Bisexual in a Small Town: How My Family Helped Me Deal
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In junior high, instead of Katy Perry’s early ’90s equivalent, I was listening to Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl.” Like Kathleen Hanna’s lyrics — Rebel girl you are the queen of my world … I know I wanna take you home / I wanna try on your clothes — my desire for girls was, at first, more romantic than erotic. My lust was meshed with other kinds of longing, with the devotion of friendship and admiration. Jessica and I had a more intimate relationship than any I’d known, and I’d always had intensely intimate friendships with other girls. Kissing seemed, in some ways, not a far leap from cuddling.
And when Jessica kissed me, on the sunlit bedspread of my childhood room, I felt the same delicate churning in my abdomen that I had when the older brother of a friend pressed his lips against my bare shoulder and squeezed my hip with his broad hand. I wished I was gay, that I could elect to direct my body in that seemingly less perilous direction. But when Jessica wearied of being different from everyone else at our school and started spending more time with the soccer team than with me, I wished I didn’t miss her so much, that I could believe a boyfriend was the solution to my heartache.
Instead, I found a solution in Lila — my first official girlfriend. A couple of years my senior, Lila had ceased attending our local public high school in favor of what appeared to be a liberally defined home schooling. She had short, messy hair; didn’t wear makeup; and introduced me to Otis Redding and Kristin Hersh. Years later, I discovered girls who dressed like boys, and thus discovered my true type, but at the time, she was a revelation. When my little brother starting dating Lila’s little sister, Maya, the four of us would spend afternoons riding ramshackle bicycles down the rural miles between our homes, cooking vegetarian meals, and then making out in our respective bedrooms.
If this post-’60s Rockwellian teenage vision makes my hometown sound like some kind of East Coast Berkeley, it is a misconception. Our town was a liberal one, relative to other small towns, but we were the exception, not the rule. I was tired of feeling like an outsider in my school, and tired of school altogether, which I’d already decided was not the quickest way to become a writer — my plan since childhood. I officially dropped out after freshman year, and replaced it with my own reading list, and Lila.
But if I’d thought that removing myself from the mainstream would solve my sexual conflicts, I was wrong. Lila had conflicts, too. Under the covers of her bed, I grew to know a certain shadow that would fall over her face — a look that often preceded tears. Neither of us ever fully articulated those doubts, but I knew that something in our sex scared her. I thought I recognized the tinge of shame. Perhaps the teenage girl secure in her sexuality is a chimera altogether, but being queer in a homophobic society tends to present special challenges, regardless of your background. The fear I felt kissing Lila in public caught me off guard. There was a part of me that wondered if I wasn’t really just straight. Did I have a choice? Was being straight the easier choice, in the long run? How much had my mother’s experience influenced me? When not dry humping each other’s legs to Tori Amos, Lila and I were often crying, without really knowing why.