Monday Roundtable: Reflections on Being 19 From 2019

It’s 2019, which of course made us look back in wonder and awe at what we were doing with our lives when we were 19. Just wee babes in this wide world. So hydrated. So nimble. For some of us, Twitter and Facebook didn’t even exist. Here’s what we were all up to, fresh out of high school. We’d love to hear your stories about being 19 (and see your pictures!) in the comments.

Laneia, Executive Editor

I was 19 years old exactly 19 years ago, so this is REALLY fucking with me but let’s see… in 2000 I was a full-time teen mom mostly living in Jacksonville, FL, but also in my hometown in Tennessee. I’d survived Y2K without even needing the $100 cash that my father advised I have on hand, and people could still go with me all the way back to the gates before I boarded the plane with my baby, which was very nice and helpful because I was flying a lot more than I ever had (I had never flown until 1999) and also I had that baby!

I went back to TN to live with my grandparents for half of the year while my then-husband was deployed, so we could save money and so I wouldn’t have to parent all alone. I worked very briefly at our local Family Dollar, where I would take smoke breaks out back while I broke down the cardboard boxes. I also spent a lot of time at The Farm, mostly hanging out at the store and talking tarot with the guy who owned the place with his wife, but I was also meeting a lot of new people with ideas I’d never heard of (but still kind of already knew in my heart, you know?). I went to yoga for the first time and ate vegan things and sometimes, when I hadn’t brought Slade with me, I took the long way home so I could smoke another cigarette and listen to Macy Gray.

I was always embarrassed that everyone else was doing ‘normal’ things, like going to college or at least working at a job that paid money, while I was home watching Blues Clues and building Duplo castles. I threw myself into parenting, but that embarrassment was always there in little ways. And of course the embarrassment turned into guilt over being embarrassed which, when combined with low income and isolation, creates a beautiful foundation for full-on depression, which would arrive in about two years, bless it! Now I can see being 19 for the gift it was: I grew up with my kid, basically. We figured things out together and had actual fun doing it. It was like, a genuinely sweet time of my life! I’m grateful I had it, exactly the way it was.

Molly, Writer

When I was 19, I was a sophomore in college and juuuuuust coming to terms with the fact that I couldn’t pretend to enjoying kissing men anymore. It was a tumultuous yet exciting time when everything felt important and every night there was an opportunity to make a memory or a connection that could change your life. I was not great at drinking, but I did it a lot, and spilled feelings on people. Nineteen is the beginning of a downward slide for me that ends in therapy and depression and then to more stability. I also went through the worst friend breakup of my life, and I felt that in my heart for a long time.

Heather Hogan, Managing Editor

When I was 19 I was playing basketball at a tiny college in a tiny town in northwest Georgia. My favorite story about being 19 is the day I turned 19 I saw You’ve Got Mail with our elderly basketball team bus driver and she saw it with me again about ten times because when we were on the road and it was movie night all my teammates wanted to see horror movies and I absolutely did not. So me and the bus driver shared popcorn and Twizzlers and watched Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan fall in love again and again. I love that story because it showcases how truly uncool I always have been and how much I’ve never cared. The other things I was doing at 19 were: reading a lot of fantasy and sci-fi novels, wearing a lot of backwards baseball caps and University of Tennessee Lady Vols t-shirts, riding my bike, playing video games, and eating a lot of nachos. So, exactly the same as now. The major difference was that I had a one in a series of vanilla ice cream boyfriends because I hadn’t yet come to terms with being a lesbian, so I also spent a lot of time making excuses not to have sex.

June Gehringer, Writer

Oh gosh. I came out as a trans woman when I was 21, so this is going to be hilarious. When I was 19 I was a sloppy bisexual DIY bro, or at least I thought I was. I was just dipping my toes into the wider worlds of poetry and publishing, and I think I published my first poem in an online zine that year. I had recently moved to New Orleans for college, and I think I spent most of that year being drunk, smoking cigarettes, and writing terrible bro-y poems about it.

Trans people relate to their experiences before coming out in a variety of ways, but personally I have a lot of affection and fondness for the person I used to be. The person I was when I was 19 was arrogant, ignorant, and stubborn, but inside that person were all the pieces of the (in my opinion) loving, caring, wonderful woman I have become. Inside that person were the same big heart, and the same deep concern for my friends and for the world that I’m trying to continue to cultivate in 2019.

Looking back at the fashion decisions I was making when I was 19, it’s hard to believe that it would take me two more years to come to terms with the fact that I’m a woman. I was dressing like an overworked, underpaid lesbian adjunct for years before I realized what was going on.

In this photo, I’m very very day drunk in the aftermath of a Mardi Gras parade, wearing a completely over-the-top fake-90s jacket with nothing underneath, despite the fact that it was probably about 40 degrees that day. The photo was taken by my friend Amelia, who is one of the few close friends who has been with me since before I came out, so I’m extra proud to share it here. I love being out and being a trans woman, and I love who I was before I came out, too. She was a mess, but a sweet one, and she has come so far.

Carrie, Contributor

I was a sophomore in college, having recently returned to school after the biggest and scariest medical event of my life knocked my timeline sideways. True to form, though, I wasn’t about to let that actually matter; 19 was all about throwing myself into work to keep the harder stuff at bay. That doesn’t sound healthy (it wasn’t), but I actually have a lot of fondness for that year, because it’s when first I got to experience college without my body interfering. I learned so much and was so hungry for the knowledge. It felt like I had another shot, y’know? And I embraced that opportunity as fiercely as a bookish people person ever has.

