Content Warning: Discussion of queerphobia (internal and external), religious bigotry, sexual violence
I never imagined that in my late thirties I would still be figuring myself out. That I would find myself staring at the mirror and asking the hard questions: Who am I? What do I want? Why do I feel so lonely in my bed instead of longing for the person next to me? I didn’t want to admit that I wished for something different and I felt terrified for feeling that way.
It took years of consuming BL and Yuri to finally face my truth: that I am queer.
I am thirty-six years old, a mom and soon-to-be divorcee. I am in the midst of saying goodbye to my fourteen-year marriage and finally embracing my queer self. As I look towards my future, I can’t help looking back on how I got here and the ways in which BL and Yuri helped me come to terms with not only my sexuality, but figuring out what I want from sex.
I grew up in a very conservative evangelical Christian environment, where abstinence was the only safe contraceptive. Sex was considered a sin outside of marriage and marriage was a sacred institution only men and women are allowed participate in, until death do us part. This concept and all the teachings surrounding it have come to be known as “Purity Culture.”
Shame and guilt are the primary tools used to tell Christian youth to abstain from not only sexual intimacy with partners, but sexual exploration with oneself. There is a whole passage in the Bible about a man who “spilled his seed on the ground” and was then killed, because sperm is meant for getting women pregnant. Therefore, you can’t masturbate or even have lustful thoughts without enacting the anger of God.
Jesus himself said, “that if you look at a person with lust in your heart, you are committing adultery with that person”. This concept was constantly emphasized in the youth group meetings I attended to shame adolescents into sexual repression. Ironically, the moment you get married and say “I do” in front of God and the church, sex is somehow magically permissible.
It’s because I was raised in this environment that I became sexually repressed. I believed a woman’s value stemmed from her virginity, her ability to marry, and her desire to become an obedient wife able to have lots of babies. This set me up for many unhealthy codependent relationships that centered my self-worth around men, instead of looking for empowerment within myself.
Not only was I totally worried about having lustful thoughts towards anyone, I was horrified by my feelings towards women. Homosexuality was considered a sin and I can still hear the ways my mother called lesbian celebrities “sickos,” with the same venom as if they were rapists and pedophiles. She worried that I was a lesbian because of how close my female friendships were. I feared that word, and it’s still hard for me to even identify under that label because of all the internalized homophobia I have to unpack. I knew being a lesbian or gay was “bad” in the eyes of my family and community, which made me fear getting disowned and cast out of heaven. My solution was to bury my sexual urges deep within myself, to the point that I had no idea what I even wanted from sex.
I had been married for about four years when I stumbled upon an anime called Junjou Romantica, which follows a college student who falls for his tutor and the relationship struggles of their friends. I was immediately blown away by the rawness of the characters and the struggles they had to overcome in order to be with each other, despite society’s and/or their family’s disapproval over their sexuality. I was rooting for these fictional characters to win and create a happy future together because without realizing it, I was rooting for something similar to happen to me.
Junjou Romantica was my gateway into BL, which eventually led to my discovery of yuri. My whole world changed as I read story after story about queer characters living their best lives with their romantic partners. I started to feel intense empathy for the LGBTQ people in my life and gradually I started to realize that it really doesn’t matter what two consenting adults do.
During that time, I walked away from the religious faith of my childhood and stopped attending church. I started having my own opinions about what real love means, which pushed me to leave purity culture and the vengeful God I was raised with behind. More than that, I wanted to explore those feelings.
BL and yuri were a safe place for me to explore my desires and fantasies without falling into the shame associated with watching live-action porn. Through the erotic stories of fictional characters, I started to overcome my internalized shame surrounding sex and embrace my same-sex fantasies.
The yuri manga I Fell in Love for the First Time especially left me feeling seen. The adult protagonist, Hitomi, had never had a fulfilling sexual relationship with any of the men she’d dated and yet felt complete and fulfilled with her younger girlfriend, Yui. This was the first yuri that I read where I actually empathized with the main characters. As someone who’s been in a unfulfilling heterosexual relationship, reading a story about a woman with similar experiences to me was incredibly relatable, even though I wasn’t fully ready to admit it at the time.
