They Can’t Hurt Me Anymore

“The single best thing about coming out of the closet is that nobody can insult you by telling you what you’ve just told them.”

— Rachel Maddow

When you’re growing up queer there exists some time between when you realize you are different, when other people realize you are different, and when you are comfortable in your differentness.

For some of us, it is a short time, for some of us it can be nearly a lifetime.

During that in-between time there will be people around who will react to who we are in the wrong way, and almost always the result is we become ashamed of who we are and a lot of permanent damage is done.

***

I remember in 4th-grade year, there was a girl who lived in my apartment building, rode the same bus as me, and shared my classroom. She was my default friend and at recess, would sometimes play with her and her other friends. Playing with the girls meant standing around talking or doing quiet activities that wouldn’t result in injury or dirty clothes.

I thought that was boring so sometimes I played with the boys. I ran around, jumped off the swings, and played with action figures. I got dirty, I got hurt, and I had a great time.

The next year, in 5th grade, my default friend told me that she and the other girls didn’t want to play with me anymore. I was honestly so surprised I just stood there, staring, and asked her why. She said I was too different, too weird, too much like a boy, and that was the end of it.

I felt shame right away. I was different, and that was bad. I didn’t want to be different.

That was the last time I felt comfortable with my gender identity and expression. Before that, there was just me, just Lisa, I wasn’t a girly girl, and I wasn’t a tomboy, I just did what felt right for me. It hadn’t occurred to me before that moment that the things I did not only put me into a category of boy or girl but also dictated the way other people would treat me and whether or not they liked me.

For the next 20 or 25 years of my life, I would think I had to be either a girl or a boy. I would go through phases where I swung wildly from masculine to feminine and deep down I would not feel comfortable in the mask of either one. I would think there was no option to say I was both, or neither, or one day one and one day another. I didn’t know that feeling the way I did wasn’t exactly uncommon.

And one day I heard the term “Genderqueer” and a whole new world opened up for me. I could once again be just me, just Lisa, and never again will anyone hurt me by labeling me or rejecting me based on my sex or gender.

***

Later, in high school, after the girl crushes had come but I still hung on to the hope that my attraction to women was a phase there were a series of friends who would try to get me alone to ask me once and for all if I was gay or not.

I ducked and dodged these questions, and I grew to believe that just like my gender people would judge and reject me based on the feelings I had for girls. I was terrified of coming out.

After I finally did come out, I came out as a lesbian. I went completely to the other side of the spectrum; I was ashamed of my attraction to men. After some time I denied even to myself that I was attracted to men. In the world of lesbians, the bisexual girl is frowned upon and shunned. I even shunned other bisexual girls and warned against dating them. I was awful.

Since I have been dating a woman for the past 14 years of my life, I thought the distinction didn’t matter for me anymore. Whether or not I was a lesbian didn’t matter because I was only sleeping with my girlfriend. I let the issue go.

It took a long time, but I finally came to terms with the fact that I was exactly exclusively attracted to women and over the years I have found that being honest allows me to engage in conversations with my straight female friends that I wouldn’t have before. It may seem small but this kind of banter between women can help form bonds, and I am glad to be able to engage in it authentically. I also feel freer. I feel more me. I feel like there are no parts of me that are hidden anymore.

I try to educate people about what it means to either gay or bisexual. I try to tell people that some of the ideas they have about the ways people can be attracted to people and what that has to do with—or how it has nothing at all to do with—their gender identity and expression, or whether or not they are capable of a monogamous relationship. I try to tell people my story and let them know that we are all different but not so different after all.

I do still identify as a lesbian since after much introspection I have found I am after all much more attracted to women than I am men. Which is just another example of how the labels we come up with rarely describe the reality of our feelings.

***

Throughout my life I have been called various names, dyke, fag, and even “rug doctor,” not to mention gay and queer, which shouldn’t be offensive but were said to me in a tone that let me know they were being used as insults.

I’ve been told I need to dress differently, that I am confused, that me, and people like me who are attracted to both men and women, and identify with both genders, just don’t exist. I’ve been told I am choosing to feel the way I do and that one day I will regret it.

I’ve been rejected, condemned, and fetishized by both men and women for who I am, who they think I am, and who they think they can make me into. I have been ashamed, afraid, and—most often—confused by how I feel inside. I’ve wanted to hide from myself and wished more than anything I could be someone else. I’ve been hurt by people, a lot, but all of that has changed.

I continue to grow and change and discover myself, but I won’t let myself feel afraid, or ashamed, or hurt. No one can do that too me again. I am who I am, and I know now that whoever that is, she is loved and will always be because I love myself and at the end of the day that is all that matters.

***

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Growing Up and Kissing Girls

Based on a true story.

***

At the end of my 8th-grade year, a new girl came to our school. By lunchtime, on her first day, we all agreed she was the new “prettiest girl” in school. Over the next few months, she became something of a legend. She was at a level of cool that most of us could never dream of attaining.

I never spoke to her. I knew I wasn’t cool enough to be her friend, but we did travel in the same groups. I liked that, knowing that through friends of friends, we were connected. I did want to talk to her, though, and over those months, I slowly worked up the courage to try. I decided that after school when I saw her walking home, I would strike up a conversation.

