jobs, weren’t into our partners (tick) or had ADHD (tick). It seems though, that that extra time got me thinking about my sexuality. Perhaps having too much time on my hands, or perhaps having had limited human contact beyond my partner, it dawned on me that most, if not all, of my crushes for years had been on women. I hadn’t had many recent crushes but I was well aware that several of those had been on my doctors. My doctors’ surgery had a habit of employing beautiful junior doctors with remarkable skills at demonstrating compassion. Doctor Daisy would ask me about my problems and tell me how incredibly well I was coping with such a stressful job and other woes. Why thank you for noticing, Daisy! I am great, aren’t I? After Daisy left the surgery I had several other smart caring women enquiring about my life and sounding impressed that I was functioning. I was well aware of these crushes but, like “admiration crushes”. I wrote them off as just me getting excited about people showing me kindness. 

Lockdown progressed and brought forth questions and issues that I had tried to ignore. I gradually accepted that my partner was not right for me (when I told my friend that we did have something in common – that we both liked mini breaks – she pointed out that everyone likes mini breaks). I realised it was not enough to make the joyful life I needed.

I spent a lot of time thinking of what life would be like, after lockdown, once I’d been brave and strong enough to leave my partner. I wondered then if, perhaps, there was something in these admiration crushes? What about the male GPs who were kind? Were there none or did I just not even notice? As things fell apart with my partner, I decided to scroll through online dating profiles and see if there were any lesbians I found hot, or if it really was just my doctors. Nope, it seems that women with chainsaws or garden spades are even hotter than caring doctors. My internet research also taught me about comphet (compulsory hetrosexuality), and about validation and acceptance. It seems we often think we fancy men, but in fact we may just be enjoying being desired and we may be seeking acceptance in this way. If you’re struggling with insecurities, having others like you can seem like a good barometer. Finally my relationship ended and I decided to explore properly whether women might be for me. It happened very quickly.  

My first date with a woman lasted about 30 hours. Everything clicked. It felt like I was one of those children who had been forced to write with my right hand, only to find I’m actually left handed. 

It felt right. I wonder now why I dated men. Sometimes, when my girlfriend makes me smoothies or holds my hand or remembers little details of my day, or when I get to wear her clothes or use her nice hair products, I wonder why anyone dates men! 

As for coming out, it ended up being quite straightforward. I told my friends I had a girlfriend. They said ‘cool’. One wasted friend said:

 ‘So… with a woman, do you use utensils or something?’   

‘What, like spatulas?’ I replied. 

We sometimes laugh at him for his insensitivity and clumsy questioning. I work in the civil service which is, almost entirely, very accepting, with LGBT networks and events. I told my teammates about my dating and they also said ‘cool’. I deliberated about telling my devout mother and said I’d wait until I had someone very serious. But my new girlfriend got me to watch Happiest Season – basically a movie about having a closeted girlfriend – and I decided to tell my mum. I do need to thank my sister and just about everyone else who has fought for acceptance before me, but my mum was surprisingly okay. I don’t think she approves but there was no drama. I recognise that family can be a huge obstacle, or even a danger, for lots of people so I’m grateful for this. 

I can’t say it’s always been straightforward. Straight men say that women are hard work and, well, sometimes there’s truth in it. I’ve dated women with internalised homophobia, who’d love to have a straight wedding or who don’t like people knowing they’re gay like it’s shameful. I’ve dated women who go hot and cold, who ask you to move in and then say they want to be single 3 days later. I dated a woman who told me she loved me and then asked me where she should go on holiday (with the girlfriend she said she’d dumped). But it’s gone pretty well, and I have joy in my life. I can say that I now spend a lot of time thinking ‘it’s good to be gay’. And sometimes, especially when I wake up with my girlfriend (she’s a hot surfer!), I think ‘it’s great to be gay!’

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Helen Shaw

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