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‘I’m attracted to women but have been sleeping with men for years – how do I start living authentically?’

Ask Roe: I’m drawn back to meeting men in bars, because it’s so much easier than trying to meet women

Dear Roe,

I’m a woman in my early 20s and I’ve recently come out as gay to my friends and family which was one the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, because for years I struggled with this part of me. I lived such a heteronormative lifestyle and I was quite promiscuous in college, most people would have known me as someone who played the field. I was always chatting to a few men and would meet at least one man a week for a “hook up”. This went on for years. I was so ashamed of being gay that I hid it so well, but engaging in unfulfilling sexual relationships that left me empty started taking a heavy toll on my mental health. I was going from relationship to relationship and would have to end it when they talked about marriage and children. The thought of being married to a man scared me so much that I had to come out.

Fortunately all of my friends and family have accepted me, however I am constantly being drawn back to that lifestyle when I’m out with friends in a bar to just meet a man – it’s easier and requires no effort. I realise I’ve still got this internalised homophobia and I find it so hard to meet women in Ireland because there’s a very small community, I don’t know how to move on and live my authentic life.

I’m so sorry that you’ve had a really hard few years, filled with unfulfilling connections, some self-loathing and denial, and a constant sense of fear of your true self-being discovered. It sounds like it’s been a time of real inner turmoil and acting out of alignment with what you really want, which can be so difficult. That’s why I’m also so thrilled for you that you’ve come out to the people who are important to you, and are taking these big steps towards living more truthfully and authentically. There is pain to be worked through, but there’s also so much joy awaiting you.


A big part of realising and accepting who you are, for anyone, is not just learning about yourself, but unlearning. It’s about recognising the internal and external forces that have shaped parts of you and untangling them, so that you can grow into the most authentic version of yourself. This is true for people of all genders, sexualities, ages, and backgrounds. Many women spend their lives working to understand the ways sexism and misogyny has forced them to shrink down their desires or objectify themselves. Men can come to recognise the ways patriarchy pressures them to feel powerful through forms of domination and power, creating pressure to find their worth through physical strength, social or economic power, and making them feel unworthy for showing vulnerability. Self-acceptance and growth can require saying goodbye to the parts of you that clung to those rules, and making room for more honest self-exploration and expression.

For LGBTQ+ people, this process can involve looking at the ways compulsory heterosexuality has shaped them. Compulsory heterosexuality is a system of oppression that denies people’s sexual self-determination by presenting heterosexuality as the sole model of acceptable sexual and romantic relationship. The term compulsory heterosexuality (or “comphet”) was popularised by feminist writer and poet Adrienne Rich in her 1980 essay Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence, and refers to the way that Western culture is deeply heteronormative, structuring our societies around straight people and assuming that everyone is straight until proven otherwise.

Comphet affects everyone, including straight people, in various ways. Rich particularly looked at the ways comphet socially conditions queer women to view their own lives through a heterosexual lens, making them look at interactions with men as the path to romantic or sexual connections, and ultimately happiness, as heteronormativity repeatedly shows us that straight marriage and children is the ultimate goal of life. It can make queer women look to men for validation, social acceptance and romantic and sexual experiences, even as these interactions feel disconnected.

It sounds like viewing men as your source of self-validation, having casual sexual interactions with men, and being in relationships with men until they became serious, were some ways that comphet played out in your life. You felt internal and external pressure to fill a particular idea of a straight woman and were trying to keep yourself safe by playing by the rules of a heteronormative society. But you were also trying to protect yourself emotionally, which is why you didn’t want to commit to relationships with men. These connections offered you social protection and allowed you to visibly play the role of a straight person, when deep down you knew this wasn’t what you wanted or needed.

Going against your needs and desires for so long sounds really difficult, and it’s going to be really important for you to get a supportive, LGBTQ+ friendly therapist to help you work through these experiences, and get you to a place where you relearn how to recognise and respect your own needs and desires, set healthy boundaries, and come to find validation and acceptance from sources other than straight men. It’s also going to be important to work on self-acceptance; not just of your sexuality but of your previous actions. Your letter sounds like you’re being very hard on yourself for the very understandable ways you tried to keep yourself safe.

In terms of finding community, I promise you that it exists, but your idea of what is needed from you might have to change. As you’ve experienced, being a young woman on the straight nightlife scene can mean that men come to you, and you’ve probably been comfortable engaging with people because you’ve been around the script and playbook of straight scenes for so long. Meeting other LGBTQ+ people and interacting with that scene may require some active effort from you. You may also find that you’re nervous – which is absolutely natural. You’re entering new spaces, meeting new people and exploring a different side of yourself. Trust me, no one will understand these nerves more than other LGBTQ+ people, many of whom will have been through very similar experiences to you, and have had to find each other. You’re not alone.

Look for LGBTQ+ online spaces, social groups, events, nightclubs, sports teams, theatre and film events. Go to whatever event aligns with your interests. Bring a friend if you need some moral support, but remember your overall aim: you’re going to try meet new people. Go into these spaces prepared to try chat to someone new, just as friends. All you’re doing now is getting comfortable and laying down the groundwork for future connections with people, striking up some conversations, asking about other events and nights, and getting the lay of the land a bit. Don’t be afraid to tell people that you’re new to the scene – everyone has been there and will likely be happy to chat with you, give you some recommendations for more places to go, and maybe introduce you to some people.

This may feel nerve-racking, but remember: you’re nervous because this is important. You know that this is you moving into spaces and connections that will be good for you, and let you be your authentic self. Your previous interactions were in your unhappy comfort zone of compulsory heterosexuality, and they made you feel deeply unfulfilled. Now, you’re moving towards endless opportunities for happiness, authenticity, friendship, connection and even romance. You’re moving towards the life you want and deserve, and after years of forcing yourself to accept unhappiness, this may feel daunting. Breathe deep, feel the fear – and take those first steps to your more authentic life.