I certainly developed and reinforced some less-than-ideal habits in the process — which I’m still learning to undo today — but I remember so clearly how I relished that time to solely get smarter. It seemed like such a gigantic gift, and it was.

KaeLyn, Writer

Honestly, 19-year-old KaeLyn was a total babe and a total badass, a delightful combination of idealism and anger at the world and trying really hard to be “authentic.” It was 2002 and the U.S. was still reeling from the 90’s and from post-9/11 George W. Bush thrusting us into the Patriot Act and the so-called “war on terror.” I was an underclassman at SUNY Oswego and I cut my teeth as an activist in those years. I’d just taken up a leadership role at the Women’s Center and was in my first year of vegetarianism. I bought my first vibrator, a very ambitious knockoff of The Rabbit, and went to my first drag bar. I helped produce The Vagina Monologues at my college. (Yikes!) I marched against the Iraq War and participated in a Books Not Bombs walkout. I had blazing pinkish-red hair (or a faded version of that color) that I often wore tied back with a bandana. I eschewed bras and I was really into chokers and chandelier drop earrings. A professor once described me as “gregarious.” My little campus microcosm world was a lot and I was a lot, too.

My “authentic” self was curated more than I’d ever let on. I picked clothes based on how much I thought they made me seem artsy and unique and activist-y. I started smoking just for shits and honestly because it made me feel cool to have a vice and I wanted to run far away from my suffocating “good girl” reputation from high school. I was out as bisexual and queer, but was dating a cishet guy and hadn’t really found my queer fam yet. I did have a lot of bi women in my feminist circles but we were collectively more focused on the patriarchy than the cisheteropatriarchy. I was definitely still figuring out my values and my identities, but one thing I was doing right was I was taking up some damn space in the world. Taking up space and doing so unapologetically.

Alexis, Contributor

When I was nineteen, I was probably trying not to be here anymore. It was like two or three years after graduation and I wasn’t on the right meds or really in the right therapy and out but not like happy about it and it was just a mess. Wait, no, I just had a sit down talk with my sister and I’m thinking this may have been right after I tried to come back from two different universities in the span of like three months and was trying to make Catholic work. I had really bad panic attacks and was living in the basement that flooded and I had to use a wet vac everyday to clear it up and I was writing but I was mistaking my psychosis for a really good imagination? I don’t know. That one episode of Pretty Little Liars was out, where Paige and Emily went for a swim and Paige kissed Emily and I was watching every repeat of that episode and my dad came downstairs and it was very awkward for a while because I didn’t even know that specific scene was happening (the TV was behind me). It was when I first bought my first lesbian movie! Imagine Me & You and I spent a lot of time with one friend and had her watch it and she was great about it, and most of my friends had to hang out on my twin bed whenever they came over and sometimes I’d sit in my desk chair but usually I’d just squeeze myself up there with everyone and I had my mohawk! I was terrified of the basement cause there was a back room where we kept old school papers and the washer and dryer were back there and I know it was haunted and in front of me there was the sliding door to the little backyard we had and there was a cricket in the fireplace THAT I COULD NEVER FIND BUT IT WAS ALWAYS CHIRPING AND KEPT ME UP ALL THE TIME and I paced a lot and dribbled Spalding a lot and wrote a lot of confessional letters to my friends that I never sent and just it was not a good time, and every moment I’m not actively living it is a blessing.

Reneice, Writer

At 19 I was a sophomore in college and enmeshed in an incredibly toxic relationship with the campus fuck boy. He did such a number on me I spun into a months long depression and disassociated so much that I barely remember anything from that year. The things I do remember are traumatic. I think about 19 year old Reneice often and thank her for making it through our darkest time. She overcame so much with so little support.

Carmen, Associate Editor

A lot like Reneice, I spent most of 19 in a dark depression that I’ve since blacked out from my memory! In fact, I’ve blacked it out so much that I kept conveniently forgetting to complete this roundtable! Heather Hogan had to remind me four times just to get the job done!

Let’s see, what can I remember?  At 19 I was head over heels in love with my best friend, but I was in deep denial about it. I buried everything about me that was even remotely gay and I spent a lot of time crying over the boys who didn’t want me (even though on some gut level I knew, I didn’t really want them). I spent most of my weekends buying cheap polyester party clothes from Forever 21 that didn’t fit me (see Exhibit A above). In the process I internalized a lot of hate about my body that I’m still trying to unlearn. What else? At 19, my father fell into a coma. I was hit by car and promptly peed myself in public before taking my first ambulance ride. I had a complete mental breakdown about both of those things. I filled no less than two or three full composition notebooks with MY DRAMATIC FEELINGS and finally admitted to myself that I needed the help of a therapist, even though it would be another 11 years before I found the courage to actually see one.

Oh 19, I laughed a bunch and partied a bunch, but what a horrible time you were!

Carolyn, NSFW Consultant

At 19 I was in my second year of university in Montreal and going through the worst mental health year of my entire life to date, including the year I got kicked in the shins ten times a day at school and had no friends and the year I got divorced. One time (more than one time) I made pasta not by boiling it in a pot but by putting it in a mug and pouring boiling water from the electric kettle over it repeatedly because, conceptually speaking, washing a whole pot seemed like an impossible task. I did not season the pasta water. I missed classes. I went on meds that had side effects like heart palpitations and feeling like you want to kill yourself constantly and experienced every one but none of what the meds were actually supposed to do. I ended up going to an advisor around the end of the year with my psych files and dropped out of the whole second semester because it was better for my record than taking exams I was definitely going to fail except I would have been too sad to show up anyway.

