For All The Girls I Loved Before I Knew I Could

Amanda

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.


 

Ana

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.

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?


 

Kelly

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.

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.


 

Molly

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.

Avatar of Audrey

Audrey is a Texan living in Managua, Nicaragua. She loves journalism, country dancing and talking to strangers. Follow her on Twitter @audreywhitetx.

Audrey has written 33 articles for us.

103 Comments

  1. Thumb up 33

    Please log in to vote

    I feel you could have peered into my soul and written this afterwards. I grew up not knowing that it was okay to have feelings for girls. Or at least, for ME to have them. I’d always told myself that every girl has crushes or every girl checks out women as they pass by. I fell in love with my best friend in 8th grade. I was courted by a 20 year old lesbian in 10th. I got caught, by my friend, staring at the ass of a girl I’d been attracted to all of senior year. These are just a few examples of the countless times I brushed off my queerness as some typical phase, because it didn’t register in my mind that I was capable of romantic feelings or physical attraction towards females. It wasn’t until winter of last year, a few months after my 20th birthday, that I was overcome with my feelings for women and was forced to re-evaluate my sexuality and identity. It was a scary time because I thought I knew myself, and, like you said, if I had any kind of guidance or character to identify with growing up instead of exclusive heterosexuality, I would have uncovered and accepted that part of myself earlier on (hopefully). Thank you for this article.

  2. Thumb up 17

    Please log in to vote

    Nice piece. Well done. I’d like to send this to 11-year-old me after getting dumped by her “best friend” because her mom decided I was a lesbian. You’ll be fine, 12-year-old me. P.S. – Eff you, “best friend’s” mom.

  3. Thumb up 12

    Please log in to vote

    BETH!!!!!!*

    *Girl in high school I loved, envied, loved even harder and now is my best friend who is far away in Thailand.

    This, Audrey, this was so good and brought me back to my younger says of questioning. Bravo.

  4. Thumb up 14

    Please log in to vote

    I just have all these feels, though. I want to do some kind of reflective journal in the style of this post. Thank you for sharing, boo bear. (:

    And here’s hoping things only get easier for little queer babies in the future.

  5. Thumb up 13

    Please log in to vote

    Audrey, thank you so much for writing this… So touching, and I can certainly relate to your story in so many levels. Gosh how I wish Hey Arnold had had a queer character!

    Especially this part made me tear up: “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”

    *Slow clap* Thank you

  6. Thumb up 12

    Please log in to vote

    Thank you! This is beautiful. And, in fact, just before I read this, I was remembering a “could have been” situation of my own… This really resonates, even the Texas part, just add on about 10 more years in the space of coming to self-realization.

  7. Thumb up 15

    Please log in to vote

    This brought tears to my eyes, and I am just sitting here trying to figure out exactly why. Just this year I have really begun to embrace and explore my sexuality (I’m 22) and this just puts things into perspective looking back at my own past friendships and relationships and seeing how hard it has been to even get to this place in my life. Thank you for writing this.

  8. Thumb up 34

    Please log in to vote

    This piece really resonated with me on so many levels, but what crushed me like Lauren Zuniga crushed you was when you said if there had been openly queer teachers in school you wouldn’t have waited 22 years to choose queerness. After spending the last 5 years in an openly supportive “queer bubble” in under grad and grad schools, I have chosen to be that openly queer teacher in a very conservative urban high school. While I do sometimes wonder if I have made the right decision, especially since I am non-tenured, the moment someone connects with me it is worth every bit of trepidation and anxiety. I have been rumored to be leading a “gay revolution” at school, but I’m just being me, which is allowing others, both faculty and students, to feel just a tad more comfortable in finding their own selves.

    Thank you so much for this piece.

    • Thumb up 7

      Please log in to vote

      You are definitely changing the lives of some students, probably without them ever realizing it.

      I graduated from high school 8 years ago, but ever since I came out I’ve always wanted to go back to see my English teacher, just to tell him that I’m gay, too.

    • Thumb up 10

      Please log in to vote

      I remember two lesbian teachers at my high school; one was fired and one was transferred. It certainly didn’t send the message that being gay was ok. I don’t know you, but I’m proud of you for putting yourself out there and elated for your students to have such a badass in their classroom. We have to reimagine society and it starts like this. <3

  9. Thumb up 14

    Please log in to vote

    Thanks for this. It’s great. I spent all of college cuddling, spooning and holding hands with my best female friends, wearing flannel and hiking boots and bandannas, and still never realized I could be queer until years later. Your last two paragraphs are everything.

  10. Thumb up 7

    Please log in to vote

    Thank you for this piece. And hooray for bisexuals – I think we’re the most underrepresented and maligned sexuality out there, in my humble opinion, and it’s wonderful to see the bisexual tag on a cool site like Autostraddle.

