I wonder what it would’ve have been like to be so self-assured in my sexual identity as a high schooler, instead of fervently swallowing back any inclination that I could’ve possibly been gay, constantly in denial. Part of me feel like I was robbed of a crucial part of my adolescent self-development, because while everyone else was beginning to discover feelings and sexuality and the like, I was feigning mine. Psyching myself into liking certain boys because that’s what I felt like I was supposed to do while dismissing my clear fascinations with certain girls around me as just being…
Well, I don’t know what I thought they were, but I refused to seriously entertain the thought that I was gay.
I mean, there were moments, of course. I had a brief friendship with a girl in my Honors Chemistry class who was one of the few purported out bisexuals in my grade. She was average-looking, quirky, and not necessarily spectacular, but she thought I was really cool and would kind of get affectionate with me sometimes.
My internalized homophobia - that was all for gay people until one hit on me - made me feel uncomfortable with her small affections...at first. But the Leo in me ended up winning out when it came to being showered with attention. Beyond that, though, I started to find myself intrigued by this girl’s sexuality.
It was my way of exploring my own latent sexuality without confronting it. I let myself flirt, let myself be okay with her brief touches and brushes and compliments, and sometimes - if only for a millisecond - I let myself be attracted. Second period had become my refuge. The one time that I let myself trepidatiously explore the things brimming below my surface, thanks to this girl and the crush I wouldn’t quite let myself acknowledge, but clearly had on her.
I was socially deceptive, contradictory throughout most of high school - the bold, (sometimes inappropriately) funny girl full of shenanigans, who would never shut up during class because it was her mission to make everyone laugh with absurd, smart aleck quips...but who otherwise never broke a single rule. I took every possible AP class there was to stack my schedule in collegiate preparation and aced them all. I got away with my in-class antics because academically, I was a dream student that never actually did anything wrong. I wore the class clown title well, but I was actually a goodie two-shoes.
But the one time I was a rebel will forever stick out in my head, when the queer girl in my Chemistry class convinced me to sneak off campus with her to grab Wendy’s for lunch. As juniors, it was strictly forbidden that we leave the school for lunch - it was a privilege reserved for the seniors - and I would be the first to condemn any junior who broke that rule and thus potentially ruining it for the rest of us come the next year.
But that one day, there was something so alluring about brazenly rebelling with her. She was my open door into all that I wasn’t supposed to have. And when the lunch bell rang after second period, and she took my wrist to lead me in a brisk run through the hallways so that we could sneak out to her car undetected, for once I felt like I had a taste of everything that had been shut off to me. Yeah, it was just a quick trip off campus to get some real food for once, but it felt like so much more. I barely confronted it within myself, but I could feel the effects of the symbolism all the same. I was breaking the school’s rules, but by letting myself be caught up in adventure with this girl that represented the sexuality I wasn’t allowed to embrace, I was sort of breaking society’s rules, too.
We made it to her car undetected, and she drove us to Wendy’s while blasting “If It’s Lovin’ That You Want” by Rihanna, jokingly serenading me with the lyrics of ‘if it’s lovin’ that you want, then you should make me your girl, your girl.’ I felt a little awkward, but I grinned nervously and let it happen, caught up in the adrenaline rush of it all.
If this had been some indie teen movie, we probably would’ve ended up making out in the back seat of her car.
Instead we got back to the school without a hitch, bags full of French fries that we ate in the hallway outside of the cafeteria.
It was the only real taste I ever got in high school of being something different than what was expected of me, the closest I had ever been to embracing the fact that I liked girls. Like, really liked girls.
Retrospectively, though, I realize not letting my sexuality push to the surface was an unconscious defense mechanism. As utterly confusing and occasionally miserably wrestling against myself inside of the closet was as a teenager, I know it would’ve been much harder had I been unashamedly out in 2005 at Southwest Guilford High School in High Point, North Carolina. Granted, it wasn’t the most hostile environment that could’ve existed against the LGBTQ community, but I hardly think “not as bad as it could be” is hardly any consolation for hostility existing in the first place.
To state it lightly, I wouldn’t have fit in as a lesbian at my high school.
Then again, I don’t think there was a day of my life where I ever really fit in during grade school, except maybe during a very brief period at the beginning of my junior year where I briefly gained a fashion sense and normalized myself, which ushered in a certain degree of popularity I hadn’t been accustomed to before, but left me mostly miserable on the inside from the inauthenticity of self. No, more than a fear of not fitting in, I think it was the cloud of a conservative, traditional religion and its stance on homosexuality that loomed threateningly over me, with those closest to me for also adhering to such a viewpoint that kept my subconscious clinging to the closet.
I can’t help but wonder, though, without all those external influences that plagued my perception of sexuality and caused me to keep mine so latent for so long, how different things would’ve been. Beyond just my own personal identity crisis, what would it be like if everyone around me also fully affirmed queer without question? Would I be whispering in giggles to my friends about my crush on the senior girl on the basketball team? Whose posters would’ve been featured on my bedroom walls in the lieu of Lil Bow Wow and B2K and Chad Michael Murray (ugh, yes, Chad Michael Murray)?
And how differently would things had played out when I actually started to develop feelings for one of my girl friends, something that became so big of an internal presence that I had to acknowledge it, though I kept it safe by assuring myself that she was just an exception to the rule, and I was straight otherwise? I can just imagine bashfully confessing to my best friend in an IM chat that I had a crush on one of our own and having someone else available other than my journal to help me analyze every single interaction between my crush and me.
Maybe if I would’ve had that back then, I wouldn’t have stumbled so haphazardly through dating attempts in my early 20’s once I finally did start to get a full grasp of my queerness. I wonder now if that’s why I had the tendency to fall so hard at once for any woman who showed me the slightest bit of flirtatious interest - if it was a pathetic attempt at making up for lost time.
I can’t help but feel like I was robbed of something in my adolescence.