I worked at a school newspaper and tried to spend as much time as possible (a lot!) there, where mostly I faced a lot of misogyny but also formed one of my most valued friendships, got to download a lot of typefaces I would have never been able to afford, and figured out officially what I was pretty sure I already knew: that I wanted editing and writing to be my career. I also had it together enough to apply for summer jobs, so after the school year ended I got a paid staff position at a security camera magazine for a few months, which led to my first paid freelance work and then more freelance work and then basically the rest of my life.

Also I thought I was bisexual but didn’t really talk about it, watched a lot of The L Word also without really talking or thinking about it, went to gay clubs with gay friends and felt like an imposter, got my tongue pierced, had curtains for walls, learned to drink coffee that didn’t even have whipped cream on it, and did not kiss anyone.

Vanessa, Community Editor

So, funny story: up until VERY recently I thought 19 was the year I realized I was queer. I was in London, I met Emily, we kissed, I lost my damn mind… if you’ve talked to me even briefly over the past ten years, you’ve probably heard a version of the story. I had this very clear image of myself at 19, realizing I was/am a dyke. Except! I was telling that story to a friend a few months ago and she was like, “wait, weren’t you 20 in London?” and I was like, “lol no, as I said, I was 19,” and she was like, “okay I don’t want to invalidate your experience of your life but…February 2009? I’m pretty sure that was…uh…I think you were 20 then.” So then I did some math (not my strong suit) over and over and over and actually even as I’m typing this I’m double checking, just to be sure, but ugh, no, that friend was correct, I was totally 20 the first time I fucked a girl. Who knew?!

What that means for you, dear reader, is that at 19 I was definitely still under the impression I was just a straight gal living in NYC. A Samantha, thank you very much. (I was having very little sex but like, I wanted to, I knew I could, you know?) I was a sophomore and then a junior at NYU. I was in a sorority. (I don’t want to talk about it). I was living in Union Square with these very thin very pretty very mean girls who had no interest in being my friend, and then I was living in a brand new dorm in Gramercy with a very blonde business major who used to take Ambien and then do craft projects while she was half asleep and who was very sad when Obama won the 2008 election. I took a poetry class that spring and our final project was to create a chapbook; I titled mine When You Grow Up, based on that quote from The Breakfast Club: “When you grow up, your heart dies.” I felt very grown up, you see.

That summer was the first summer in nine years that I didn’t go to summer camp; I got an internship in Boston and I lived at home in the suburbs with my parents and I took the T to an office in Somerville every day and I started getting migraines and I learned that my aversion to cilantro was genetic. I was in love with Evan, or I thought I was in love with Evan – I had lost my virginity to him the summer before, he was very boring but pretty nice – but that fall I met a very handsome very obnoxious guy named Kirk at a sorority party and then I slept with him a few times and “fell out of love” with Evan and one weekend I slept with Evan and Kirk (not at the same time just like, two nights in a row) and then I got a UTI and low key thought I was being punished for being slutty, for being my true Samantha self.

When I was 19 I didn’t yet know I was queer but I was about to find out; when I was 19 Emily didn’t exist in my brain yet, my whole queer self didn’t exist in my brain yet, I had no fucking clue what the next decade would look like, I didn’t know one day I’d be 13 days into my 30th year on this earth and sitting in a cafe in Portland, Oregon with Rachel Kincaid writing a roundtable entry for Autostraddle dot com about where and who I was at 19. I think I was probably happy, because I’ve sort of always been happy. I think I was really young but I felt all grown up. I think my 19 year old self would be proud of me today, and that feels really nice, because I’m proud of her, too – and very excited for her to turn 20 and kiss Emily.

Valerie Anne, Writer

Wow y’all, 19 was not a great year for me. My birthday is January 9th, so it makes it nice and easy to sort my life by age; so for me 19 all of 2006. It started with my paternal grandfather dying on my 19th birthday, and ended with my uncle dying five days before Christmas (on my mother’s birthday). To see what else happened in that horribly-bookended year, I took to my LiveJournal. And let me tell you, revisiting that time was painful. My LJ entries are either really boring lists of my college schedule or really dramatic entries about how much I hated myself, especially regarding my weight. I also mentioned Paris Hilton a lot that year for some reason.

I was still closeted, because I had tried to tell friends I was into girls during my first semester of college, but it didn’t go particularly well. Still, I often wrote about watching The L Word, Thirteen, Better Than Chocolate, t.A.T.u., etc. I did a lot of those stupid quizzes, and one of them asked your sexual orientation and my answer was, “good question. most likely bisexual. but let’s not judge me. it’s a major internal conflict i’m having that i don’t feel comfortable talking to people about.” (I wrote, in my public online journal.) But I also wrote a lot about how one of my friends slept in my (twin) bed with me almost every night and I hated sleeping without her.

But it wasn’t all depression and Paris Hilton. That year my friends blindfolded me in Port Authority to take me to Disney Princesses on Ice for my birthday, I rushed the “non-sorority sorority” on campus which opened my world to new friends that genuinely helped me survive the rest of college. I met Marc Blucas and was an extra in a movie starring Adam Pascal and Natasha Lyonne. I got my summer job at Dunkin Donuts when I went back home again, where I’d meet more friends that would stay in my life for years. (I also compared moving back home again after being away at college for ten months to escaping Plato’s cave only to chained up inside it again because I was, as I may have mentioned, very dramatic in my LiveJournal.)

