When I was growing up, I had no idea what a gender or sexual identity was. All I knew was that I know I was a girl, I guess. If I was not wearing a Catholic schoolgirl uniform, I wore my brothers’ and dad’s hand-me-downs or we all shopped in the men’s section together. I was often mistaken for a boy and my dad would often jokingly say he had three sons. Despite my growing collection of basketball shorts and hoodies, I still saw myself as a girl, I just wore what I felt most comfortable in. My aunts and uncles would whisper to my mom about me and tell her I needed to be more ladylike (Titi Millie!). Luckily, she did not stifle me and often brought me and my younger brother similar clothing.
When I was in 7th grade, I noticed my classmates had started to look at each other differently. They were coupling off ,fighting, and making things awkward for everyone else. I did not understand the appeal, we have all been together since the first grade, what exactly was happening? When I was in 8th grade my best friend at the time asked me if I ever kissed anyone. I bashfully said no and she said “we have to catch you up!” I had never had a crush or felt a twinge of attraction for another classmate. It actually would annoy me when someone told me they liked me and I would rudely brush them off. This did not seem abnormal to me, it seemed weird that people were kissing because you know, cooties.
Then I got to high school, this was the first time I was ever in public school and all my private school classmates developed different personalities and identities. I was the shy, meek girl who sat in front of the class, had manners, and did not know how to dress from day to day. While the other girls ditched their white button-ups for mesh and their plaid skirts for skinny jeans and whale tails; I happily wore band t-shirts, baggy jeans, and basketball sneakers. Boys were more accessible and romance was a priority. I just wanted a friend; my classmates mistook that to mean I was in search of a romantic partner, which was not the case. My friends would urge me to give a random, pimpled-face kid a chance because he was “nice” and I would be strongly opposed. I just wanted to talk about sneakers, Spongebob, Hot Topic, and Linkin Park, where they seemed to always want to talk about my virginity, why I did not dress more girly, or my perpetual loneliness. I gave into the peer pressure twice. I, begrudgingly, allowed my “friends” to “set me up” with two different boys. Acutely aware that this was destined for failure, I made my boredom and disinterest known. Feeling rejected, instead of going on their merry way, they proceeded to make our outing for Chinese food more than it was or spread rumors that I was actually a lesbian that nobody wanted.
My extended family had also begun to suspect I was a lesbian, which I could not really confirm nor deny. This was alluded to more bitingly than accepting, especially from my Black, southern relatives. I often would think that this was not quite right, there’s something more. I really could not confirm being anything. Sure, I thought people on T.V. were attractive, but that’s T.V., that’s not real life i.e. Benicio Del Toro, Grace Jones, Jeff Goldblum, and Milla Jovovich.
I had already resigned myself to grow up to be a single, independent woman, that never married and maintained my virginity. I would wear tailored suits, ties, and carry a briefcase, as I had important business to take of. I had actually liked the idea. But apparently what I thought was normal, was weird to everyone else. It was weird that I did not express a heavy interest in boys or girls. I did not like anyone. It also did not help that most people revealed their true colors early on and I was able to see first-hand that they were not good people; boys would send me messages on MySpace that made me never want to touch a computer again (I think a lot of them have been to jail now).
By 12th grade, I tried to will myself to date and each time I had to convince myself to answer a text or accept an invitation to hang out. I had actually finally kissed someone and thought, blah! Not a fan, zero stars, would not kiss again! Inevitably, they would say something that annoyed me or I thought was rude, which provided me with an out and I never spoke to them again.
Then one of my “friends” said, “I wish I was cold like you and not have feelings for anyone.” I did not think of myself as cold or without feelings, I just thought I have yet to meet the right person that would eventually light a firework in my heart or a tingling in my loins. I went to prom by myself and graduated high school never having an actual relationship.
The summer before I started college I had a couple of experiences. The first, someone described me as androgynous. Which I confused with ambidextrous and replied that I could not write with both my right and left hand. They laughed and simply said that I was kind of boyish and girlish. Which felt right.
Second, my mother took be to a drag show in the West Village a week before my 18th birthday and I fell in love. I was so attracted to these confident performers who were all so beautiful ,funny, and edgy. It was awesome to see so many people shaking up gender roles, it was their personalities that really got me and I did not want to leave. We did not have this in Westchester, NY so this exposure awoke something inside me.
Then I commenced college in New York City which, of course, is a lovely place to meet new, interesting people. I found myself physically attracted to both sexes with a wide range of gender expressions, and I was grabbing the attention of others as well. But the physical nature was only a very small portion needed to keep my interests. I was more attracted to boisterous personalities and intelligent conversations, which made me both intrigued and uncomfortably anxious. I was not weird, the people I went to school with just weren’t my type. I was coming into my own as an awkward gender-fluid pan sapiosexual.
Despite, my distant exploration and discovery, I would not have guessed the person that would eventually win my heart was under my nose the whole time. Austin and I worked together for several months and had started to develop more of a friendship before I started college. I thought he was loud and talked too much, but we ended up having a lot in common. The majority of the staff thought he might be gay just because he was mildly effeminate and was affectionate towards everybody. One of his best friends would always visit him and a lot of people assumed that was his partner. He quickly ended up becoming one of my good friends and before either of us really realized, we were courting then officially dating towards the end of my first semester.
Because I did not fit into a heteronormative mold, I always felt a kinship with the LGBTQIA (QATP+) community. It was a safe place to be as I was trying to figure out this whole identity thing. Many of my friends belong to the LGBTQIA+ community and totally understand my journey along the sexuality continuum. The few that do not, question why I make plans to attend pride events or why I wear an assortment of pride-centric shirts, pins, and stickers. They can sometimes be confused about our dynamic, as Austin and I basically have an interchangeable wardrobe. Even still, on the outside looking in, I appear to be in a straight, hetero relationship, which really does not begin to scratch the surface.
I know a lot of trans, bisexual, pansexual, queer, asexual, and other sexual and/or gender identities tend to feel erased during pride because their identity is not necessarily cookie-cutter. Visibility, representation, and acceptance are integral, especially on the journey to self-discovery as it can be both rewarding and overwhelming.
So that’s my story. Keep being you, my friend!