For Your Consideration: Introduction to Women’s Studies

for your consideration

Welcome to For Your Consideration, a series about things we love and love to do — and we’d like to give you permission to embrace your authentic self and love them too.

On the first day of my discussion section for Introduction To Women’s Studies, I walked right up to the graduate student instructor teaching the class and said “I don’t want to be here; they’re making me take this. I already know everything; please don’t treat me like these freshmen.”

I can be a little intense in certain situations, and school is one of them. I was in my second-to-last semester of undergrad, and I had already satisfied all the requirements for a minor in women’s studies… minus the 101 level lecture and discussion section. The department wouldn’t let me claim the minor without taking the Intro, so I signed up for a class of mostly freshmen, many who hadn’t heard the word “intersectionality” before. I was being an asshole when I walked up to the instructor on that first day. (Here’s your occasional reminder that this is not an advice column and, in fact, maybe the real takeaway from this series is to not be like me because then you’ll find yourself one day without an apartment and unable to trust anyone, even yourself, and I’m supposed to remind myself that these things are not my fault, but I hate that option, too, because it makes me feel like I have no control over my life.)

Thankfully, shockingly, the instructor — a blonde law student from New York — did not tell me to fuck right off. “Great, you can help me teach the class,” she said.

I didn’t know then that Devon (not her real name) would become one of those women in my life who’s there for good, who I could not text for months and then suddenly dive right back in with. One of those friends who would show up, who would stay. We never do know those things about a person when they’re just starting to happen, just like we don’t know right away who the people are that come into our life just to leave it, until it’s too late.

Devon’s class was the first and only class in college that I came out in. She didn’t know that until recently and was shocked, because people are always shocked when they find out how closeted I was for so long because of how publicly, loudly gay I am now. But even as I became more and more comfortable expressing my queerness online during college, I never brought that into the real world with me, and certainly never in the classroom. I wrote papers on lesbians and lesbian film theory and the systemic oppression of queer people of color with a researcher’s distance.

Until one day in Devon’s discussion section when I gave a presentation of the representation of lesbians in modern television. I hadn’t really rehearsed it, but for days leading up to the presentation, I mulled over the idea of ending it on a personal note, of tying up my facts and observations with an anecdote about why it mattered, specifically to me, to see lesbians on television. Even as I gave the presentation, I wasn’t sure if I would follow through. How many times had I decided to come out to a friend only to change my mind last-second because I wasn’t ready or wasn’t drunk enough or didn’t know what words to use? (A lot.)

Her parents sat in on that particular class to watch her teach, which was sweet. I explained all the letters in LGBTQIA to her mom. Their presence, for some reason, made me even more nervous about ending the presentation with a big ol’ “I’m gay” moment, even though they were nice and more engaged in what I was saying than the other students. It was a Friday discussion section, which made it hard for Devon to hold anyone’s attention.

It didn’t feel particularly momentous when I went ahead and did it, when I said the words “I’m gay” out loud in that dim basement classroom standing in front of a white screen with Emily Fields from Pretty Little Liars and Willow Rosenberg from Buffy The Vampire Slayer projected onto it. But my heart beat hard, and my breath quickened. I didn’t feel different, and I didn’t feel brave, but I am glad that I did it. School was always important to me, but I never felt totally like myself there.

At some point, Devon and I started emailing. Occasionally about class. But more so about not-class. About Chrissy Teigen and Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal and jam made in Vermont. One thread exchanged between us has almost 60 emails in it, sent between November 2013 and January 2014. I sent her links to the television column I wrote for the college paper. They were all sent to and from my personal email address, not my school one.

“Is she in love with you?” my roommate asked once. “Maybe!” I said, and I loved it, because I’m a gay cliché who loved the idea of a teacher wanting me. But fear not: We are not in love except in that way two women who are friends would do absolutely anything for each other.

Our friendship never left the classroom, except when it came to these emails. Email after email after email. Maybe exchanging phone numbers was where we implicitly drew the line when it came to professionalism. But with every email, I did feel closer and closer to Devon, understood more about her than her lectures in class provided. We were different, to be sure. She was outgoing, never shy, always confident. She liked going to school football games and to different bars from me, poked fun at me for living in the part of town known for artsy stoners. But we liked a lot of the same things, could talk for forever about just one scene in one TV show.

I loved her class, too, after all. I read Judith Lorber on gender, Suzanne Pharr on homophobia as a weapon of sexism, bell hooks on Sheryl Sandberg.

In between, the emails kept going.

That’s how I build friendships, how I best connect with people — through writing or, more accurately, messaging. From AIM to tumblr ask boxes to G-chat to iMessage to DMs, written communication is my love language. I once joked to my similarly plugged-in friend Aly, who is so much like me that I sometimes feel fused to her, that she could probably be in the midst of skydiving and would still text me back. I’m the same way though. If I love you, I’ll show you by always texting you back.

I didn’t see Devon at all during my final semester of undergrad, but the emails continued. She came to my big standup comedy showcase, the one where I came out to over 100 people at once as sort of my last hurrah of undergrad. She liked the joke about Spotify’s algorithm and masturbation.

After graduation, the emails stalled.

