Boy-Crazy But Curious, Dating While Disabled, and Introducing Parents to Your “New Norm”

by Lindsay Miller

I’ve always identified, both to myself and to others, as straight. There were times when I thought about other girls as a young girl, but then read in some magazine or other that this was “totally normal! Just a passing crushphase!” and I brushed it off, as seems to have happened to some other readers.

The thing is, during my, uh, (oh dear this is quite personal) ALONE TIMES, the only thing which seems to pop into my head and turn me on is LADIES. But sort of in a older women younger girl, oh we’re two girls at a sleepover and what’s even happening sort of way. And then afterwards I lie there like, “what just happened? how did that pop into my head?” Which would all send quite a clear message about my true sexuality, if not for the fact that I have absolutely no interest in a proper lesbian relationship. My current self (writing this) is bemused that I have ever found two girls doing it to be an exciting idea. I sort of have to work to get into that headspace, but once I do, nothing works better, if that makes sense.

The thought of a loving partnership with a woman doesn’t do anything for me in the same way that I get all excited and happy about the thought of one with a guy. Also, my friendships with girls are really intense and important to me and I wouldn’t want to mess them up. Furthermore, I don’t think I have ever in my “rational” state of mind thought about a girl in a girlfriend way or a I-really-want-get-in-her-pants way. In fact, I have strong physical reactions to guys. I get that warmth rushing up from the bottoms of my feet to the top of my head feeling when I talk to a guy I have a crush on.

Also, I don’t have much sexual experience. The experiences I have had have all been with guys, and they didn’t do much for me. But these experiences were more along the lines of being a little tipsy and wanting to test the waters and not even going all the way. It was never in a state of mind of being fully present and committed and really aware of the other person. But basically, while I’m doing sexy things, all I want is a lady, while my day-to-day self has even been called “boy-crazy” by my peers!! What the heck is going on?

You didn’t include your age in your letter, but I’m guessing that you’re quite young, mostly because of the word “boy-crazy.” Once you reach a certain age — the specific age varies by region but is generally between 16 and 19 years old — people en masse stop calling girls who really like boys “boy-crazy” and start calling them “slutty.” (Reasons for this include: sexism, double standards, the patriarchy, Rush Limbaugh.)

That being the case, you’re probably still in high school, or college at the outside. At your age (really, at any age) it’s not that strange to be more than a little unsure what’s going on in your heart/ vagina. It’s complicated in there, dark full of twists and turns and valves and childhood traumas and dreams and contradictions and embarrassing porn. The best, wisest, and most self-aware among us can rarely do better than to piece together a tenuous pattern out of the chaos and slap a name on it. And don’t trust anyone who tells you that figuring out what to call yourself is the easy part. I got a master’s degree in less time than it took me to settle on an appropriate label for my sexuality.

So, what the heck is going on? I don’t know any better than you do; you’re probably just going to have to figure it out as you go along, and that’s fine. You might be a really deeply closeted dyke, so closeted your brain can’t even tell you about it except when you’re flying solo. You might just be a straight girl with a mildly unorthodox fantasy life. You might be somewhere in between.

Kiss some boys while you’re sober and see if it does anything for you. Kiss some girls, too, for the sake of comparison — not the ones you have intense, important friendships with, though, because that gets weird. If it’s not working out, do something else. Maybe you’ll never be attracted to a girl in real life, but you’ll always think about lady-sex during your alone times. That’s fine! In real life I’ve never even met Samira Wiley.

Hopefully one day your heart and your vagina will see eye-to-eye, as anatomically improbable as that seems. But even if they don’t, you’ll find a way to negotiate their disagreements and create the relationships that work for you, whether that means loving, committed, sexless partnerships with men, no-strings-attached sexcapades with women, a combination of the two, or something totally different. Don’t worry too much about whether you’re gay or straight; just worry about being you, as fully and fearlessly as possible.

Ok, so I am 29 and queer and not very sexually experienced. I just got over my First Relationship With a Lady, which ended a few years ago. It was my first relationship with a lady for all kinds of complicated reasons (like taking a long time to figure out my heart/ vagina pined for ladies), but mostly because I have a chronic illness and dating is hard in a small city when you can’t go out clubbing. Now I am ready to date again, but the problem is I am even sicker than I was when I was dating her. I am confined to the house and to bed most of the time, in fact. I’m a part-time wheelchair user. My illness goes up and down, but I have never been this disabled before — in the past I could go out and meet people and lead a semi-normal life.

Anyway, I’ve signed up to an internet dating site in the hopes of meeting someone/s, but I have a couple of questions.

