Tuesday, August 2, 2016

realizing you're queer when you're 14: a how-to guide in one easy step

I wrote this essay as a companion to my girlfriend Louisa's amazing piece on Steven Universe, and how it helped her realize she was gay. I had a similar moment - just about eleven years ago, though. And it was all thanks to one little book.

As a queer person, it's fascinating to try and map out your journey. "When did you know?" people ask. We ask it of each other. It makes for surprisingly adorable first date conversation.

Most of us had some illuminating moment. But prior to that lightning flash or slow dawn, most of us didn't know because we didn't think we had the option. Nobody told us it existed. So we tried to cut and trim and squint at our desires to fit them in the box we're meant to live in.

Blessedly, I don't remember all that much of middle school. (gotta love how the brain protects us from trauma). But a visceral memory stands out: reading Emma Donoghue's Kissing the Witch in the library one sunny afternoon.

In this small volume of retooled fairy tales, women could be knights. Girls could kiss witches. And you didn't have to be a prince or even a boy to rescue a princess.

I remember the way the golden light spilled across the wood grain of the solid table, eternally glowing, like the moment would never end. I was frustrated with the intense mundanity of the brown school carpet. How could everyday things exist in the world when there were words like jewels, words like *this*?

I remember blushing, feeling a deeply iridescent, adolescent thrill. It was daring, fearsome, delicious to think: is this real? Can this be mine?

By then, I already sensed that heterosexuality wasn't for me. I couldn't have named that feeling at the time, but it was cumulative, small yet ubiquitous - revealed in glances and teenage flashes of insight. I thought I liked boys, and I have old diaries featuring boy-crazy crushes. But I wanted kissing and romance and swoons, and I thought that's what you had to do.

Nobody told me you could have that with girls. I had read a million stories with boy-girl romances already, and I had felt plenty starry-eyed, but this dazzlement was different. It seemed immovable, delicate but lodged at the center of my heart. A diamond cracking from the earth.

At fourteen, feeling at home in your skin is already a magical feat. When I looked up from reading about romance and magic between witches and princesses, goose girls and queens, I felt like I could drink the sunlight still streaked across the library table.

Moments of crystalline realization recede, but some clarity stays with us. They build up the truths of our lives over time, slowly growing like a geode in a cave. As we get to know ourselves, we turn it around and see the once-forgotten facets, marvel at the way things catch the light. I didn't have all the answers to what I wanted at fourteen - at twenty-five, I still feel like I am continually stubbing my toe in the dark. Two years ago, I dated a cis man for the first time since I was seventeen. It was awful - for a lot of reasons - but it helped me realize that we should never settle for what we can tolerate, what we can cut off and stuff into a glass slipper that isn't ours. You have to trust in the sunlight moments, the ones where you sigh with the *rightness* of it. When you don't want to be anywhere else.

I'm crazy about a girl, right now. She makes my heart feel like a stuttering windup toy. She didn't quite figure herself out until she was 32. We all have our own journeys, setbacks and obscurity balanced with the sudden sunlight. It takes time. But it shouldn't be this hard - no child should have to fight to find the love stories that resonate, or stumble in the dark because they have no other options. We need to show that love is for everyone, over and over. Start at the beginning.