Tuesday, November 3, 2009

When Mary Kissed Me

"How did you know?"

"When did you know?"

"Who was your first crush?"

"Who was your first same-sex kiss?"

"Who was the first person you told (on purpose)?"

We've all heard some or all of these questions before, and I confess to thoroughly enjoy discussing them with others who have gone through the process of coming out. For me, it went something like this. I never knew, and at the same time I had always known. It was never an issue. It never scared me. It was an understanding I had made with myself when I came home one day in the fifth grade and without any real knowledge of what constituted a crush, I was pretty sure I had one. We were in every class together for two years, spent time together after school, the best of pals. But there was more to it than that, I knew. The fact that this particular crush was on a girl didn't even enter my mind, and why should it? I didn't know what it meant to have crushes on girls, I had no idea this could possibly mean. Despite attending parochial school, the idea that "Little girls weren't supposed to h! ave crushes on other little girls" somehow never got drilled into my head.

The only thing I knew was that another human being made me smile awkwardly (at the top bunk of my bunk beds, with the lights off, of course.) and my eyes light up, tucking a little piece of hair behind my ears at the mere thought of her name. I was head-over-ass in elementary school love. I had fantasies about this girl for years. In the grand tradition of having a crush on someone in elementary school, I would hold my tongue until I would tell the world. I never told anyone about her, it has taken me a long time to admit even to myself I had a crush on her in the first place. And now, twelve years later, I'm ready to tell the world about Lucy and in the process, about myself.

Back in those days, her parents owned a house in Georgia, and one weekend she invited me to go with them, to Georgia, ride the ATVs, and have a grand ol' time in the woods with her and her parents, both of whom I loved. Then there was spending the weekend with the girl of my eight year old dreams. I went to Georgia, rode on the ATVs clutching her middle, singing songs from choir, and looking at beautiful scenery. It was like a really bad Lifetime movie. I was the happiest little girl alive that weekend.

It was all over for me, after that weekend in Georgia with Lucy. I knew for sure I had a crush on someone, I understood that someone was a girl, and I found it was no different in liking boys. It was no great surprise for me. There was no great revelation, I didn't fast for a week in hopes of unveiling some great mystery about myself. I wasn't afraid of what I was. I didn't even know what I was. The word queer wouldn't enter my vocabulary until years later. I barely acknowledged it. It was just another thread in the tapestry of the girl I was, and the woman I would eventually become. It wasn't special, just another quality I possessed. Some people could play sports, some people could draw, and some little girls liked other little girls.

I was different. I was a mute, in elementary school and much throughout middle school. I was the girl who dared to smile when our music teacher put on the old symphony records. I wanted to sing, even though my closest friend didn't make the choir (she was there, which made it all the better for me). I wanted to be a concert pianist and refused to take lessons (Which I now regret, just like my grandmother said I would.). I was the bookworm. (I'll never forget the day a boy in our class was making fun of me for carrying the Great Illustrated Classics edition of The Prince and the Pauper with me to lunch) I just understood things, things I knew my classmates didn't, especially those who were prone to torment anyone who was different, and I was most definitely the oddball.

I wanted to go to France and see what Charles Dickens did when he wrote A Tale of Two Cities. (This was long before I read Les Miserablés.) I wanted to write like Laura Ingalls Wilder. I wanted to play the piano like Beethoven. wanted to sing like our choir director's daughter, upon whom I also harbored a crush. I understood things like truth and inner beauty and justice. I was different. I was, admittedly, weird. This being said, I was the kid who was picked on. A lot. My attitude towards sex was total non-issue, and ran something to the effect of, "So what, maybe I swing both ways. I know this, I understand this, I'm bound to figure out what this means, now pass me the macaroni and cheese." I was very honest with myself in those days, but at the same time, I never told a soul about Lucy, the choir director's daughter, or any of the other girls I was crushing on in those days, although I was quick to tell anyone who would listen about the boys. I wish I had kept a diary.