I looked for her to cut through the field behind the school. She was there, but she was with a boy, the cutest in the school, and they were kissing. I didn’t understand it then, but I was really hurt by that. No, I was jealous.

But I wasn’t jealous of her, I was jealous of him.

I spent the rest of 8th grade feeling very confused.

***

A lot of us were there, maybe 10 or so. The ratio of girls to boys not quite even but close. There were more of us girls than them, and we sat awkwardly grouped, all on one couch. We were like herd animals, not wanting to be separated, or caught singled out. The wolves were looking to pick one or two of us off.

One boy, the one whose home this was, goes to the back of the house and returns with a few Playboy magazines. This wasn’t the first time I had seen one, but I remember we spent a lot of time on a spread of two girls kissing. They were both nude, but the photos didn’t show them doing anything more than kissing. On the last few pages, a man enters, and things get more interesting.

The boys forgot us and talked only of those two women and their own fantasies of the same scenario.

***

A girl who lives in the same apartment complex as me invites a few of us over while her parents work late. The girl to boy ratio is exact this time, three girls, three boys. We act cool and calm, but mentally we are all weighing the pros and cons of each of the opposite sex. You want to make up your mind who you like better in case any kissing games break out.

A game of spin the bottle is suggested, but I knew this would never work out in my favor. I hated the boys that were there and instead wanted the girl with the red hair and a beautiful name, Alice. I knew that even if the bottle landed on her, they would just make me spin again. The point is for the girls to kiss the boys.

I was frustrated and angry. I didn’t want to kiss the boys, so I made up an excuse and went home. I was once again feeling very confused.

I never did get over that red hair.

***

My friend and I are the last ones in the school’s locker room after gym. She wears a lot of make-up, so she always takes forever to get ready. I am her best friend, so it is my duty to wait however long it takes so she doesn’t have to walk to class alone.

I look at her and pretend I’m not looking at her. She is very pretty. I wish I could be closer to her but getting to wait for her while she does her make-up is the closest I’ll ever get. I remember feeling hopeless.

She sees me watching her put on lip gloss, and she stops, looks away from the mirror…and asks me to kiss her.

I freeze, paranoid that this is all some trick. I imagine that if I agree she will flip out and call me a dyke, or something. She’ll say she knew I was gay all along. She’ll laugh as she tells everyone else in school that I am a gross lesbian.

So, instead of saying yes, like I wanted to, I laugh and say no. She shrugs it off, and we walk to our next class.

I regretted that decision for a long time.

***

I end up dropping out of school, but I have met the girl of my dreams, so nothing else matters. We talk every day, and we go to the movies every weekend. She is beautiful, smart, funny, and I am madly in love.

My work schedule changes to overnight, so I start visiting her at her high school for lunch. We meet outside the cafeteria doors, and we walk to Burger King or Subway. We eat, we talk, and I walk her back.

Once there I offer to walk her to her next class before I leave. I am trying to squeeze as many minutes out of this visit as I can. We walk to the locker room of her school, and she tells me she has gym class.

I say my goodbyes, and I lean in to kiss her. She stops me and reminds me that she has gym class. She cannot kiss me before going into the locker room! She says this as if it were obvious.

She says other girls will definitely have something to say about a lesbian in the locker room. I am hurt, but I do understand.

I never walk her to the locker room again.

***

We have been together for many years now. We are young, and we want to go out but whenever we do the men around us lose their shit.

They stare and make vulgar noises when we kiss. It makes us feel uncomfortable. On the bad nights, the ask if they can kiss us too. I wish I had a dollar for every request for a “three-way kiss.” We could move to a remote island where these creeps couldn’t reach us.

On the really, really bad nights, the guys follow us, or they get too touchy-feely. They say we just haven’t met the right man yet. They don’t think women can have relationships, or even sex, without a male involved.

I remember that Playboy magazine and I think they must have gotten the idea from there. They must all have looked at that same spread. They must all think women only kiss until a man comes along to make it more interesting.

We stop going out so much. We choose to stay home where we can kiss in peace.

***

Things are different now. We aren’t scared, or ashamed, or confused anymore. We no longer feel the pain of loving women who will never love us back. We have each other now.

We have learned that we are entitled to be in love in public without it being about anyone else. We have learned that other people are learning it too. If they don’t, we educate them.

We kiss whenever and wherever we want now, and we don’t entertain anyone else’s thoughts on it.

***

My little sister, 15 years younger than me, texts me to say she had something to tell me. She says she likes a girl at school, and the girl at school likes her back. She tells me that because I am a lesbian she felt it wasn’t important to tell me. I tell her it’s okay and I’m happy for her.

She tells me not to make a big deal out of it.

It had been years since I thought about all those little incidents and my feeling for other girls. When I was her age, when I liked the new girl in school and ended up jealous and confused, things were so different. I barely understood my own feelings at that age, and I couldn’t fathom telling an adult about it, let alone telling the girl I liked that I did!

I don’t make a big deal out of it, but I am proud of my sister’s courage. I am happy that she can kiss the girls, or the boys, she wants right out in the open, without judgment, without fear, and with a lot less confusion.

***

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