I remember vividly that her name was Amanda because of the crushing wave of confusion that came with that knowledge. I was 8 years old and at Girl Scout camp, so I don't know why I thought she was a boy when I saw her across the mess hall. I couldn't make the stirring in my gut go away once I knew she was a girl -- a girl with short black hair and a confident walk and a smile that disrupted my child's understanding of happiness. I channeled my butterflies into befriending her, and we spent the weekend playing sports and singing about the Princess Pat. I never saw her again.
It took 14 years more before I let myself fall for a woman. Amanda caught me off guard with her short hair wizardry, but I felt sure it was a fluke. I first had crushes on boys when I was 4. I knew my more-than-platonic feelings for women were some other thing, some deep friendship or sisterhood. As soon as I knew what an "ally" was, I considered myself one. But I did not understand that I myself could be gay. Bisexuality seemed mythical.
We met at an international program for teenagers interested in conflict resolution. She was all hair and hips and fire, and the second we shook hands I knew she would rock my world. We spent our year in the program together talking about justice work, listening to Adele, and laying on top of each other on grassy hills and fancy rugs. I wanted to be her best friend, or maybe be her. I Facebook-stalked her female best friends, who were all beautiful and cooler than me.
A few weeks ago on Facebook chat, she congratulated me on my new writing gig at Autostraddle, and we found out that we came out as queer in the same month. We have been on parallel journeys embracing our sexuality, reconciling our queerness with our other identities, and figuring how to date women. And we found out we were both kind of in love with each other in high school.
My hand is the one with the very straight rainbow thumb ring on it.
We talked about how the program would have been a perfect space to start coming to terms with our sexuality -- at camp we talked for hours about identity and personal stories and faith and a hundred kinds of loss. We were surrounded by sympathetic, politically progressive camp counselors with training in helping young people communicate their pain and confusion. But we didn't have the vocabulary or social context to even begin to give voice to the butterflies that lived in our stomachs, not at 16.
In college, my long-distance boyfriend, who I loved a beautiful, frightening amount for a very hard 17 months, gave me a pass to kiss girls while drunk. We never talked much about why I wanted to do that. It just seemed like the thing to do. Texas, my glorious, red as blood Texas, was already a weird place to grow up as an anti-death-penalty, skeptical-of-capitalism vegetarian. What if queerness meant Texas wouldn't feel like home? What if queerness meant my skin wouldn't feel like home?
We became Facebook friends in preparation for spending summer 2012 as interns at the Dallas Morning News. The first time we met in person, we spent two hours driving around Dallas with our co-intern Andrew looking for somewhere to eat ice cream in 100-degree weather. Our friendship was instantly intense, like that Texas summer heat. It felt like we couldn't get to know each other fast enough. Over G-chat at work, we swapped Thought Catalogue articles and talked about our "mostly-straight-but-sometimes-kind-of-into-girls-but-really-of-course-straight-ness."
On the Fourth of July, we got drunk at our friend's lake house, and I turned away when she tried to kiss me on the roof because I understood it would be something different than all the kissing I had done with girls before. A few weeks later on her birthday, we made out on the dance floor of a gay club while a creepy mustached man danced behind me. It was different to kiss her to shitty Rihanna remixes when I was too blasted to accidentally feel something.
Hanging out at the gay club with Kelly and some strangers dressed in elaborate costumes. This was the Summer of YOLO.
Kelly went back to Kansas, I went back to Austin. She cut off all her hair and started dating Katie. I started chasing around after a guy who looked like Ellen DeGeneres. A month after I turned 22, I saw Andrea Gibson read two nights in a row. The first night, Lauren Zuniga opened for her, and her poem "Confessions of an Uneducated Queer" left me shaking. She read "This is for every straight girl who still has to get drunk to kiss other girls, I get it. Oppression is a loud room -- sometimes we can't hear our own pulse," and I felt the throbbing of my heart in my tongue.
Our friend Oliver introduced us the weekend after those Andrea Gibson shows. I made a joke about our matching Justin Bieber haircuts, and we were both donezo. Soon, I started telling people about the girl I was dating. Every reaction was positive (My mom: "I've always thought there were a lot more bisexual people in the world than most people realize;" my best friend Josh: "Um, finally.") Molly was the first girl I fell in love with and the first girl to wreck my stupid heart. I feel profoundly privileged that I had a safe, loving coming out experience. From the first moment I called myself queer, I have never wanted to rebury that truth. But I still resent the structures and cultural pressures that made it so hard for me to figure it out, that make it so hard for so many of us to hear our pulses.
Now, I think about how things could have gone differently. If there had been a gay kid in Hey Arnold or an openly gay teacher in my school, I might not have waited 22 years to choose queerness. I might have sent a check-yes-or-no note to Amanda while we made banana boats. Ana and I could have started an awkward, whirlwind camp romance. I would have let Kelly kiss me on the roof, to hell with the inevitable heartbreak when we both moved away at summer's end.
For the girls I loved before I knew that's what I was doing, I promise to blaze a trail of queer wherever I can. I will fight for a future when no kid has to quash feelings because her socialization leads her to insist they are bad or nonexistent, one where we can loudly celebrate the radical act of loving whoever we want without interrogating it scientifically or apologizing for it to our families and in our equality campaigns. I'll do it for Amanda, for Ana and for Kelly, and for every person who fears their love is something lesser than love. I'll do it for myself.
This post first appeared on Autostraddle.com, where Audrey is a writer.