Five Years Ago, Lesbian Visibility Day Was the Best Day of My Life

I’m in her closet trying on bras like I’m her little sister or her lover or, I suppose, a friend.

We met for the first time two hours ago and this immediate intimacy feels exciting. It was a coffee date of like minds — a cis queer woman filmmaker and the younger trans critic who gave her maximalist first feature an enthusiastic review. (A review she posted to Instagram along with a video of her dancing in her underwear that led to our Instagram mutuality and then this coffee and then me trying on her bras.)

It’s Lesbian Visibility Day, and I’m dressed the part. I’m wearing a scissoring t-shirt, merch from my new freelance employer, pink denim shorts that let my little ass hang out, and Docs. My face glows with the combination of laser hair removal soreness from that morning, makeup, and sweat that’s accumulated after the trio of buses required to get from Sherman Oaks to West Hollywood.

Two months since I said no to continuing a life of domesticity, I hadn’t said no to much else. Tinder dates with people confused by my body? Yes. Tagging along with my actress roommate to hang out with her casually transmisogynist lesbian friends? Yes. Going out for drinks with my bisexual coworker who liked to complain about her boyfriend while touching my shoulders? Yes. Being staffed at the lesbian website alongside cis queer women I’d idolized for years? Obviously yes.

That last yes led to this yes and yes yes yes as the filmmaker daydreamed about the work we’d both make and could possibly make together. Then another yes when I mentioned needing a black bralette for my evening’s outfit and she said to skip the trip to the mall and take one of hers.

I remove the scissoring shirt and put on the first bralette. I look in the mirror, delighted by my finally growing breasts and the combination of cool and danger I feel getting naked in the home of this hot person I just met.

I want this encounter to go from erotically charged to overtly sexual, but I have no intention of ruining this new professional connection — or this personal high. I change back into my shirt, thank the filmmaker, exchange a hug, and then I’m back on the bus.

I’m relieved to not be rushed. The last item of my outfit secured, I can write or continue my L Word rewatch before heading out to the evening’s festivities.

I pass my time on the bus making a Twitter thread of fictional queer women characters ranked by my intensity of crush. I present my lesbianism to the cis world like a child showing her parents a new drawing. Look what I’ve created from myself, for you. Do you like it? Do you like me? One of my new freelance coworkers comments on it, and I tuck the validation in my gut for the evening.

When I get home, my roommate talks to me about her breakup until I have to excuse myself to get ready. I’m wearing tight black velvet pants, a black purse, a checkered black and white cropped blazer, the bralette. Everything thrifted — except the bralette, of course, and my Docs.

The bus rides are too long to feel nervous the whole time. But as I approach Downtown LA, I feel my bra strap like a meditation. This token from the hot filmmaker is a reminder I belong in the space I’m headed.

It’s Lesbian Visibility Day, and I’m a lesbian.
Not just a lesbian.
A cool LA lesbian who hangs out with filmmakers and was now staffed at the website hosting this event.

(I feel myself slipping from the stylistic choice of present tense into the more accurate past. It’s hard to honor the girl who walked into a room of celebrities that would now be a room of friends. I want to tell her that after more than half a decade of writing for the internet you learn that liking someone’s writing does not mean they’re your soulmate. I want to tell her that some of these famous celesbians are actually bisexual trans guys. I want to tell her that she is drawn to this room for a reason, that it’s different — and can be treated differently — than the other lesbian spaces she’s tried.)

I linger in the lobby waiting for the doors to open as internet celesbians skip the line. When we’re finally let in, my eyes immediately go to the owner of the website standing by the open bar. I wonder if I should go over and say hi. After all, we’ve been Twitter mutuals for a couple months and recently exchanged some emails. She had asked people on Twitter for their favorite lesbian literary sex scenes for a piece and I responded with Andrea Lawlor’s Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl. She then emailed me asking if I could send her my favorite excerpts. Sending sex scenes to my biggest writer crush had the same charge as trying on the filmmaker’s bras — the 25-year-old part of my brain understanding the context, my baby dyke brain overwhelmed with confused desire.

Despite — not because of — my crush, I walk over to her. Even though she is the person I’m most intimidated by, she is also the person I know best. (Parasocially and actually based on that email exchange and half a dozen tweet back-and-forths.) She gives me a nice greeting — thank God she recognizes me — and we have a friendly chat before she’s pulled away for host duties.

Luckily, someone else swoops in. If the owner’s greeting was a 7, this person gives me a 9. She also works for the site and knows who I am. Her name is familiar, but since she’s not a writer I mostly fake my recognition. I can’t believe this hot person seems so excited to meet me. If I began the night with one inappropriate work crush, it quickly becomes clear I will end the night with another.

Other people who I know arrive, people part of or adjacent to queer spaces I had entered as a hopeful kernel and exited as an indefinable burnt mass. They seem excited to see me. Maybe writing for this site has raised my caché, especially in this space. I feel torn by my desire to embrace this rise in status and the inner voice telling me to instead return to my hot freelance employers and to try and meet the various celesbians getting ready on-stage.

The event is an HBO-sponsored live reading of Anne Lister love letters. There’s some obvious drama happening between two of the readers, and my empathy feels for their discomfort while my desire to live in an episode of The L Word is delighted. I yearn for chaos, because chaos has been modeled to me as queerness — by TV and, to be honest, much of the writing on this website. But this time the drama remains understated. Everyone is a professional and everyone makes it through the event with plenty of fun and jokes.