Maybe the best gem I found in this year of literal nonsense (besides “One book you’d want on a desert island: How to Get off A Desert Island”) was when I posited that I probably didn’t have a boyfriend because, “i don’t really dress or act like much of a girl.” (Cut to 2018 when I yell “clothing doesn’t have a gender” on the daily.) It’s like I had all the puzzle pieces, I just wasn’t quite putting them together.

Erin, Writer

The moment I turned 19 was a pretty solid representation of what my whole deal was the for the entirety of that year: I was at a house party on campus hosted by the men’s swim team (yikes!) leaning on crutches due to a soccer injury I’d gotten the day before and texting my secret girlfriend who I didn’t know was my girlfriend to come pick me up. It was my freshman year of college, Facebook was rolling out its soft open for select schools, I discovered I was gay, I pretended I wasn’t gay, everyone around me was gay, my days were nonstop from the moment I panic-woke up for weights, I ate what felt like only peanut butter, my body ached, I went to terrible parties full of boys, I listened to Fiona Apple and Gucci Mane on repeat, and in between all of that was I getting fully destroyed by a person I would be on and off with for the next few years. It was a whirlwind and wow if finding this old picture via my friend’s facebook page from 13 years ago didn’t make me want to peel my own face clean off.

I don’t really know what to tell you about the looking away here, but it was a trend. To my right was my girlfriend at the time and to my left just out of frame was the girl I would make out with in an attempt to upset this same girlfriend. Goodnight!

Mika, Contributor

When I was 19, I was a long hair butch in college. I had a long distance girlfriend and was still adjusting to the traumatic experience immigrating to the united states was. I had a suuuuper racist roommate when I was in the dorms who ended up getting expelled after her and her boyfriend pretty much went off on me after months of emotional abuse. It was THAT bad. I felt alone, I had very few friends in America, I was still getting used to english even though I was technically fluent. I was going home to my country in the summers, 19 was the first out of the two times I came out. I had a band named PIE and we played Tegan & Sara covers at people’s parties. I got my first pet Yoda, my cat who pretty much saved my life. I played a lot of rock band. I also dressed like I belonged in Mumford & Sons. I stopped binding during that year because I lost a lot of weight since I wasn’t really eating, I didn’t understand I was depressed but… I was. It all got better after I moved to my first apartment alone which the picture I picked was the day I signed the lease.

Al(aina), Writer

Okay, so picture it: it’s 2010, I’m 19, fresh off of a gap year where I worked with people in their mid-to-late twenties, and starting college. I thought I was better than everyone around me! I was so obnoxious when I was 19! Ugh! I was in the honors dorm at UNCG and I had a terrible roommate named Karen. On Halloween, I was at a party hosted by the campus’ Methodist ministry (L M A O). I got back to the dorm at a reasonable 11 pm, and found my bed covered in other people’s shoes (?!?!?), open makeup cases, and dirty towels! Her bed was completely empty. There was nothing on it!!! I slept on a couch in the basement that night and watched cable, but to give her credit, when I came back in the morning my bed was cleaned off.

Okay, so yes I went to church parties and was a passive aggressive roommate when I was 19, but it was also the year that I woke up in the hospital the morning after a party. Nine years later, I’m not completely sure what happened, still. I know I drank way too much, I remember dancing, some of my friends say they left early, but some of them say the cops came and they ran. Someone, a few days after it happened, I think told me that I was yelling at someone to take me to the hospital? That’s purely from other people though, I have no memory of that. I do remember waking up and telling the male nurse “I’m right outside my dorm, what do you mean I can’t walk home?” and then crying when I realized where I was and what that meant. I remember the hospital gave me a bus bus and I took the bus home, with no glasses (they were found on the lawn of the party host later that afternoon), and no shirt, because I’d puked on it, apparently. I was wearing a hospital gown and jeans, and had my school ID, somehow, but not my phone. I remember the male nurse saying something like, “just ask the bus driver to tell you when to get off.”

And to end on a much lighter note, I also stayed up all night the night before a music theory exam because I wanted to see the midnight premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 and knew if I fell asleep at 3 am I’d miss the exam. I hung out in the library intending to study but watching Youtube videos, probably.

Stef, Vapid Fluff Editor

At age 19, I was in my second year of college in West Philadelphia. I was living in my first actual apartment, a tiny dilapidated 3-bedroom with big bay windows in what was at the time a pretty shitty neighborhood. My roommate Ben and I had gotten jobs at a very mediocre Mexican place in Center City, and when I finally quit that gig I ended up living almost entirely off stolen food from that restaurant for the next two years (Thanks, Ben!).

I still thought I was straight at this juncture, and spent a lot of time pining over a goth bisexual vegan piercer/DJ boy I knew (trust me, I am rolling my eyes at myself). I had very little experience with dating and eventually wound up in a non-remarkable relationship with a guy from class, mainly because we had been assigned to do a school project together and he lived around the corner. My Livejournal has reminded me that he used to come over so we could watch Joe Millionaire together. Jeez.

Sometime during the school year I picked up a full-time job at a bookstore in Center City, where my assistant manager was a cool butch lesbian named Nick. On slow days, Nick and I read the trashy tabloids together and talked about attractive women; at the time I patted myself on the back for being such a cool, supportive ally. Anyway, one time they made me dress up as Clifford. It was one of the best jobs I ever had.