  11. Thumb up 26

    Please log in to vote

    Thank you so much for this – I spend a lot of time thinking about those girls that I desperately wanted to be “friends” with before I could accept that my own queerness could be a part of my identity. How things would have been different. These last two paragraphs are so powerful.

    In honor of Shakespeare’s birthday: “I can no other answer make but thanks. And thanks, and ever thanks.”

  12. Thumb up 12

    Please log in to vote

    I love this so much, especially since all of my first crushes happened at Girl Scout camp, while eating banana boats and singing the Princess Pat. Looking back, it seems so obvious, but I had no idea I was gay until my 20s. I knew the other girls were fun and pretty, but I didn’t really understand that those feelings were the same feelings my friends felt about boys.

  13. Thumb up 6

    Please log in to vote

    This is beautiful. It reminds me a little bit of all the crushes, kind-of-crushes, and goodness-knows-what-else things that all happened before/around when I came out. And the last paragraph – yes. Just yes.
    Thank you for this.

  14. Thumb up 7

    Please log in to vote

    This was beautiful – thank you Audrey. Like other commenters, this really resonated with me. I had no idea at the time but now I look back at the intense female friendships I had and how I “admired” girls who were pretty or smart or accomplished and now I see what was really going on.

  15. Thumb up 5

    Please log in to vote

    To all the girls I loved before I knew what GAY even was, *insert last paragraph* REally really really great article!!! I loved reading it and I loved how each girl you described reflects much what I used to feel about the Amanda, Ana and Kelly in my life. They were girls I felt protective about when we were friends and somehow wanted to have the one up on the guys they had crushes on.

  16. Thumb up 22

    Please log in to vote

    Reading these comments have turned the snakes of fear in my stomach into butterflies of joy. Thanks, amazing AS family, I love y’all. Please keep spreading your love and light into the world, and I promise to do the same <3

  17. Thumb up 8

    Please log in to vote

    I feel like I know a celebrity because ANAnas has been my best friend for YEARS. I’m now officially calling her H^2 (hair&hips). Also maybe I’m just really excited about this because feelings and also I just watched an episode of Broad City.

    The point is: This was crazy relatable. I had the gayest/most intense best friendships growing up- my best friendship with Nas being one of them. I’m happy that other queermo cuties know how amazing she is. ;)

  18. Thumb up 10

    Please log in to vote

    this is so so great. i had to put on zero 7 “swing” (a song i hadnt thought about in so long but was flooded with like a sense memory just reading this) and light a candle for my former confused self. it is amazing how looking back and knowing what i know now, everything makes so much sense. it is so simple and the answer was right there in front of me, but i couldnt see it. life could have been so much easier if queer had just been a thing in my universe. thank you for writing this. it is really beautiful.

  19. Thumb up 6

    Please log in to vote

    This is just so wonderful. It reminds me about the time I spent 2 years of my life in college trying to get this lesbian to notice me, beyond friendship. The biggest of all crushes, butterflies in my stomach every time I saw her, when she held my hand. Looking back, lots of missed opportunities but I’m glad the universe brought us together because it made me realize and finally accept that I was queer and there was no more denying it.

  20. Thumb up 6

    Please log in to vote

    This article is fantastic and I relate to it so hard! Every time I look back through my childhood and adolescence I find another girl crush or telltale sign of queerness I didn’t notice before. How could I not know for so long? Hoping things will be different for future queerbies.

  21. Thumb up 15

    Please log in to vote

    Heh, I wrote a piece very similar to this one that I performed at the A-Camp talent show a year ago! (link, if anyone is interested) Great minds, eh?

    I think I would have come out a lot earlier if I had more bisexual role models in my life/media when I was younger. I knew being gay was a possibility, but bisexuality was pretty much invisible to me until high school.

  22. Thumb up 11

    Please log in to vote

    Thank you for this. While I always knew that I was attracted to girls, I always told myself that it could be a psysical thing and no more and that it didn’t count if it was only psysical… Even after I started hanging out with my girlfriend, only as friends, it took 6 months of her saying “Sweety, you’re in love with me” until I would allow myself to accept that she was right.

  23. Thumb up 16

    Please log in to vote

    Created an account just so I could comment on how great this was. Thank you Audrey! As a 27 year old who thought everyone had the right and ability to love anyone their little chemistry factory of a body and heart said they love, but was slow to realize that extended to myself, it is a million percent affirming to know I am not alone in my delayed ability to listen to and accept myself and moreover, that that is more than ok.

