Monday Roundtable: Feels Like the First Time

There are some first time experiences in our lives that we’ll never forget — first kiss, first love, first heartbreak, first job, first car. Then there are some first time experiences that we hold dear to our hearts because they greatly shaped us in ways we didn’t even see coming! Here are first time experiences that seem mundane to everyone else but were truly special for us.

KaeLyn, Staff Writer

My First Time Breastfeeding My Baby

When Remi was born, she was barely in my arms before the nurses whisked her off to the special care unit for testing and treatment. Waffle didn’t even hold her. She had meconium aspiration syndrome which resulted in her being away from us for the next couple days. We couldn’t even touch her for the first day. My milk was super slow to come in, as a result, and I struggled to get her to latch. We’d go in to visit every few hours and they’d unhook her from the machines so I could try breastfeeding her. I’m not diehard about breastfeeding. I wasn’t even sure I was going to like it. I figured it was something I could tolerate for her health. And if it didn’t work, oh well. But when I couldn’t breastfeed or produce milk, it became something I wanted to do for her… very badly. It always felt high stakes when I went in to feed her. The nurses would hover and try to help. They’d position a nursing pillow around me. The lactation consultant would come by to watch. Waffle would try to support me. I couldn’t get her to latch in the special care unit (not that there was milk in my boobs for her anyway) and we’d move on to feeding her a bottle of formula.

The first night Remi was allowed to sleep in our hospital room, I was finally able to have some prolonged skin-to-skin time with her. Around 3am, while Waffle was asleep on the cot next to the bed, I got her up and held her next to me as I laid in bed. We were alone. No staff hovering. No machines whirring and beeping nearby. Just my naked baby and my naked breasts. She was hungry and rooting, moving her mouth in little fish-like gasps looking for food. I put my finger in her mouth and let her suck it and then I very slowly introduced my nipple, using my finger to help guide her tiny pink lips. She latched correctly for the first time. There wasn’t much milk and I still had to formula feed her later, but she looked so content. For twenty minutes we just laid there quietly while she sucked and sucked and closed her little eyes. I’d never felt comfortable about the idea of breastfeeding. Up to that point, it sounded and had felt so awkward and forced. But in that moment, it was the most natural, primal, perfect thing. It will always be with me, the memory of her sweet face looking up at me for the first time like, “Yes, this feels safe” and my overwhelming desire to love her and protect her and nourish her forever.

Mey, Trans Editor

The First Time I Ate A Red Velvet Cupcake

I know this seems super, super normal, but I had gone 29 years successfully dodging three baked goods that seem absolutely disgusting to me: scones, cheesecake and red velvet anything. I’d never had any of them in my mouth, but imagining it, I imagined textures that were too dry or too squishy or too much like clay. I imagined flavors that were too sour to belong with sweet things and too pungent to belong in food at all. I still have no idea if my ideas about cheesecake and scones are accurate, but last October, my friends Dr. Lizz Rubin and Chrissie challenged me to try a red velvet cupcake. We went to the Cake Boss’ bakery in Philadelphia and bought me this trash dessert. It took me multiple tries to actually get a bite out of it. And when I did, it become one of the biggest regrets of my life.

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Erin, Staff Writer

My First Time At A Drag Show

My first time at a gay bar where I’d gone with friends to see a drag king show is such a nostalgic and adorable memory. I was 19, freshly out (to myself and close circle of friends), and felt really excited to be a part of something that felt… untouchable? I don’t know, being in the South meant, at least for me, having a lot of people invalidate my experiences and feeling not in control of that, and being in that bar and having this visual in front of me that at the time felt very subversive was the first time I felt there was a part of me that was unreachable. It’s cute – we were cute. It kicked off this very formative time in my life where I anchored myself in that feeling and it deeeeelights me to think about all the baby queers it’s happening to right now and will continue to happen to. JUSTIN CASE 4EVER.

