By contributor Taylor Wear. Photography by Toa Heftiba.
Full disclosure: I am unabashedly feminine. I love face masks and false lashes and bright, audacious lipstick and ridiculous hoop earrings. And in spite of our current state of affairs, I adore men. Which is convenient, because if someone asked you to guess my sexuality off appearance alone, you would almost certainly guess heterosexual, with maybe a bit of “lesbian semester” potential.
I operated within that singular identity for much of my young adult life, flippantly ignoring all the signs. My inexplicable childhood attractions to Gwen Stefani, Drew Barrymore in Poison Ivy, and Tiffany from grade eight, all veering beyond mere interest or admiration. The series of panic attacks composing my freshman year of high school, when I began to deeply feel the first inklings at the possibility of my innate difference. How the word queer, no matter how much makeup and glitter and femininity I adorned myself with, still pleasantly rolled off the tongue; fit like a sleek, androgynous glove.
It took a singular moment, a catalyst, a glimmering spark that lit up my conscience in the middle of icy February. Watching her, skin golden and sprawled out amongst the mass of tangled bedsheets, silhouette half-lit from the drowsy sun enveloping the little cocoon of newness surrounding us. At seven-fifteen in the morning, in my crappy postgrad apartment, I found myself.
Let’s just say this was going to last longer than a semester.
* * *
Was it just because we were both girls, coming to the table with a mutual, prior understanding of what we both wanted? Was it due to past trauma, almost exclusively associated with other men? Was I confused, or just really slutty? Or wait – was I actually gay, hidden behind a façade of winged liner and skater dresses?
One of my clearest memories, in the midst of all this self-discovery, was a Saturday night in October. I was twirling under the gaudy dancefloor lights of the lone gay bar in the tri-county area the night before it shut down. My friend, dancing next to me, leaned in and shout-whispered in my ear: You know, you just seem like yourself. And, funny thing – I didn’t immediately spiral into a dark pit of anxiety. My mind didn’t start racing, didn’t begin shooting off unanswerable questions at rapid-fire pace. Instead I grinned, shrugged. Yeah, I guess so.
* * *
Problem was, I didn’t look the part.
The heels, the bangles, the lip gloss. I was an unintentional sex chameleon, publicly operating under the dome of heteronormativity, while seemingly invading queer spaces for the sole purpose of fucking the people I could never openly admit to actually doing that with.
But truthfully, I sought out queer spaces because they were the few precious blips in the universe where I could actually live life freely and without fear. Luckily, the vast majority welcomed me with open arms. But there was the more-than-occasional dirty look and the downright-hostile interrogations about who I was and what I was actually doing there. I frequently joked about tying a sign around my neck: I’M HERE! I’M QUEER! I PROMISE!
And so, my early-to-mid twenties were confusing years. I was single for most of them, and living my truth seemed like a distant future. But men were always easily accessible and didn’t come with a list of questions and skepticism, so I right-swiped my way through the fog of confusion and ennui: The brooding musician who owned over fifty types of hair product. The electrician who read Neruda to me in bed but turned out to be more-than-kind-of-a Nazi. The desperately sweet teacher who bartended on weekends and seemed too precious for me to even think about touching, a Faberge egg in flannel. Relationships flickered and died out like Christmas lights that should have been taken down from the trailer months ago. Nothing really stuck, and everything felt like a lie.
And then October came.
* * *
October, at least stateside, means homecoming, a season all about youth and the desire to return to it. That homecoming, I went to a party I didn’t actually want to go to and made out with a frat boy in a field. Typically, this is a recipe for disaster. It turned out to be the most beautiful thing to happen to me in years. We’ll call the frat boy M.
I’m not going to inundate you with the details; they are – like that of every relationship – massively boring to anyone outside the two of us. But M has taught me the romance of stability, how open lines of communication and respected boundaries can be just as passionate as midnight under the stars or romps in the sheets, if not more so. M comes without the slightest of pretense. For the first time in any relationship, I am free to be uncensored and unbound, and yet I feel so much more grounded. I see two sides to the coin and I see glasses half-full. My heart swells with waves of giddy excitement when I see him, and half the time I’m not wearing makeup or real pants. I am not completed, but I’m wonderfully complemented.
I’m also – guess what – still queer.
* * *
My relationship is not my sexuality. My relationship is not my identity. And society could give a shit. Unless you’re able to put a singular-concept label on a thing, the thing doesn’t count. The familiar trope, the one those of us hovering on the middle of the Kinsey scale have heard for eons: You’re either one or the other, not both. Going further, our society also has a lovely habit of refusing to see beyond the outer layer. What you look like is, point-blank, what you are. Unless you’re putting your identity on display (and it’s the display the collective mind associates with your identity), you’re a con.
I gravitate toward queer spaces because there, you are free to be who you are. Sometimes it feels like they are spaces where you are free to be the acceptable version of who you are. In a way, I get it. LGBTQ+ folks have spent centuries risking their lives to just simply be. Letting in a perceived outsider can be risky at best, dangerous at worst.
But I can tell you, despite the lip gloss and kitten heels, despite M and the men before him, there are other moments in my life that counted just as much. The tortuous years where I grappled with my sexuality and what that meant for me and my family and my future counted. The times I sat in AP Government, listening to the class debate my identity while I tried to pretend I hadn’t just been thinking about other girls, counted. The familiarity and passion and rightness I felt with all the women I have loved counted. The entire picture counted, even if it didn’t develop the way you thought it should.
* * *
I am going to twirl under all the dance floor lights. I am going to be myself. I am going to be free and live without fear. I am going to love him, as honestly and validly as I loved her before. And I am going to do it, all of it, while wearing lip gloss.