I didn’t always know I was gay. As a matter of fact, it came as quite a surprise for me. No matter how soon or how late you come to the conclusion that you’re not straight, it’s a very personal and unique journey. However, as an adult, surrounded by queer friends and consuming queer media, it’s become clear that there are some universal things that all us baby dykes did growing up, some of which were confusing and scared us even further into the closet, and others that were pure and innocent.
In her Marriage Material stand-up special, Cameron Esposito talks about how the adults in her life couldn’t figure out what was different about her when she was a child so they just called her fat. Queerness has always been contextualized as an aberration. When your existence is synonymous with otherness, and you don’t have the language to reclaim it yet, you repress all kinds of little moments of joy.
This list is a reclamation of queer innocence.
I wasn’t really allowed to go to sleepovers growing up, because I have African immigrant parents who watched 90210 and ardently believed it was an accurate depiction of American high school life. It wasn’t until I was in high school that other people were even allowed to sleep over at our house. Right around the time my parents were giving me this new liberty, I made friends with a girl that in retrospect I was completely in love with. We bonded over liking the same terrible music, but I’m convinced that it was really just a euphemism for the fact that we were both very gay and closeted. Every time she slept over at my house we shared my bed...despite the fact that we had a spare bedroom. Nothing ever happened because we were being tricked by heterosexuality at the time but boy, were we obvious.
I was an extremely shy kid growing up, and being around a group of kids always stressed me out. The only times I broke out of my shell were when we played house. I know a lot of queer women that say they always wanted to play the dad.
I was on the other side of that completely.
I loved playing the mom, because I enjoyed being a homemaker and pretending to cook, but I always wanted the dad to be played by a girl. That was my only condition for playing. I mean, that might as well have been my official coming out. I have very specific memories of holding a girl’s hand while playing house and all the kids asking why there were two moms. My defense, of course, was that it was a mom and a dad but the dad was just being played by a girl, which is very sound 10-year-old logic. I also remember being terrified that my parents would find out, even though it made complete sense in my head.
The SNL sketch where the women of the cast talk about the first time they got horny led me to this assessment of lesbian relationships to boy bands and teen heartthrobs: Whether it’s Aaron Carter, Taylor Hanson or Harry Styles, lesbians want to be teen heartthrobs because they want female attention, of course.
As a little queer kid, you see all the girls your age fawn over these skinny boys with long hair and you envy them. You want Riley from your English class to scribble your initials on her notebook. So you idolize them in a different way than straight girls do. That’s why having queer heartthrobs now is so surreal. We get to fawn over them in the same way straight girls did Jonathan Taylor Thomas. We idolized Justin Timberlake because we had crushes on Britney Spears and he got to date her. Every time I listen to Christine and The Queens, Beatlemania makes total sense.
The number of queer women that I’ve spoken to about having a crush on a kind, caring English or Art teacher is insane. I genuinely believe that if I didn’t have a crush on my fifth Grade English teacher, I would not be a writer. I spent that entire year of my life just constantly finding excuses to spend more time with her, everything from rewriting papers to reading ahead in the books she assigned.
Poor baby dyke me was so enamored by her and completely clueless as to why.
I call this the Miss Honey Phenomenon because I think a lot of people my age saw Matilda and desperately wanted their own Miss Honey. The fact that Mara Wilson is now queer is also just the icing on the cake. It just breaks my heart that for queer people, an innocent childhood crush came with the added burden of shame as a byproduct of internalized homophobia.
As a queer adult, it’s hard not to look back at your childhood and feel hurt for yourself. That’s why it’s important to remember the queer people who made our lives today possible, so we can fight to make sure it only gets better from here. Queer kids have always existed. They exist now and it’s our job to make sure they continue to fully, safely and wholesomely exist.