First, I don’t feel like much of a dating prospect. Living with an illness is really fucking hard sometimes, and dating someone who’s sick is harder. I don’t get a choice, but they do. And it’s a lot to sign on for. They can walk away, and they do. It caused the lady I dated incredible grief and pain to watch me suffering. She missed doing normal relationship stuff with me, like dancing and going to the movies together and standing for more than five minutes. I am OK with my illness, but it broke my heart to see her so not OK with it, and it ended up breaking us up.

So I’m wondering, is someone who has limited sexual and romantic experience, who can’t leave the house, who can’t sit up for very long, and who likes and wants sexytimes but is too limited/ fatigued to have many of them genuinely someone a lady would want to date? I know in the abstract the answer is obviously yes, of course! Everyone who is not a complete asshole is dateable and should be able to date if they want to. Severely disabled people can totally have relationships! But in the real world, really, realistically, when confronted with the reality of it and how really hard it is, would they? Just how hot/ smart/ funny/a wesome do I have to be to overcome the drawbacks?

Second question. Since online dating is my only option, when do I break the news about my illness? Do I put it in my profile? My experience in the past is that I get exactly no replies when I do that (maybe I worded it wrong? How do I word it right?) Or should I wait until a prospective date and I have chatted a bit? If so, how do I break it to her? Do I just casually slip it into conversation, like, “Speaking of cat pictures, have you heard of this unpronounceable autoimmune illness? No? Well I have it, lol! No but really I HAVE THIS DISEASE.” Or do I wait until she really likes me and wants to meet me, and then have a BIG SRS talk with her?

In the real world, severely disabled people can and do have happy, loving, fulfilling relationships. They can also have totally fucked up, miserable, unhealthy relationships and sexually satisfying but emotionally empty flings and brief torrid affairs that leave them with years of psychological baggage and, well, the whole broad range of terrible and wonderful things two human beings who have seen each other naked can do to each other. Your disability absolutely does not preclude you from finding the perfect woman to love deeply, emotionally ruin, or be emotionally ruined by.

There are so many people out here in the world trying to find love, hoping desperately that there’s someone out there who will laugh at their jokes and kill their spiders and remind them to get the oil changed. There are so many people who have what you need, and need what you can give them. You already know that you’ll be incompatible with some of them because of their attitudes toward disability; you’ll probably be incompatible with others because of their politics or their work schedules or their inexplicable distaste for Japanese food. But for many, many women — not just one “right woman” who is destined to be yours, but lots of women who have the potential to be right for you in all manner of unique and surprising ways — your disability will not be a drawback. It will simply be one of the many aspects of your relationship that you figure out how to navigate together.

Sure, it’s not always easy to date someone who is in pain or whose mobility is limited, but you know what? Relationships are never easy. They’re just worth it or not worth it. Your job, now that you’ve gotten over your first Big Gay Heartbreak, is to get out there and find someone who’s worth it.

Which is all well and good, but how the hell do you find her? Online dating is obviously a struggle, but there are at least a few ways you can improve your odds. One possibility: use a dating site specific to people with disabilities. There are a Jesus-load of them, and I have no idea which ones are good and which ones are terrible, but maybe some of our amazing commenters have some experience separating the wheat from the chaff and will share it with you. Otherwise, you may have to spend some time on a few of them and see what’s good — the online equivalent to going to a bunch of different bars in a city you’ve just moved to, so you can figure out which one is cool and frequented by people you dig, and which one is sketchy and best avoided. On a disability-specific site, you’ll be able to get the “I have this condition” explanations out of the way up front, without worrying about scaring people off or being drawn into a lengthy and annoying Ableism 101 conversation, and you can get right down to the nitty-gritty of discussing which Azealia Banks song is the best.

You might also try one of the many dating sites that caters to specific interests or hobbies. On the big sites like OKCupid, the sheer volume of options can be overwhelming, and people may be skimming past you for superficial reasons before they really take in all you have to offer. In a smaller space, however, women may be more open to seeing you not just as a wheelchair user, but as a fellow Christian/ knitter/ Bears fan/ anarcho-feminist. It could give you a jumping-off point for talking about other things without feeling like you’re hiding an aspect of yourself.

Finally, if you do hit it off with someone who doesn’t know about your disability, try not to either hide it or force it to the front of the conversation; just let it come up naturally. For instance, when she asks “What do you like to do on weekends?” you can say “Well, I have this autoimmune condition, and it keeps me from going out much, but I like to do [x] and [y]. If you wanted to hang out sometime, maybe we could [z]?” Think of it not as a horrible revelation or a Big Serious Talk, but as one of many things she’s learning in the exciting process of getting to know you.

