It occurred to me today that when I write about adolescents who identify as lesbian or bi, or engage in same sex romantic relationships I am writing about something that never happened to me. Something that I am assuming that I understand, but that I never personally experienced.
I was, of course, a teenager. And I identify as a lesbian, now. But when I was a teenager, I was severely clueless. I won’t say closeted, because I don’t think I understood my sexuality enough to hide it. I think I really didn’t know what I was feeling.
I have notes and journals from that time, which I honestly avoid like the plague. Because the me I run into is inauthentic. I can tell I thought people didn’t know me, or that my friends weren’t really my friends. I can tell I sensed a dissonance and it was harming me. But I don’t know if I connected this to sexuality in particular.
Which is funny, because when I was about 16/17, I did fall in love with my best friend. So I guess I do understand some of the feelings, I mean, despite my lack of self awareness eventually my feelings for her became so large, I had to handle them. But that took years, and it didn’t involve any confusingly satisfying smoochies because she is and always has been a superstar of heterosexuality.
I’m talking about a first kiss. I’m talking about that ripple in your stomach that just turns into a THUD. I’m talking, frankly, about masturbating to fantasies that are relevant to your real life desires. I’m talking about being able to name your desires, and call them up in front of you - to own them and love them and taste them. I’m talking about sweaty palms and stupid dates that your mom has to drive you to when you’re 14.
I know most gay kids still don’t get that. And in the stories I write, the kids don’t really get that either. There’s always a secret, there’s always a lack of words that keep actions from really becoming empowered and empowering.
But did I really not know?
I know how it works, making meaning. I know I didn’t have the models to understand my desires. But I want to confirm at least that I did have desires.
And there are shards there. I have to prod and poke at them, but there are shards that poke through. I would stare and stare and stare at certain pictures of certain women when I was 12. A thrill would build inside me, more emotional than sexual. I was obsessed with Gone with the Wind and I had a book about the making of the film. There was a picture of Vivien Leigh as Scarlet O’Hara that I would gaze at for hours. I wanted someone to acknowledge my excitement bad enough that I actually showed my mom the picture one day. “Look!” I said. “Look at her hand!” It was pale and delicate, curled into a loose fist on the table she sat behind. I thought her hand looked innocent and exquisitely dainty, and I was very impressed by it.
My mother did not find the same joy in gazing at Vivien Leigh’s hand that I did. Between that and the huge poster of Michelle Pfieffer as Catwoman I had in my bedroom (and slept positioned so I could gaze at it at night) she thought I was frivolously obsessed with movie stars.
But of course, I was something else.
I’m going to dig harder for these memories. Despite the discomfort of doing so. Those stirrings were valid. And obviously this lack in my own understanding is part of the reason I write about adolescent lesbians. I think I’ve been scared that filling it in more would make me worse at writing about it? But I see now that that is obviously nonsensical.