Two pivotal events occurred in eighth grade, my last year (thank god) of middle school hell. The first was a girl who was, I learned, the most popular girl in our grade. I've never had a desire to be popular (Because lets face it, I'm a big dork, I've always been a big dork, and I gave up wanting to be popular before I even started school.), I most definitely never had a desire to be friends with her OR her posse of females, and I never crushed on her. And nevertheless, one weekend she decided she was going to have a "Lets make-over Jen" slumber party. Me, I was quite happy the way I was. I was a bookworm, I considered myself to be intelligent, and I knew who I was. Why I agreed to attend, I still have no idea. It most assuredly wasn't for the eye-candy. (As not one of those women appealed to me, although her boyfriend was rather attractive)

I knew there had to be a reason for her desire to do this to me. Maybe I wasn't "a-typical female" enough for her. Maybe she thought something had happened to me, I had had some sort of freak accident (which probably stemmed from a combination of watching The History Channel, going to parochial school, reading too many books, and over dosing on macaroni and cheese). I didn't wear dresses, I refused to shave my legs (Save for swimming outings, which only happened in the summer), and my hair was too long. I hung out with boys , who I believed to be much more sensible than the girls, who I was convinced spent all their time primping themselves for some sort of high-glossed high-healed mini-skirt parade for Cosmo that I wanted ! no part of. That wasn't me, I had no desire to be the Ultra-Femme. All I wanted to do was to talk about TV and football and World War II with my boys. This, to me was sensible. And this, according to her, had to be fixed.

I was supposed to be a girl, after all, and therefore I had to behave like a girl. I was supposed to wear pounds of makeup, actually shave my legs, only read Cosmo, wear thirty dollar jeans I couldn't afford and wear shirts that constricted my breathing and showed off my lack of cleavage. Yeah. Like girls aren't supposed to know about football (Ironically it turned out that she was an obsessive fan), question why we should shave our legs, read 19th century literature, or know anything that wasn't in Cosmo.

I've never been a girly-girl, and I never want to be a girly-girl. I hate wearing makeup. I love football season. I used to play soccer. I wanted to read my books and go talk to the boys. Makeovers, in my mind, meant you weren't good enough the way you were, other people had to "fix" you. One of the most vivid memories is of the horror as I paid thirty bucks for a pair of jeans. I'm a Wal-Mart shopper, and I'm not afraid to admit this. There are two things I'm willing to pay top-dollar for, one is underwear, the other is shoes. Clothing is most definitely not on that list. When they had put me in my thirty dollar jeans, a shirt so tight it was constricting my breathing, and about a pound of makeup (Which I had never worn before an! d have rarely worn since) I was twirled in the mirror and I looked long and hard at myself. This wasn't me. I wasn't a high maintenance girly-girl. I soon got the idea they saw I was unworthy of their company and of their friendship unless I was another lemming, and I wasn't having that. I returned the clothes, I threw away the makeup, I was me again and this time I wasn't afraid of who I was. I was a frumpy-dumpy Wal-Mart shopping bare-faced hairy-legged book worm with big dreams. I liked me and no one was changing that. Monica, incidentally, dropped me when she found out I wasn't going to be her puppet. Her loss, I suppose.

There was one other major "thing" that happened in eighth grade, and this was that I had, in fact, met a girl. Brenda was different, in the way I knew I was different, but I hadn't quite placed what it was yet. She was beautiful, she was tall, she had these big brown eyes, and I just adored her. I had maybe three real friends in middle school. Brenda was one of them. Brenda was highly opinionated (Like myself, although she was a thousand times more assertive than I was in those days.), intelligent, preferred the company of boys, and beautiful. My god was she beautiful. I had it bad for her. Other than the obvious, I felt as though we bonded on a level I never quite placed. Then one day sometime in high school we reconnected in the auditorium when we were watching a movie with three or four other classes. A mutual friend had said something about National Coming Out Day, and Brenda had just thrown up her hands and said, "I'm out!" That was our connection. She liked girls, I liked girls. We were both...queers. Well, half-queers.

The first time I remember hearing my mother mention homosexuality was sometime in my freshman or sophomore year of high school. She had a friend over and she had asked me if there was anyone in school who was gay. I instantly thought of Jessica, the cute hippie who wore combat boots, who's smile made my universe shine a thousand times brighter, but I said nothing. Much like the twisted love triangles going on between a few of my Barbies (Yes, I still played with Barbies when I was fourteen, quite an embarrassing emission, I might add.), Jessica was my secret and I wasn't saying a word. I don't remember if what my mother said was positive or negative about it, but a few years later she and I were talking about it and looked at me in the e! ye and said she wouldn't love me any less if either me or my brother were into the same sex. I love my mother for that, because I know others who aren't so lucky. Just tonight driving in the car, mother asked me, "Where does Bryan's boyfriend go to school?" Hearing those words out of her mouth was music to my ears.