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, Staff Writer

At age 19, I was deeply closeted but also started hooking up with women at the same time. Life is a rich and complex tapestry. At 19, I also mostly lived on tumblr dot com. I also was working as a campaign manager for a progressive candidate in a heated city council race in a small, majority conservative town in Michigan. Yes, this was at the apex of my ambitious political phase, and I somehow convinced the young candidate that I was experienced enough to run his campaign. I was in way over my head, but I kind of loved that. Every day presented a new set of challenges that I was thrilled to take on. Was it also a great distraction from the aforementioned confusing closeted-but-sleeping-with-women situation? Oh hell ya! The campaign took up my entire summer that year, and then I was back at University Of Michigan for my sophomore year. After reading a review of Breaking Bad that I thought was poorly written and wrong in our student-run daily newspaper, I decided to apply for a television writing position on the staff. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, because my time as a columnist, writer, critic, and editor at The Michigan Daily was so formative and fulfilling that I decided to leave politics and get serious about a writing career, which eventually brought me here and now to this very roundtable. Neato! So yes, 19-year-old me was dumb about a lot of stuff. She also drank way too much cheap champagne. But she also made some good, life-altering choices. (Oh, we won the campaign by the way!)

Sarah, Design and Business Director

I was a sophomore in college and was just starting to become really, really gay. Evidence: I attended my first Pride, hosted L Word parties in my dorm room, would invite all my friends to a hookah bar for an excuse to shotgun them, started a South of Nowhere podcast, would ask people flat out if they were gay before putting any energy into them, had posters on my walls of Ani Tori and Bjork plus an illustration of two faeries kissing that I would take down when my mom visited, literally yelled “SHAMELESS” at an Ani DiFranco concert until she played it (begrudgingly), rented bad lesbian movies from the video store, listened to a LOT of Le Tigre and the Gossip and started dating my first serious girlfriend (who turned out to be a 3 year nightmare), and smoked cigs and pot while burning incense and listening to “I Drive Alone” by Esthero on repeat while laying on my dorm room floor… etc.

Rachel, Managing Editor

At 19, I was “out” in that I had come out to myself and several others, but still wasn’t sure I could wrap my head around the concept of having an actual honest to goodness out relationship with a girl — despite the fact that I was only recently tapering off spending the first full year of college skyping constantly with my secret high school not-technically-a-girlfriend and hand-knitting her a sweater. I had met two of my best friends to this day, Batia and Lizz, in required gen ed classes but was not best friends with either of them yet, just friendly acquaintances. I was somewhat newly dating a Nice Guy who I would stay with through six months of studying abroad and for almost three years total, and which would eventually devolve into a resentful “open relationship” that meant me sleeping with my friends and him driving to my Somerville duplex in the middle of the night to fight with me on the sidewalk. I was drinking more than I was eating, as you can kind of divine from this picture, where I was about to go to a huge yearly party with my roommates who enthusiastically plastered our dorm room with Absolut vodka ads. God bless that bright-eyed young idiot who still had enough energy to wear contacts on a daily basis, she was doing her best.

Riese, Editor-in-Chief

19 is the year I got sick. I turned 19 a few weeks into my first year at University of Michigan. I was a sophomore but lived in freshman dorms, ‘cause I’d been in New York the year before and wanted to make new friends. I’d always been young for my grade — the curse of a September birthday — so I was only a few months older than most of my new friends, but they were so different than me in other ways. Effortlessly pretty, hailing from neat suburban homes with loving parents, thrilled to be on their own for the first time which for me was old news. Hookup culture was big, and your worth as a undergraduate girl was determined mostly by who you’d managed to make out with. I made out with two boys both named Andrew. Physical fitness was a big deal to me until my body rebelled and then I felt like everything was out of my control except good grades and, I guess, what I ate. Although I’d waited my whole life to escape Ann Arbor and my mom, when the pain got so bad it was all I could think about, I needed her like I’d never needed her before. I was lonely a lot, loneliest while walking home alone from the library, past groups of grinning, raunchy boys in fitted caps and t-shirts, girls with straightened hair and made-up faces and Herve bags and shorts and skirts, with shimmering slender legs and easy laughter. Eventually I made a new best friend, Becky. I’d been skeptical of her from the start, when her mom flew in to help her move her stacks of designer yoga pants from one end of the hallway, where she’d had a roommate, to the single next to mine, and she was from Westchester and identified as a Jewish American Princess. But she was also hilarious and brilliant and supportive and talented. We turned an unoccupied closet in our dorm hallway into a darkroom, and develop photos together, like a project I was doing with a nearby all-girls middle school. I was good at school. I got good grades, took 18 credits.

At 19, everything can seem potentially permanent and therefore terrifying — you’re between childhood and adulthood and don’t know what’s a phase and what’s sticking around. Would I be in pain forever? Would my body keep getting bigger forever? Then I got diagnosed with fibro and started physical therapy and medication, a process that eventually felt like coming out from underwater. Out in the light, I opened my mouth and the ocean came out, and then I was standing on the shore before.

In New York that summer I worked at The Olive Garden again, like I had when I’d lived there in ‘99. I lived in the NYU dorms with Becky, and we found a new favorite salad place. I found myself again in the only city that has ever truly understood me. I hooked up with older boys who had complicated life stories, I made new friends at work who were theatrical and brilliant, and I drank vodka-cranberries and ate my favorite dish from Zen Palate. My body began to feel like my own again. I bought my first vibrator. I went to spinning classes and read fashion magazines at the gym.

