As a bisexual Black woman I felt unprepared for the emotional intensity of my first queer relationship. The many causal relationships – or situationships – I had with women in the past, left me feeling unprepared to pursue a long-term relationship with a woman, until I met my current partner.
Growing up I rarely saw queer love and the few examples I did see were presented as taboo and didn’t often involve people who look like me. The added pressure of my deeply religious upbringing in an African household, pushed me into an uncomfortable battle with self, often described as internalised homophobia. I always knew who I was deep inside but I was conditioned to see the feelings I had for women as ‘unnatural’ and ‘ungodly.
The heteronormative and patriarchal standards of society mean that many of us walk into our first queer relationships blindly; we don’t always know what to expect and sometimes that can leave us feeling fearful and anxious. Fearful about how we may be perceived by society and anxious about how lack of experience, on either side of the relationship, might lead to someone getting hurt. In the past I felt like I couldn’t be my whole self in relationships, I always felt a sense of shame, exacerbated by the insecurities of partners who were also not comfortable in their sexuality.
Being in a committed relationship with someone who is confident in themselves and accepting of my baggage has helped me discover a new level of self-confidence. Not only do I feel more self-assured, I feel so much more comfortable in my body and have greater access to my sensuality.
I’ve learned to see the beauty in queer love. Finally finding a home in someone and being understood in ways I’ve never been before has restored my hope in love in general. I recognise now that this has come as a result of years of self-work and learning through ‘failed’ situationships to release the toxic myths I’d absorbed about love being limited to prescriptive norms.I met my partner at a point in my life where I was ready to receive love, I didn’t know where it would come from or what path the relationship would take but I knew that I was ready because I finally felt that I deserved it. Then we started dating and the real work began, I had to push past my natural instinct and apply all the learning I’d done. My first hurdle was vulnerability.
Dating in modern society can feel like a competition of who cares the least. Many women hold back on emotionally giving themselves to their partners out of fear of being perceived as clingy or crazy. From fetishization to queerphobia, lesbian and bisexual women face many barriers that make it even harder for us to be vulnerable, but mutual vulnerability builds trust so I had to learn to open up to my partner about my experiences, fears and internalised homophobia. This fostered a space where she could validate my feelings, reassure me and feel comfortable enough to let me do the same for her.
This vulnerability and open communication allowed us to tailor our love to suit each other. Gary Chapman’s ‘5 love languages’ may not be expansive and nuanced enough for their purpose but they’re a good place to start when approaching love intentionally. Understanding my love languages helped me realise that I had been loving my partner in the ways I wanted to be loved and I had to take time to learn how to show her my appreciation in the way she liked to receive it, while being vocal about my desires.
No matter how stable the foundations of our relationship, my girlfriend and I are still subject to judgement, and sometimes that comes from within our own circles. I had friends who supported me living in my truth but couldn’t move past their discomfort once they found out about my relationship. I’ve had many people ask if I ever want to get married or plan on having kids one day – as if that is anyone’s business. The level of judgement can feel so invasive.. I’ve learned to stop over explaining myself to people who are committed to misunderstanding me. I became more confident by leaning into the friendships and familial relationships that supported me no matter what. Queer love is simply not for everyone to understand, and that’s okay.