So here’s the deal. I’m not nearly as badly off in the I-came-out, my-parents-rejected-me department as I know so, so, so many people are. My parents still love me, they remind me of that a lot, they still take an interest in my job search after college, they kept their loan to me for my MA, that sort of thing.

The problem is, when I told them I was not only gay (mentioned it to my mother first, so she even had a few days to think about it), but that I have a girlfriend, my mom freaked.

I mean, my dad was doing internal freaking that he’s kind of shared with me since, in a very grown up, calm, productive sort of dialogue that I appreciate so much. But my mom just freaked, sobbed — something I’ve never seen her do even at funerals — and wailed a whole bunch of guilting (what about my grandchildren??), panicked (but you were going to marry [my ex], you’re going to end up middle aged and alone! *for the record, I’m 22.*) and downright homophobic things that I never saw coming. My parents aren’t super conservative, they aren’t religious, I thought both of them would be as cool as my dad was who just said “well alright then” and smiled and kept his worries to himself for the time being. Friends I’ve grown up with were shocked as well at the behavior.

It would be incorrect to say my mom and I have fought since this, more like there have been some more wailing sessions with me staring helplessly at the phone with nothing to say but, “well… I still love you.” Things have calmed down a lot, a looot, with a couple conciliatory conversations. It pretty much boils down to 1) I’m gay and 2) their little girl is growing up, and there’s not much I can do about either of those things so some adjustments on the part of the parental relationship are necessary.

But conversations still fill me with dread no matter what the topic is.

I told my parents something of my life, and that was the reaction, so now I stick to superficial things. True, they don’t need to know everything, but I can’t even tell them that my girlfriend got into her MA program and I’m so excited and that she’s the one I’m moving in with after grad school. And they haven’t asked. I don’t tell them the events I go to since several are LGBT, I don’t even call them more than once a week (and even that gives me anxiety) because I just… don’t trust that it won’t result in screaming and crying or more proof that despite being well-educated and loving they carry some very homophobic sentiments. And I thought I knew my parents, and clearly didn’t, so… Trust issues.

My question, Queer Chick, is how do I built a Real Adult Relationship with my parents from here on out? I don’t expect things to be ‘how they were’, but I’m fuzzy on what the ‘new norm’ could look like. How do I introduce them to my girlfriend without hostilities? How do I avoid having a panic attack when I tell them if I get engaged? How do I even manage to have normal conversations weekly?? Not get a lurch in my stomach whenever my mom texts me? Not have the urge to hide in a hole during the holiday season I’m so uncomfortable walking on eggshells pretending everything’s hunky dory to not upset them? I’m not angry, I don’t have a grudge — I get it was a shock — I love them both very much. I’ve been an adult, stepped up, but there’s this road block of total lack of trust in anything they say. Where once their offers of post-graduate help with things like moving would have been my first choice, now they’re my last resort because I’m half expecting them to be withdrawn when I tell my parents where I’m living.

Help! Does it just take time, longer than several months?

One of my favorite useless-yet-obscurely-comforting platitudes is: It takes as long as it takes. There is no set timeline for how soon your relationship with your parents will be mended. All I can tell you is that it should be possible, eventually, if everyone involved is doing their part.

To be clear, “everyone doing their part” means that your parents work to earn your trust back, and you work to make it available to them. You didn’t do anything wrong in coming out, so you have no atoning to do; your contribution to the healing of your relationship is to be open to them when they make amends. You believe them when they say they’re sorry, and you help them as they try to do better. But, of course, that only works if they’re genuinely sorry and trying to do better. If your mother still thinks that her reaction to your being gay was right and proper — if she stands behind her screaming, crying, panicking, guilting, and generally throwing a tantrum — then there is no way to build an adult relationship with her, because she is not behaving like an adult.

If your parents, and especially your mother, have apologized and indicated a desire to be part of your life, take them at their word; tell them about your weekend plans, introduce them to your girlfriend, let them help you move. Breathe through the anxiety, and keep telling yourself that it will get easier with time, because it will. Each time your parents don’t respond with shouting and tears to the mundane details of your gay-ass life, the urge to run away and hide in a hole forever rather than answering the phone when they call will become incrementally smaller.

But if they’re not actually trying, if the work of healing is entirely one-sided, if they’re re-opening those barely-closed wounds every time you speak to them… then they are behaving childishly, and it’s time to start reacting in kind. Speak slowly and clearly, and let them know that you are not willing to give in to their demands, no matter how much they yell and throw animal crackers across the room. You can have a conversation with them once they calm down and start using their indoor voices. But they need to understand that they have only two options, going forward, and neither of them is a straight daughter. They can have a gay daughter who loves them and wants them around, or they can have a gay daughter who isn’t part of their lives at all.