In August, I went back to school and got a job at the Macaroni Grill. They were impressed I’d worked at the Times Square Olive Garden. I moved in with old friends since all my new friends were moving into their sorority houses. I put a mattress on the floor. 12 days before I turned 20, terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center. Within a month everybody had a boyfriend, including me.

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  1. These are some great stories and it makes me feel better (in a solidarity kind of way, not a mean one) that so many of you didn’t have the gay stuff figured out yet.

    When I was 19 I was very excited about being at uni and having a job and decided to spend a solid three months not taking a day off. Unsurprisingly, just after I turned 20 my mental health had enough of that and that year was the worst of my life. I also met someone I became best friends with and fell in love with her, which again showed itself to be a mistake a year later. So 19 was a year of making bad choices that I’d later regret.

  2. my heart goes out to all our gay bb selves. I feel like I know all these secret parts of your pasts now and am grateful you shared them in such poetic ways. I wish I had been more honest about how hard 19 was for me, but it makes me feel better to know I have solidarity with the rest of you (esp reneice and Carmen ♥️)

  3. Oh, 19 was so many things, good and bad, but probably nothing exemplified that wild time more than than justifying sleeping with soccer player down the hall as merely a convenient way to avoid co-ed visiting hour dorm rules.

    I don’t miss the confusion and denial, but I wouldn’t mind having back the metabolism I had at that age.

  4. Oh, man. 2001. What a lifetime ago. I was in my second year studying Graphic Design. Met my first (and last) male best friend. We were both crushing on the same girl (him openly, me secretly as I was out to no one but myself). Oddly enough, he was totally blind to her being gay. One day after class, as we were walking towards our bus stop, he kept stopping in his tracks, trying to tell me something but not being able to say the words. He finally got the courage and told me he thought he could be in love with me. I….did not feel the same way and I came out to him as a result. Suffice it to say, he did not take it well. Became very homophobic and abusive afterwards. The friendship quickly dissolved after that. I still think about him from time to time. I hope he’s ok.

  5. Jeez, it’s really hard figuring out what I was doing in 1990! I did a year of sixth form at school when I was 16/17, then left and went to college instead and did my A-Levels there in 1989. I was then unemplyed for 11 months, before I finally got a full time job in retail. So that must have been 1990.

    Either way, I was still living at home, my dad was also unemployed and we watched a lot of sport, because that was before stuff like Sky existed and everything was still on terrestrial TV. I definitely didn’t know I was bisexual or asexual. I had no clue about what I was going to do with my life, in fact.

  6. I remember having a hilariously open poetry-based flirtation with an English professor 20 years my senior. I also remember the look on her face when I made mention of my fiance (one ‘e’), probably eight weeks into the term. Reader, the marriage did not make it.

  7. These are all amazing! Thank you for sharing your bb selves.

    A few days after I turned 19, I moved to a town three hours away from my hometown to live with my 27 year-old, Libertarian, mansplaining boyfriend! He liked to clean his gun in the living room after dinner while we watched Mythbusters. We lived in a really boring, affluent Bay Area town where entertainment consisted of going to dinner at the Macaroni Grill and a movie at the IMAX. The sex was very bad! I thought I was going to marry him and have his babies! Despite there being a part of me who definitely knew I wanted to see Rory Gilmore naked (Alexis Bledel is older than me, Rory was definitely in college, IT’S FINE.)

  8. Wait, Vanessa, I also thought I was 19 the first time I slept with a girl, and it was only through reading this roundtable that I started doing the math and nope, definitely 20. Maybe 21?!?! Freaking the fuck out over here.

    It’s fine, it’s all good, we’re doing great.

  9. That would have been junior/senior year of undergrad. Messing up a relationship with a boy that I should have ended but did not for far too many years thereafter. Initially taking far too many credits, then finally realizing I just needed to slow the hell down a little bit so only taking 16. Stressing and sleep-depriving and consequently being depressed. I knew I was bi and so did said boy, but it had never occurred to me that I would tell anyone else, I mean, you certainly couldn’t trust ANYONE to still love you and not be ashamed of you once they knew THAT about you, right, I was just so incredibly lucky to have found this one boy who would still love me so I’d better hang onto him no matter what. (@carmensandiego I think a lot of our 19-year-old selves needed hugs.)

  10. I spent 2009 watching lesbian movies and reading lesbian fan fiction. Hating the sixth season of The L Word but it introduced me to Lucy Lawless and Xena, so I can’t hate it too much. I fell in love with Tegan and Sara. I joined a lesbian forum so I wouldn’t feel so alone. It was a pretty good year.

  11. I appreciated this assignment because 2018 was a really shitty year for me but remembering how shitty 2006 was for me and knowing for a fact I came through the other side of it gave me hope that I’ll get through this, too.

  12. At age 19, I told my very close friend I was into her – it did not go well (no chance against deep denial).
    I had known I was gay for a long time but never ever acted on it. Maybe that even was the year I told my mum, while trying to explain why I felt so bad (heyo, depression!) but she was not interested (neither in me being gay nor in helping me getting some help).
    I passend my university-entrance diploma and moved to France to
    become a carpenter
    (beforehand I wrote to the Berlin lesbian archive to inquire about gay bars/places in the town where I was about to move – I guess we did not have internet at the time yet – and helpfully got addresses – but I never went to any of them!)
    I eventually quit the apprenticeship, amongst others because they did not seem to be into women employees and because I had been placed in another field than I had wanted to and did not suceed in changing the
    training company.
    On the day I left France I woke up to “Voyage, voyage” (Desireless), and whenever I hear that song I will always see my dorm room before me.

