(Be forewarned: this is the longest and most personal blog I will ever post on Subtitled)
Something About a River in Egypt?
There are only so many times you can say “Ehhh, it’s probably nothing”. For me, that number has come and gone… and then doubled, tripled… added a zero or two…. What I’m saying is it’s about damn time I wrote this.
See, denial is a powerful, magical, wonderful cure-all for life’s inconvenient little truths. It’s like the Siberia for all your dissidents. An easy-to-swallow tablet that lets you go about your day with a simple “Hmm, I’m sure that rash will go away on its own”, or “Hey, everyone has a mickey or three during lunch”, or “I’m going to start working out so I’ll get the extra small”, or “Lesbi-whaaaat?”
That last one is where I come in. I’ll be honest, it’s something I’m still wrestling with. And I know a large part of that comes down to a single word. Oh, I can joke about being super gay or giving off some serious Sapphic vibes or being a “friend of Ellen”. (I mean, y’know, not out loud, but in my head it’s a laugh riot!) But saying I’m a lesbian? Well, that’s still a little hard for me to even type. (Making it a question helped a bit there.)
But why should it be? I’m a writer. Why should any word scare me? I wrote a 700 page novel. Words are my bitches! And yet this one made a bitch out of me.
The Almighty Word
I never gave the word much conscious thought growing up and yet it seemed to follow me around. I did know early on that it was NOT something I wanted to be known as; that it was, if not exactly an insult, something decidedly negative. “You don’t want to wear a cuff on your upper ear,” my aunt said to me in grade school, “or you’ll look like a lesbian.” “I think gay men are born that way, but for lesbians it’s a choice,” I remember hearing. And in high school, when my parents were getting divorced (finally!) my mom’s friend warned her that she should be careful I don’t become a lesbian. (Surprise! That’s when I got that crush on that boy in my English class. What a coincidence!) Sometimes the word was absent, but the implication was there, like my step-grandmother’s comments about my boyish clothes when I was younger, or a university roommate’s casual assertion that I was “totally in love with” a friend, or a co-worker saying that she couldn’t picture me with a boyfriend.
None of it was meant to be hurtful (or so I like to think), they all just got caught up on the same thing I did. That word. It’s so unfair, really. I don’t want to imply that gay men get off easy, but the stereotype there is that they’re hip, stylish, and fashionable. While I’m sure it’s annoying to be seen so often as an accessory for a straight woman, there’s not much outright hurtful or mean there. Whereas lesbians get classified as bitter shrews, somehow both mannish and man-hating. Which I don’t really get. Here, I’ll name some famous gay ladies off the top of my head (celesbians if you will): Ellen Degeneres, Portia DeRossi, Ellen Page, Tegan Quin, Sara Quin, Kate McKinnon, Wanda Sykes, Cynthia Nixon, Leisha Hailey, Raven Symone, kd lang, Melissa Etheridge, Rosie O’Donnell, Sara Gilbert, Jillian Michaels, Mary Lambert, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, and a whole bunch of others I’ve forgotten.
My point is: not one of them fits that stereotype. Some might be on the butch side, but why does that make them any less of a woman? Did long hair make Jesus any less of a man? (Yeah, I went there; there being a terrible comparison.) Looking at that list I think the lesbian stereotype should be awesome. And hilarious.
Know what though? My battle with that word is fairly recent, waged only in the past year or so. To get to that, I first I had to un-latent some tendencies. And that is quite a tale. I’ll pause here as you gather refreshments. Waiting… waiting… okay, here we go.
The World Through Denial-Coloured Glasses
What straight people might not understand is that you can be gay and on some level know you’re gay without ever admitting it to yourself. It’s like seeing as blue what the rest of the world sees as red. Some might figure out really early on that their perception of blue doesn’t align with the majority. Some might take a while. A long while. Even when there is an obscene amount of clues that BLUE MEANS YOU’RE INTO GIRLS, IDIOT! Okay, that metaphor got away from me, how about some real life examples.
