My mom and I were in the car in Orlando, Florida after meeting for dinner at Sugar Factory. I had gotten tipsy on a monstrous, sweet drink that had been poured over dry ice for a smokey effect. As we drove back to the hotel, my mom looked me up and down not for the first time that night and asked: “Are those Doc Martens?”
“Yeah!” I replied. They were my first pair, and a helluva pair I had chosen. Instead of the classic black leather, I had gone with a deep purple patent leather/plastic material that to this day have not been broken in properly.
The outfit I had put together screamed “This Bitch Is Queer!” From the single black string tied tightly around my neck, to the striped alien crop top and patch-ridden overalls, the outfit was meticulously put together in ways that reminded me of my crush. In dawning those purple blister monsters, I felt closer to the girl who lived two thousand miles away and reminded me of Natasha Romanoff.
My mom was quiet for a moment, her eyes on the road ahead. Then: “Jamie says those are lesbian boots.”
I laughed, because that’s exactly what my older brother would say about these boots. And then, whether it was the buzz from the drink or my own need to fill the space with a joke, I said: “Well, actually…”
As a young kid, I loved playing dress up, especially when it involved Disney princesses. My parents spoiled me with my collection, and when it came to Belle and Ariel, I had nearly every single one of their looks in my possession. Not only that, I could recite every line and lyric from their movies, and would reenact their stories with my Barbie dolls. However, I was never afraid to venture beyond the princesses or the Barbies. On a visit to MGM (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios), I was told I could pick one costume. I chose Peter Pan. I still remember how the bright green velvet cap felt in my hands, and the excitement over how accurate it was to how he looked in the movie.
My parents were used to my strange sense of style. They thought it was funny when I walked around in nothing but my underwear, and they even pulled an old shaggy wig down from the attic when I wanted to dress up as Frodo Baggins. They weren’t the type to “worry” when I would pick something up for the “opposite gender” because they weren’t those kinds of parents. When I wanted basketball shorts from the boys section at Target, that's what I was allowed to get. When I begged for a Playstation 2 to play Grand Theft Auto, I was ecstatic when one Christmas it was sitting under the tree.
In elementary school, after having my heart broken by my first best friend, Jessica, I gravitated towards the boys. I felt more comfortable looking for frogs in the grass than playing “royals” and being the designated maid by the more popular girls, and I knew how to hold my own in a round of roughhousing.
However, when puberty reared its ugly head, the boys stopped wanting to hang out with me, and the girls started to say things about how I dressed, why my hair was always pulled back in a ponytail, and why I only wanted to hang out with the guys. While they started to experience that tingling feeling in their privates when they saw their crushes, I never thought about those things. I didn’t know why recess dynamics changed because nothing had changed for me. But to them, I was weird, and if I didn’t change, I would lose my place in the changing social hierarchies. I wouldn’t belong.
My belonging was already threatened by my debilitating anxiety, which left me incapable of staying at sleepovers and led to total meltdowns after any sort of large social gathering. So, I did what I had to do to survive, and quashed the side of me that found comfort and protection in the masculine. I conformed to gender roles that dictated how I should dress, how I should wear my hair, who I spent time with, and who I was allowed to have crushes on.
By high school, I had perfected “straightness” so much so that I believed it myself. But, when it came to friendships and relationships, they were all unfulfilling. Junior year, I captured the attention of a popular football player. It was the first time in a very long time that I felt wanted by another person, and even longer since catching the attention of someone who could give me the ultimate sense of belonging within the social hierarchy. By then I knew how to play the game and knew how to perform sexuality. I wore tighter, more feminine clothes and paid more attention to how I did my makeup and hair. I took scissors to an oversized men’s sweatshirt to show my shoulders and stomach. I bought a bra that was so padded it made me impervious to tit punches. I was the most feminine, sexy version of myself that I had ever been. But I didn’t understand what sexy was, I just thought I knew what it looked like. Throughout every era of my own gender expression, from Princess dresses to basketball shorts to socially acceptable pink Abercrombie polos, I never dressed with attraction in mind. How could I dress for something I didn’t experience?
When his texts got raunchy, so did mine. It wasn’t sexting, I was “telling him a story.” It was just another writing assignment. I didn’t realize at the time that it was all performative because I didn’t understand the part of me that was (and is) asexual. I just knew how I needed to look and behave to hold onto that sense of belonging and the feeling that I was wanted by someone else. That I was normal.
Alas, teenage boys get bored easily. So, when he found a girl who didn’t need to “perform” sexy (and no longer needed help in AP US History), I was forgotten. I was devastated. I wasn’t enough. I wasn’t normal. I was a weirdo who wrote stories about sex, but didn’t do it herself.