  13. I’m thinking about this, and it’s weird that I can’t remember myself at 19. It was only 8 years ago, but I can’t remember who I was or what sort of person I was. I know that I had just started my freshman year of college, that I had no friends in my dorm, I had the college drop out papers printed and waiting in my desk, I got my first ever C grade and went to a therapist because I couldn’t handle (Yes, the next four years of college were a wild ride if that wasn’t obvious), I spent a lot of time googling asexuality because I had never been attracted to guy and I was starting to think that was weird, and my hockey team was the only good thing going on in my life. But other than those events, I don’t really remember who I was as a person.

    I think 2019 is going to be intense as I’m planning some big life changes, but I hope I’m more equipped to handle them than I was back then.

  14. When I was 19 it was probably my second year of having a car and the first year I started fully driving the freeways. I spent a lot of time driving too far away concerts in dumps like the middle of nowhere San Bernadino, California or being up until 12:30am in the mild cold to get an autograph from guys from Rancid(Tim was nice enough to sign) at the Wilton in Koreatown.

  15. These are all so, so good, and it’s nice to know we all made it this far.

    When I turned nineteen, I was a first year cadet at the US Air Force Academy. I had taken that 5-year old’s dream of being an astronaut as far as it could go, realized that I was a pacifist at heart, and began the process of leaving shortly thereafter. Looking back on it, I think it was more difficult to tell my father that I was dropping out than it was to tell him I am a lesbian. My closest friend, a fellow alto in the choir, was my saving grace during this period. As an upperclasswoman, she was not supposed to hang with the likes of me, so we spent many a weekend night lurking in the shadows, sneaking me into her dorm room, and drinking a lot of Jack Daniels. I have some memory of a make out session with some dude on the floor next to her bed, but it’s pretty hazy. Just before I decided to leave USAFA, the Charlie Daniels Band came to play a concert for us, and my friend bought me some Jack to share with my roommate at the show. Whelp, my roommate was not prepared for a night of hard drinking with me, and she ended up in the emergency room, and I ended up getting arrested for underage drinking. Since this is the military, I was subject to all sorts of other penalties for this bad behavior, such as being asked who bought the booze for us. The military code of conduct is pretty strict about soldiers who don’t tell the truth, so I refused to rat out my alto friend, giving an impassioned speech about the hypocrisy of an institution that teaches loyalty to the woman in the trenches with you, and then expects you to play the narc. Anyway, that didn’t sit to well with the brass, as you can imagine, and I got about a gazillion demerits and hours of marching in a square with rifle in hand. But I didn’t begin out-processing until after one day in military history class when my professor–if you can call him that–showed us film footage taken from an F-4 dropping napalm and other incendiary bombs over Vietnam, all to a pro-war folk music soundtrack! I’m not kidding–one lyric that has stuck with me all these years goes like this–“I’d rather be and F-4 pilot than the governor of New York state.” Practically the whole class was in tears.

    On the day I was scheduled to leave Colorado Springs for North Carolina and who knows what kind of relationship with my dad, my dear alto friend offered to drive me to the airport. We had a few beers, and she showed me how girls could pee standing up (this was 1983 and well before those lovely contraptions you can buy for this purpose) and can also–if you’re careful–write your name in the snow. When she dropped me off, she planted a kiss on my lips that burned me to the core, giving me lots to think about on that plane ride. I wish I knew where she is now.

  16. Omg these broke me. I just want to adopt all the baby versions of my Autostraddle friends and give them giant hugs and cook them warm meals.

  17. Oh man. That age fell in 2008 and 2009 for me, and boy was it…a thing. I had realized I was super duper gay the spring and summer beforehand so I was dealing with all of that while trying to keep my head above water as a sophomore/junior in college.
    Began to crush on approximately every woman possible, including my Theater TA and my best friend (who pretended to ‘have sex’ with me to piss off my homophobic roommates…and started dating her now-husband that summer).
    I also had an internship at a local tv station that summer. It was tough to say the least. It was then that I realized my dream of being a news anchor wasn’t going to happen because who would want to see a fat mixed lesbian with glasses on tv? And I didn’t want to change the way I looked. Also an anchor I had a big crush on was a bigger bitch to me but another anchor was and still is a doll to me. So.
    Basically my year was much like that one Tegan and Sara song. I felt a lot of women in my heart and I didn’t even know them. And now we’re saying bye. Bye… bye…
    I was 19… caaaaall meeeeee.

  18. I turned 19 a month after I moved into my first apartment to start attending university as a junior-level transfer student. So, it was my first independent year. More importantly, after 3 years of confusion and shame about why I didn’t want to kiss the guys I liked, 19 was the age I learned asexuality was a thing! I finally let go of the pressure to date men, started slowly exploring the queer community, and unknowingly developed a huge crush on my amazing female boss at my college job. While I wouldn’t figure out I was also bi for two more years, learning about asexuality changed my life and made 19 an incredibly important year for me.

