It's Not Always Black & White by Kara Tudor
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been attracted to men. I never questioned this. I remember my crushes in high school distinctly. One of them was a huge Insane Clown Posse fan, painted face and all. Another was into grunge and garage bands. Then there’s the one who had narcolepsy and would fall asleep in study hall. It was so cute. So many interesting fellas fell in-between. I have a handful of ex-boyfriends; the musicians, the married-but-separated-one who cheated on me with his wife, the one with schizophrenia that I spent Valentine’s Day with in the mental ward of the hospital. My long-term relationships have been with all guys, always guys. I even almost married the Southern one way back when.
Black and white.
When I moved to northern Wisconsin and (finally) started college at 24 years old, things started to slowly turn grey-er. I made queer friends, joined my first LGBTQ+ social club on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus called The Alliance – a student organization for LGBTQ+ students and their allies. It was then that I began to see cis-women, lesbians, and androgynous folks differently. I started to notice how my eyes were drawn to slim hips, and how their jeans hugged their bodies. I noticed how their lips seemed more inviting than a cis-man’s. I concentrated on how the softness of feminine voices sounded. Honestly, it all happened so quickly... This change in what caught my eye. Still my mind, and my bed, focused on cis-men. All guys, always guys. I was but a mere Alliance member identifying as a straight-ally, new to the group. I was seeing a guy casually during this time, on and off, dates here and there – and I thought I was straight.
I never grew up really giving it a lot of thought. I do remember being extremely interested in Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” music video in 2002, and I knew why. She was a babe in it. I understood that, but I didn’t realize exactly why I kept watching it over and over and over again because I did the same thing to Josh Hartnett movies (Hellooo, Pearl Harbor).
I never made the connection. I didn’t realize then that I was attracted to both women and men. I didn’t know back then that bisexuality was even a thing I could identify with. I knew the label, but I didn’t have any friends in the queer community (that I knew of) and therefore never gave it more thought.
We met in 2012.
After joining The Alliance, I met Jewleah. Our small group of queer and allied students met once, maybe twice a month during the academic year. Jew was the Alliance President. So here comes this confident, smiley, charismatic person who takes charge of each Alliance meeting. They put on fun activities and start important conversations. They’re empathetic, and kind, and understanding to everyone they come in contact with. They’re patient with everyone who walks into their office in the Gender Equity Center. I was drawn to them the moment I met them.
They had a girlfriend; this shut-off person who couldn’t even muster up a respectful hello when I introduced myself to her one day in the center. I had come in to just be around Jew – I was doing that a lot more often during that time, just coming in to be there, to see them, though they never really caught on as to why. So I’m in there, and I see The Girlfriend is in there, and something inside of me explodes. This distinct feeling of jealousy, but not the ugly kind. The kind that tells you that you want to know everything about this girl because you want to know, for some reason, if anything about you is anything like them. Then maybe, just maybe, the President of The Alliance student organization might notice you.
But our 'conversation' faltered after my introductory hello. The Girlfriend brushed me aside. Jew and I talked, we laughed about things I don’t remember. The Girlfriend sat sullen and quiet in the chair across from us. It was the day that I knew something was different, though. I couldn’t get Jew out of my head. I went to class and heard their laugh and it would make me smile. I couldn’t concentrate on taking notes. I counted down the hours until I could go back into the center to see if they were working, and if they weren’t I’d leave feeling let down. I wanted to see them. I had such a strong desire to be around them again and again, and I thought I was going crazy. I felt crazy.
Jew was unlike anyone I had ever met before... Beautiful, insanely smart, ambitious, super funny. After a few months of Alliance meetings, something in me shifted. I had had a crush on a girl in the club, who rarely showed up, who reeked of arrogance. But she was this mysterious, androgynous, angsty lesbian. You know the one, the first lesbian a “straight” girl always gets a crush on (See: Ruby Rose, Katherine Moennig, Kristin Stewart).
But this girl turned out to be boring and superficial. There was nothing there, and I my mind kept coming back to Jewleah. Maybe it was because they had broken up with their girlfriend by then, maybe it was because we were in The Alliance so often together, maybe it was because our sense of sarcasm was so similar, maybe it was because they were everything a super-hot androgynous person looks like PLUS the awesome personality and sense of humor to go with it. Or maybe… maybe it just was.
