0 In Interviews/ LGBTQ+

I Came Out As A Lesbian While I Was Married To A Man.

A photo of Nadia taken for The Pussy Project, a pro-Hillary art project by photographer Helena Price during the 2016 election.

If you were married to a man, and then over time realized you may be attracted to women, how would you navigate this? Obviously, there is no easy answer. There are many feelings, people, sometimes children, and a household to consider and in one instant- everything could change.

And for my friend Nadia, it did. Her life was turned upside down as she did the previously unthinkable, and opened up to her (ex) husband after realizing that she was attracted to women. Her bravery, self-realization, and honesty is awe inspiring and inspirational to say the least. Her story is emotional, but one I’m incredibly excited and proud to share. In an effort to help others who may be going through something similar, I interviewed Nadia about her experience. This is what she had to say…

Tell me about your history with your ex-husband, just like the hard facts. How long were you married? How long did you know him? What was your marriage like? Etc.

Our marriage was comfortable, and full of warmth and care. We started dating in college, at the start of our sophomore year, and we were together for almost 12 years. 

What I remember most now is how much I loved his company. He was creative and thoughtful and curious about everything. We could sit and talk for hours. We were married for six years, and even the hard years at the end of the marriage had a comfort and ease to them.           

At what point during your marriage did you realize something wasn’t right? 

I realized something wasn’t right in early 2014, over nine years into our relationship, when he told me a series of secrets he’d been hiding that undermined everything I knew and experienced of our marriage. 

Those secrets, and the pain of them, pushed me to look at how I’d changed from the person I was when we first started dating.

They made me re-examine everything.

I tend to be a very controlled person, and without necessarily realizing it, I started to let my mind go where it wanted to go.      

I remember, early that spring, I was meeting with a woman I was just getting to know. She sat down and folded her arms behind her head, so casually confident, and for the first time in my life, I lost all control. My heart was beating so hard I was sure she could hear it, and I blushed a deep red. I have no idea what I said in that conversation, and I couldn’t get my heart to stop racing for an hour after. I was so taken aback; I had no idea what to make of it.

That happened again with another woman shortly after — a lesbian singer I met at a conference. She smiled and winked at me, just an offhand glance, and my heart was beating so fast that my hands were shaking. Those were the early signs that made me start to question. 

Nadia at Jayne’s Beard event, a queer women’s supper club in NYC.

How did you differentiate between him just not being the right guy for you vs. realizing you were attracted to a different gender? 

My attraction to women felt like something totally separate from my marriage. I think the problems in the marriage made me open to my feelings for women, but it felt like discovering something that had always been true and seeing it for the first time. Like the moment you see a Magic Eye and the picture is suddenly clear.   

There were other times in our marriage when I did wonder if he was the right guy for me, but those times felt different. I’d usually be thinking, “Oh, if only I was with [insert anyone], then we wouldn’t be having this problem and everything would be better.” That kind of magical thinking was about a comparison, about wishing for something I was missing in the marriage and idealizing people who looked perfect because I didn’t yet know their flaws. 

I didn’t make a comparison between him and women, or imagine that being with them would resolve something I lacked in the marriage. I just desired them, separately and overwhelmingly. 

Was there a woman in particular that you found yourself drawn to or did you just have feelings towards women in general?

A combination of both. There was a specific woman I had very strong feelings for during the time I was questioning, and there were also a lot of other, briefer attractions toward women that I felt during that time. It feels so cheesy to call it an awakening, but that whole time felt like finally waking up to myself.  

When was the first time you can remember thinking about a woman as more than friends? Like had the thought ever entered your mind during your teenage years or was this completely out of left field?

I was twelve the first time I remember falling for a girl. I had this all-consuming crush on her for the entirety of seventh grade, and I did anything I could to spend more time with her. Some of the excuses I found still make me laugh — she told me once that she liked these chocolate protein bars my dad would eat after workouts, and I’d bring them to her whenever I could, just for a reason to talk to her. Later, I realized they’re basically what Cady Heron feeds Regina George when she wants to make her fat!

All through college, while my friends had crushes on cute guys in their classes, I had crushes on girls in my classes. I kept them to myself because they felt secret or important somehow, and I called them “girl crushes” because that was the language I’d heard. I knew that they made me nervous, and I would go to class just to see them, but somehow I never considered that those feelings could mean something more.