  19. As a 19yo baby gay, it’s real reassuring to remember how young and dumb I am. Not that I think I’ll get less dumb, but still…

  20. I think her name was Kim. She was a take-no-shit old-school Alabama butch dyke, and she delivered pizzas with me. I didn’t have a crush on her, I don’t think, but more of a Fascination. She took no shit from anyone! She could fix her own fucking car when it broke! She had a terrible haircut (1996 was dark times for the butches) and seemed to float effortlessly above the petty delivery-driver drama. I kept thinking that I could’ve been like her, if I wasn’t terrified, depressed, and so emotionally locked down I couldn’t even figure out what felt good.
    It seemed like a really good life. Huntsville was better than the rest of the state, and better than my hometown of Memphis. I almost bought a used Jeep (i felt like Sarah Connor driving it). I almost stayed and made a life there.
    But I went back home, and I married my asshole boyfriend, and I threw myself into performing heterosexuality. We all know how that story ends!
    I wonder pretty often about Alternate Timeline Funder, the one who dumped the guy with the big cock and stayed in Alabama. I think she ended up happy, eventually.

    • Were Alabama butches still all about the mullet in 1996? The masculine gals in North Carolina (myself included) sure rocked every variation imaginable.

  21. I turned 19 in 1999, near the end of my freshman year of college. I don’t remember what I did for my birthday that year but I do remember that shortly after it the girl I’d been dating for most of that semester broke up with me. That in and of itself wasn’t too devastating; we really had nothing in common except liking girls. However, I’d spent the months that I was dating her hanging out with her & her friends and letting the friendships I’d made with my own classmates at the beginning of that year fall by the wayside. I was out at school but didn’t know any other queer girls in my program (musical theater), and at some point I subconsciously decided that figuring out how to live as a queer person in the world was more important than being whatever I was before.

    That summer I got a job going door-to-door collecting signatures/donations for an environmental group. I did care about saving the bay or whatever, in theory, but I took the job mostly because it pretty much guaranteed that I would not see anyone I knew from high school. I hate talking to strangers and therefore was pretty terrible at convincing them to sign our petitions or donate money, but other than that the job was great. I spent the summer riding around in a van with a motley crew of new-age hippies and science nerds, and a few people like me who didn’t fit into either of those categories but also seemed to be hiding from something/someone/themselves. There was one very queer girl with a shaved head who I talked to about Ani DiFranco a lot.

    When I went back to school for my sophomore year, I realized pretty quickly that it was no longer the right place for me (if it had ever been). Most of the kids in my year had found roommates/apartments over the summer, so I was one of only a handful of sophomores in the dorm. I also had a single room, which just made it easier for me to isolate myself. I skipped classes a lot because I had decided I was leaving at the end of that semester & no longer cared. Whenever I could, I took the 9-hour bus ride to NYC to see Broadway shows (mostly RENT) and hang out with people I’d met online who by then were my actual real friends. I had small bursts of fun in between a lot of loneliness.

    Then about two months into the semester something happened that was the nail in the coffin of my time at that school. The closest friend I had left there betrayed me horribly. She was a senior and I was kind of in love with her, which I think she knew even though I never acted on my feelings or told her about them. She used me and then tried to brush it off like nothing, I made sure she knew how much she’d hurt me, and she never spoke to me again.

    After that I spent a lot of time alone in my room eating fast food (so I could avoid the dining hall) and watching whatever terrible lesbian movies I could find at the video store, until the semester was over and I went home. I don’t remember what I did for my 20th birthday either, but at least we’d all survived Y2K by that point so, relatively speaking, everything was uphill from there.

  22. Oh boy 19 is the age where I decided I wanted to live, that life was worth a go.

    A bunch of things happened but looking back I’m amazed I was brave enough to love and trust another human being with any part of myself because cutting my self off or free from people is fairly easy for me. I’m just lucky the 2nd person I let have an in was a good, kind person who respects people if he didn’t understand terms or theory because the person who did understand those thing and had the right vocabulary hurt me more badly than I could truly realise at 19.
    I still kinda get my guard up around queer feminine people until they’ve proven themselves to NOT see me as a project to fix. Probably always will.

    Also I took a jewelry fabrication class, felt a sense of community without an urge to run away from it, didn’t try to analyse that and after using soldering torch that much learning to cook didn’t scare me. These days cooking has kept me from losing my fucking my mind, gave me a life-line when my life turned upside down.
    So 19 year old me is my once and future savior, a lil King Arthur of the nation of me.

    And June I think I know exactly which parade you went to if you didn’t pass out Saturday and just stroll out the door Sunday. Never been to it tho as the super krewes of the night are my domain but from the aftermath it always looked like a helluva party.

  23. 19 was right before a couple of big things happened – before I came out to myself as bi, before I was diagnosed with PTSD and started therapy, before my life changed.

    But I didn’t know it was before. I didn’t know my life would change at ages 20 and 21.

  24. When I was 19 I went to rehab. It was also the first time I was committed to a psychiatric facility. I’m still drug-free but I have been in the psyche ward dozens of times.

    I was in college until I ended up in rehab. I never went to class. I knew I was gay but thought somehow that would magically change. I was still afraid of burning in hell. I avoided hanging out with anybody thought to be gay so I wouldn’t be suspected. Oddly, when I was home I went to gay clubs all the time.

    It was the 80’s and I had fabulous hair. My mom would make me get haircuts. I would tell them to do whatever they wanted because I didn’t care. As a result, I ended up with mullets and mall hair. I honestly didn’t care.

    I could probably write a book on that year alone. But I survived, and I am a happier person now. If I knew then what I know now.

  25. I started 19 at fat camp, rode through the year on a tidal wave of terrible depression, and ended it on academic probation. There were specifics, but that really paints the silhouette.

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