There was something different about Jew. When I was around them, I was nervous with excitement. I questioned my sexuality even more. Jew was this charming, genderless person always in the cutest plaid pants and snow boots that seemed too big for their already big feet. When I found out they broke up with their girlfriend, I tried to find every excuse to be more around them. It felt wrong, trying to get someone’s attention when they were heartbroken. But I wanted to be there for them, comfort them, maybe smell their hair a little bit (they always smelled like coconut). I felt weird and I acted weird and I knew why, but couldn’t come right out and say it. Realizing you’re bisexual can be an odd experience, because it can be very easy to brush aside this new identity for a long time before realizing that you're capable of being in love with more than one gender. It's kind of scary, because society makes it so.
We got close over a semester. They asked for my number and I gave it to them. I would get excited every time they would text me. When they added me on Facebook, I stalked their whole page. I looked at every single photo – and they had hundreds upon hundreds in their albums going all the way back to high school, when in my high school days the internet was comprised of Myspace. I looked forward to sending them funny memes, we started inside jokes with each other, and suddenly thoughts of them filled every quiet moment of my day.
It wasn’t me who made anything happen. If it had been up to me, I would’ve been too shy to say or do anything. But one day after an Alliance meeting, Jew asked me if I’d like to come back to campus and study. I instantly said yes! I sped home, chain-smoked out of nervousness, changed into something casually cute that would show off my assets (aka butt), and sped back to campus to meet them in the library. This was going to be the first time we were going to hang out, alone, just the two of us.
That library. Oh, that library. It was the first place we ever started to hang out. At first, we would actually study. We would talk a bit here and there, do our homework, read our textbooks. I would steal glances at them, thinking about how adorable they were. I’d stare at their hands out of the corner of my eye and imagine having the confidence to just grab it and hold it, interlocking our fingers. I would feel light-headed every time they made eye contact with me. Oh, their big blue eyes. In those moments I didn’t think about them being a man or a woman or anything like that, it didn’t matter to me in those study rooms. They just gave me such strong butterflies, I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t sleep. They were all I thought about, every single day.
Eventually when the library would close, we’d extend our study dates to the student union for an extra hour. By that time we usually stopped studying and would watch YouTube videos, talk about science, or just get to know each other. I remember one time we bonded over Tegan & Sara, and watched a bunch of their music videos. I remember telling Jew how much I had a crush on Tegan, the first time I ever hinted to them that I was bisexual (something I was just recently officially admitting to myself).
I don’t really remember how long these study dates went on. The joy of that time, and the realization that I was falling in love with one of my newest friends, who was becoming one of my best friends, was overwhelming enough to kind of blur that time together in my memory today. Our study dates ended up being longer and much more social. We saw each other almost every single day. Once I realized how in love I was with them, I started to become unable to talk to them normally and was so timid around them and I didn't know why. How did I just suddenly change how I interacted with them?
When we would go to Alliance meetings I would purposely sit next to them. Our legs or feet or arms or hands would find ways to touch one another, gently… through the exchange of cards while cheating in Apples to Apples, to the subtle footsie-play under the table, to sitting so close the skin on our arms would brush. I never thought it meant anything to them, but my body felt electric inside every time it would happen. At the time I was this straight-appearing, realizing-bisexual, cat-loving-science-nerd-punk-rock girl who smoked cigarettes and swore too much. How would Jew ever be interested in me in that way? I was older, more-boring, and more-new at 'this.' Why would they want that?
I constantly replayed conversations we had, moments we shared, trying to see if they could at all possibly be into me the way I was into them. It used to be all guys, always guys… until suddenly it wasn’t. Suddenly, there was something else: Jewleah. Jew, who appeared in the darkness beneath my eyelids, in the stars of my dreams every single night. Pretty soon, the guy I was casually seeing had heard around campus about Jew and I hanging out so much, and when confronted about it I let him down gently (ie: “I think I like this girl. I’m gonna pursue that instead. K, byeee.”). Then it became Jew, always Jew.
