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How pole dancing helped me explore my bisexuality

How pole dancing helped me explore my bisexuality
Summer, I promised myself, was going to be filled with doing things that intimidated me. (Veronica Grech / For The Times)

I broke out in a cold sweat updating my Bumble profile in my new Mid-City apartment. My finger hovered over the "interested in" section, and with a quick exhale I tapped "women" and saved it with an internal scream. Here we go. I'm out. I had broken up with my boyfriend of nearly two years a month prior: My dating record up until this point was "serial monogamist" and "preference" had been strictly men. My ex and I had just broken up. Things had just crumbled under the weight of life, and I embarked on a summer with a new job and the need to start from scratch. This included exploring my bisexuality, which I hadn't confronted until this point, other than making out with a friend in a club to scare men away (in hindsight, not the most effective tactic).

Summer, I promised myself, was going to be filled with doing things that intimidated me, and pushing myself to try new things. My journey to fulfill that promise began at BeSpun, a pole-dancing studio in Hollywood, where I awkwardly fumbled my way through a routine and spins I couldn't quite do with grace. But it didn't matter, that first class got me hooked. I started going there for the killer workout, but found a queer community there that was welcoming and friendly. I was in awe of the way these women embraced their sexuality: gliding around the pole in 7-inch Pleaser heels and revealing outfits they wore as casually as if thong bodysuits were no different than a pair of sweats.

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So I started coming back, investing in a pair of high-heeled white boots and thigh-high legwarmers and kneepads. (You're not a serious pole dancer until you get your first pair of heels and kneepads.)

At BeSpun, there was no male gaze, only female teamwork and appreciation of our own abilities: My fellow dancers cheered me on when I finally landed a carousel spin combination, and helped me find alternative stretches in stretch class where I worked on my pitiful flexibility. I emerged from challenging spin tricks classes covered in bruises but armed with a new kind of confidence born from shedding the shame that comes from internalizing stigmas associated with women's sexuality.

This newfound passion for pole dancing would intersect with my love life: At the beginning of the summer, I quickly ditched uneventful Tinder dates with men for inspiring dates with women. I started seeing one of the women I took pole-dancing classes with, and found a refreshingly wholesome relationship with her even when our dates consisted of attending striptease class together.

On a different date, I went to a Trashcan Shakespeare show with an actress and novelist, and we stayed out until 1 a.m. We spent hours talking about the critical importance of the Oxford comma and lamenting how society doesn't understand the proper use of the em dash. Kissing her gave me butterflies I thought I had left behind in high school but clearly hadn't.

The newness of acknowledging the feelings I've always had for women still hasn't worn off: It's still a process of reversing the conditioning from my conservative Arizona hometown, where my time spent as co-captain of the women's JV basketball team was overshadowed by my attempts to hold down high school boyfriends to prove I was very straight amid all the teasing from my peers.

I'm still grappling with how to come out to different people, and when.

My roommate, a gay writer who has always been my confidant, cheered me on every step of my journey, and hearing his stories (and constant stream of jokes) about embracing his own sexuality inspired me.

My writers group set aside time without fail each week to hear how I was doing. Just like the women from my pole-dancing class, my friends and communities supported me through my questioning and coming-out process, and I couldn't be more grateful for them.

As I started in a new writers room in the fall, a mention of a date I was going on with the actress over the weekend was treated with just as much normalcy as another writer's home renovations or weekend plans to see a new movie.

Having spaces where I don't feel like I have to hide makes all the difference — something that as an Angeleno and former Arizonan, I don't take for granted.

Recently, I packed my gym duffel bag with everything I needed for that night's pole class while texting the girl I was seeing to coordinate plans to meet up at the studio — and grab dinner and drinks after. I had come a long way since my anxiety over changing my preferences on dating apps, but I had a feeling that the butterflies were here to stay.

The author is a television drama writer living in Los Angeles. She is on Instagram @Sutoscience and her website is AmySuto.com.

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