It wasn’t until college that I started to realize that my weirdness was really just queerness. Not only did I learn more about the spectrum of orientations, but I wasn’t bound anymore by the standards of a small group of cliquey teens. My university stood 60k strong, there was no place for a hierarchy. I threw away everything that had once shielded me from criticism and became what made me feel most like myself. I cut my hair short. I chose comfort over perception. I befriended who I wanted to befriend, chose not to pursue the “normal” sexual exploits of young adulthood, and found my tribe of weirdos. I stopped performing who I wasn’t and became who I was.
Coming out to my family was neither dramatic nor cathartic for me. The truth is, I was so lazy about coming out, that I did it once and never again. I just assumed my mom would tell anyone else who mattered. Though that was never confirmed… Hey Dad, if you’re reading this, guess what!
She took it well, especially because my coming out was more nuanced than just “I’m gay!” I had to explain that not only did I get crushes on women and men, but that my crushes had nothing to do with sex or sexual attraction. No, it wasn’t just a low libido, it was a fundamental lack of sexual attraction to people, even if I was head over heels in love with them.
The more I opened up to her, and to the many facets of my own identity, the more I realized how often I wrote my queerness off as just being weird, or having a mental illness. Did my anxiety make me not want to have sex? Did I consider women safer because they’re thought to have lower sex drives then men? Were all of my feelings real, or just lies my mental illness told me to keep me safe?
Clothing and my own gender expression played a bigger role than I thought. The suppression of those choices played a role in how long it took for me to come to terms with my identity. For so long, I beat myself up over not being “normal” enough. But now I realize there was so much about me that was queer that didn’t involve the fears I thought were getting in the way. In fact, being queer generated even more fear that I didn’t see.
It’s amazing what happens when you stop conforming to an ideal version of your gender and sexuality. My friendships have been deeper and longer lasting, I’ve found true agency over my body and mind, and more meaningful ways of creative expression.
Before the pandemic, I went to a bar in West Hollywood with a group of classmates from my MFA program. I wore a shirt (which I still find hilarious to this day) that has two cartoon thumbs pointing to my face that say: “This Guy’s Gonna Be a Daddy.” I told them a story about a horrendous date I had been on, where the guy got significantly drunker than me and I realized with horror that he reminded me of my brother. The remaining attraction I had left to this man died that night and I ghosted him faster than Casper. While my friends laughed and cringed at my story, one girl stopped me, confused, and said: “Wait a minute, I thought you were a lesbian!”
I can’t explain it, but that was and continues to be one of the proudest moments of my life. I was flattered that I could still surprise people with my own complexities and queerness. I was liberated by knowing I wasn’t just conforming to an identity anymore. I smiled, put my hand on my chest and said “Awww! Thank you!” I guess that’s the power of my lesbian boots.
Truly, this bitch is queer
I am soaked with sweat. My arms feel like jello. And after all these stairs I KNOW my ass will be on some JLO shit tomorrow. But all I can think about with each step is “don’t check your phone, don’t check your phone!” I’ve lost count of how many trips we’ve taken and how many boxes we’ve carried, but after these 5 flights of stairs, I’ll have my answer.
The summer of 2019 brought me a super hot fling in Rhode Island, I know, SO Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. But just like that franchise, that summer came to an end, and I returned to Manhattan trying to process that I wouldn’t be getting railed nightly anymore. Every time I have something good (like sex) I convince myself that this is the only time I’m ever going to get to feel this way and that I better enjoy it while it lasts. (Is this therapy?) I’m back in the New York groove and ready to fill the sexual void. I unpack and dive into my civic duty: matching with guys on Hinge.
One night I match with Allen. Like if Daniel Radcliffe was 6’3 with a jaw that could cut glass. One of the prompts on his profile is “I get along best with people who:” and his answer is “don’t care about stuff”…sigh...hot people can get away with ANYTHING. He seemed hunky, yet maybe unaware of just how hunky he was- and I liked that balance! (I am a Libra after all.) Allen’s chiseled looks and dumb answer to the prompt make me think that, at the very least, he could fill the void.
We make plans to get drinks that weekend near his place. I like when you get drinks near a guy’s place because it makes it so easy for them to invite you back to the futon they sleep on. I’ve been told my whole life that if you’re being abducted, the worst thing is being taken to a second location, but I couldn’t feel more the opposite about Allen. I’m getting to that second location!
Our date arrives and my Tall Ass Harry Potter is five minutes late, but I remember his profile- “he gets along best with people who don’t care about stuff” so that checks out. Allen tells me that he has the kind of job where you roll the sleeves on your button up to the ¾ length...which is one of the hottest ways sleeves can be worn. A fun fact about me is that when someone who wears sleeves like that is giving me attention, it’s really hard for me not to develop a crush on them instantly. I want him inside me, sure, but I start to think about our future tall children while he tells me about working in midtown. But it’s not long before the bar gets “too loud” (noise, the best wingwoman) and Allen says:
“Hey, my place is just around the corner, I have beer there if you wanna-?”
