A password will be e-mailed to you.

I’m 32 years old and dating for the first time. Women that is, though I barely dated anyone before I married my husband ten years ago. Thank God my husband’s supportive of this. No, I take that back. Not “God,” because that’s who kept me from dating in the first place. When I was a Christian, I believed God meant for his believers to be with only one person for the rest of their lives—a perfect match ordained by the creator of the universe.

I grew up in small town Iowa in the Evangelical Church—the church that takes virginity more seriously than homelessness. I was prepped to become a godly wife to a godly man. I often shamed myself for crushes and sexual arousal. I was told to not be a “stumbling block” for my brothers in Christ—to do my part to keep them pure and sexless until marriage. I wore loose clothes and no makeup. In my world, drawing attention to yourself was a sin, because it diverted attention away from God.

With all the energy put into looking out for men’s purity, I gave little attention to women, which made it easy to shove my latent feelings for them into the back of a cupboard, like a snack I knew was there but couldn’t have. Girls were only for boys to notice, and for other girls to be in competition with. If I was drawn to a girl, I interpreted it as jealousy: I wish I had full breasts to fill out my shirts and dresses. I wish I was that stylish and confident.

As I heal from the fundamentalist messages I grew up with, I’ve finally been able to allow myself to open up that forbidden cupboard, reach my hand in, and start unwrapping the messages I heard about how same-sex attraction was fundamentally wrong, especially as a hetero-passing, married woman. Admittedly, part of me feels blasphemous for even writing this.

It’s been harder to come out to myself than to anyone else.

My husband—a lifelong atheist (but the first person to treat me the way I’d been told only Jesus could treat me)—was un-phased and supportive when I came out to him a few years ago. My friends have also been incredibly supportive.

My family—well, they won’t talk about it, other than to tell me to take my sins to “the altar” so God can take me back. But I understand this perspective, because I used to think the same way. My brain still has some of that old wiring, and after my first kiss with a woman, I felt like I’d committed a sin.

I didn’t feel it in a logical sense, but in my body, subcutaneously. It takes years to leave the influence of fundamentalism and learn how to enter “secular” society without the anxiety that every new person I meet could be a temptation from Satan. Or that my peers are lightyears ahead of me in understanding who they are. I tell myself: Just because other people think something is wrong doesn’t make it truth.

My coming out process has been slow, and it’s looked like this:

1.) Allow attraction to female celebrities 2.) Allow crushes on IRL girls 3.) Watch queer TV and movies like The L Word and Blue is the Warmest Color 4.) Attend queer poetry readings and drag shows 5.) Download dating apps 6.) Chat with girls on dating apps 7.) Allow myself to fantasize about girls 8.) Allow myself to masturbate to images/thoughts of girls 9.) Go on dates 10.) Journal about the process.

Sometimes the old voices come back and tell me I’m wrong and bad and sinful. I get triggered and have to go back a stage or two and work forward again from there. I remind myself: You can only be where you are. This is a lifelong process, and I don’t have to rush things just to prove that I’m bisexual.

I am bisexual, and that part of me isn’t going anywhere.

But all the same, Girl World eludes me, and I’m shy about initiating with women who seem self-aware. I feel like I don’t know half the things other women know about femininity or sexuality or self-confidence. Or makeup. I still don’t know how to wear it, and part of me still sees it as vanity and excess. But also fun and stylish.

I’m a feminist, but I often worry that I don’t embody it as fully as I should (and that this will be a turn-off to the women I hope to attract). Then I remind myself that I’ve come a long way. I used to look up to men as God’s appointed leaders. I believed they were smarter, more talented, and more interesting than women. I believed they were to be the bread-winners, and women to be wives and mothers, and little else. I’m so glad that’s not where I’m at anymore. I now co-own a business and have no plans to have children. I’m learning to love women—hearts, minds, and bodies—and to not be afraid of what they know about themselves. Dating has helped with this tremendously.

I’m okay with this process taking time. It all starts with permission. Permission to let myself flirt, permission to lust, permission to fantasize, permission to act out those fantasies, and permission to publicly share my story. Thank you for hearing me. And if you’re interested in learning more about my journey, look for my memoir coming out next year through Suspect Press.

Photo courtesy of Amanda E.K.