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Envying the anglerfish

Illustration by Nolan Loh
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BY EMILY PITTINOS

Published December 5, 2012

When I was 16, I had a panic attack in my high school’s cafeteria because I got the urge to push a beautiful ballerina against the menu-plastered bulletin board, grope her ass and feel her pulse under my tongue.

I shook my gaze from her tight body and stared at the linoleum floor. Blood slipped quickly past my ears; white-hot adrenaline seized my carotid artery and blasted my optical nerves. Holy shit. Holy. Shit. I thought, stumbling over to the soup station for a handful of oyster crackers. What if I’m gay? My life would be so totally over.

This wasn’t the first time I looked at a woman this way. When I was little, I worried that I was in love with an older neighbor girl named Hope. She was a Scandinavian variety of beautiful: storm-blue eyes, billowing blonde hair, thin but a little chesty. She might be a dance major now, at Duke or Bard, but at the time she lived down the street and I’d go out of my way to see her riding a bicycle into downtown Beulah, the little town in northern Michigan where we lived. At the time, I chalked this longing up to jealousy. Hope was gorgeous and I probably just wanted to be her, not be on top of her.

My feelings during the Ballerina Incident of 2009, I told myself, were no different. After tossing back a few packs of oyster crackers and a waxy granny smith apple, I felt better. In fact, in no time at all, I had convinced myself that my desire for the girl was pure envy. After all, I’d had sex with a bunch of men, and I was great at it. I really like dick, I told myself. Dick is great, the greatest. Everything is going to be OK.

So I continued to screw men. And yes, I really did love it. That following summer, I had my first orgasm while on top of a hairy jazz pianist with hands the size of Frisbees. However, the desire to bury my face between a woman’s legs continued to permeate my sexual consciousness, and it only became stronger as I became more confident as a sexual being.

I gave once-overs to women who slowly rose, glistening and bikini-clad, from lakes in Northern Michigan. Tipsy nights of mixed gender Spin-the-Bottle left me inventing complex fantasies of woman-heavy three ways. I developed a crush on “Mad Men” star January Jones.

By the time I got to college I was left wondering: Was I ambisextris? Heteroflexible? One of those attention-hungry chicks who arrive at college deciding to give girls a try? Was I a cry for help?

Admittedly, part of my confusion was based on my lack of experience with women. With men it was easy: If they hold eye contact, assume they’re interested unless obviously gay. With women, I felt like I was starting all over again.

I’d go to house parties in dingy basements with black lighting and rickety beer pong tables, and search for girls with figurative “WSW” stamps on their foreheads. How did I know if a passing graze was intentional or accidental? Even if a girl grinded with me on a drunken, half-lit dance floor, she could still be straight and trying to get a man’s attention. I needed there to be a designated girl-on-girl make-out corner, or the God of Gay Sex to cast my sights in the right direction.

More than that, I had to prepare myself for actually getting a girl into bed. The age old question — What do lesbians really do in the bedroom? — was hitting me hard. When my friend, a playwright from New York with the nape of her neck shaved, described her only lesbian experience, she shrugged her shoulders and said, “It was nice, like a full body massage.” This wasn’t enough information. I imagined purchasing suction cup dildos and strap-ons from Amazon.com, or wandering into the Safe Sex Store on South University Avenue only to leave with nothing a few minutes later.

Of course, I wasn’t just worrying about the sex. What if I found a lady soul mate on pride night at Necto, or in an empty café reading Bob Hicok and playing with her hair? Was I gay enough to fall in love with a woman? To come out of the closet? I thought about joining a bisexual support group or going to mixed-gender speed dating, but I was paralyzed by my own complication. Instead I stayed home and watched “The L Word,” trying to analyze the love scenes.

When that didn’t satisfy my inquisitive appetites, I took courses in sexuality, thinking academia could help me figure it all out. However, while my first sex professor, a 70-year-old lesbian with a smoke-lowered voice, flicked her laser pointer over unimpressive penises on ancient Greek statues and lectured about the Molly House Raids, I only learned more about the complex divides between hetero and homo. As PowerPoint slides about Oscar Wilde and Lady Chatterley flickered before me, the existence of bridges between the two sexualities seemed less and less possible.

When I read the “Symposium” a year later, I was only more confused. Plato’s theory on the creation of love seemed to cast out bisexuality altogether.


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