Side Walks is an annual pop-up storytelling, ideas and literature festival run by Centre for Stories. In unique venues across Perth and Northbridge, Side Walks is a curated whirlwind of talks, performances and readings with a special emphasis on homegrown talent. Side Walks was made possible in 2021 with funding from the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries, Centre for Stories Founders Circle, Rayner Real Estate, and Aspen Corporate Financial Planning. Thanks also to our in-kind venue partners, Randal Humich, North Metropolitan TAFE, and St George’s Cathedral.
Kaya Ortiz is an emerging writer and poet from the southern islands of Mindanao and lutruwita/Tasmania. Her writing has appeared in Portside Review, Westerly, Tell Me Like You Mean It Vol 4, and After Australia, among others. Kaya currently lives in Boorloo/Perth. At Side Walks, Kaya shared her story at Be Still My Beating Heart, a live storytelling event featuring stories about love – but not the typical kind. Her story is about navigating her first love, and finding herself along the way.
Copyright © 2021 Kaya Ortiz.
This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.
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Kaya: Every morning I get to wake up next to my beautiful partner, who is always still fast asleep next to me. Even on the days when I have to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning to go to my minimum wage job, when I come home to our one-bedroom, pre-furnished rental apartment with furniture that we hate, Jen is right there, and I feel like the luckiest person because I know in my heart, that I’m living the life I’m meant to be living. It’s taken me a lifetime to get here. If you’d have told me five years ago that in 2021, I’d be living with my girlfriend of one year after having come out as a lesbian, I would have thought you were from a parallel universe.
You see, in 2016, I had just gotten married to Nathan, who was the first boy I’d ever dated. I had met Nathan in church, which is where all the good Christian girls meet the good Christian boys. Nathan was the leader of our church band, and my dad was a reverend doctor who was always trying to get me more involved in church things, so he signed me up to play guitar in this band. Now back then, Nathan had long caramel locks that he kept tied up in a little ponytail, and he played a cherry red electric guitar. But what really drew me to him was his warmth and his desire to connect with people. After playing with Nathan on this band for a year, we got to talking and hanging out more, and he became like that first friend that I had needed. I was 18 years old and pretty soon we were dating, but my dad wasn’t a big fan of that at first.
Eventually, he came round, and after two years of dating, Nathan and I did what good Christian boys and girls do. We tied the knot. And yes, we were very young at this time, but our relationship was pretty great. We were the best of friends, we loved just being together, and we rarely even fought. But, beneath the surface, something wasn’t quite right. Just a few months after the wedding in 2016, I realised I could no longer deny that I was attracted to women, and I had been for a long time. Of course, this totally threw me for a loop because I was just married to Nathan. I had grown up in a Christian tradition that taught homosexuality was a sin. I didn’t even know whether I was gay, bisexual, or even asexual. And I had no one I could talk to, because all of our friends were church friends.
So, I wrestled with this on my own for months, before I finally decided I was probably bisexual. After all, this made the most sense, and it meant I wouldn’t jeopardise my relationship with Nathan. So just after our one-year anniversary, I came out to Nathan as bisexual, and he was so supportive. He took it really well, and he told me that I could always tell him about any feelings or crushes that I was having on anyone. Over the next few years of our marriage, I must have told Nathan about hundreds of different girls that I’d been crushing on, but I never told him about the crushing weight that would find me in the middle of the night. The fear that I would never have the one thing I truly wanted, which was to fall in love with a woman.
But it turned out, I wasn’t the only one suppressing my sexuality in our relationship. Both Nathan and I, growing up in a church, had been taught we were supposed to suppress our sexuality until we were married in a heterosexual marriage. But, you know, this whole thing hadn’t quite panned out for us, and after four years of marriage, two interstate moves, and many conversations, we realised we had nothing left to lose. And we wanted to try opening our marriage so that we could both date other women. This decision brought me a lot of relief, but it didn’t bring me a lot of hope, because I didn’t think I would find anyone who is willing to date a woman who is married to a man. But nevertheless, we downloaded our dating apps and not much happened after that, for months. And then, before I knew it, it was 2020 and the whole world is in a pandemic, so of course no one is really dating at this point and I’m thinking, “Maybe this will never happen to me, and I have to be okay with that.”
