Girl crushes are a fascinating phenomenon. When I was growing up (approximately from the ages of 12 – 16), they usually functioned as a way to give you an outlet to voice how much you really admired someone, thought they were smart and/or pretty, and wanted to be them. And at that point “them” was usually a girl/woman/femme.
As I got older, however, and became more familiar with LGBTQIA+ language/language associated with with queerness, it ultimately became clear to me that “girl crush” was literally code for “I believe I am too straight to admit I have an outright crush on this person, so I’ll just put “girl” in front of “crush” and everything will be fine” or “I may still be coming into my queerness and this is a shorthand way to demonstrate that I am attracted to this person (most likely of the same gender) without any of the baggage.”
In other words, it was safe.
Ironically though, this issue with lack of language was something I ran into as early as elementary school. Case in point, as early as five, I knew one of my good friends was different, but I would not learn the word “gay” (and let him know it was okay to be such) for another eight years.
And I ran into this issue with language when I developed my first “girl crush” at age eight on Rosario Dawson.
I first saw Dawson on a screen when I was watching Men In Black II. And hot damn was she beautiful. I noticed the immaculate angles of her face, her big brown eyes, and great skin, but what I distinctly remember is that awful haircut she had in that movie and how it would have looked terrible on me (I joked I would have looked like Fat Albert with a lopsided bob) or anyone else, but she rocked the hell out it like she does with everything.
Me and my sister have an iffy relationship and she tends to disagree with me on certain things just because she can, but even she concurred without a hint of irony that Rosario was indeed “hot”.
I remained infatuated with her from that point on. Whenever I heard she was gonna pop up in a movie, I was gonna see it, no matter how inappropriate it was for my age. So that meant going back to watch Josie and the Pussycats and He Got Game, sneaking into the ultra-violent Sin City, enduring Death Proof, and sitting through the immensely melodramatic Seven Pounds because I liked her and her chemistry with Will Smith (hello, MIB II).
I was there. And even though, again, the language to describe my feelings toward her, besides “girl crush,” didn’t come to me until I was about 17/18, I found I didn’t feel as strongly about certain boys my age or men who were older (which deadass should have been the first giveaway that I was farrrrrrrrrrr from straight) as I did about her.
And it gets even more complicated from there.
As anti-social as I am about dating now, I find that I had been super crush-happy growing up and now that I reflect on my who I was crushing on, it veered on the wildly problematic side. “Girl Crush” Rosario remained supreme, of course, but I noticed that my other crushes, regardless of gender, shared a very similar trait to Rosario:
They were either very pale (occasionally White) and/or lightskinned like Rosario.
I can remember it like it was yesterday. My elementary school crush Rod (who ironically and brutally roasted me for my dark skin and Jackson 5 nostrils). Alicia Keys. Tommy from Power Rangers. Zac Efron (ONLY in High School Musical 1). Corbin Bleu (up until the White side of his genes caught up with him). Literally the entirety of B5. Brad Pitt. Aaliyah. Left Eye.
All not too far on a color gradient scale.
Of course in my [even younger] youth, I also shrugged it off as a preference, but it started to get a little dicey when I noticed at age 15 that none of my crushes really resembled me at all. Not in color or other attributes (besides maybe gender) Even with preference aside, that had to mean something, right?
Well, of course, being the headass that I (was) am, I did not really take this beginning thought (one that would lead me to my staunch stance against colorism) seriously until my “girl crush” for Tika Sumpter developed in 2011.
The details around this are still a bit murky to me, but I remember seeing her on The Game, giving Malik a piece of her mind, I was like “yep I think I am in love wtf.” And like Dawson, Sumpter’s career also became of utmost interest to me.
I watched her slay hearts and sidewalk runways in Gossip Girl. Scandalize anyone and everyone on The Haves and The Have Nots. Light up my screen in Bessie, smolder in Get on Up, and steal my heart (again lol) in Southside with You as Michelle Obama.
She was definitely uber-talented (like all my crushes), but I remember being especially awestruck because she was so unlike what my usual girl crush would be and she further cemented this when she was interviewed about her role on Gossip Girl and why it was fairly significant (and rare) to see someone of her complexion step into that world and completely own it. She shared stories she received about making other darkskinned girls feel proud about their color and even made my dark ass take a step back when she talked about growing up in an environment and with parents that celebrated her darkness. I was like “wait, that can happen???”
It was at that point that I had to deeply reflect on my crush on her, and what it meant that my other crushes were aggressively lacking in this similar hue.
And ultimately, I figured that not only was “preference” a sham, but it is also HEAVILY shaped by socio-political factors and environmental factors. Like, there’s no escaping that. That and the fact that my “preferences” in these girl crushes/crushes also inadvertently reflected what I felt about myself.
I had been told so much growing up (overtly or subliminally) that one needed to avoid being too dark, or too fat or what have you and that also bled into *who* exactly I found myself being attracted to.
In short: sexuality and, most importantly, attraction are not neutral or apolitical things. They do not occur in some vacuum.
They are political as fuck. And this means they can either be very oppressive or very liberating.
And of course I still have massive crushes on Sumpter and Dawson (like I literally die every time Sumpter tweets me or likes a tweet of mine), and they continue to teach me every day what I like in myself and others, but I am definitely more critical now when I feel a new crush coming on.
And by critical, I mean “do I like this person because they are actually hot and talented? Or do I like them because they are pale/white/appeal to everything that I hate about myself?
A question indeed.