Kay first caught my eye at a house party in Brooklyn. Not because she was beautiful (she was), or because she spoke in a jaunty Australian accent (she did), but because she and I were wearing almost exactly the same outfit.
It was a popular look in the summer of 2017: a black dress paired with a jean jacket or chambray shirt, the buttons casually undone.
Our host looked at her, then at me, and laughed, saying, “You’ll have to take this out back and fight to the death.”
Kay cocked her head, playfully assessing. “I don’t know,” she warned, looking me up and down. “I’m pretty scrappy.”
“You seem like a biter,” I said, and the people around us laughed.
It would take me a long time to realise that Kay was flirting with me. And it would take me even longer to understand that I was flirting back.
I was 29 years old, single, and utterly convinced that I was straight. A few months earlier, I had ended a four-year relationship with a man.
Kay, on the other hand, was an out and proud lesbian. She was also, as it turned out, impossibly smart and accomplished. As the party heated up, we talked for hours about her work as a research fellow, her life back in London and about the job I desperately wanted to quit.
When the party began to wane, we climbed up to the roof with a group of guests to watch the sunrise.
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I reflected on that night in the weeks that followed. It’s too bad I’m not gay, I recall thinking. I had kissed a few women in college, but those experiments left me cold. I had shut that door for what I firmly believed was the rest of my life. Women just don’t do it for me, I reminded myself. I’ve always loved men.
The next time we hung out, at another house party a few weeks later, Kay was far more direct. We were sitting next to each other on the sofa, emboldened by a night of heavy drinking.
“I’m going to kiss you,” she said with her now-familiar smile. “And you’re going to like it.”
She did, and I did. Very much.
Early the next morning, I woke up in bed next to Kay. The sun shone through a cracked-open window, and we were both wearing very little clothing. Instead of sneaking out or hinting that she wanted me gone, Kay suggested we get bagels.
We walked to a coffee shop and then to a bagel place, chatting the whole way. I talked to Kay the way I talked to my female friends: with a sense of ease and playfulness. I was unselfconscious in a way I’d never been with guys. The sun was shining. I felt relaxed and giddy at the same time.
A period of elation, confusion and occasional bouts of anxiety followed, and I was buzzing through my days. But mostly, I was deeply shocked by my own behaviour.
I couldn’t understand what had happened, exactly. Did I just wake up one day a lesbian? Was I in a fever-dream, a phase that would soon pass? I hadn’t seen this coming. In fact, right until the moment Kay kissed me, I didn’t even know how lesbians had sex.
And yet, I had jumped into the moment with her. Things had escalated with remarkable speed; at several points, Kay laughed at my eagerness. “Straight girls don’t do that,” she teased, more than once.
Had Kay yanked me out of a closet I didn’t know I was hiding in? Or had I fundamentally changed?
Call it sexual disorientation.
Right away, I started to search for a new way to label myself. “I think I might be bisexual,” I told a friend.
But it seemed too soon to tell. I needed more data points to be sure.
Two and a half months after our first night together, Kay returned to New York. To say that I was ready for a second meeting would be an understatement. By the time she arrived, I’d placed scented candles around my bedroom and filled vases with fresh-cut flowers. I had no idea how to seduce a woman, but I was hoping candles and flowers would help.
The idea of sleeping with her again made me extremely nervous. Would I still be attracted to her? Had the “phase” passed? Would she still be attracted to me?
Luckily, Kay seemed to find my eagerness cute instead of desperate. With her help, I gathered more data points that Friday night – and again on Saturday. And Sunday, too.
By the time she left on Monday morning, I was smitten. I felt it on a physical level, as if Kay was reaching into my ribcage, squeezing my tender heart between her hands. It kind of hurt, and I knew what it meant: I was catching feelings. For a woman.
Several weeks later, I flew to London to meet Kay on my 30th birthday. She greeted me with champagne and flowers. I was stunned, once again, at how much I could feel for a woman, how she could turn me into a starry-eyed teenager all over again. Label or no label, Kay and I had something real.
After that visit, we stayed in touch, but dated other people. She insisted that she wasn’t girlfriend material – we joked that with her tumultuous dating history, she was a “red flag with little red flags hanging off it”. Meanwhile, I was on a quest to figure out exactly how gay I was.
I had some misadventures and made some bad decisions, but all of it helped me realise that my queerness was much bigger than Kay. My sexuality was no longer such a mystery, and the label “lesbian” felt like the best fit.
The following year, Kay returned to New York. As we wandered the city, finding new excuses to meet up, we realised we would never be satisfied with just a friendship. She was the very opposite of a red flag: kind, refreshingly honest and profoundly loving. Once we committed to each other, our relationship quickly became rock solid, and that feeling of solidness has never gone away.
Four and a half years later, Kay and I are married. Falling for her was my life’s greatest U-turn.
And as I think back to that night in Brooklyn when she boldly kissed me, I feel so grateful that she grabbed the wheel.
A. Wiggin is a writer living in Melbourne.