By April Bradford
I came out as a lesbian at twenty-three years old. At this age, I finally grew to feel comfortable within myself and with my outward identity. As a single, woman-loving-woman, I felt comfortable trying different styles without someone’s opinion pigeonholing me. I bought sweater vests, flannel and pants, like many ‘baby gays’. I tried cutting my hair shorter and coloured eyeliner. I tried anything and everything I wanted to and it was freeing. If I didn’t like how I looked, I could simply change but it all came back to what I thought.
For as long as I can remember, I haven’t found a style of clothing I felt comfortable in. There were clothes I was complimented in, sure. A cleavage-revealing dress at a party received cheering from some friends, a short dress received comments from men. I’ve tried dressing preppy, I’ve tried sporty, I’ve spent money on designer clothes but nothing ever made me feel like I was dressed as myself.
As I started to date women, I still gravitated towards a dress as a date outfit. I was stuck in my ways despite never feeling comfortable with my legs exposed. When I was roughly seven years old my parents said, I revolted against dresses and skirts and would only wear shorts. Sixteen years later and I understand where I was coming from. Back then, I knew what I was comfortable in and I asserted my opinion. As time went on, I forgot to listen to that voice telling me what I like.
I became single for the first time in years at twenty-two. Like many people in their early twenties, I wanted money and I wanted it fast so I joined a sugar baby website. I embarked on this endeavour at a time where my self-identity and self-worth were at an all-time low. I began to ignore my lesbianism and comfort within myself. I figured I’m a creative, well-read young woman, my conversation alone might warrant a cash reward from an older man who was lonely. Spoiler: I didn’t get paid a cent. After creating a profile, men were messaging me constantly, demanding my time and intruding on my personal life as I had to answer messages from my home. One sixty-year-old let me know that while I was pretty, he was too old for me. That didn’t stop others. There was no getting away from it. I felt trapped and I hadn’t even reached an arrangement with anyone, let alone been paid.
One man was quite young, only in his twenties and wanted a part-time girlfriend. By part-time, he wanted the fun stuff. You can fill in the blanks. What I remember most distinctly is his message requesting I wear a specific dress when I visit him. It was a dark blue dress with flowers on it, one I had previously felt quite pretty in. It was short and showed my cleavage almost excessively so it was clear why he chose it. I didn’t know what to say, I was the one who signed myself up to be purchased.
The next day, I was recognised at lunch with my mother at a café close to my home. I deleted the profile but I still have the dress hanging in my closet. When I go to wear it I think, what if someone recognises it? Am I safe? I wasn’t on the site for more than 24 hours, didn’t meet anyone and only exchanged polite conversation and I still don’t think I will ever be able to wear the dress again.
While I wanted money, I think I also liked the idea of men finding me so attractive that they paid me cash. I wanted validation. This validation was something I sought when dating as well. I spent so long trying to pick up hobbies that would make me more interesting, more attractive, to men instead of things that I enjoy. I started to learn other languages for men, politics, tried skateboarding, video games, misogynistic music and awful classical literature (No, Catcher in the Rye is not a good novel). I’ve agreed with controversial opinions and mmm-ed and ah-ed my way through conversations over drinks I didn’t even like. Have you ever chugged beer to impress someone? I have. Do I like beer? Not at all. At one point, I even changed my university degree to match my boyfriend and his friends. I never finished that degree and his friends and I never found anything mutual to talk about.
I’ve realised it’s hard to see your true self beyond the assumptions everyone has of you and the expectations you want to live up to. If you live your life trying to achieve every goal as soon as humanly possible—a wedding, riches, children, success—you forget to check in with yourself and whether you’re happy. Your true self, in my case at least, can be found when you are most alone. It’s a beautiful thing to sit in your silence and see what comes from it.
For me, I won’t ask my partner where to eat, what to wear or what to do. I know I’ll eventually figure it out because only we know our true feelings. Unfortunately for me, it took being single to realise I could decide by myself and my decisions surprised even me.
By the way, I donated the dress.
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April Bradford (she/her) is a UQ Creative Writing graduate. She works as an intern editor at Hunter Publishing, is a Pluvia Literary Magazine ambassador and co-founded The Lovers Literary Journal. Her CNF and poetry writing currently feature in Toronto zine 'Sapphic' and Brisbane’s Blue Bottle Journal, respectively. Her irregularly updated Instagram is @april_elisabet.