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