Let’s head back to my fourth year of university. I was watching Beauty & the Beast with a male friend and we got to the scene where Belle is being chased by wolves in the forest and she’s got that cloak on and her hair flies loose and she’s got this makeshift club… Anyway, my friend confessed that he thought that scene was totally hot when he was younger (except he said in a much classier way because he’s a gentleman) and I almost outed myself by blurting out “Me too!” Now, I was nowhere near identifying as gay at that point, but I remember consciously stopping myself from agreeing, even though I totally did. As a kid that scene had stuck out as something that I knew I liked for some reason even if I hadn’t figured out why.
So why didn’t that trigger a round of soul-searching? Because I’d been there before. I knew how to deny and dismiss. Starting in second year, I would go through these periods of depression and invariably I would start to…wonder. But eventually the bout would pass, I’d be happy again and I’d think “Man, feeling down can lead to some strange thoughts, am I right, conscious part of my brain?” and with some nervous silent laughter I’d move on. Well, mostly. At one point I remember thinking, “ehh, maybe I’m bisexual, whatever”. That was great because if I was bi, I could completely ignore the part of myself interested in girls and just be straight. Huzzah! Of course, even on that I flip-flopped. After all, normal, quiet girls weren’t bisexuals. Oh, young 19 year old me, with my youth and my prejudices.
If it seems like my university years were a mire of self-doubt, well, they actually weren’t, not like the agonizing that came later. In fact, those were the years that I established my mind as something of a safety bubble: every thought was safe in there. Nothing had to mean anything. No one had to know. That turned out to be a double-edged sword, but I’ll get to that later.
Hindsight is 20/20 and Super Gay
Looking back it seems so painfully obvious. I still remember the moment of panic in high school when a friend asked who my favourite male celebrity was so she could get a magazine poster for my locker as part of my birthday present. “I like a lot of them,” was my red-faced, knee-jerk response before choosing the very safe, non-questionable, Johnny Depp. After that I realized I was behind the curve and that I should figure out which movie star I should like, completely missing that for most girls it was not a conscious deliberation.
In reality, while all the girls were trying to decide between Freddie Prinze Jr and Paul Walker after watching She’s All That, I was thinking “Wow, Rachel Leigh Cook is super cute, and hello there, young Anna Paquin”. (Rogue being my favourite mutant from the X-Men movies… I mean, really?) Then along came Heath Ledger in A Knight’s Tale, and while the other girls were swooning, I was wondering why the hell there wasn’t more of Kate the blacksmith. And of course, anything with Winona Ryder with her amazing hair, flawless skin, and ‘90sness was an instant win. But it wasn’t all petite brunettes with big eyes… early in high school who should strut into my life but Brody fucking Dalle. That woman was my teen years. I’m not sure how any female fan of The Distillers is straight, frankly. Add in Amy Lee and Kat von D, and I was in rock n roll heaven.
Boy, it’s a good thing that no one out there combines that petite brunette look with the whole tattooed rock babe thing.
So you see, (ex)friend of my mother, it wasn’t the divorce; you were always going to be too late to change me. And I could talk about how when I was young I played softball and tennis, I hated dresses and used to forswear all make-up, I tried to get out of every single figure skating lesson and wished I could have been in hockey, I liked the Sword in the Stone better than The Little Mermaid, and Lego better than Barbies… but that really has nothing to do with anything. Those things are true of countless straight girls (most of whom are sick of being called tomboys).
What’s important is the butterflies. It’s all that really matters. And I’ve only ever gotten butterflies in my stomach for girls.
Coming to Grips with Reality
In Orange is the New Black, the main character, Piper, has a speech about how being unable to escape yourself and coming face to face with who you really are is the hardest part of being in prison. That’s true when you live on your own too, which I did for 3 years post university. At first, it was a lot of fun, I was free to do whatever I wanted without having to look over my shoulder. I had my Hawke (the player character) romance the female characters in Dragon Age 2.
I watched movies with girl-on-girl lovin’: Jennifer’s Body, Farewell My Queen, Side Effects (that one was actually a surprise; I only watched it because I thought Rooney Mara was amazing in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Lost & Delirious, Imagine Me & You. At that point I was still too scared to watch The L Word (though considering the sharp decline in quality post season 3, I should have been even more scared). That felt like admitting something. As long as everything stayed locked away in my head, everything was fine and life could go on.
