The Belly of the Beast: A Lesbian in a Heterosexual World

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Nicky was the prison inmate – a beautiful, intelligent, and confidently gay woman who had been locked up for defending her girlfriend from assault. Sarah was the courageous prison governor who passionately wanted to improve the lives of women in prison. When these two crossed paths, a delicate love story unfolded.

It sounds pretty cheesy, I know. But as a 15 year-old watching the prison drama Bad Girls, this love story changed my life. Or at least it was supposed to.

My teenage experience is similar to that of many lesbians who stumble across their sexuality whilst living in a conservative Muslim household. I felt guilty and ashamed every time I rewound and re-watched Nicky and Sarah grasping hands, kissing and making love. I promised myself every time that this would be the last time I watched it. I’d hide the DVD in my cupboard only to dig it out again later that night.

The love story spoke to me. I felt like I belonged in a relationship like theirs. It seemed tender, equal, intellectual, and emotional. It seemed so much richer than anything I’d seen a woman share with a man. And it sexually excited me.

I had one crush after another on my close female friends. I always had a ‘best friend’ – a girl to call every day, to gossip with, to shop with, to share secrets with, and then to secretly fantasize about in bed. But these intense pseudo-relationships always broke down, as the other girl inevitably found a boyfriend or a husband to replace me. And I’d be left mourning a relationship that had never really existed. For me, loving women was desperately passionate, always unconsummated, and in the end deeply painful.

By the time I threw away my hijab and most of my religion with it, I turned to men because it was easier. I was sick of having tormenting one-way relationships with women. I wasn’t ready to declare myself a lesbian and walk into a gay bar, and I was flattered by the new attention I got from men as an unveiled woman. Sometimes, I’d meet a woman with whom I’d have an instant fiery connection. But she would always turn out to be straight, to have a boyfriend, or worst of all, to be a homophobe. So back to men I was.

Eventually I met a boy who was kind and sensitive, who respected me as an intellectual equal, who always offered to cook and automatically washed the dishes afterwards. I fought against the relationship for a long time because I was scared I’d just stay with him, marry him and have kids, and totally miss out on the life I was supposed to have – with another woman.

But I couldn’t leave him. We had become too close, and I loved him. I couldn’t help but realize how much easier my life had become with a man by my side. I was treated with more respect on the streets, in shops, on trips out of town, with a man by my side. When we decide to get engaged, I can introduce him to my parents. We can get married. I wouldn’t have to live a life of secrecy and deception pretending that I’m a spinster living with another spinster friend.

I feel guilty of how easy it is to be straight, how respectable it is. I feel guilty because all the battles I expected to fight living as a lesbian have disappeared.

By now, you are probably asking yourself the question: Is she attracted to men? If she is, then she must be bisexual. If she is not, then she is another scared lesbian running towards heterosexuality for comfort. I am not – on the whole – attracted to men, I find most men revolting on a sexual level. But there is that one odd man, here or there, who breaks through the barrier, who I find peculiarly beautiful. For me, being a lesbian was never just about sexual attraction. It was about a type of relationship I wanted to have. I feel that with women, I have experienced deep emotional connections, and a level of mutual understanding that I have never come close to with a man. But none of the women I’ve had these ‘connections’ with were lesbians or remotely interested in me! Instead, I found a man who had almost everything you could want from a life partner. Should I throw that away because of how long I dreamt of being with another woman?

It’s an ongoing struggle for me, especially now as I decide whether or not to get engaged to a man without ever having had a relationship with a woman. For now, I know two things: Ever since I was 15, I have deeply felt that I am a lesbian. I have never had a relationship with a woman, and I enjoy all the privileges that are attached to being in a heterosexual relationship. Therefore, I feel like I can’t claim to be a lesbian. Am I a traitor? I often feel like one. You decide.

- Contributed by Layal

Guest Contributor

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