I was burned pretty badly in the past by my first and only relationship that happened less than a year ago. I finally put myself out there to date earlier this year and met someone new who I was not only immediately attracted to, but was also attracted to me. That has never happened. Success! Well, after a just a few dates (that included sex) and texts, I finally spent the weekend with zir (we live about an hour away from each other by public transit). That weekend seemed really great but I already noticed some issues. One, I’m introverted and shy, they are the complete opposite. Two, my first meeting with zir’s friends was a disaster (in my mind) because six unknown people, noisy restaurant, new city all within 30 minutes of arriving = sensory overload that forced me into silence and left me so profoundly uncomfortable that I wanted to cry. I should have said no but when I said okay to going, but when I said yes I didn’t expect us to stay there for, what felt like, hours. I acknowledge my fault in this.

By the end of the weekend, ze asks to talk and tells me that they can’t see us together. That the distance killed the desire and I’m just too quiet for zir, but that “I still think you’re a really cool person and I would like to remain friends with you… and I really like having sex with you.” I’m sure I’m making this person sound like an asshole when I silently appreciated how honest yet gentle they were being at the time. I quickly said, “Friends,” and told zir that I do not have sex with my friends. I told zir that I believe it leads to trouble (and for me, it has). Ze accepted that I would just be platonic friends with them and even hugged me goodbye when I got back on the train. Since then, I have distanced myself from them.

I’ve been thinking about this because honestly I am torn. On one hand, I did enjoy their company. Ze is very sweet and kind of like a puppy — always trying to make someone happy. But on the other hand, I knew I was hoping for more and that it was smart to agree to be only friends. At the same time, it’s like, you just told me that I’m too quiet, so why would you want to be friends with someone who is so different from you? I also felt disrespected because they were basically telling me that I will never be considered a romantic option, only a sexual one — or at least that’s how I approached it. I don’t like the idea of only being wanted sexually; I think it’s insulting. We had sex earlier that morning and they were quieter than usual later on that day, which I had noticed but, at the time, I didn’t know why. It’s like they woke up knowing we weren’t on the same wavelength, but that morning I was feeling good and offering sex so I guess it made sense for them to take it.

We texted a week after that — really, ze texted me first and I replied. I kind of didn’t want to reply, though. We’re friends on fb and they rarely make status updates, however, I sometimes see zir liking mine.

I’m still very new to navigating relationships, especially queer ones because I have only been out since last September and like I said, I’ve only been in one relationship. One side of me thinks I’m doing the right thing in completely pulling away because I’m protecting myself and ze was just being nice in offering to be friends. The other side thinks I’m being too judgmental and that I shouldn’t have been so quick to write the person off. I’ve always thought the “Let’s just be friends” thing was some kind of cop-out and never took it seriously, but the queer community is full of people who slept together or were in relationships and then broke up, and they somehow managed to be friends afterwards. It’s really difficult for me to understand.

Which side do you agree with? Or do you maybe agree with a combination of both?

Just because a lot of queer people are friends with folks they used to sleep with doesn’t mean that you have to be. You get to decide what kind of relationships — including friendships — you want to be in, and it’s fine to pull away from the ones that don’t give you what you want. If being friends with someone for whom you have unrequited romantic feelings is too difficult, don’t do it. It’s not a question of doing the “right” thing, it’s a question of doing what’s right for you.

But other people get to decide what kind of relationships they want, too. If you want different things, and decide that it’s best to go your separate ways, that’s fine, but it doesn’t mean that anyone has done something wrong. Some people don’t work as partners, but make great friends and lovers, and some things that would be dealbreakers if you were dating are perfectly charming in a friend-with-benefits. There’s nothing inherently disrespectful or insulting about wanting a sexual but not a romantic relationship. It would be insulting if they tried to cajole you into sex after you said you weren’t interested, or guilt-trip you into remaining friends, but it sounds like they’ve been nothing but respectful of your boundaries.

Don’t second-guess yourself; if you’re happier not seeing them than you would be as just-friends, you did the right thing. But try not to hold a grudge against them, either. They were doing the right thing for themselves. You just didn’t turn out to be right for each other.

Previously: Dating a Closeted Bi Guy, Discovering a Boob Fetish, and Sleeping With Twins

Lindsay King-Miller is also on Twitter. Do you have a question for her?