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Falling for Straight Women

by Sonya Shields

Sonya Shields is an African American lesbian, who came out ten years ago while living in Washington, DC.† Within a few years of her coming out, she took a position with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.† For over six years, she held a senior position within the organization, joined several national boards, and participated in other community activities. But despite her professional career as an activist working to achieve social justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, she settled for affairs and relationships with too many straight women.† This is her story.

Iíve been asked over and over why do I go after women who arenít available. Iíve consistently replied that falling for straight women has never been a conscious decision. Simply coincidental. A coincidence that has regrettably occurred several times in my life. Often leaving me with wonderful memories, but a fair share of hurt and loss. This dysfunctional pattern of looking for love from the wrong woman began in 1989. I was coming to terms with my desire for women, and found myself falling in love with one of my best friends. Loving her should have been easy because she loved me too. However, she fought admission of her love for me. She could not bring herself to actually embrace our love, in the way that I ďthoughtĒ I was ready and willing to embrace us. Now thirteen years later, she is fortunately still one of my best friends. We survived what did grow into an ugly situation that seriously damaged our friendship. Nearly destroyed it forever. One would think that I learned from that difficult experience. But I didnít.

As I look back at my cycle of behavior, I now realize that I had not fully connected with the lesbian community. If I had become woven into the fabric of the community in a meaningful way, I probably would have experienced loving relationships with lesbians or even women who identify as bisexual. Whatís so interesting is that soon after I came out, I joined the staff of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington, DC. I was engulfed in issues facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people on a daily basis. I remained with NGLTF for over six years, and was known amongst activists in the city and throughout the country. But despite my status as an activist in the LGBT social justice movement, I never experienced a ďrelationshipĒ with anyone who was willing to come out. Certainly I had flings with lesbians at conferences, affairs, one-night stands, but never a relationship.

In my effort to find more people like me, I often went outside of my work, and participated in board activities, discussion groups and went to parties and bars. And I was often faced with serious issues around race and class, which I was certainly familiar with. But I naively thought that somehow the lesbian community would be more unified. In some circles I wasnít black enough; in some circles I was too black; and in other circles I was ďeroticĒ because I am black. I also felt pressured to identify myself in an environment of labels. Are you butch or femme? Are you a top or bottom? Are you a butch bottom or a femme top? Iíd never given all of this a second thought. I met women who were into S/M; lipstick girls; and women against the perm in my hair and my lipstick. Often dismayed by barriers and the lack of inclusiveness in various lesbian circles, I resorted to my world that consisted of mostly straight friends. The familiar. It felt safer to me. And in that world, Iíd meet a new female friend who found me fun and cool to hang out with. Once I revealed my sexuality, a new dynamic developed between us. The change was subtle. It was so subtle that I didnít even recognize the transition at the time. But before long, I was caught up in her seduction, and to hungry for love to turn her away.

The fact that I allowed this to happen five times while living in Washington, DC, is disturbing. By the fifth time, I had become almost an expert at letting go of any real emotional attachment. Iíd acknowledge that being with her was a wonderful experience -- the first, second and third time we made love. And then I witnessed her becoming completely weird because she thought I wanted her as a girlfriend. Lucky for me, I was finally beginning to understand what I really wanted. Straight woman number five was about sex. Lust. I had no desire to have her as my girlfriend. What I did desire was a change. And in August 2000, I packed my bags and left Washington, DC Ė headed for New York.

Upon arriving in New York, I reconnected with old college friends. Through those relationships, I met a beautiful and intelligent woman, who is the sixth and final straight woman to steal my heart. Our getting to know one another was magical. There was a silent pull that I truly fought. But unfortunately, I lost. And so, after fourteen months of highs and lows, Iím certain that Iíll never fall for another straight woman again. It means taking a major step backwards in my life. And thatís unacceptable. For years, I soul searched to arrive at a comfortable place with my sexuality. And I wonít allow shame to exist in my life. Even more, I will not let fear prevent me from experiencing happiness. And I will certainly not be treated as some kind of lesbian recruiter, which is a misdirected way to scapegoat so many of us. The fact is -- straight woman number sixth came to me three times with confident seduction. But at the same time, I was also confronted with her profound shame, hostility, embarrassment and deep sadness. Emotions I could not comprehend after having sex. Self-hating is debilitating. Not having the ability to love freely is inconceivable to me.

I wish that I could confess that the revelation to let go of her negative energy and my co-dependent behavior came to me without help. But I saw the light after the wonderful meeting of a lesbian in New York. She is someone who cherishes the joy that freedom brings. Through her courage, confidence and activism, I was reminded of why I came out in the first place. Iíd spent all those years working for the liberation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, but was living my life with people in the closet! No longer astray, Iím connecting with lesbian and bisexual women in new and exciting ways. All kinds of women. Iíve always appreciated and embraced differences. And Iím feeling their energy and the beautiful thing we share in common now more than ever. And Iíve also recently had romance in my life in a meaningful way. We loved with complete openness and engaged in conversations that were embracing, enlightening and tremendously rewarding. Additionally, a renewed sense of activism has taken over me, which has influenced me to write more and become even more actively involved in issues facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

While I have to respect the fact that everyone canít meet me where I am right now in my life, I must be true to who I am. I must continue to live my life with integrity and pride as a woman who loves women. And at the same time, I will do my best to provide support for my straight sisters as they question and explore their sexuality. But, I will no longer turn back the clock on my progress to live a full and enriching life.

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