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Author’s Note: The following essay contains mentions of suicide and self-harm.
If I had a dollar for every therapist I’ve had, I’d probably have enough money to buy a relatively decent meal at a nearby bodega. Or maybe enough money for a thing or two off the McDonald’s menu. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s more than I want to admit. More than I can share in a casual, one-on-one conversation with a co-worker. So, of course, I’m sharing it with strangers on a public platform.
I’ve had a total of seven therapists. They were either for speech or mental health. One day, I thought it’d be pretty funny to use all the therapists I’ve had as a measuring tool for my queerness. Obviously, there is no such thing as being “more queer” — queerness isn’t a metric system. Sexuality is a wide range of complex feelings and experiences. I’m purely doing this at the expense of, well, myself.
Each of us are walking anthologies. Our stories and evolution are constant. Whether the number of therapists I accumulate continues to increase or not, I’m so excited to see how I continue to evolve and measure myself. If I do accumulate more therapists and receive a dollar for each one, I’d be excited to have enough for even more relatively decent meals.
Therapist #1: The Neighbor
Words were nonexistent inside me. Compared to a lot of two and three-year-olds, I was considered speech delayed. This caused a lot of tantrums on my end and stress on my parents’ end.
A speech therapist lived in our building, just two floors above us. My parents were able to work out an agreement where sessions could take place in either of our apartments. She had a gorgeous golden retriever, which isn’t related to anything at all. But who doesn’t love a golden retriever?
There’s nothing to report regarding queerness. I couldn’t relate to toddlers who could speak. But I was able to relate to most toddlers who don’t have a concept of sexuality.
Overall queer level: Existing outside of the Kinsey Scale by default.
Therapist #2: The Best Hugger
I spoke a lot better by the time I reached elementary school. Still, my delayed speech left a long-lasting impact. I was known as the quiet and shy kid in school. Folks would usually catch me reading a book. My mother told me I never had that many friends. Many queer people are the outcasts in their respective locations, so make of that what you will.
The great thing about my elementary school was their speech therapist. On most school days, from kindergarten to fifth grade, I was pulled out of class to meet with her. I don’t have much memory of her, but I do remember the last time we saw each other. I graduated elementary school and was on my way to middle school in a new location. She hugged me tight and told me how proud she was of me. She was a consistent and safe adult to me.
During this time, I had a female friend I always wanted to sit on my lap. I told her to pretend I was Santa Claus so she’d have an excuse to sit (please don’t try this with anyone you’re interested in). A boy asked me to be his girlfriend in fifth grade. I walked away, ignoring him and his hand in an elementary school romance that would’ve lasted less than a week. Once, I sat with a group of girls who were sharing boys they liked. Not wanting to be left out, I pointed to a random guy I probably never said a word to. I might have had a crush on the girl I kept trying to be physically close to, but I didn’t call it that. The word “crush” never came to mind and I didn’t have the language to express what I felt. Language was a theme in my toddler years, a theme in my childhood years, and it will be an ongoing theme for years to come.
Overall queer level: Not a baby queer. Maybe fetus?
Therapist #3: The Forgotten One
Now, this is where things get more interesting. I only ever saw this therapist once, and I was forced into it by my mother due to ongoing anxiety attacks in the eighth grade. My mother is a breaker of generational trauma, someone who didn’t want to carry or pass down the detrimental patterns she witnessed growing up. She calls most of our family a boiling pot — their repressed feelings, abuse of alcohol and drugs, and undealt with traumas continue to rise and bubble. The heat increases and, inevitably, the water always spills. My mother fights for mental health to be a subject of conversation in Latinx communities. She recognizes how larger issues of diaspora and colonialism affected the conversation (or lack of) on mental health within these communities. Silence is not a belief in her book.
But silence was a belief in mine. Silence protected me and comforted me when using my voice would put me at risk of danger. In that one session I had with the therapist, an old white woman related to someone who worked on Full House (she told me the fun fact to get me to open up more), I stayed silent for most of it. Later, I refused to see her again.
Maybe I got my silence from my father, someone who also carries silence as if it’s an article of clothing. Maybe I got it from the Catholic middle school I attended, where being gay was compared to being a pedophile. At that point, life came straight from a queer young adult novel. I mastered the art of incognito mode, watching things like Santana and Brittany from Glee make out on YouTube or ending up with an “82% gay” result on an “Am I Gay?” quiz. I was head over heels with a (seemingly) straight best friend, a tragedy many queers experience to the point where it’s practically a coming-of-age milestone. I discovered the wonders of lesbian porn and masturbation (sorry to any family members reading this part).
Overall queer level: Definitely a baby queer.
