‘I Was a 4-Year Queer’: 15 Straight(ish) People on Their Gay Time in College

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Photo: Michael Gosbee/Getty Images

Throughout this week, the Cut explores college life, from politics and identity to parties, sex, and style.

A straight woman I know was asked by her boyfriend if she’d ever made out with a girl. “Uh, yeah,” she said. “I went to college.”

The LUG — Lesbian Until Graduation — is a long-standing cliché, but no one's story is as simple as that. College is a chance to learn about yourself. And part of what you learn is that you can’t always predict whom you’ll want to sleep with.

Here are 15 men and women whose college experiences took them away from heterosexuality and (sometimes) back again.

Some names and identifying information have been changed.

I fell head over heels.
My college boyfriend had moved away and I was really missing him. Over the summer, I went to work at a New Age conference center and I met this woman there and totally fell head over heels in love with her. She was charming and gentle and fun. She ended up moving back to college with me and living with me in my off-campus housing. I really enjoyed sex with her, so I thought, “I’m a lesbian!” But then … nope. I’d announced to my parents that I was gay and everything. My mom told me it was just a stage. That made me dig in my heels even more. I really thought I’d be with women from then on. But after we broke up, my next serious relationship was with a man, and I’ve just never fallen in love with another woman. I did go on one really bad date with a girl. We were hiking and she kept trying to read lesbian erotica to me — those things don’t go together! I’m married to a man now. The women I’ve been attracted to — except for my girlfriend, who was very feminine — have all been super-hard-core butch. I like really butch guys, too. I know that after an apocalypse, my husband could go into Prospect Park and kill dinner for us and we’d be fine.

One night with our tops off.
Early 20s, late in college. I had been to a feminist conference in Eugene, Oregon, where I met several lesbian women. Joanne was a carpenter. She was hot! I’d call us both pretty feminine. I have scarcely ever been as excited by the thought of making love with someone as I was with her. We made love the first time in our friend’s house on the floor. We spent one night with our tops off and one with our bottoms off, then the third time was the charm. We lived in different places and visited each other and traveled around Oregon. We had a nasty fight, threw dishes, and broke up. Crazy young women! I knew that I wasn't a lesbian for life. I had been fascinated by the idea of bisexuality. I was attracted to both sexes. I can still see and feel this about myself, although I haven’t had sex with a woman since then.

The best New Year’s Eve.
I was invited to a New Year’s party weekend at a Tahoe ski resort. I knew there would be a guy there who liked me and I liked him. I invited another guy, who was just a friend. Then that situation became confused because I hooked up a little with the second guy. So I was really nervous about the upcoming weekend. Which guy should I hook up with? I couldn't decide. Thankfully, the guy I invited brought another girl, and I ended up hooking up with her! When we arrived, she tried to learn to snowboard and fell and broke her wrist. I was in med school and knew her wrist was broken. Instead of going to the ER and ruining the NYE party, we splinted it with cardboard and went on partying. She was a trooper! I really appreciated that, plus she was hot, with brown hair and blue eyes. We all took ecstasy. Pretty epic. I think she kissed me first. I'm very shy with that, with guys too. She and I had a really good connection. We’re still friends years later. She’s married with kids. It was hands down the best New Year’s Eve ever.

I felt like the straight asshole.
I knew lesbians and gay guys as a youngster because my mom was an art professor. It was the '80s, and we were all listening to queer British music like Frankie Goes to Hollywood. This girl and I had a make-out thing in high school, and I also feel like I was sort of involved with my best friend at 14. We never did anything, but I wanted to kiss her. I fooled around with a couple girls in college. Then in grad school I went to a dance party at a gay friend’s loft in Alphabet City and I saw this woman. She was really hot — tall and very butch, short hair. I was wearing a cute dress. My hair was up in, like, a twist. We just started dancing, and it was electric. We had a couple of fun dates. We kissed on a bench in Union Square, but I don’t think it went much further. She was a seducer, for sure. And then there was this very nice older woman. We fooled around at my place, but I never went down on her. I held her while she masturbated. I felt sort of like an asshole. Then I blew her off to go to an art opening with a German guy. I had strong feelings for those women, but I had a hard time reciprocating sexually. I just like cock better! But I still feel a little queer in my heart.