“Yeah, I’m down for that!”
Wow. I still got it! I had left Rhode Island at the end of the summer feeling so weird, drained, and kind of gross. I had convinced myself that it was going to be an eternity before I’d enjoy dating again without cringing, but here I am, back at Allen’s chamber of secrets! I was trying this new thing where I don’t sleep with people the first time I meet them, so we have a PG-13 futon makeout for the books and I bid him farewell.
I text Allen 2 days later:
“Hey, wanna hang out again or nah?”
“Yeah, definitely. I had a great time!”
I ask about Friday, but he says it’s his friend’s birthday and he can’t hang. I tell him I’ll check back in sometime next week. I get so giddy about the possibility of doing more than making out that I immediately tell everyone around me with a beating heart all about his jawline and our possible future tall children. I just really needed a win, and this felt like one!
A week after our perfect makeout, 3 of my friends are making the big move to the city all the way from North Carolina (the state we’re tragically from). Since I’m an amazing friend, I volunteer to help them move everything up to their 5th floor apartment. I’m so excited to see them and show them I’m back to thriving in the city. Before I leave to meet them, I text Allen:
“Hey - wanna hang this Friday?”
I find my friends by UHaul outside their apartment. They greet me with sweaty hugs and I tell them that I’m ready to be put to work, but...I’m also waiting on a text back from Allen. My friends squeal with me and we start bringing boxes up the five flights. I put my phone on Do Not Disturb and tell everyone I’m not going to check my phone until I take a break, an act of valor almost worthy of a purple heart in my opinion. Each trip is harder than the last, my willpower almost as weak as my upper body strength.
Like most vehicles in New York City, the UHaul is illegally parked, so we decide one person should stay with the truck at all times. After MANY trips up and down not allowing myself to look at my phone, my friends tell me I can watch the truck for a bit. I hobble down the staircase and hop into the UHaul. FINALLY I reach into my pocket to check my phone, right as a text from Allen comes in. But...it's not good. It’s mortifying and...confusing. Allen replies with:
“Hey, I’ll get back to u. I’ve felt pretty out of it since I saw u and developed like a cold sore on my lip. Idk if it’s related but it’s never happened to me before idk. Maybe these things just happen but need to rest up.”
I KNOW. When I read this text, I am angry- an emotion I rarely feel. Usually when things upset me, I go limp. Like pasta that fell on the floor. But now, I feel like I could drive that UHaul off a cliff, Thelma and Louise-style. Not only is Allen not imagining our future tall children, but he doesn’t even want me back on his futon! I can feel the void as a lump in my throat forms and tears start welling. Here I am, crying in a UHaul. I know, that sounds like the title of a song you’d find on the jukebox inside of a Waffle House. I digress. I’m standing inside this half-full moving truck, trying to process this truly bewildering text. Who the fuck...sends that?
I only have a minute or two before my friends make it back down to the truck for another round of boxes. It’s their first day living in New York and now I’m crying in their UHaul over a guy I went out with once. I’m asking myself, “Did I give Allen a cold sore? Do cold sores even work that way? Was he lying? He ‘felt pretty out of it since he saw me?’ Why did he say he wanted to hang out again?” I even ask myself, “do I just not tell anyone about this part?” But I’ve already built this up SO much to my friends, they are bound to ask what the outcome was. So, when they come down, I read Allen's text aloud.
By the time I get to “developed, like, a cold sore,” their sweaty jaws have dropped in unison. I was giving them a crash course into dating in the city before they even set up their wifi, but another fun fact about me is that I have the most AMAZING friends that couldn’t have been more #TeamGillian. My friends and I deliberate (aka we each Googled “cold sore how do you get” and read approx half an article each) and we conclude that I did not give Allen a cold sore.
And even... if... I... did….again, who the FUCK texts that to someone??? I personally think that ghosting is worthy of jail time, but honestly, I would have preferred it to getting a text like that. I grab the last box in the truck, feeling like the void will never be filled, like that one futon makeout was the last one I’ll ever have and embarrassed that I thought it could maybe one day be something more. But around the 3rd floor, I realize something- I thought the exact same thing about my Rhode Island fling, but here I was agonizing over this New York himbo just weeks later. It will only be a matter of time before I match with another sharp jawline! I take comfort in remembering the wise words of a poet: “I got reasons why I tease ‘em, boys just come and go like seasons, Fergalicious.”
I text Allen an Amazon link to a tube of Abreva, and say “good luck!” Allen never replies, but a year later, I match with him again! This time, on Bumble. Naturally, I message him to inquire about his cold sore recovery, but he doesn’t reply. BUT this time, there’s no crying and no sweating- I know there’s other fish in the sea and hopefully those fish DO care about stuff.