Shit got real at the start of 2013. I got sick. Sick enough for multiple hospital trips, but after bloodwork and EKGs they had no answers. I would get headaches, dizziness, I’d feel nauseated without ever being sick, my heart would race, I had a near-constant stomach ache, and a lot of nights I’d go to bed with a sense of inescapable doom, wondering if this was all there was to life. At the hospital, they asked about stress or anxiety, and I said no, after all what did I have to be stressed about? I had a 9 to 5 job that was a cake walk compared to the stress of my bachelor’s degree. And I had no relationship stuff to worry about; I was single. I got better-ish, or maybe I got better at handling it. The symptoms persisted, but less severe than before.
In the summer, I moved home; it was time to find a job in a place that wasn’t so remote. I thought I would go crazy in the presence of my mom and step-dad after years on my own, but it was nice to be with people and have dogs to cuddle. In the evenings, I kicked back and binge-watched some Orange is the New Black. “Who would ever pick Larry over Alex (Tattooed Babe WITH GLASSES!) Vause?” I asked myself as I watched. “Probably a straight girl” was my laughing response. Then there was that scene at the end of the Thanksgiving episode where Piper pulls Alex into the chapel and they make out. “Yep,” I thought as the credits rolled, “I’m definitely gay.”
It was terrifying and exciting to finally admit that to myself. I mean, I’d known for a while (it was the bloody reason I was watching the show) and now I couldn’t figure out why it had taken me so long to get to this point. And the funny thing was, after that day those feelings of sickness from earlier in the year just sort of vanished. It wasn’t all roses, though. Aside, from the terror of my family EVER finding out, I was afraid that this was going to be like all those times in university where I waved my hand dismissively and moved on. So I resolved to tell someone.
She doesn’t know this (I mean, she will in a second when she reads this… hey girl!) but my BFF was the absolute last person I wanted to tell originally. I was terrified to disrupt the dynamic of the best friendship ever. But of course, it had to be her.
October 9th: Okay, here we are. Skype time. I’m ready. Gonna do this. How hard can it be to spit this out? Alright, here’s a good segue aaaaaand…
Yeah…no. I wimped out. BUT! Later on Facebook I totally did it. It was beautifully eloquent and certainly not something to the tune of “yeah, umm not so much with the guys. Gahh! I’m so awkward”. Definitely not that. Ahem. Moving on. I hit that reply button and let me tell you… I have never wanted to reach into the seedy depths of the internet and rip out the series of 1s and 0s I’d just sent racing down the information superhighway more than I did at that moment. It wasn’t worry about her reaction either. It was knowing there was no going back.
I don’t want to embarrass myself with all the crazy plots and schemes that ran through my head in the days that followed as a way to undo what I’d done. Suffice it to say that each was more insane than the last (and the first was saying that I was conducting a social experiment for research purposes). “Yeah, I’m totally okay with it,” I told my friend in the conversation that followed. I was not okay with it. I cannot stress how un-okay with it I was. I wanted to be. I wanted to joke. I wanted to be able to gush about my celebrity crushes the way she did with Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch, but I wasn’t there. And it took a while to get there, not in the least because it’s not in my nature to be effusive; I play things pretty close to my chest as you might imagine.
Onwards and Upwards!
I still freak out, and I worry about what my family will think or say or do, and I worry about all those ugly connotations. At those times, I try to remind myself that if I don’t agree with those views, that if I know they’re patently false, why should I let them influence me? Setting aside all the politics, the labels, the hate, when all is said and done, I’ve just got to follow the butterflies. And as for that word I’m so afraid of, the one that turns my cheeks bright red… that’s the cool thing, because every lesbian gets the privilege of redefining its meaning and as a (supremely long-winded) wordsmith, I’ve totally got this!
But seriously people, you gotta stop invoking the word lesbian to scare young girls into that pink tutu. It is NOT a synonym for the witch that tried to roast Hansel and Gretel alive. Gay is something that you can be; lesbians aren’t mythical unicorns that exist out there somewhere in theory (as so often it seemed to me). And we need to create a society where kids aren’t turned against themselves before they even know who they are. It ain’t fun. But y’know… at least we’ve got our bitchin hairstyles to comfort us in the meantime. That shit is on point!
Oh, and lady, until Hiddleston can pull off a mullet, Tegan>Tom. I await your rebuttal.