After that, I began allowing my fantasies about being with women to have a place in my heart. This led to a long-standing belief that I was bisexual, but in reality I was just escaping my heterosexual marriage through vivid fantasies. These fantasies became more overt while being physically intimate with my husband, which made things more challenging over the years. It took a while, but eventually I had to admit my marriage was no longer working out for me and I needed to end things with my husband. It was the first time I allowed myself to be okay with my sexual attraction to women. It’s difficult to admit all the things I went through publicly; but I hope in sharing my story, others can resonate with my experiences and make this journey less lonely.
As I started to understand and explore my sexuality, I found myself more drawn to yuri stories that showed the healing power of women’s love. Moonlight Flowers hit me right in the soul. While there are some depictions of sexual violence, it was extremely therapeutic for me because it’s a story about lesbians coming to terms with their sexuality later in life and the healing power of gradually becoming honest about themselves.
I was sexually assaulted in high school, and I felt intense shame and guilt because my conservative Christian upbringing taught me it’s a girl’s duty to maintain her virginity. If a girl doesn’t control how she dresses, behaves, flirts and loves, then whatever happens to her is her fault. After the sexual assault, I felt dirty and like I lost a part of myself, so seeing Sahoko in Moonlight Flowers heal from her traumatic rape through Kaoru’s emotional support and love helped me heal my own pain and indirectly pushed me to be more honest about my sexuality to myself.
I’m a late bloomer and waited to have my only child until I was thirty, because I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a mom. In fact, I was a bit horrified about the whole experience of having something growing inside me; thankfully the reality was much less scary, with the exception that my baby was born prematurely. I wouldn’t trade my kid for anything in the world. For the sake of my child, I wanted to become a better person.
The seeds BL and yuri had planted inside me were starting to grow and sprout. There was a garden of fantasies and longings thriving in my heart. In my loneliest moments, I realized that I wanted to be with a woman. I wanted a deep connection that I had not found in my marriage nor in my faith, but first I needed to find a connection within myself.
While I was asking myself these deep questions about my sexuality, I read a BL manga called Dear Green Hitome, which focuses on Yajima and Otoumi’s journey from friends into lovers. Their story helped me realize it’s ok for sexuality to be fluid. That even after having been with men, it was alright for me to be attracted to women. The questions that Yajima and Otoumi struggled with were the same ones I was asking myself. It made me feel better knowing there were other people, even if they are only fictional characters, who were going through the same thing as me.
Dear Green Hitome has one scene that has stayed with me over the years, where Yajima wants to reach out with both hands open, hoping that Otoumi will take them. To me, this scene symbolizes a leap of faith — putting yourself out with the hopes they will reciprocate your feelings. Whose hand did I want to take? Who did I want to take my hands? Who did I want to share my life’s journey with?
One of my recent and favorite comfort reads is a manga called Our Dining Table. The main character, Yutaka, builds a chosen family with another man named Minoru and Minoru’s younger brother Tane through his talent for cooking. The major theme about chosen families resonates with me because like Yutaka, I’m slowly letting go of my past trauma caused by my birth family and the idea of creating my own chosen family brings me so much joy.
Our Dining Table gives me hope that after I break away from my birth family and marriage, I will find someone meant for me and we can be each other’s chosen family together with my son. While coming out stories are important, I crave more fiction that shows the daily lives of queer characters living their best lives since those are the stories I need to give me hope as I begin a new chapter in my life.
It took years of unlearning and plenty of introspection to finally be honest with myself about my sexuality. I am queer and I am ready to change and sacrifice my comfort and everything I have so that I can live my truth. If BL and yuri have taught me anything about coming out, it’s that I will face some obstacles along the way, but I will find happiness in being honest with myself. I am grateful I live in an environment where things are safer for LGBTQ+ people and even if my Christian family disowns me, I am no longer in a place where their opinions have as much power over me as it once did. I have grown and I will continue to evolve.
This is just the beginning of my own yuri story.