I didn’t see her again until 2015 when I moved to New York to be with my then-girlfriend. She came to my Drew Barrymore-themed housewarming party with a friend and drank on the roof of the apartment I liked but eventually would hate with the roommates I hated from the start. I was starting my life over for what felt like the dozenth time since graduation.

Almost instantly, something flipped between Devon and me. We weren’t just a student and a teacher who emailed about pop culture after class. We were friends, and I felt it this time. We promised to hang out more, and then we didn’t. I was busy; she was busy; it’s a New York tale as old as time. Still, she was back in my life, the kind of friend that boomerangs back from time to time as if no time had passed at all.

Now, I live with Devon. Or, rather, I’m crashing with her. Crashing with — that thing people do after they lose a job or get a divorce or, as in my case, go through a drawn-out lesbian breakup that never seems to end. I’m staying with her for just a month while I get back on my feet. She invited me to do so for months before I finally took her up on it.

For an entire summer and into fall, she told me to leave my apartment, to leave my ex. So many people were telling me to leave last year. One night, Devon took me out to dinner with her friend who I’d never met before and the two of them spent two hours telling me all the reasons I’m great, all the reasons I deserve better.

This past year, I’ve had to lean on my friends more than ever before. But what has amazed me the most is how I don’t even need to ask most of the time. Before I can even ask, they’re right there, offering their hearts and their homes. Devon instantly became one of the many friends who started showing up for me, who made me feel like maybe just maybe there are people in my life who won’t leave. A group of friends snapped into action last summer and haven’t stopped being there for me since.

There was Devon. There were the half-dozen queer women I met on tumblr in 2010 before any of us knew we were queer. There was the friend who worked with me on the college paper who seems to still know me better than anyone else, understands me on a molecular level, and I’ve never told her that and maybe I should. There was the coworker who became a friend who I could text when I couldn’t sleep at night because she was three hours behind. There was the girl in Chicago who I thought I was on a date with the first time we hung out. And I promise I’m not the type of person who assumes everyone is in love with her, but in my defense, she was flirty and she was strange and she was injecting herself with hormones throughout our not-date while she explained to me, a stranger, that she was donating her eggs because someone else probably wanted them more than she did, and I mistook this openness for intimacy.

Now, for at least a couple weeks more, I have a room of my own in a gorgeous apartment full of pictures of Devon through the years, of her sister and her parents too, the ones who unknowingly attended my quiet little coming out event in a classroom in a college town six years ago. I have a desk where I can write next to a window that overlooks Central Park, and on my first morning here I watched the sunrise bleed into it, making the red-brick building across the street glow. I’m romanticizing the hell out of it, but it’s honestly maybe the most beautiful writing space I’ll ever have. It doesn’t feel like home, because nowhere does right now. This is temporary, and it is exactly what I need. There’s a bathtub! A fucking bathtub!

What would I do without these women who held me up when the woman I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with hurt me like I’d never been hurt before? These women who love me and who I love. These women who text me back when I can’t sleep and who know my worth even when I don’t. These women who I feel will always, always be a part of my life even when they aren’t explicitly so, even when there’s physical distance between us. I feel like a burden on them sometimes, like I talk about the break up too much, like I myself am too much. That’s me though; it isn’t them. And I have to learn to trust that just like I have to learn to stop blaming myself for everything.

I walked into Devon’s class assuming I’d get nothing out of it other than the small, surface-level validation of an extra merit on my undergraduate transcript. I walked into Devon’s class just in order to check a box. I thought I wouldn’t learn anything at all, thought I knew, as I told her, everything.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 870 articles for us.


  1. I’m crying once again because of one of your articles. You have such a beautiful way with words. I am so glad you have such an amazing group of women in your life. Take care Kayla.

  2. I always love these, but this one allows for such an interesting exploration of friendship and intimacy and how those things shift and grow (often in wildly unexpected ways) – this is very lovely, Kayla!

  3. I absolutely loved this. I love the vulnerability of it, I love the writing, it’s wonderful.

    I also relate with writing being my way of communicating and the women’s studies minor. So thank you, Kayla.

  4. Serendipity.

    I usually don’t like using that word because the “dippy’ part just jumps out at me, but in this case, it’s the “serene” part that is called to mind by your story.

    You’re such an amazing storyteller, it blows my mind every time. I don’t know if you find solace or comfort from your writing, I hope you do. For sure I do, a lot.

  5. “Here’s your occasional reminder that this is not an advice column and, in fact, maybe the real takeaway from this series is to not be like me because then you’ll find yourself one day without an apartment and unable to trust anyone, even yourself, and I’m supposed to remind myself that these things are not my fault, but I hate that option, too, because it makes me feel like I have no control over my life.”

    Relating to this so hard. Thank you.

  6. This is lovely. Friendship and that kind of love is very important and society undervalues it (and overvalues romantic love in comparison).

  7. This is one of the best of this series, Kayla. I feel like I say that every time but this time I really mean it. So, so good.

    Thank you, Devon, for holding our dear Kayla up so she can pen pieces like these and let everyone else know they’re not alone.

  8. Now THIS is the Grown-ish plotline we deserve!
    What a lovely piece, and a testament to the queer friendships that are keeping us afloat today.

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