But just as I’m losing hope, I match with this girl on Bumble. It’s May 2020, you know, things aren’t looking like they’re clearing up anytime soon. But Jen and I click instantly. We start talking about writing and the conversation is just flowing and I’m really enjoying it. After texting for a few days, the conversation moves to Facebook Messenger, and then I think, “Maybe this is actually going to go somewhere.” We’re talking non-stop for a week, and things are really exciting, and then it’s announced that lockdown restrictions are going to start easing. So, Jen and I decide it might be safe for us to meet up. We happen to be texting at 4 o’clock in the morning and we just decide we’re going to meet up later that same day. We go to the beach, and when I first see Jen, she’s got short, wavy dark hair.
She’s wearing all black, but she’s very cute, and we walk onto the sand together, and she suggests we play truth or dare. I just go with it, because I have no better ideas. Her mind is lightning quick for me, especially since I’m running on one hour’s sleep. She dares me to run into the freezing ocean, and I’m lucky it’s a warm day, but I strip down to my underwear and I go into the water. Later, I will learn, that’s when Jen decided that she would want a second date with me. And we did have a second date, and a third, and a fourth, and pretty soon it’s been like two weeks, and I realise, I could actually fall in love with this girl. I don’t want this to be a casual thing. But, of course, there’s Nathan to think about.
I don’t want to hurt either of them. So, one night, when Jen and I are hanging out, we end up back at a beach, and we’re sitting on the sand, looking out into the ocean which is very black, very scary. You can’t see where the sky ends, and the ocean begins. And I’m listening to the waves crashing on the shore. I’m nervous because I want to talk to Jen about our relationship, but it’s only been two weeks. So, I don’t look at her, but I say, “I wanna know where we’re going with this because I really like you, and I want to make this work with you, but I know things are complicated, because of Nathan. So, it’s okay if you don’t want to take things too seriously. I just want you to know that I want to be in this for as long as you want to be in this.” And Jen put her hand on her shoulder, and she said, “I am really scared about the whole Nathan situation. I have no idea what’s going on, but I really like you and I really do want to give this a shot. So, let’s just take things one day at a time.”
When I go home that night, I’m relieved but also burdened because it feels like I’m sort of back in that place that I was five years ago when I’m confused and afraid, and I have no idea what my future with Nathan is going to look like, and I think deep down I’m starting to realise the truth about my sexuality. But I’m not ready to go there yet. A few months later, it’s Nathan who actually said to me, “I think you’re a lesbian.” He just said it so matter-of-factly, and that was the moment that set me free from suppressing everything that I had been suppressing my whole life. It felt like I was finally okay to own who I was. But of course, him saying that necessarily meant a change in our relationship, and we decided marriage was probably not the best context for us.
So, we loved each other but, being together meant we both had to sacrifice so much of ourselves, but we didn’t want to see the other person suffer. So, Nathan and I decided to separate amicably. I remember talking to Jen about this decision, and Jen asked me, “What if you decide this isn’t worth it? What if you think you’re making a huge mistake?” And I look at her and I say, “When I choose you, I’m not just choosing between two people. Choosing you means choosing myself. When I’m with you, everything in me comes alive and I get to be that person who is running into the freezing ocean on a warm day. I don’t have to be sitting on the shore terrified of what the water holds. And I could never regret that, and that would always be worth it to me. To get to be who I am.” I’m so glad that Jen took a chance on me. And I’m so lucky that Nathan loved me enough to set me free. I have two people in my life who love me for who I am, and it’s because of them that I get to be out and proud and living a life that’s true to myself.