Heather Hogan, Senior Editor

My First Time Reading a TV Recap

The internet was not a thing until I was a senior in high school if you can believe that, and even then it was dial-up and only about 100 people total were on it. My sister Jenn and I spent so many late nights just exploring all the nooks and crannies of the thing. One night she stumbled across a thing called Dustin’s Days Page and it was a homemade Geocities website where a guy named Dustin wrote recaps for mine and Jenn’s favorite TV show, Days of Our Lives. I had never in my life experienced that kind of thrill. Days was a thing Jenn and I had been watching religiously our entire lives and we only ever talked about it with each other and suddenly there was this guy writing about it in a way that wasn’t like a TV Guide summary but like a story, a realllllly funny story from someone who loved what we loved and also loved to make fun of it the way we loved to make fun of it. We stayed up for at least one entire day and night reading those recaps out loud to each other and laughing until we were crying and our sides were hurting. We quoted them back to each other in a way where his running jokes became our inside jokes. Nothing like that existed before in my mind and it was the foundation on which I started building a lot of secret hopes and dreams. My first recaps! My first fandom!

Carmen, Staff Writer

My First Time Driving

I didn’t really learn how to drive until my late 20s, roughly a full decade after most teenagers in America gain their license. I first tried learning how to drive when I was 17, and then again at 19. Both experiences left me more panicked than anything else. Driving terrified me. I hated how fast everything moves when you are in car, the out of control feeling that even if you did everything right, another car could fuck up and you’d still end up in a crash. I never followed up on my earlier lessons. I didn’t drive in college and then I moved to New York City, where driving is optional at best and honestly pretty burdensome and frowned upon. It was heaven.

I still don’t love driving, if we are telling the truth. But the process of re-taking driving lessons at 27 was life changing. At first I was thoroughly embarrassed, I felt too old to be learning something most people master before they have their high school diploma. My instructor was kind and patient. We started by practicing turns in quiet, secluded suburban neighborhoods. Then we worked on maintaining speed on major streets. Then parallel parking drills. Finally, highways. I forced myself to drive a little everyday, no matter what else was going on or how much being in a car made me want to vomit. Three months later, things clicked and it felt like a weight had been lifted. I had worked my way through a paralyzing fear that held me in its grasp for YEARS. Yes, it was awful and tear-filled and sweat stained. Sometimes growth isn’t pretty. That conquering feeling though? That’s what I return to, time and again. When faced with a new impossible obstacle, I tell myself “Well I learned how to drive, certainly I can handle this.” And then, I go out there and do it.

Tiara, Staff Writer

My First Time Performing Under The Big Top

I first became involved with Brisbane-based all-women’s community circus Vulcana in late 2008 as part of my continuing mission to try and learn a new skill every semester of university. As a kid I’d always wanted to learn gymnastics, but there were absolutely no options for me in my hometown, especially for someone who was “fat” by Malaysian standards. Also it didn’t help that my parents were generally very helicopter-y and would not let me do anything that could possibly result in a broken bone, and I was useless at sports anyway, so why bother.

Vulcana was a very welcoming and open space for me. I was clearly one of the least competent students there (everybody else could clamber up poles like monkeys and I couldn’t even get past a centimetre) but I was never shamed or made fun for it. Everyone was very patient with me and helped me work on skills in juggling, aerials, and acro, including tumbling.

A few months after my Vulcana beginners class, I got into burlesque and quickly built a reputation for creating politically charged work and also for being very vocal about social justice in the scene and in the artform. Unfortunately this became a drawback: the ringleaders of the local burlesque scene were not happy that I’d point out the blatant racism in their works, and meanwhile I was being pigeonholed as the Exotic Bollywood Princess despite not having anything to do with Bollywood in my work.

Vulcana put out a call for pitches for acts for their upcoming presentation at Island Vibe, a festival on Stradbroke Island just outside Brisbane, based on the theme of ‘Aperture’: viewpoints, perspectives, what people see or don’t see. I knew I didn’t have a ton of skill, but I had a burning idea: a piece deconstructing people’s perceptions of me as a burlesque performer and as a person of colour. It was a hell of a longshot, but that year I’d made the New Years resolution of applying for anything that looked interesting even — and especially — if it was a longshot, so why the hell not.

