Two months ago, I moved to the northeast for work, so I could see what it was like to live outside my southern home state for the first time. I’m 26 years old, and this post-pandemic job felt like the return to life I needed. I was determined to let go and let the universe guide me toward what was mine. And what I wanted to be mine was a husband who made me and my family happy and a place to settle down. I wanted to begin the end of my 20-something fun and enter true married adulthood.
I had several discussions over the past 18 months with my mother about the photos on my dating profile I would take, the clothes I’d buy for date night, etc. I would listen to podcasts and read articles and listen to female dating coaches about what I needed to do to increase my chances of getting a man. I was looking at therapists to help me get through my trauma so that I could love more fully, and hopefully stop doing this thing where as soon as I find a progressive man who would be what the Gen Z kids call a “malewife”, I’d lose interest completely.
Everything was set in stone. I had laid the foundation of the small house I built and was preparing to send RSVPs to its housewarming. My plan was to budget for new clothes, new hair and continue losing the pandemic pounds I gained. Sure, I knew how to be desired and how to be wanted. I knew what would get a man to like me. The house of my expectations and desires were built and I was ready to invite people in.
My first few days of work were light. I had met a few of my coworkers and saw a man I could end up with. We were both nerds, he was taller than me, decently attractive, sensitive, funny. This could work. I knew the path it would follow. We had clicked over a conversation about Super Smash Bros. He was dating and out of a four-year relationship. I could see the next two to five years ahead of me. This was going to be easy. I had crushes on guys every three to five years, and this would be one of them. The door to my house was open for him.
Then she walked in.
She walks over to her seat in my house’s kitchen with confidence only found in 13-year-old boys or men who know they own the world and sets my house on fire.
My desire for her seized me within a week of meeting her. My stomach began to hurt if I couldn’t speak to her. I was transfixed by her. My male coworker could have been a bag of apples at that point because nothing else mattered, no one else mattered, and no man mattered. I had never desired anyone as much as I desired her.
My house was on fire and I didn’t care.
Three weeks after meeting her, I called my mother, panicked. At this point, every time I spoke to her it felt like I was having deja vu or that I had known her for years before meeting her. I was following hot butch girls on IG and Tiktok (something I never did with men) and my attractions to men all but disappeared. I was having the time of my life, but also terrified. What did all of this mean? I had described myself as a heteroromantic bisexual for more than a decade. My love for this girl was obsessive at this point, and I was worried I had gone crazy. I thought my deja vu and glimpses of the “future” were a sign of hallucinations or delusions. I explained everything to my mother and she laughed.
“That’s what falling and being in love is like, especially if you see yourself in another person. You probably found the kind of person you were always meant to be with.”
While I was relieved that I wasn’t crazy, fear set in. If this is what falling in love looked like, this was the first time in my 26 years I had ever been in love. And if this is what falling in love feels like, then what the fuck have I’ve been feeling this whole time? How did I spend my entire life not experiencing this? So what did I feel for all of my boyfriends in the past?
To women who love women, the answer should be obvious. To everyone else, what I had experienced was something called compulsory heterosexuality. Compulsory heterosexuality, or comphet for short, is a term popularized in Adrienne Rich’s 1980 essay Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence. Basically, it’s when a lesbian believes she’s attracted to men by societal pressures (particularly ones that say that women’s role is to end up with a man and cultivate their lives to being good normal women). I became familiar with the term last year through Contrapoints’ video Shame, where she came out as a trans lesbian. When she articulated that she confused her desire to be socially accepted with attraction to men, I was seen for the first time. When she said, “It’s like we have to be Stepford wives or cis people will put us in camps.” I related to that on a near-spiritual level. But while she’s a white trans lesbian, I am a black queer woman.
And comphet looks different for black women.
There are entire essays, books, and careers made on speaking the way black women’s womanhood has been denied, disrespected and ignored. However, the way that we are socially mandated to fit into white beauty standards (especially if we are in the middle classes and higher), and how that intersects with queerness is not as common.
As a queer black woman, comphet looks different when you’ve been inundated with messages about your undesirability your whole life, as well as the messaging for women across the board that our true value lies in how many and what kind of men like us. When you see stats about lower marriage rates and high divorce rates, when you see parts of your community practically deify marriage and blame our social plight on women’s dating decisions, compulsory heterosexuality becomes a racial norm as well as a gender norm.
This doesn’t even get into the double bind that being a dark-skinned black woman while living under these social pressures. To be dismissed romantically(and gaslit about that dismissal) and then told that our wombs are needed to continue the race (and in particular to make dark-skinned black men who are the standard of beauty for black men) is a mindfuck. It is trying to make the best of an (at best) transactional relationship with our community.
Also, god help us all if you’re dark-skinned and end up with someone who isn’t black for whatever reason. I don’t even have to discuss the kind of vitriol, concern trolling, misogynoir and gaslighting that comes out every time a darker-skinned black female celebrity comes out with her non-black partner. She has failed at her duty as a black woman to end up with a black man.
Combining that with queerness, get you this: To be a black woman who loves women, and quite possibly interracially date other women, is to have thoroughly failed black womanhood.
And you know what?
I don’t fault myself or any other black female late bloomers like me dealing with the anxiety they have when working through their own history with comphet. We were raised to be pick-me’s who perform hyper-femininity to marry black men and have black children with them. We were raised that the only identity that we were allowed to fight for was blackness, and to forsake all other identities we had no matter how important to us those identities may be. We were raised to never choose our own joy and own happiness. So when you realize that the warm fuzzy feelings you get only seem to happen around other women and you realize that maybe, just maybe, you’ve been a lesbian all along (or at least have a preference for women), it’s terrifying.
I’m not gonna lie, I texted a friend in tears feeling as though I failed at womanhood because the word “lesbian” scared the shit out of me. But once I met *Nina and fell for her, there was no going back. I couldn’t unknow what I knew anymore. I knew that I was always meant to marry a woman, to build a life with a woman, and die with a woman. That my house was always meant to only be open to and house other women. That my difficulties “getting with the program” and understanding how men in relationships worked, came from the fact that I was literally trying to find a cis woman inside of a cis man.
So, if your reading this and thinking “Oh, I might feel the same way.” or start having questions, I welcome you to read The Lesbian Masterdoc, with a few added questions for black women.
Do you really want to be with a man (especially black men), or do you want to not reinforce stereotypes of undesirability? Do you really like black men or do you choose them because it’s the right thing to do for your race? Are you just putting up with black men because you don’t want “pink dick” or is it because you don’t want any dick at all?
There are more, but these are the few that stuck out to me during my own journey. I wish you good luck with yours. May we all build houses for those whom we truly love.
*Name has been changed to hide their identity