    Here is to hoping that the future generations have more representation so they might be able figure it out a little sooner or for the late bloomers like myself, they can see that they aren’t the only ones and that not knowing early on doesn’t make their gay/bi/trans/queer identity any less genuine.

    • Thumb up 2

      Please log in to vote

      Congrats for accepting yourself and coming out! And I say it’s better late then never. I struggling with my sexuality from the time I was 7 years old and I only accepted myself and came out when I was 20. I’m curious, when did you come out?

      • Thumb up 2

        Please log in to vote

        Thank you! I personally accepted it at 22/23 and then came out to my family friends shortly after. I think I had a much better handle on who I was around 8 and then just busied myself with sports and repressed emotions.

  24. Thumb up 9

    Please log in to vote

    My freshman year of college. Her name was Jen. My name is Jenney. So in my head no possible way we could date, I mean we have the same name. Two years later, after keeping here at a friendly distance, I saw her walking out of class holding her then girlfriends hand, I suddenly realized how stupid I was, and that I could have been holding her hand instead and went home and told my roommate I wanted to make out with ladies. Never dated Jen, so wish I had, but so happy she was someone I figured out I wanted, even if she had the same name.

  25. Thumb up 8

    Please log in to vote

    Aww. This reminds me so much of the way I would become friends with girls in elementary and middle school, because I thought they were “so pretty” and “so cool” but I refused to truly admit to myself that it was a sexual attraction. In fact I first knew I liked girls when I was 7 years old in gym class. I saw this beautiful tall girl (tall for a 7 year old, lol) doing jumping jacks in a crop top and shorts and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I decided that the *ONLY* reason I was staring at her was because she was pretty and had interesting hair, and I determined that day that we would be friends. Once I DID become friends with her I was always hugging her, holding hands with her, playing with her hair,and pretty much finding any excuse to be physically be all up under her–because girls are allowed to do that, lol. And that began the pattern of having more emotionally intimate and intense relationships with my female friends then I ever did with any guy I was dating. I finally came out as bi at 17 to my friends, started dating other chicks and then stopped trying to hold on to some semblance of straightness when I finally found myself dating 6 girls and 1 guy at the same time one summer, lmao. If someone was going to have to go it was going to be the guy, and I haven’t really dated a guy since then. I came out as a lesbian at 20 and haven’t looked back since!

  26. Thumb up 5

    Please log in to vote

    This is so amazing. Thank you for writing it, it brought me to tears sitting in my university’s library. I feel like it says so many of the things I have been trying to understand about myself as well, when I look back at my life and wallow in all of the missed opportunities I had to actually accept myself and really be happy. It is good to know I am not the only one struggling with this, thank you so much for sharing your story. I cannot begin to communicate the impact.

  27. Thumb up 14

    Please log in to vote

    My heart. My heart.

    “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”

    I never heard someone describe what happened to me for so long.

  28. Thumb up 3

    Please log in to vote

    So many feelings. As a fellow Texan who had to figure it back in Texas this is everything. I think I was at that same Andrea Gibson show and that same Lauren Zunigia poem punched me in the heart and made it a little easier to come to terms with my queer was in the line star state.

  29. Thumb up 10

    Please log in to vote

    “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.”

    This paragraph describes exactly how I feel. Thank you so much for writing this!

  30. Thumb up 6

    Please log in to vote

    This is gorgeous. Brings me back to not knowing why I was obsessed w/ the girl who played Peter Pan in the summer play. And fast forward to high school, my best friend who I wanted to take to prom instead of my first and only boyfriend. All of those “could have been” girls. I’m out now in honor of them.

  31. Thumb up 5

    Please log in to vote

    I love this article so much. All the nostalgic might-have-beens… I have a picture on my desk of myself with the girl who brought me to google things like “romantic friendship” and “boston marriage” — because we’re so cute together and I was so clueless that it cracks me up. I love the “I know something you don’t know, just wait till you find out, it’s totally awesome” feeling. It reminds me how far I’ve come, and not to take it for granted.

  32. Thumb up 15

    Please log in to vote

    Well, Audrey.

    You’ve done it again. You made me feel pretty much all of the feels — granted, we both already knew you were quite capable of that.

    So happy to be a part of your story. And by story, I don’t mean this article (although it’s beyond important in its own right.) I mean your life story. You’re as critical a part of mine as I am in yours.

    All the love.

    Kelly (the one who cut off all her hair)

  33. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    This is a lovely, moving story of yours you have blessed us with sharing. Thanks for opening up and showing your colours, and in doing so, allowing the rest of us myself included, to be part of your story by identifying with it, the girls we loved before realising it was ok to love them intimately. I hope you keep writing and keep putting in new episodes..