To my surprise, they accepted my pitch.

We had 6 weeks of development and rehearsal sessions twice a week. My piece would be a burlesque number with multiple layers, switching costumes from Exotic Damsel in Distress to Western Sexpot — then all goes quiet as I remove all the trappings of either costume while reciting a localised version of Suheir Hammad’s Not Your Erotic, Not Your Exotic, ending with the image of a henna rose vine on my back. (The first few times I performed this I would get the vine redrawn with actual henna before each performance; some years later, I got the vine permanently tattooed.)

I was intimidated by my fellow performers. All of them had much more circus and performance experience than I did, all of them creating much more complex work: doubles acro, aerials, lyra, hoops. They were confidently throwing each other or hanging off silks and here I am barely able to keep my eye contact on the audience as my directors suggested. Every day I came in convinced I would be fired.

But I needn’t have worried. Our two directors and everyone in the cast were super super supportive. They comforted me when I came in one week in deep frustration the night after having seen my former burlesque teacher, a White woman whose work is primarily Cultural Appropriation Without Apology, cover herself in blue and perform as a bastardized version of Kali. They gave me great suggestions and also welcomed my feedback on their work.

Their culture of looking out for each other carried on to the festival week, where we rented an entire house for ourselves. The day of our debut performance, I broke down in tears, fearful that I was nowhere near ready or good enough for the Big Top that blew my mind when I first saw it. I got a big group hug and a lot of reassurances that I was doing just great.

The first night went great! People loved us, including my act (though we did have someone yell “CHILDREN! LET’S GET OUT OF HERE CHILDREN!” when my act got quiet; the children didn’t seem to give a shit). We celebrated with champagne, where I got drunk for the first time, and got well taken care of. We had a second show the next night in a slightly different tent, a smaller more intimate set up, and that was fab too.

That show, and the fact that Vulcana took a chance on me, gave me the confidence to call myself a performance artist. I started applying for more longshots and got more gigs, not just in Brisbane but across Australia and even the United States. When the Brisbane burlesque scene exiled me, I moved to San Francisco for an MFA — a decision that would have never happened if I didn’t feel like I was enough of a performance artist to apply. And now I’m in Melbourne, writing this the day before the second week as a Dandy Minion and Burlesque Dancer on Taylor Mac’s 24-Decade History of Popular Music, an incredible award-nominated endurance performance art event that is easily the biggest show I’ve ever done.

All because an all-women’s community circus thought I had something worthwhile for the Big Top.

Carrie, Staff Writer

My First Time Telling a Story Onstage

About four years ago I signed up for a storytelling class (as in The Moth or similar) on a whim. I’d been hearing ads for this thing over and over on one of my favorite podcasts and decided to just go for it. I certainly have more than my share of unusual experiences to discuss; there had to be at least one worth mining.

I wound up telling the story I workshopped in that class onstage at the LA Storytelling Festival a couple weeks later. My teacher called me because someone dropped out of the show he was running at the last minute (“and the theme is Weirdo,” he said, “so yours works really well!”). It was the first time I’d ever been backstage at a comedy club, which looked exactly like I’d expected: kind of dingy and full of white dudes. I was the only woman on the bill and the only one who didn’t self-identify as a professional comedian. Everyone kept asking me what I did or what I’d been in and I kept having to explain “I literally just took a class and now I’m here. That’s it.”

A fun fact about me is that whenever I do something in public that is important or scary — my senior recital in college, every A-Camp workshop I’ve ever led, and this experience I’m telling you about now — I forget everything about it immediately. So I can’t tell you how it felt to actually be up there beyond “I was terrified and then I did it and then it was over.” But what I can tell you is that story grew into my very first essay for Autostraddle, which introduced me to disability activism, which changed the course of my career and purpose in life, and here we are now.