I couldn’t wear that in daytime.
I had a really strong sense from family and the outer world that being out would be punished, that male homosexuality was such a failure. The message was that bi women could be hot, or just experimenting, but that bi men were weird. When I went to Oberlin I still had the sense that I really had to be straight. Then I completely drunkenly went home with a really queen-y, silk-bathrobe kind of guy. It was great, but … I just couldn’t wear that relationship in the daytime. I wasn’t comfortable with it. We stayed friends, and I told myself that my feelings about men were just sexual, not about closeness or affection or romance. I’ve wondered how much my own anxiety — my fear of being socially vilified — affects the way I recall that period. I did have a clandestine cruising phase, but I’ve mostly dated women since then. I’ve never tried to have a relationship with a guy, and since I’m in a committed relationship, I’m not gonna find out. I’ve been married to a woman for ten years. That we’d both had same-sex involvement was part of our initial attraction. I have it so easy as a middle-aged white guy married to a woman. I would never tell anyone I’m straight, though. I lived that lie too long.

The safety of an audience.
I grew up in the South then went to Washington State in Olympia. Sleater-Kinney went there. It was the riot-grrrl phase. Lesbianism was thought of as being really powerful. A lot of women I knew were strippers by choice. I probably didn’t experiment with girls until I was 20 or older. The first time I kissed a girl was in the backseat of a taxi. We ended up going home together. There were guys in the car, as well. People think girls do this to titillate guys, but I actually think it just made us feel safer, acting as if we were doing it for them — and we definitely had an audience — but we were really doing it for ourselves. Romantically, I’m more aligned with men, but I find women’s bodies more beautiful. For a while, that made me wonder if I were gay. But mostly, it didn’t affect my identity. It didn’t scare me. I was very curious, sexually, and had like a hundred lovers before I was 20. I probably fooled around and made out with around six women in college. I’m still friends with these people and still find them attractive, but we’re not at that point in our lives. I’ve been married for 18 years and have two kids. My husband and I have never strayed, but we did have a hot-tub party where I kissed girls. We had three other couples over and one couple wanted to go further, but the rest of us were like, “Uh-uh. That’s far enough.”

“Lick me raw.”
Very drunk. Evening out dancing and going home, regrettably sans-female companionship. My buddy was giving me a ride. One of our group's inside jokes was "Lick me raw." It was our go-to insult. I cannot remember the conversation up to that point, but I told him to lick me raw. He replied, "I would." After a second or two of shock, sexual frustration took over. So we went into a house under construction and traded oral sex on a large bolt of insulation (still wrapped in plastic). No hugging, no kissing, nothing like the companionship stuff I've had with the females in my life. Just going at it. He started on me first. I kept trying to imagine it was one of the girls I was interested in at the time. Working the fantasy. Instead, too much teeth. Also razor stubble was a fantasy breaker. My turn: Not as gross as I thought it would be; rather, I thought I did a very good job, trying to reproduce what I like. My one and only experience. Just not for me. We remained friends. He approached me a couple of times more but took the rejection well. He told me later that, after that, when he went out dancing, he didn't care if he went home with a girl or boy.

The ultimate sleepover.
I really wanted to have mind-blowing sex in high school, as sort of this ritual of cool, and I was repeatedly in a position to have sex with these amazing girls, but I was always so nervous I couldn’t get a hard-on. That made me think I was exclusively gay. So I was really excited to go off to college in London and experiment. At first, I only hooked up with men. My first boyfriend — when I was 18 — was a 42-year-old professor. When I came back from summer vacation, I found out he’d been hooking up with another student. I guess all our bookish conversation wasn’t the aphrodisiac for him that it was for me. What straight and gay men have in common is they’re men — they’re into the ego boost of the hunt, and all that — and I’m socially just much more attuned to women. So then I dated both men and women, and now I’ve had two long relationships with women. For me, a long-term, live-in relationship with a woman is like the ultimate sleepover for the chatty, sensitive little boy I was. I’m basically a gay best friend to my girlfriends. I’m not entirely monogamous with my current girlfriend. I sometimes kiss guys at clubs and trade videos with gay friends. My girlfriend and I talk about it. It’s such a strong impulse — for all men — to go out there and tally up conquests. I’ve found it better to look for a strategically optimal relationship, like the one I’m in, since I can be so honest with her.

I was the token straight girl.
I was a serious feminist and lefty at Harvard, and I thought it would be so great if I were a lesbian, too. I had a lot of political and theoretical interest in it. I did get a lot of crushes on power dykes in the lefty community. In my senior year, I was the token straight girl volunteering for a sexual orientation support group and ended up having a fling with a lesbian there. But I more or less concluded that I preferred boys. When I tried dating girls after that, I would end up sleeping with their brothers and stuff like that. I dated a lot of men and eventually married a man and had children. But I wasn’t very in touch with my emotional life. A lot of my sex with men felt like play-acting. Then, in my 40s, I fell in love with my best friend and we left our husbands for each other. Sexually, being with a woman is way better in every possible way for me. At this point in life, I’m just so much more connected to my desires. Maybe that’s just me growing up.

