In elementary school, most of my friends were girls. Not quite Regina George and her crew, but we were that gaggle of girls who learned that if you wiggle your butt when you walk, boys will think you’re sexy (not that we were totally sure what that meant). We strutted around the playground during recess trying to get the sway just right. I got a big kick out of flirting with boys. Sending and receiving love notes gave me roller-coaster-level thrills, but while playing out make-believe scenarios with friends, I remember consistently volunteering to be a (horrifically over-sexualized representation of) a lesbian. I can vividly recall my best childhood friend telling me, “Yeah, you should be lesbian again. You’re really good at that.”
I don’t know that I ever really thought to myself, “Yeah, maybe that means something.” There are a number of other instances that I should probably have recognized as indicators that my sexuality may not have been as hetero as I’d expected. I don’t think I even heard the word “heterosexual” until I was a teenager. As far as I knew, there was just gay and not gay, and I wasn’t gay, so I must just have been “not gay.” Right?
When I was approaching my tween years, a more obvious (arguably disastrous) incident occurred. I don’t know if this is a typical thing for youngin’s to do, but I remember playing out risqué scenarios back and forth with a friend of mine. One of us would pretend to be the other getting up close and personal with various boys from our school and then we’d switch. Somewhere along the line, the game changed so that we were acting these scenarios out on each other. There were unspoken rules of course, and we’d never even made out with boys before so it’s not like it could get too far. Needless to say, the last time we did this I overstepped. I kissed her. On the mouth.
We stared at each for a moment, eyes bulging like we’d been caught stealing or something, and stood up. I apologized, she said we shouldn’t do that anymore, and we never spoke of it again.
In junior high, I think I had a new ‘boyfriend’ every few weeks. While the attraction I felt to those boys was bona fide pubescent, hormonal-girl attraction, I always felt like I was playing a game more than anything else. At one point, and I think I had a ‘boyfriend’ at the time, I told a bunch of people that I was bisexual and allowed the word to spread, eventually adding it to the ‘about me’ portion of one of my many MySpace profiles along with a lot of dubious and unsubstantiated qualities. Nobody took me seriously, which didn’t matter much to me because I was busy trying to play up the “cool weirdo girl” trope every chance I got. The fact that this detail had more weight behind it than the rest was indiscernible to everyone but me, and even I wasn’t really convinced.
Fast forward to college: a close friend of mine revealed that she’d started dating someone over the summer and that someone was a woman. I cannot begin to explain the feeling that ensued. I was really happy that she liked someone who was making her happy, but I couldn’t believe how jealous I felt.
I didn’t know her girlfriend and I don’t think my reaction really had anything to do with their relationship. I typically seek out friends who are much more outgoing and adventurous than myself and one thing I’ve always admired about this friend, in particular, is her steadfastness in the things she believes about herself and the world. She always allowed for change and growth, of course, but never seemed to question her emotions or knowledge in a way that prevented her from doing what she felt was right for her. I envied those qualities and I think I envied her for being so willing to follow that intuition that I couldn’t bring myself to even speak of.
I wholeheartedly believe that many, even most people are equipped to recognize and understand a pull toward a given sexual orientation from the time they become self-aware. And though I’ve been aware that it’s not just boys who give me the tingles for eighty percent of my life, I’m still not comfortable saying it out loud. I don’t know why it’s so difficult for me to self-identify — as anything, really. Maybe I’m afraid that people won’t believe me, maybe I don’t fully believe myself. Maybe I’m worried about taking up space in communities, support systems that I don’t necessarily need. Maybe it’s all of the above.
More than anything, I think a lot of my hesitation comes with what happens next. It feels like (a way more serious version of) applying for a job in a field with basically zero experience. I doubt many people want to invest emotional effort in someone who they think is ‘experimenting’ and I don’t blame them. I don’t want to burden someone with teaching me the ‘ropes’; isn’t that what adolescence was for? What if my family thinks it’s just a phase, an extension of my feminism? And it might sound silly, but way in the future, will I be happy if my baby isn’t the product of DNA mixin’ with the person I’ve chosen to love and support forever and ever, amen?
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, and I don’t know why it’s taken me almost two years to finish this essay. And because I’ve come to no real conclusion, I don’t know if this is even worth sharing, but I’m going to because I think it might bring me some kind of validation — even if it’s only for myself.