8 years old, a new school year unfolding. I remember recess time more vividly than anything else from that year: uniform slightly tousled, it was one of my chores to iron and sharply crease the pants the night before every school night, I would twirl the barettes at the end of each braid in my hair and tug at the sweater vest and blouse my mom made me wear. I had begun describing both myself and my fashion sense as nerdy, amping up the self-deprecation before classmates could tease me for the Erkel chic outfits I never liked and was even more insecure in. 2 years older, she would grab my hand, pull my arms till we stood closer. We would drop hands when friends walked by, playing off like we were reaching for jump rope. September in the Pacific Northwest, there was a bite in the air, burnt orange leaves peppering the gray concrete, layers clumsily tied around our waists as we waited for the weather to figure out what it wanted to be. In secret we thought, in a hidden part of the playground behind the school building, I squeezed my eyes shut right before her lips landed on mine.
She must wear chapstick, I thought. There was no flavor- but how smooth her lips were- without the stickiness Carmex and Vaseline left on mine. I sheepishly smiled and bit down my admission of butterflies. We found our friends to play double dutch, after again swearing each other to secrecy. Probably a pinky promise- you can’t break those. It became our recurring recess ritual, to “sneak” away and mash lips together. I would stick my tongue down her throat and we’d giggle with glee and surprise. I knew I had a crush on her, equally fantasizing about her and the boy who sat 2 rows ahead and 1 seat to the left.
I never told anyone that I liked boys unless they asked about a certain someone in class. I didn’t think there was any need to announce I had crushes on girls. None of my friends asked which girl at the school I liked.
6th grade: middle school. New school. Puberty was knocking on my door and my quest for acceptance answered.
Hurriedly, without thinking, I told my best friend Bri when we were at the mall sharing a dressing room and singing Nelly songs in the mirror.
I think I’m a lesbian.
Her eyes widened in what-the-hell. She held the jeans she was trying on in front of her. Guarding? Protecting herself from what- me? She peered at me with a befuddled yet piercing mixture of pity, surprise and disgust.
Shitshitshit. Why would I do this now? Why did I even say anything?
-No I’m not. I meant like people at school say I am even though I’m not but I don’t know why they do that.
-You’re not a fag?
-Good. That’s gross.
Soon after, when rumors started that another Black girl at the school was a lesbo, I waited to see how the cookie would crumble, the knots in my stomach churning tighter, giving my clammy hands a run for their money. The slurs, fake hysteria in the gym locker room as we changed, the hair pulling and laughing began with an intensity I wasn’t expecting. I had already been groped as my breasts spilled out of sport bras, called an Oreo (Black on the outside, white on the inside) for the way I talked, a Twinkie (fat and golden colored), stupid, ugly, a girl with man sideburns and acne. There seemed to be one way to be an accepted preteen, and being gay wasn’t it.
It was simple to me: no bullying, or sexuality. Why add another reason for kids to tease me? I chose friendship.
Joining the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) my freshman year of high school seemed natural. I would swallow down emotions as other members spoke about coming out, their families grappling to come to terms, friends embracing journeys. Even light-hearted movie nights and club meetings turned into heart to hearts. It was exhilarating to be the 3rd wheel as friends, 2 girls, held hands. Almost nurturing to be in the same circle with openly gay friends, even if most of what we did was hide in the larger handicap bathroom stall to smoke weed, all else puff puff passing while I silently stood there. I had never considered this option, that Black queer boys and girls were allowed to exist, something more than just tolerated, friends and siblings strongly supportive.
My mother had asked me if I was gay after I joined the GSA. I didn’t answer right away, mulling over her tone of voice. Was this a slur? Why did her voice go down an octave, eyes wide, lips pursed or was I imagining that? Analyzing myself into an anxiety attack, I shook my head no and explained that straight allies could join too. My older brothers and their friends would hurl questions my way, peppering me with accusations. You’re a fag now. The Bible says Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Being gay is a sin. Religion hadn’t been discussed in my upbringing before, but now it was a concrete reminder that as I am, I was wrong and unacceptable. They sealed the deal when the topic came up again:
Nique is going to a GSA movie night. I think she’s gay.
She could like men and women. Bisexual.
That’s not a real thing. Don’t be greedy, pick one.
Maybe she likes bananas and splits.