Afterward, the people I knew before this event invite me out. I say no. I say now that I’m officially part of the website I need to help clean-up. No one has told me this, but I say it anyway and then go find my new crush to turn my lie into truth. We fold some chairs up, and she invites me out with “everyone.” The people I knew before are not a part of everyone. I’ve made the cut — they haven’t.

We’re not going to a hip gay dance party and certainly not a lesbian bar. (It’s 2019 and none exist in LA.) We’re going to Canter’s Jewish Deli, a place I went to daily many summers before when I was straight, when I was a boy, when I was working as an assistant for an up-and-coming actor. It feels like a sort of serendipity. This was a place I went in my old life, adjacent to fame. Now I’m going again, as myself, adjacent to a different kind of fame.

Somehow, I end up in a car with my new crush and my old crush. It’s just the three of us. They’re talking about the event without censorship. If this deli excursion is for the inner circle, this car ride is the inner inner circle. And I’m a part of it.

(I feel myself slipping again. Because I know there was no inner circle. Those other people weren’t invited simply because they were not as close with the group. This wasn’t high school. There was no clique. There were just people who were friends or wanted to become friends or were happy certain people were now writing for their website. I wish I could tell my younger self that. I also wish I could tell her the two people in the car with her — the two people who were giving her more and more crush feelings with every joke and song choice — were dating. Yes, dating each other.)

By the time we arrive at Canter’s, I feel energized by possibility. The owner of the website was always a long-shot crush. But this new person! This new person is so magnetic and seems so enthusiastic about me and is so hot. I could let go of my misguided fantasy and shift my crush feelings toward this person.

The fate of the booth has other ideas. I end up next to my initial crush and feel self-conscious about the rush of feelings when our thighs touch. There’s nothing flirtatious about this. We’re just a group of nine squeezed into a table for six. My enjoyment of this physical touch makes me feel like a creep, but if I move, I’d touch the stranger on the other side of me even more and that feels weird in a different way.

I order a patty melt, because I’m famished. The realization that I’ve barely eaten today out of nerves overpowers any fears of onion breath. I also realize those nerves have started to dissipate. I’m still neurotic, I still have OCD, I’m still filled with shame. But everyone at this table is so kind and welcoming and makes me feel like I belong. I’ve spent the months since moving to LA performing for queer spaces and, finally, I feel permission to let the performance stop. It feels like this group of people might actually like me, all of me.

After we eat, I spot someone familiar out of the corner of my eye. It’s the actor I used to assist — now more arrived than up-and-coming. This is still his spot. I excuse myself from the table and rush up to him before I can remember that since transitioning we’ve only talked via email and text. I’ve never felt more like a hot dyke, but I suppose I’m still recognizable as the boy he once knew. He gives me an excited greeting and we briefly catch up before I return to the table.

My new friends are looking at me in shock. The most famous person at the table, someone who I’ve not had the chance to talk to much yet, laughs and says, “Drew. Do you know famous people??” I laugh and respond that he’s not that famous, secretly relishing the affirmation that I’m not some superfan trying to hang out with these celesbians, but a person who has always belonged with famous people.

As people are ordering cars and saying goodbyes, that most famous person invites me to see the latest Marvel movie with all of them that weekend. And so, I did it. I’ve officially made lesbian friends. I’ve officially become a lesbian. I officially belong.

(My narrative was always that the encounter with the actor led to the invite to the movie. As if I wouldn’t have been deemed worthy otherwise. Years later, I sent a mushy birthday text to my friend thanking her for being so cool and always inviting me along when I first moved to LA. She responded with a loving dismissiveness — no favor had been done, why wouldn’t I have been invited?)

(I think sometimes the best way to let go of the need for external validation is to receive it. It’s a nice thought that we can do work on ourselves removed from the world around us, but I learned how to trust friendships by finding trustworthy friends. I learned how to be vulnerable in romantic relationships by finding someone who invited my vulnerability. I learned to let go of the need to be included in lesbian spaces by being invited into the best lesbian space.)

(I don’t like going back into my mental gymnastics of half a decade ago. But I feel proud of that girl all the same. To quote a pair of famous cis lesbians, she burned her life down. She sought out the life she wanted and she found it. Better than she could have imagined.)

(For years, I said Lesbian Visibility Day 2019 was the best day of my life. But, upon reflection, that’s no longer true. Because when you live the life you want to live, every day can become Lesbian Visibility Day. And the excitement of novelty and the relief of risk cannot match the new normal of the life I shaped.)

(I’m no longer friends with the filmmaker — I’m not really sure why — and her bra no longer sits at the bottom of my underwear drawer. I kept it long after it became too worn, a memento of my new life. But I’ve once again moved, now in an even newer life, with no need for this reminder.)

(I’ve become my own reminder.)

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 534 articles for us.

12 Comments

  1. This is heartwarming. And heart-wrenching and nerve-wracking, and finally heartwarming again. We’re glad you’re here, that you made it, that now people can have parasocial relationships with *you* 😅. My life is not so glamorous but I am familiar with that aching desire to fit in, to be part of the somebodies, and the continual wonder if I’ve made it.

    Thanks for writing this, even though, and because, it gave me complicated feelings.

  2. Drew, the way I was so excited when I saw this had published.

    I’ll be thinking about so many things you’ve said here for a long time. Thank you for a piece where I can feel the ways you are revisiting your past with serious clarity and honesty. Really such a gift.

    Also, inspired use of parenthesis.

  3. Wow this was so great! The emotions come through so clearly. I felt like I was reading my memories – I have felt really similar nerves and excitement and pride being newly out and bisexual in queer spaces and this was such a (painful) throwback to that jumbled mass of emotions lol. I have kept a pin a cool older lesbian gave me for years, long after we lost contact. Thanks Drew!

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