In today’s world, I probably would have come out a lot earlier. But when I was growing up, very few people were out. The visible gay women were mostly butch, so that was my image of a gay woman. I’m very feminine, and femme lesbians were so invisible that it didn’t even occur to me that it was possible for me to be gay. I thought that if I wasn’t butch, then I must not be gay. It’s hard to imagine a life or identity you’ve never seen modeled for you, so I found other explanations for what I felt. 

How did you come to terms with deciding what to do about your marriage? How long did this process take?

It took me about a year and a half to tell my husband and another six months to leave. It was terrifying to consider the possibility of starting over. I had never been a single adult, and I had no idea what coming out or being gay would mean for my life. I hate that kind of uncertainty.

Before I came out to my husband, I needed the chance to process what I felt on my own. It’s a huge bombshell to drop on a marriage, so I wanted to share it carefully, and that early exploration also felt very private. I talked to a couple of trusted friends and a therapist, but there were always some things I didn’t feel comfortable sharing. I found books and movies about gay women really helpful during that time because they gave me the private freedom to start to picture a life for myself. They were a safe space for me to imagine myself in that story.   

Eventually, it felt too big and too important to keep to myself. I felt like I was choking on this truth that I couldn’t hide anymore. I decided to tell him as soon as I felt like there was no other option.   

Nadia at Elliot Bay Bookstore in Seattle, WA

Ultimately, how did you find the courage to make this change for yourself? What was the tipping point?

I didn’t feel courageous in the moment. I felt confused, overwhelmed, and scared. It seemed crazy to start over in my 30s, with no idea where to begin, just as my friends were all starting to have kids. But the feeling that I wanted to be with women grew until I couldn’t ignore it. I realized it gradually, and then all at once, and then I couldn’t un-know it. It’s hard to keep that bottled up.  

For awhile, we thought we could still make the marriage work, and I vividly remember the moment we realized we couldn’t. We were sitting on the grass in a small hillside park near our apartment, and he started asking me about desire. I’d been thinking a lot about it, trying to understand that side of myself, and I was coming to realize that I desire women in a way that I have never desired men — in fantasy or reality. When I was finally honest with myself and with him about that, we knew we had to end it. I watched the realization wash over his face, and it was heartbreaking and freeing at the same time.       

When the time was right, what did you tell your husband? How did you tell him and what was his reaction?

I told my ex-husband I was attracted to women at a Santa Monica shopping mall wearing this awful salmon-colored, long-sleeve running shirt. It wasn’t exactly the moment I’d imagined, but it felt like there was an opening to tell him, so I took it. It was such a stressful thing to say; I remember I was shaking. 

I told him I was having feelings for women and trying to understand what it meant. I said I was still making sense of it all, and I wanted to talk to him about it. I asked him if we could figure out what it meant for our marriage together.  

His first instinct was to tell me he supported me, which is a huge credit to his character. He approached the whole thing with curiosity, asking about what I felt, how I came to the realization, and what it meant to me. As we talked about it more, he seemed almost relieved, like something finally clicked that hadn’t quite made sense.  

What was it like taking on a new identity in your community? Were people shocked? How did you handle all of this? 

It was surprisingly easy to tell people, and everyone was so supportive. They took it in stride and moved on like that was the new normal. I thought it would be a bigger deal, but I think it was a much bigger deal to me than it was to them. 

It was much harder to feel like a queer identity actually belonged to me. I felt like I didn’t have a right to call myself a lesbian when I’d been with men for most of my life, and I felt like my marriage was something I needed to hide. I worried that I’d be looked at like a straight girl having a late experimental phase. It’s taken me several years to start embracing my own identity and journey, and to realize that no one is judging me. 

Are you still dealing with people finding out?

I am still constantly dealing with people just finding out. I had no idea that coming out would be a never-ending process, or that it’s possible to run into so many people you haven’t seen in awhile. At first, I would blush as I told my story, which was really embarrassing, but it got less awkward with time. I started to feel more comfortable talking about being gay as I felt like it became a more ordinary part of my life. 

Nadia and her girlfriend, Nikki on vacation in Mexico

A handful of women have written me thinking that they might be attracted to women, but they’re not sure. They aren’t sure if they’re just unhappy with their husbands, or if they’re into women. Most haven’t had any experience with women, but they feel some attraction towards them. They want to “figure it out” but also don’t want to cheat on their husbands. What advice would you give these women?