She ruined me.
I went to one of the Seven Sisters schools, and had all these powerful female professors — some of them nuns. Half the bathroom graffiti was about dykes. When I was 20, I met Lanie. I thought she was fantastic. So funny, smart, and beautiful — a tall, lanky, dark-haired Italian beauty. Our first kiss was in the rain, so romantic. I think she walked me home that evening and we kissed in a doorway. I can remember the light above. I’d had a steady boyfriend in high school who was older (and I would later have two husbands much older than me), but Lanie was my age. I liked her so much. My feeling is that Lanie could have been male or female — or in any skin at all — the gender doesn’t matter. Everyone should have a first love like that. Part of me thinks that, even now, at 52, it could still happen with a woman. It just never did again. She ruined me for life.

She taught me how to put on lipstick.
In grad school, I had a friendship with a lesbian that veered into romance. She had a fantastic sense of humor and literary talent, and that was appealing. Also, she was very slim, which has always been an elusive goal of mine. I remember that she taught me how to put on lipstick, and when I do so today I still hear myself thinking, “Don’t try this at home!” She made me feel beautiful, and I loved how soft she felt. It wasn’t that we were actually lovers but shared more of a dalliance, I think. A fun game that we shared.

I was the top of the food chain.
I bartended at a couple women’s bars in San Francisco when I was in college. That community felt very comfortable for me. Sisterhood and all of that. And bartenders were at the top of the food chain, so I got a lot of attention I might not have otherwise gotten. I dated a few women and then had a girlfriend. We danced together a lot. Those women have stayed in my life as friends, but I had a really chaotic childhood and my main desire then was to have a “normal life,” which I pictured as being married to a man and having kids. It was the '80s. I’ve definitely had attractions and temptations over the years — I’ve been married for 25 years — but I’d never act on them. Women live longer than men, though, and my friends and I joke that we’ll be the Golden Girls and end up living together when we’re old.

I was totally convinced I was a lesbian.
I was boy crazy in high school, but I went to U.C., Santa Cruz, a very liberal school, and would sometimes dirty-dance with girls or make out with them on E. I didn’t want a relationship. I was the girl you don’t want to fall in love with. But then I decided I wanted to pursue women. I met Sara at the Clit Club in New York. We danced for hours and went home together. We ended up moving in together. For a good year, I was totally convinced I was a lesbian. I still find myself attracted to women, but I’m married to a man now so I’m not going to do anything. One guy I dated after Sara knew about my past with women and kept proposing threesomes. I said, “Trust me. You’re not going to like it. I’ll get emotionally attached.”

I had to backtrack, big time.
I went to college as a totally out lesbian. I do everything really full-out. I even took my girlfriend to my high-school prom in Houston, Texas. My parents were not happy. When I got to Oberlin, I signed up to be a peer counselor for gay students. I also came out to my roommate during the first week and flipped her out. Then, one day near the end of my freshman year, I was at the vegetarian café and noticed a guy across the room and thought, “Oh, he’s attractive.” So that caught my attention. And I realized that I was really unmotivated sexually with the women I’d been with. I was motivated emotionally, but I wasn’t even that curious about lesbian sex. The women around me would be talking about fisting or whatever and I’d be like, “Why do we have to talk about this?” So that was an awkward transition, starting to go out with this guy. I had to backtrack, big time. And my lesbian friends at Oberlin — we’re still friends now — were a little miffed that I’d left the tribe. But coming out as straight was easier than coming out as a lesbian, for sure. And my first college boyfriend was a great guy. We were the goofy art dude and the ex-lesbian. We were intimate, but we had this kind of stoner relationship. We were drunk for a lot of it. And then he came out as gay! We joke that we passed each other at the closet — I was on my way in and he was on his way out. I’ve been married to a man for a long time and have kids and it’s all good. I still definitely cross paths with butch lesbians I think are insanely hot. It’s still in my sexual lexicon.

She was an ice skater dating a trapeze artist.
I went to Smith, so I couldn’t help noticing all the visible, active women-loving women around me. I didn’t really think about it for myself until I got a crush on my RA. She was a Big Dyke on Campus, really butch. I remember scheduling a visit with her in her little office to tell her about it. She turned me down. I’d also had my eye on Michelle, who lived in my dorm. She was an ice skater dating a trapeze artist. They were just beautiful, playful, smart. And then Michelle and I got together. She was a perfect first girlfriend. I remember having to learn some of the techniques, though. What worked and what didn’t with women. Hands were so important. Even now, if I’m with a guy, he can have the most beautiful cock on the block, but I still want the hands. Maybe that’s just Michelle’s magic. After college, I dated mostly guys, then had casual sex with a guy and got pregnant. We’ve never been a couple, but we co-parent our daughter really well together. I’m dating a couple now. They found me online. I’m the proverbial unicorn.