Reneice Charles, Staff Writer

My First Time Doing A Therapy Session Alone

For confidentiality reasons I can’t get too specific here, but the first time I completed an entire therapy session on my own, no supervisor shadowing me, just me, my newly acquired skills, and the kid I was hired to help, I was TERRIFIED. I had done so many partner sessions, so many hours of studying, it wasn’t even my first time meeting this client but everything felt insanely different. To be completely honest I was so worried about messing up that I barely remembered what happened in the session once it was over. I had no notes written down and had to repeat some of my questions the next time I saw my client which was very embarrassing. Fortunately this was one of the sweetest most energetic children I’d ever had the pleasure to work with so they were not fazed by my anxiety or forgetfulness at all, and that was what made my first session so amazing despite my fears. I got to spend an hour with a beautiful little soul and help them get one step closer to finding their way. Somewhere between stumbling over my words and trying to remember our therapy goals, I fell in love with my new job. Couldn’t have asked for a better first time outcome.

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, Staff Writer

The First Time I Said “I’m Gay” Out Loud

For years, phrases like “am I gay” and “I might be gay” and “lesbian o’clock” sprinkled the pages of the online diary that was my personal tumblr. They were usually said in a joking way, hidden in the tags of reblogs of Alison Brie gifs and Carla Gugino photoshoots. It was an ongoing joke between me and my tumblr friends that I was “surprisingly heterosexual.” Well, I was in for a much truer surprise! After dating two women and hooking up with a few others, I still hadn’t said the words “I’m gay” or anything like them out loud in a sincere way. I had somehow convinced myself that it was temporary, that my relationships with two women were flukes. Whilst secretly dating one of them, I ran into her older sister at a bar. Her sister was in law school and was one of the coolest people I knew, and I wanted to hang out with her and get to know her equally cool friends, but instead I ended up drunkenly rambling, crying, and then blurting out “I’m gay” to her. She didn’t realize that was something people didn’t know or, more importantly, that I hadn’t really figured out for myself yet, so if I remember correctly, her reaction was kind of like “wait, duh?” It’s not how I expected it all to go down (I didn’t expect any of it tbh), but the quiet acceptance of her reaction—and humorous confusion—made it so much easier to say those words again, over and over, in the years following.

Stef Schwartz, Vapid Fluff Editor

My First Tattoo

Somehow, despite feeling like a person with full sleeves on the inside for most of my life, I managed to get all the way into my thirties without a single tattoo. I used to tell people I couldn’t think of anything I’d love so much that I’d want it on my body forever, which was a lie. Primarily, this was based in my parents and late grandmother being extremely anti-tattoo and more or less begging me to never, ever get one. I’d roll my eyes and change the subject, never fully promising, never really sure.

Then one day I was lying in bed with my ex girlfriend and we were figuring out what to do with our day. She mentioned wanting to get tattooed that afternoon – I’d come along for moral support a couple of times – and I sheepishly admitted that I’d had an idea floating around in my head that I WOULD get if I were ever going to get one, but…. next thing I knew, I was nervously squeezing my ex’s hand as the dragonfly from Garbage’s “You Look So Fine” single artwork was permanently inked on my shoulder. It didn’t hurt nearly as much as I thought it would and I found the healing process kind of cathartic, the way I used to enjoy caring for piercings.

This was a dangerous discovery, as it’s now just a few years later and I’ve now got something like 15. I’m an adult, so my parents have given up on many of my disappointing choices; the tattoos are the least of their problems. It’s felt like the most natural thing in the world, like they were always there and I’m just bringing them to the surface somehow. I’ve also found that I feel a lot better about various parts of my body when I can decide what they’ll look like. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but in a lot of ways, they’ve helped me feel more like myself.

Raquel, Staff Writer

My First Time Presenting a Design For Critique

At my university, you had to apply to get into the Design program, an exclusive group of about 16–20 students with whom you’d share the next three years. I got in on my second try; the first time I applied I was rejected from the design group but accepted into the general art school, so I had a semester of foundational classes that were different from my peers. When I joined, they had all already bonded, started to create natural groupings and inside jokes and a general cadence of familiarity that I was completely outside of.