These conversations weren’t on my terms, simultaneously trying to force a coming out with a reckoning of sexuality. Why confirm their fears? Why did I have to be a topic of discussion, an argument where they got to decide whether I should be accepted or not? Were there other parts of me they wanted to dissect and throw away? The bi-erasure fell off their tongue and lodged inside somewhere in the back of my throat, silencing me as I retreated further inside myself. Though I had been feeling it for years, this cemented my belief that I couldn’t show personality around my family, couldn’t be authentically myself. Something as simple as joining a student group caused their biphobia to jump out of its cage. They didn’t see me.
A year later as a sophomore I decided to let someone in, explaining to my then-boyfriend A that I crushed hard on girls, getting hot and bothered over the thought of having a girlfriend.
You just need this dick. Fuck you straight till you not a lesbo.
He would push me onto his mattress at the same time, one hand firmly squeezing my neck. I was frequently too weak to protest corrective rape. Eventually, his threats of it stopped terrifying me, my body shutting down and numbing when he would start to mention all I needed was his dick. Guess we’re having sex now.
At the time I equated sexuality with ‘can I cuddle with this person,’ not ready to accept it as an identity, a foundational pillar in the house of Nique.
A constant flirtationship in college with Han, a woman a year younger than me, allowed us prolonged hugs with pelvises touching, whispered hellos with a quasi-grazing of lips behind her ear, zhuzhing each other’s hair and outfits because that’s what friends do, secretly relishing any physical touch. Han was openly bisexual, and would talk loudly about how she didn’t have to choose just one gender, it didn’t make her a cheater, her identity was valid.
Besides the sexual tension, the late night movie watching/footsie playing building into shoulder massages in tanks only- sans bra, I admired her sense of self, the solid proclamation that she was there and would not tolerate jabs at her humanity.
Every time I pondered coming out, I would question myself, backtracking myself into a corner of heteronormativity and straight passing expression. Why do I have to come out? Is it my fault people assume I’m straight- maybe they just shouldn’t do that. But I’m dating a man. But people are liberal here- they’ll get it.
Any longing to explain was quelled by the visceral memories of A pushing me onto his mattress, flashbacks and night sweats of him beating the queerness out of me with each thrust.
Why risk it?
There were already family and no-longer-friends who had made it clear their love,their acceptance of me was conditional. Pleas to see it their way, that it was ok for others to be ‘like that,’ so long as it wasn’t someone in their fam, threats of disownment (and the subsequent disowning) if I didn’t stop acting out and ‘fix’ myself. I didn’t fit into the mold they designed and had already been excluded from their chosen tribe because of it.
Even though they rejected me, I still chose myself.
In secret, when short bouts of singledom led me to dating apps, I would create 2 separate profiles: one searching for men, and one specifying I was looking for men/women/nonbinary folk. Femme presenting held my attention: messaging, texting, sexting, meeting at parks and other public places to wonder if this was a date or if the automatic clicking was the comfort of platonic female friendships. Dates at the park eventually led to gently caressing boobs out of their bras, nipples stiffening as we explored each other with an electrifying and thorough journey of the tongue, as hands dipped into stickily sweet nectar.
Earlier this year, after I felt comfortable around my current partner, after I knew he nourished my spirit and applauded my growth, I texted him that I wasn’t straight. He didn’t have much of an opinion, his response equating to something along the lines of ‘aight cool.’ Though it irked me at first (it’s a big deal to me, why ain’t it important to you?), I began to appreciate his lack of a reaction even more. My identity, my humanity wasn’t up for debate. To be made a topic of discussion in classrooms if I deserved rights or not. He wasn’t entitled to an opinion.
I never had a large coming out party. I don’t want one. My social anxiety and introverted nature don’t mix well with parties. Throw in my fear of someone who once loved me rejecting me with the quickness, and big proclamations are really a no go.
But, I was ready to be honestly vulnerable around who I was. I had learned to accept my sexuality, to see myself as perfectly designed and multi-faceted as I continued the work of healing from past traumas.
I have begun to let in my friends who already lift me up in the light of their acceptance. They knew many different parts of me, liked and embraced my quirks. Love lived there in our friendships and I trusted they wouldn’t use my identity against me.
It’s still a journey in living out loud, but cheers, queers.