  34. Thumb up 3

    Please log in to vote

    My list of past unknown loves is long and sounds a whole lot like yours. Thanks for writing this, and for helping me just now realize why getting dumped by my best friend in middle school still hurts so much.

    Also, based on the link of Lauren Zuniga at the Vancouver Poetry Slam, youtube recommended similar queer poets who were also at the slam and I just spent the past two hours feeling all the feels.

    xoxo

  35. Thumb up 6

    Please log in to vote

    “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.”

    This is it, you know? This is why, only six months after I realized I was queer, I was out to nearly everyone in my life, and was asking if I could give a speech about it to a group of 100+ seventh-through-tenth graders that I work with. Because it scared the shit out of me, which meant I had to do it, and because I hadn’t known that “queer” was even an option, and I wanted these kids to know it was an option. Because I wanted to give them a tiny empty moment to hear their own pulse.

    I didn’t get to give the speech, which was another lesson in politics and a story for another day – but the important thing is that we understand how much of an awesome impact each of us is making when we spend the day out and proud. Thanks, Audrey.

  36. Thumb up 4

    Please log in to vote

    This article really speaks to me, thanks for writing it. I have to put up my hand and say I had such a similar process to you, at first! All those girls I cared for, the bodies I stared at, the faces I wanted to kiss in a totally hetero-girl way… Thinking that wanting boys made you straight.
    It took me 3 years of loving this one girl before I asked her out, when she finally came out as bi to me and our friends. When i first fell for her I never thought there was anything wrong with it, I was so deep in denial! I must admit I was also the stereotypical closeted homophobe though. It was weird; i never thought anything was wrong with my gay uncle, but as soon as I acknowledged to myself that I wasn’t totally straight there was so much self hatred. In any case, she made me happy when were together but she turned out to be straight after all (or so she told me) and even months after the breakup I’m not over her.
    You made me think, though, about all the feelings I buried and hid throughout my childhood; I’m just glad I live in a place where i could find all these LGB people online and coming out at 15 wasn’t so bad because I had someone I loved to weather the storm of ‘are you a lesbian?’ comments with – and I have some badass allies who reassured me that I wasn’t a pervert as i feared.

  37. Thumb up 2

    Please log in to vote

    Thank you for your stories Audrey. I can relate in so many ways! Being bi/pan(whateveritscalledthesedays)sexual, I remember so many experiences where I’ve fallen in love with a girl and written it off as friendship because going with societal customs I should only be in love with men. Not being totally out to the world as a person of fluidity, I have struggled (mostly with myself) to acknowledge and accept my feelings. Your article has given me the inspiration to write down my stories of the girls I loved before I knew I could. And reading all the replies to your article I can see that the world has so many freakin’ awesome women that should be recognised for their courage to love and their courage to try to love and their courage to want to love. Power and Love to all of us!

  38. Thumb up 5

    Please log in to vote

    Audrey, as a fellow born and bred Texan, I feel you so hard on this.

    Growing up, whenever I got butterflies in my stomach when seeing a girl, I was like ‘what is this odd sensation’, got no answers, and then learned to disregard it.

    Later after I graduated from UT, I was sucking at finding a job because I was completely occupied with being a full-time lovelorn wreck over my best friend. When it hurt for so long that I stopped caring about hiding what was wrong, I confided in a trusted female authority figure about the feelings that had turned me into a shadow of a person. They were like, oh every girl feels that way about a special friend, you’ll get over it and marry a man. The eff? I had one exploratory foot out, but this statement effectively shoved me back into the closet for many more years.

    Now that I’m out, I psych myself out and still find interaction with attractive ladies frightening and do the aloof thing. I usually just friendzone them to feel safe. To be honest, I’m kinda jealous of the emotional connections you had with these girls/women – it’s clear they meant so much to you.

    Here’s to future feelings and beautiful experiences!

  39. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    Marvelously well put!
    Have always known, but religious teachings kept me in constant denial.
    Taken me 35+ years to accept.
    Still not 100% out, but have accepted myself and making progress in public with HRC gear, still on my journey in coming out to family.
    Thank you for sharing!

  40. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    This is so fantastic. So many women in my past that I loved dearly as friends…and who I also had not-so-platonic crushes on slash was super into. Super obvious now, not so then.

    What’s really striking to me is that the feelings I had are so much more confusing to me NOW looking BACK than they felt at the time. It’s so strange thing to have such big feelings and not be nearly as confused as you’d think you’d be, because “I’m straight, duh.” Seeing my actions and motivations thorough the clearer lens of I’m In the Future Now makes me wonder how the eff I wasn’t asking questions about my sexuality I really obviously should have been.

    Conformity and queerphobia are powerful things. This article was fantastic, and I’m having all the feelings because of it.

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.