The uncertainty is really hard. I’d never been with a woman before I left my husband, and my attraction to them felt like this totally untested hypothesis. After almost two years of questioning what I felt and why, I was pretty certain that I was right, but I still didn’t know for sure.

It felt like a lot to give up for a hunch. 

We briefly tried an open marriage, but I never acted on it. I was scared of my inexperience, and I didn’t feel comfortable approaching women while I was still married. I found it much more helpful to have conversations with gay women about what they felt and to read others’ coming out stories. 

Rewriting your own identity and coming to understand it in a new light is a deeply personal process. Give yourself the permission and freedom to do whatever feels right for you, and ignore what anyone says you “should” do. They have no idea. This moment is about you figuring out and trying to understand a fundamental truth about who you are. Only you know what you need to do that. 

I’ll be honest: I didn’t feel sure until the first time I was actually with a woman, after the marriage ended. It was a big risk to leave without that certainty, but my gut was telling me, forcefully, that it was the right thing to do. Listen to your gut. How strong is that voice? What is it saying? Your mind will walk you in all kinds of circles, and your gut will tell you the truth.  

If you do choose to leave, it’s heartbreaking to lose a marriage and thrilling to discover yourself anew, and going through both at the same time is messy and complicated. The year I left my husband and started dating my now-partner was a mix of the most profound loss and the most ecstatic joy I have ever experienced in my life. It was disorienting and all-consuming, and I may not have been the best co-worker/friend/daughter/sister during that time. That is okay. Just do what you can, and be gentle with yourself.

I know kids weren’t involved in your situation, but are you able to offer any advice to women where kids are part of the picture?

I can’t speak to how difficult this must be as a mother, but speaking as a daughter, I’d want my mom to be happy and to be able to live as herself. 

What resources do you wish you had while going through your journey, if any?

Early 30s is an awkward stage of life to come out, and New York can be a very big, very intimidating city. I didn’t know how to start making gay friends, and I felt so out of place in the gay community. There were all these terms I didn’t know, stereotypes I’d never heard, and shared experiences I’d never had. For about a year, hanging out in queer spaces made me feel like an alien lost in an alternate universe. An orientation day (pun intended) would have been very helpful. 

Nadia and her girlfriend, Nikki at a friend’s wedding.

Was there someone or something in particular that helped you process all of this?

There were two people — one before I came out, and one after I came out. 

The first was a co-worker. She’d been out since college, and we were working together a lot around the time I was questioning. She was so open to answering all my vague, probably transparent questions. I’m very shy and private when I’m processing something vulnerable, like a turtle that will go back in its shell if you make any sudden moves, and she never pushed me beyond my comfort zone. She let me quietly question without making a big deal of it. I am eternally grateful to her for her gentleness and honesty, and without her friendship, I’m not sure that I would have found the courage to take such an enormous risk. 

The second was my first (and current) girlfriend. I discovered so much of myself with her, and she treated me with enormous care. She knew exactly when to push me and when to be gentle, and she was endlessly patient with me. She brought me into her world and taught me how it worked, and she helped me start building a community. It’s incredibly vulnerable to come out, and she showed me such extraordinary care. She comments sometimes on how easily I’ve come to embrace my identity as a gay woman, and so much of that is because of her. She made me feel safe to find and be myself.         

Does marriage mean anything different to you now? Do you think you will ever get married again?    

I still see marriage as a partnership that lasts for as long as it’s right. My ex-husband will always be one of my great loves, and the fact that we grew into people who needed different things from life feels okay to me. We were two young kids when we met, and we helped each other grow up. I think being a great partner or spouse doesn’t always mean making it last forever, especially in very young couples. It takes a hell of a partner to help their spouse grow into the person they really are, even if that means losing them.  

I do want to get married again; I like the partnership and stability of marriage. I want someone who still loves me when I’m old and cranky, who can look back fondly on a time when I was young and only sometimes cranky. There’s an intimacy and comfort that comes from knowing another person so well, and I like that more than I like the thrill of the early rush. 

Now that you are on the “other side” so to speak, is there anything you wish you would have done differently during your journey?

I’m sure I could have done a million things differently, and I definitely wish that I’d figured all of this out much earlier. But I did what I was ready for, when I was ready for it. That’ll have to do.  


An enormous thank you to Nadia to sharing her journey. If you would like to contact Nadia, you can find her on Instagram @NadiaRawls or on Twitter at NadiaRawls. And as always, thanks for reading!


You Might Also Like

No Comments

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.