All this to say, I had a lot to be nervous about during my first design critique, not only because presenting work at all is scary, and because getting critiqued on something you have worked really hard on is painful, but also because I was the newbie and the outsider who would be defining herself by this first project. On top of that, I had a complex from having been initially rejected, and was desperate to prove myself.

Well, walked up and nervously hooked up my computer to the projector and there, splashed across the entire wall for everyone to see, was my computer background: a topless photo of Daisy Lowe. Why I didn’t think that through, I’ll never know. I don’t remember very much else, because I died of embarrassment right then and there.

It also kicked off a gossip circle in which the other members of my design year asked the only lesbian in the class if she thought I was bisexual (since they knew I had a boyfriend at the time), to which she answered “it’s art school, everyone appreciates the female form, probably not.” (A confusing answer, tbh.)

Three months later, she became my first girlfriend.

The critique itself went great; everyone admired my design concept and provided ideas to build on and grow it. But I still went out into the hallway the second the period was over and sobbed out all my pent-up anxiety and mortification.

Laura M, Staff Writer

My First Time Driving To Work

When I moved to Boston last year, I’d spent the past five years living in NYC with no car. I also had a traumatic experience in a car a few years back that left me with lots of emotional baggage around driving! So it was a big deal for me to accept a job that would require a 40 minute commute by car.

The day before I started the new job, my girlfriend suggested that we do the drive together. I was super nervous and got lost two or three times just navigating Harvard Square (about and mile and a half from my apartment). It took over an hour one way, and as we pulled into the parking lot of my new employer, I just about burst into tears at the thought of about having to do this every day. My girlfriend held me for a good 10 minutes as I vehemently didn’t cry. The ride back was slightly better, but not much.

As the two of us pulled back into Cambridge, my girlfriend put her arm around me again. “You want to do it one more time?” We did, this time with her calling out directions to guide us away from traffic. It was still scary, but better! And that was how we spent four hours in the car together, going nowhere, and I decided I was going to marry her.

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15 Comments

  1. Reneice I feel this one so intensely! I am in graduate school for counseling, and I start my practicum next semester. I am also facilitating a group at school for marriage and family work, and I will probably be alone for the first time on either one of those. Just me and my therapy skills!! I am excited but I am also absolutely terrified. I’m gonna keep your story in mind to bolster my spirits.

  2. Honestly, driving or biking through Harvard Square is kind of a nightmare regardless, tbh. ? I don’t miss those roads for a second.

    I very much empathize with the two driving stories. Learning to drive and/or being in cars after trauma isn’t easy, so congrats!

  3. I just had an important first time tonight and I had all these feelings that make normal people all weepy.

    First Time I Invented A Dish

    I winged something with eggplant scraps, feta cheese, 2 spices mixes I keep around that I mix myself, dried herbs, olive oil, a grab-it dish and the microwave.
    It was delicious, I can do it again and will do it again.

    Feeling very adult and complete right now like I can really truly claim “yeah I can cook” without feeling some impostor syndrome or making limiting caveats of my abilities because I just made a new thing.

    The first thing I made from something scratch on my own was madeleines is an important first time because of the time in my life I made them (19, post toxic relationship) and that they were the beginning of all my forays in culinary things. They are what made me decide I was going to learn to cook, because I COULD do it and had no reason to be afraid.

    It’s like complete tasty empowering circle has been reached.

    I realise there was no “Come share” thing but I was gunna burst.

  4. Harvard Square is a nightmare place to have to drive through, even without trauma. Driving through Harvard Square caused one of the worst fights I’ve ever had with my now-wife. I’m impressed that you got through it!

  5. I really appreciate that two of these were about driving and driving anxiety! Carmen articulated this so well: “I hated how fast everything moves when you are in car, the out of control feeling that even if you did everything right, another car could fuck up and you’d still end up in a crash.” Everyone who’s ever reacted to me still not having a license in my late teens… then early 20s… then late 20s has been negative/shamey about it, and this sounds silly but it didn’t occur to me that there was anyone out there who understood or could relate.

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