1.There is a picture of me as a toddler kissing a little boy named Jack. We are sitting on a miniature white wicker chair on the front porch of my house. We both have short, wispy curls, his blonde and mine brown, that fall just above the base of our necks. He’s wearing a light blue t-shirt with dark blue stripes. It’s covered in drool and dirt stains. I’m not wearing a shirt at all, and the corner of my diaper peeks out at the bottom of the frame. My eyes are closed and Jack’s are slightly open. Our lips are millimeters apart. They are clearly about to touch.
I’m not wearing a shirt at all, and the corner of my diaper peeks out at the bottom of the frame.
I don’t know why Jack and I decided to kiss in that moment, whether we were emulating the mommies we’d seen kissing daddies and the princes we’d seen kissing princesses or if we were just two babies exploring our surroundings and gender had nothing to do with it. I can’t help but wonder, though. If Jack had been a girl, would this picture exist? Or would whatever adult snapped this photo and likely shouted, awww, how cute have had a different reaction to seeing two little girls doing the same?
2. They don’t teach gay sex in sex-ed. They don’t even mention it. The penis is inserted into the vagina. That is sex. That is it. As a sixth grader it doesn’t occur to me to question what they tell me.
In our final class we all get to write anonymous questions on slips of paper and place them in a fishbowl at the front of the room for the teacher to pull out and answer. Someone, not me, has written, “how do lesbians have sex?” I don’t remember if there are giggles when my teacher reads this one aloud. Probably. I don’t remember perking up or being especially interested in the answer. I don’t quite remember how the teacher answers it either, but I do vividly remember this question being pulled out of the fishbowl, even though I can’t remember any others. I can still hear my teacher reading it out loud in her low, scraggly voice.
That has to mean something.
3. In both high school and college, I spend a lot of time Googling pictures of hot guys in an effort to convince myself I feel attracted to them. I only do it at night, with the lights off, when I am alone in my room. I search anything from “Usher Shirtless” to “Sexy Ryan Gosling” to “Hot Naked Men.” I stare and I stare and I stare and I order my brain to feel something. Look at those abs, I tell it. How badly do you wish you could rub your hands all over that chest? I manufacture butterflies in my stomach, assemble a series of tingles throughout my body. I perform this ritual too many times to count.
One night, though, I decide to try something new. It’s one of those nights when I’ve decided that maybe I could be gay and maybe if I was it wouldn’t be so bad. I have moments like this every once in a while — periods that last an hour or so where I allow myself to freely gaze at beautiful girls and test the way my body and mind react before furiously beating myself up for ever thinking I could possibly be gay when I am so clearly straight.
So during this night when I have decided being gay would not be an epic disaster, I decide to Google photos of one of my favorite actresses, Shay Mitchell, who happens to play a lesbian on a TV show I love, Pretty Little Liars. My heart pounds as I type the letters to her name in the search bar. My stomach aches like I am searching for ways to bury a body or purchase large amounts of heroin.
A barrage of pictures covers the screen. Shay and her menacingly sexy stare wearing jeans and a tank top. Shay in a bathing suit, in a sparkly dress, in almost nothing at all. I mentally run my hands over her smooth skin and through her long, silky hair. I examine the curvature of her face, the suppleness of her lips. I imagine what it might feel like to kiss them. Would it feel better than kissing a guy? I stare at her chest. Am I attracted to it? I don’t know. I think I could be. There’s something easier about looking at Shay than looking at Ryan Gosling or Usher. I don’t have to tell my brain what to do.
Before I go to sleep, I erase my computer’s search history, as if someone would see Shay Mitchell in the search bar and put all the pieces together. By the time I wake up the next morning, I’ve assured myself yet again that I was acting ridiculous and I am very much straight.
4. I grip Sam’s cheeks the way an insect clings to the windshield of a truck whooshing down the interstate. I let his body weight sink onto me as I lay back onto the beer-stained grass. The ground throbs to the beat of the song blasting inside the fraternity nearby.
The adjacent streetlight displays Sam’s black curls. Perhaps I’m illuminated, too. His tongue presses into mine and at the time eighteen-year-old me does not know that I feel nothing.
Because at the time I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel, aside from the gooeyness of his mouth exploring the gooeyness of mine.
“Finally!” I shout to the bully who lives inside my left ventricle. “I’ve made out with a boy so I can’t be a loser anymore. You have no more reason to pester me.” The bully hangs his head and sulks off into the shadows.
The next morning I awaken alone beneath my black and white flowered comforter in my dorm. I make my way to breakfast with the new friends I’m pretending so hard to love because it’s the first week of college and aren’t I supposed to be having the time of my life?
I am beaming about last night and how I’m not a loser anymore. There’s a hot air balloon bursting out the front pocket of my backpack pulling me up toward the sky. I force myself downwards into my seat in the dining hall and grip the table so I don’t float away.
New friend number one takes a break from slurping up eggs and begins to speak: “Those boys we met last night were such jerks,” she says.
New friend number two chimes in: “I know. They were so creepy and weird.” I let go of the table. No chance I’m going anywhere.
The bully perks up. He slips on his boxing gloves and begins throwing punches and I can feel the blood stop flowing through my body.
“Do you think they know?” I whisper to him. “Maybe they didn’t see the two of us go outside.” He can’t seem to hear me over all that pounding.
It turns out there is still more work to do before I’ll no longer be a loser, a lot more boys to kiss, mostly strangers, a lot more liquor to singe the back of my throat and help convince me to let them put their hands wherever they want because it’s also exactly what I want.
It is, isn’t it?
5. The first time I ever touch a penis is the one time I give a boy a handjob. I don’t ever really see it because it’s dark inside the fraternity house and we are pushed together against a wall. His tongue roams around my vodka-stained mouth while I move my hand up and down his shaft. It’s softer than I thought it’d be. His skin feels like a cotton t-shirt moving back and forth in my palm.
I don’t remember his name. I don’t even remember his face. I remember leaving, deciding suddenly and with no explanation that I had to go, and rushing out the door. I remember washing my hands over and over when I got home, desperate to destroy any evidence of where they had been.
6. “It feels like I’m trying to rape you,” says the boy from the bar in this thick Mozambique accent as he launches himself away from me and sits up. “I don’t think I can do this anymore.”
It’s our third attempt at having sex, and I suppose he’s grown tired of the way I cringe when he pulls my legs apart and how dry it is when he jostles his way inside me and the way I can’t stop my hands from pushing his away anytime they get too close to the places I think I want them to be.
Why me?” he asked a few nights earlier when I first brought him home and he realized he, a stranger, would be my first. “Why not?” I replied, shrugging my shoulders and flashing him a smile. He looked skeptical. Maybe he guessed my real reason, that graduation was in a month and I couldn’t bear walking across that stage a virgin.
Well, I won’t have to.
Instead I will receive my class of 2013 diploma stung by the memory of him sitting on the edge of my bed, completely naked, he and his perfectly chiseled body talking me through the fact that we were finished as I wished more than anything that he would put his clothes back on.