Something happened to me, freshman and sophomore year that changed me, internally. Mother had had me seeing a therapist on and off since about sixth grade because she thought I was depressed. This time I was going because I became sorely depressed to the point my mother thought I was suicidal. And I probably would have been suicidal, if not for choir. Music has saved my life a thousand times over. The worst of it all, I didn't know I was depressed until it happened. It was through the death of a friend that I gathered the strength to get out of a destructive friendship that was the source of a great majority of my fifteen year-old angst. I joined drama club. I found myself again, thread by thread. I decided that day that no matter what happened, for better or for worse, I would never again deny who I was. Which, I would rediscover a part of who I was the next year, a part of me that I knew had always been there, but I had almost forgotten.

In a lot of ways, "the Bitch was back". In other ways, she was just peeping through to see if it was okay to leave the crawl space beneath the stairs. Part of this breaking through process of discovering and in some ways, re-discovering who I was, is through the influence of Bryan. Through our conversations, I found God (Or rather, I came to the conclusion God was a myth), and more importantly, I found a label by which to define my feelings, however much I loathed labels, and still do. For me, I had always known, being attracted to a man is no different than being attracted to a woman. Through Bryan, I learned what 'gay' was. Yes, I had watched Ellen's coming out, I knew about Liberace, and had seen snippets of Gay Days on TV, but Bryan was the first person I knew who was close to me, that was gay. At least I thought he was the first. I would learn, in the years to come, about others I had known long before who had never told me.

I knew I wasn't gay. I had boyfriends (though mostly pitiful examples with one beautiful exception) but I knew I was attracted to women. I had always known I was attracted to women, I just never knew what it meant. I had never lost this mentality, over time it had just become more subconscious than overt. I knew, I accepted, I didn't care. But at the same time, I was discovering it all over again. I wasn't really in denial, I just forgot it was there. I had felt something was missing, and maybe it was that total honesty with myself, acknowledging who I was attracted to, and moving on with things. When Bryan came out my senior year, I decided I would stop arguing with myself, telling myself it was okay to look at the adorable guy's cute girlfriend. I was bisexual, I knew I was bisexual, and I moved on and then I started telling people.

So I got to college. A few weeks into the semester, I ran into an old friend, who I had gone to high school with. One minute we're talking about old times, the next she's telling me she's a lesbian. The only reason I was shocked was because looking at her, she's the totally un-stereotypical dyke. She rattled off a list of people we both had known. Half the people I liked in high school were on that list, and I had no idea.

By September of my freshman year of college, I was the secretary of the gay group on campus. In October, my friend Mary spent the night. We were watching the beautiful Drew Barrymore in Riding in Cars With Boys when she started getting real friendly, and when we moved the party to my bedroom, she kissed me and I felt like everything I had ever felt, for Lucy, for the choir director's daughter, for Brenda, and every other woman I had ever liked, it all finally made sense. It was like getting my first kiss all over again, and in a way, it was. By December all of my close friends knew (I never actually told them, they just knew.) and made a pact with myself I would tell one new person a week. It was a semester of discovery for me, piecing together everything I had missed. I found myself with these people, a self that wasn't going away. I was honest with myself, I was honest with the way I felt about other people, I knew who I was, and I wasn't hiding anymore. I was free.

So far, its been easy for me, way too easy. (Other than the bible-humping Southern Baptist I was dating for a while) My friends, none of them, thought twice about it. A good third of the people I hang out with on a quasi-regular basis have some degree of queer-ness. I haven't told any of my immediate or extended family, at least not on purpose. My brother is the only one with any sort of a clue, because he read my journal and has seen the "Always Forward, Never Straight' sticker on my desk. When I visit my family in the spring, and my father's girlfriend takes me to New York, I'll probably tell her. I worry my mother would think its just a phase, and my father wouldn't understand. I imagine we all have those worries, but I'm not quite ready to take the plunge just yet.

In June, my mother, her fiancé, and my brother went to New Jersey to visit my family, attend graduations, and all that rot for a week or so whilst I was in summer session. When she returned, my mother told me at the joint graduation party for everyone graduating (One from high school, two from middle school, one from pre-kindergarten) that another cousin, my age, had pulled her, my grandmother, and my uncle aside in turn and told them each that he was bisexual. Big deal, I thought, when my mother told me. He likes boys, he likes girls, tell him to join the club. I wanted to tell my mother, Big deal, virtually everyone is bisexual in college. But it was a big deal, because now I understand what it was to tell those first few people that I too swing both ways.

Getting down and dirty and honest with my sexuality has liberated me. I take it personally someone says the word faggot as an insult or without permission, and I literally jumped for joy when the supreme court struck down the archaic sodomy laws. And at the same time, its because of my sexuality that I've died a thousand deaths emotionally and spiritually. But like the phoenix, from the ashes of my former selves, I too have been reborn.

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