One day between Thanksgiving and Christmas one of our mutual friends, Jen, decided to bake cookies for an event The Alliance was putting on. I was driving home after an Alliance meeting when I received a call. It was Jew, and they were asking if I wanted to come to Jen’s hall and help out. I said yes, and drove to the dorms and met up with them in the basement kitchen to start baking. This was when I first realized that maybe, just maybe Jew had a crush on me too. They would flirtatiously throw flour in the air towards me, bump me softly with their hip, and seemed to always stand a little too close for just being friends. At times they would come up and grab me, playfully, from behind. Though my heart was ecstatic at the idea, my brain told me that no, Jew was flirtatious with almost everyone. It’s just who they are. They’re cuddly and touchy-feely with people they’re close with. We were, of course, drinking wine that night so it came to a point that I was thinking it was just the wine, while we sat closely on a futon in our friend’s dorm, as everyone else around us got high, and we took funny pictures on my laptop.
Eventually we realized we had drank too much wine to drive home in the starting snowstorm, so we made a bed out of blankets on the hard floor together. I couldn’t sleep. I could feel them close to me, their breath giving me chills as I could feel the warmth on my neck. I could smell the coconut of their hair. Jew shushed, jokingly, at every sound out in the hallway. We giggled together at the sounds our friends made in their drunken sleep. I don’t remember how long we stayed awake, or what we talked about. The only thing I remember is the shushing, the giggles, and then Jew turning towards me and whispering, “Can I kiss you?” I was taken by surprise. I think I just nodded, I couldn’t even find words. And so they did. Tenderly they kissed me once. Twice. A few more times. I was so elated and surprised that I just snuggled into them to get it to stop. My heart pumped so hard in my chest. I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know what to think. I couldn’t stop smiling, but I couldn’t bring myself to keep kissing them. My brain was full of a mix of emotions, mostly positive, but a little bit of an internal freak-out was occurring inside of me. I had wanted this for so long that my reaction was shocking. I don’t think I got a blink of sleep that night.
The next morning the world was covered in a beautiful, freshly laid snow. Everything sparkled. I felt like an entirely different person. I don’t even remember the rest of that day, but somehow it was decided that Jew’s tiny-beater-car would never make it back over the bridge to Duluth to go home, so they came home with me, where we hung out, listened to music, and fell asleep when night fell again. And after that our study dates would end with Jew coming over, us creating playlists through iTunes, and spending the night at my house.
Now Jew had been out and honest since high school, and they were patient with me. They never pressured me to put a label on my sexual identity, or our relationship. I wasn’t officially out yet at this time, though people were figuring it out. I didn’t quite know if I really was bisexual or simply a straight woman who had fallen in love with someone assigned female at birth. What was my label? Did there have to be a label? What was our label? Was I selfishly pushing Jew back in the closet because I couldn’t be open about our blooming relationship in public? I knew then that I had to tell my family and friends. I knew this wasn’t a phase. I knew I was in love with this person, and I never wanted to push them away, I want to hold their hand out in public, I wanted to scream it from the rooftops.
At this time, I was living with my brother and sister-in-law. One morning my brother asked me shortly after Jew had left, “Sooo your study partner spends the night now?” and he smirked. I didn’t have to “come out” to him. He just knew. He told my sister-in-law, and she was in disbelief. “No way!” she told him, amused. They were both so good with it, it was nothing new, as if nothing big had happened. But something big had happened. I fell in love, and then suddenly after that, Jew was just there, in our lives, forever.
We married in 2017.
Jewleah is the love of my life. When I met them, I fell for them fast and hard, without any indication that they were also falling for me at the same time (but thought I was just a straight ally in The Alliance). Even now, I don’t know how Jew gathered up the courage to ask to kiss me that night. But I do know that I am a cis-woman, who was, and still is, sexually attracted to men, and to women. I also know that I am very much attracted to, in love with, and happy with a non-binary, born female, trans person. How I got here was magical. It was fate. And now, because of Jew, I know that it is perfectly normal and okay to be who I am. No one should have to justify love. Love transcends all boundaries and all labels. It’s not defined by those we have slept with before, those we have dated before, or those who we have loved before we loved each other.