My First Girlfriend

I'd always liked boys. At 21, I realized that I liked girls, too.

GROWING UP, my sexuality, like for many, was shaped by the culture I lived and breathed, and heterosexuality was pretty much the only meal served at the Table of Sexual Orientation. Ken and Barbie did not have lovers of the same sex. Denise did not fret to Daddy Huxtable about her girl crush. From the moment I grew breasts, people asked whether I wanted to be a lawyer or an astronaut when I grew up, and if I had a boyfriend. No one, not ever, not once, asked if I had a girlfriend. If they had, I might have considered the possibility. But they didn't, so I didn't, either. The thought never crossed my mind. Which might explain why, the first time I fell in love with a woman, I was completely thrown.

I was 21 years old, four months out of college, three months out of a relationship with a boy I thought I was going to marry, and employed at a nonprofit. One evening, I was working a fundraiser at an awards ceremony for women in the film industry. A possible suitor, male or female, was as far from my mind as the salt lakes in the Himalayas. And yet, as I strode across the exquisitely appointed room toward yet another philanthropist, I bumped into a very beautiful woman.

She was a celebrity who shall go forever unnamed, but I will say that she was statuesque and confident, and her skin glowed with health, wealth, and carefully applied bronzer. I sputtered and apologized for almost knocking her down. She smiled and touched my arm, but I was mortified and dashed into the women's room. I had never felt attracted to a woman before. It was as if my whole view of what was sexy, sensual, and possible had just turned on its axis.

Of course, I didn't think I would ever see her again. However, the next day, as I answered phones at my company's funky office on the top floor of an old church, her assistant walked in with a stunning bouquet of white lilies. There was a note. It was flirty. It asked me on a date. I accepted. We went out a few times but didn't click; zero chemistry, few shared interests, that sort of thing. But I did find myself wildly attracted to her assistant — a very cute woman named Raquel with gorgeous brown eyes and a knack for telling jokes that made me howl with laughter — who, when the first flash of electricity became apparent, began wooing me in earnest. Her boss didn't seem to mind, and the transition went smoothly, much more smoothly than I imagine it would have if her boss were a man. Raquel took me to glamorous girls-only parties in secret rooms in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side, and one hot night after dancing until 3 in the morning, she leaned in for the longest, most tender kiss I had ever experienced. When we came up for air, I thought I might fall over. We fell into bed together an hour later and it was like landing on a cloud. Initially I was awkward since I hadn't grown up watching or reading about how to make love to a woman. I felt ill-equipped to manage the sheer mechanics: How to position myself, where to touch in what sequence. Fortunately, the more she stroked and lingered, the easier it was to give way to natural attraction. She was so soft! We kissed for so long! Her breasts were so sensitive! There was no rushing, just utter physical and emotional connection. It was about following my feelings, not my gender. Multiple orgasms later, I passed out in a state of sated exhaustion, my mind totally blown.

I didn't have a "coming out" moment like so many others do, explaining themselves to loved ones full of judgment. I told my parents and friends by introducing Raquel to them; I didn't feel the need to warn them or explain beforehand. There were a few raised eyebrows — my father was convinced I was still in shock from my breakup with my ex-boyfriend and acting out my grief — but for the most part, people liked my girlfriend as much as I did. Raquel was fun and smart, and we enjoyed each other's company, like any other normal couple. We talked about books and politics and listened to a lot of music. We walked her dogs in the park and went out to clubs and bars and parties. She cooked delicious meals for me: pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and olives, the best lemon chicken ever, Greek salad with amazing Feta cheese from a Greek grocer in her neighborhood, herbed couscous with vegetables.

A year into the relationship, it was clear: I was bisexual and thought everyone else could be, too, if given the chance. My capacity for sexual, psychological, and emotional connection was way more complex than I had been led to believe; how I related to my boyfriends was just the tip of the iceberg. Attraction didn't have to be restrained or turned off just because I was with a woman or turned on only because I was with a man. The important element is chemistry, that intangible energy that magnetizes one person to another. There are so many other ways of relating beyond the simple binary of same-sex platonic friendship and opposite-sex romantic interest. We human beings are vast and full of possibility.

Raquel and I ultimately broke up because, well, we were young and eventually realized we wanted different things — she to stay in New York and I to move to Los Angeles, for one — but that three-year game-changing relationship years ago taught me that I alone am in control of shaping my desire, and that if I'm open, truly open, anything can happen.

Today I'm married — to a man I met 10 years ago at a Buddhist retreat — and have a child. I'm deeply in love with my family and can't imagine being with anyone else, but it's sure nice to know that if, heaven forbid, we ever split up, the world out there is much bigger than I was raised to believe, and it's just waiting to be discovered. Maybe I'm an astronaut after all. I flew high above the arbitrary lines drawn on earth, and learned freedom.