Therapist #4: The (Not So) Closet Creep
Therapist #4 is the hardest to write about. It wasn’t because after once telling him that I had my first kiss, he wanted to talk about sex and creepily smiled at me (I didn’t understand why that made me so uncomfortable back then). No, this is the hardest part to write because I started seeing him after being sent to a hospital for suicidal ideation at 15 years old.
I could go on about the self-harm (which didn’t stop for a while), planning an attempt (it wouldn’t be the last time I was close to cutting the cord), and how much I shut myself off from everyone. However, my memories from that time are blurry. Also, I’d rather honor and give more attention to each breath of life I take now. It’s a part of my story for sure, but, as the author of that story, I get to control how big I’ll let that part be.
Back to fun gay stuff. You know when you’re standing in line at a new restaurant, and it takes you a while to figure out what you want? That’s how I felt with labels. I couldn’t understand how a single word could encapsulate something so complicated. I also didn’t give myself the grace of not knowing and didn’t realize that you’re allowed to change. These wouldn’t be things I knew until college.
I did know that I liked my first girlfriend. We were Steven Universe fangirls, avid readers of fanfiction, shared secret moments at our small charter high school, and built something sweet and innocent from friendship. I didn’t know how to handle dating anybody, and alongside my depression and anxiety, it got too much. The idea of opening up about it and having to come out was an idea I loathed. Partially because I thought I’d shit my pants from nerves. Partially because I hated the concept of only queer folks coming out because, still, straight and cisgender are the default.
Overall queer level: A Tumblr poster child. So basically super gay.
Therapist #5: The Bachata Dancer
Therapist #5 was the first Latina therapist I’ve had. Having a Dominican woman as a young Puerto Rican girl gave me the assistance I needed that couldn’t be provided by the previous therapists. I was given the space to be vulnerable in a way that wasn’t possible before. After #5, I committed to solely seeing Latina therapists.
Remember my ploy to have a girl sit on me by pretending to be a mythological figure whose diet consists solely of milk and cookies? Apparently, that’s how my mom knew I was queer when I came out to her. This coming out took place over text and was practiced with #5. We used action figures for practice (thanks G.I. Joe). Either way, it was a huge blow. I expected something theatrical, dramatic, and show-stopping. I didn’t expect “Yeah, it’s obvious. I’ll be back home in a bit.” I came out as a lesbian, a title I was comfortable with and made the most sense to me at the time. As soon as I came out, I did something that is considered a rite of passage for many queers: I binged all 6 seasons of The L Word.
Therapist #5 also helped me come into my own more. I yelled at my principal about the racism and classism of standardized testing. I made a petition to go to the 2018 Women’s March and got a large number of my peers to go. Everyone knew me as the annoying feminist dyke, constantly preaching social justice in the classroom. If Kat Stratford from 10 Things I Hate About You was a real person, I would’ve given her a run for her money.
Overall queer level: Probably would’ve joined the Lavender Menace if they still existed.
Therapists #6 and #7: The One Who Could Open a Botanica in Her Apartment and The One I’m Currently Seeing
I decided to combine these therapists together because, regarding my sexuality, not much changed between the two. I stopped seeing #5 because I went upstate for college. And I didn’t start therapy again, despite really needing it, until junior year.
#6 was a bodacious bruja, doing tarot readings at the end of every session, lighting incense 24/7, and sending me new meditations in between appointments. She helped me get in touch with my inner child and clear my auric field. I didn’t understand, like, 30% of what she said. But I felt it. I felt it for 4 months until I decided to stop seeing her because I wasn’t ready to face the dangers of my depression. I threw things, ripped my skin, hit myself, and had a deep-seated self-hatred. She wanted me to confront all those things seriously. But I just wasn’t ready. The summer before senior year, with my mental health back to how it was at 15, made me finally start the work with a new therapist.
#7 has been there through major life events. She has seen me get my bachelor’s degree, get accepted into grad school, enter a serious and healthy relationship, cope with the death of a beloved pet, and start my first big-girl job. She has awesome dyed hair, goes against gender norms with raising her kids, and teaches at the college level. We can discuss things we’ve seen on TikTok and thoughts on sexual politics. Once this is published, one of the first things I’ll do is send this to her.
Speaking of sexual politics, I started calling myself queer around the time I was seeing #6. It gives me the space to just be. I briefly dated an international student from the Middle East who was looking to experiment with other women. I’ve flirted with frat boys for the hell of it (some stereotypes are true — many frat boys are easy). Right now, I see a few of the middle schoolers at the job I work at openly exploring their sexualities and genders. I try to let them know I’m always there for support if needed. I talk proudly about my relationship with my nonbinary partner to my Puerto Rican family, blending my Boricua and queer identities. They each are two fragments of a complicated whole.
Overall queer level: Right where I need to be.