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Yesterday, in the faculty lounge, this happened:

Fellow teacher: Hey, how are you?

Me: Good. How are you?

[Cue conversation about her impending divorce. Then…]

Fellow teacher: How about you? Dating anyone?

Me: Actually yes.

Fellow teacher: Oh yeah? [Evident surprise since I haven’t dated anyone in the past 3+ years that I have known her.] Who is he?

Me: Well, it’s a her.

[Awkward pause. Silence. Startled reaction. And then detailed discussion on what that’s like.]

It’s true. After twelve years of not dating women, I am dating a woman again. I did not see this coming. I had decided, when I moved to LA in 2006, that I was no longer interested in dating women. The kind of person I wanted to date would not be found in that gender, I had decided. I’ve never really felt like a lesbian — and certainly not a Lesbian — and something always felt stifling about that whole categorization anyway. After all, you don’t say, “Hi, I’m Dahlia, and I’m straight,” but so many gay women seem to be labeled as such within the first sentence of their introduction (from Wikipedia: “Cheryl Dunye (born May 13, 1966) is a film directorproducerscreenwritereditor and actress. Dunye is a lesbian…”)

I’ve never been a team player. I don’t do well with rules and boxes and constrictions. And, well, I also tend to like boys better than girls in general. And the girls I become close with tend to be more “masculine” in the sense that they aren’t girly girls.

So I didn’t even look at women for over a decade. A decade which, let me point out, was riddled with a lot of romantic trials and tribulations. It’s not exactly like I chose the winning team.

Until one day, last fall, when one of my friends told me that she dated women not because she couldn’t date men (because she certainly could), but because she couldn’t imagine having the kind of relationship she wanted with a man. That simple sentence lodged itself in my brain and wouldn’t let go.

Maybe, I started to think, were all those trial and tribulations because I was dating the wrong gender?

Or maybe LA really was turning me gay (because have you seen what’s out there?).

So I decided to stop dating men. (Not that that decision was a terribly difficult one to make. It is ridiculously easy when you live in LA.)

But what has been most interesting about “going gay” again after so many years away from it is the appreciation for what “coming out” entails. To be fair, I’m in Los Angeles, one of the most convenient places to be gay, and I’m a pretty unreserved, un-self-conscious person in general.

That said, I still had to talk to my mother about it. My mother whom I am sure had been happy that I had “outgrown my gay phase” was not overly enthused about the news and tried to encourage me to go find a “nice young professor” to date instead (the implication being, I’m assuming, that this nice young professor would be male). Luckily, I did not have to talk to my dad about it, because he still isn’t talking to me after the last time I came out, so that saved some time.

Even in our queer-friendly society (of sorts), it was an interesting experience to be aware of the fact that I was no longer heteronormative. My relationship will never “blend in.” I couldn’t help but think about people’s reactions when I showed up at a faculty event, with a girl. When I brought her to an event full of my classmates. When I made out on the street, with a girl.

And most unsettling, I think about it when I notice the conspicuous lack of female/female relationships on TV. It’s starting to be more common to see male/male relationships (Nashville, Scandal, Modern Family, Desperate Housewives, The Mindy Project, Gossip Girl, and Revenge are some of the shows that I watch — or watched — that all feature(d) some male/male action if not actual relationships), and yet I can’t immediately think of lesbians on any of those shows, much less on any other shows I watch with regularity, except for Orange is the New Black, where the lesbianism seems to be such an awkwardly central plot point that it receives almost gimmick status. (And no, anyone as desexualized as Ellen doesn’t count for me.)

It’s an odd sensation, being “newly” gay again. When I was in my early twenties, living in New York, I had less self-consciousness and self-awareness. Maybe it’s because I was younger. Maybe it’s because I was more in a rebellious state of mind. I don’t know. All I know is that if it’s this hard for me now, if the lack of role models and media representation is so conspicuous to me, what is it like for some teenager growing up in the midwest?

I can’t even imagine.

I know there has been progress in the last twelve years, but sometimes it feels like that progress has been so minimal that it is almost non-existent. I’m not sure I’m terribly comforted by it. What I do know is that I’m just as resistant to hide who I am as I’ve ever been — but the word gay still makes me cringe. Because I still hate labels.