I remember the taste of my first kiss. Our fingers interlocked and it felt like a wave of energy had shot right through me. Something I had never felt before consumed my body, into what I could only describe as an emotional tsunami. My breath divorced my lungs and I drowned into her. I remember my first kiss, and I remember lying about it.
When people asked I always said it was my first boyfriend Tommy. He was cute. He kissed me on the cheek. He never actually kissed me, but he lied and told everyone that I had sex with him in the bathroom of a café. You can see why I didn’t feel bad about lying that we had kissed. The only plausible thing to do was lie. How could I be gay? Was I even gay? The questions didn’t leave me for many years.
I grew up in North Carolina and Virginia into a religious family. This seems like a redundant statement. People in the south are religious. That’s just how everyone is. God isn’t a question here. It’s a given. I remember the first time I went to a southern Baptist church. The priest talked of hellfire and brimstone. If you have sex before marriage you will live in pain for all eternity. The gays are demon spawn. The works. I was in seventh grade, and I believed it all. I did all up until ninth grade. In ninth grade, I met my first love. Let’s call her Lucy.
Lucy was a liar. A big fat dot on the end of Pinocchio’s nose. In fact, she was so preoccupied by the task of “truth telling” that she became a master, a master so divine in the art that she often tricked herself into believing her own delusions. When I first met her, she told me she was a vampire. I, being a highly suggestable eight-grader, didn’t necessarily believe her, but I did believe her enough to go into the woods with her. She told me her super-secret vampire lair was hidden deep in the forest. So I trudged and forced my non-outdoorsy butt outside to see the magical phenomenon. We never did end up finding said lair, but I did end up finding that I had a pollen allergy.
I tell you this because being around Lucy was like living in a fantasy, whether we were actually in one or not, and while there was no real magical component to it, I did feel a spark of something every time I saw her.
She was beautiful: tan and tall. She was smart and weird and her personality was equal parts enigmatic and intoxicating. I spent every moment I had with her. We flirted in the friend way. Then we flirted in a not-so-friend way. She’d hold me when I had a bad breakup and put flowers in my hair. She’d tell me I’m beautiful and we’d cuddle. We’d rough house and dance together. I remember the move of my awkward body as I tried to match the way she swayed her hips. She loved dark literature and she could dance. She was both grim and graceful and I didn’t know I was in love with her.
I didn’t know I was in love with her until we kissed. There we were at a sleepover like any other, lying down on the couch. She was doodling on my back with her finger and I was guessing what she was drawing. The feel of her finger tickled my back but also sent a spark through my spine, a feeling I could not place. I giggled as she ran her finger down my back once more and then I turned around. She stroked my arm as our faces lay centimetres away from one another. Her breath waltzed over my face and I felt a pull towards her. I moved with it but turned my face down so as to not reach her lips. We sat their forehead to forehead, then nose to nose, and she nuzzled hers against mine.
“I want to kiss you,” she whispered and a sudden gust of red swept through my cheeks, and then we kissed. I still hold it as one of the best kisses in my entire life. Any kiss after that paled in comparison to her soft beautiful lips. The adrenaline of getting caught mixed together with the adrenaline of a kiss, and I suddenly was somewhere else. High off the endorphins and emotions. To this day there has not been a drug I have taken whose effects have emulated anything close to that moment, but I lied about it.
I lied about it constantly. She didn’t mind. She understood. That’s who she was: understanding, beautiful, different. I dated so many guys in high school and each day after school I would run over to her house and talk about them. I would complain and she would tell me I was beautiful. I would cry over a boy and she would place a flower in my hair. I told her maybe in college it would be different. I planned a whole life with her. Yet I never admitted out loud that I could be gay or bi or anything else. I couldn’t admit it, because of my religion. The religion of my parents. I couldn’t believe in myself and God at the same time.
There’s confederate flags everywhere I go. There is a massive one flying on the side of the highway. I see it every time I drive to school. Trump bumper stickers rule the area. There is a church in every direction. The atmosphere all says one thing: There is no room for liberal ideas here. So, I kept my love a secret. I dated guys. I went to church. I did what I was supposed to do.
I remember sitting on my bed with a bible in one hand and my phone in another. I was reading it over and over trying to find somewhere I fit in, while texting her. The only thing the same about the two was that they were both making me cry. One out of longing to be and one out of longing to be with. I once prayed to God to save her. I loved her so much. I knew she wasn’t religious, so I said to God, that if I had a spot in heaven to give it to her. I wanted her to rest in eternal paradise even if it meant that I would suffer.
At one point I was homophobic and gay at the same time. I remember talking with people who said gays shouldn’t be married and I remember agreeing. I remember hiding myself under girly scarfs and dates in cafes. I remember crying every other night. I remember struggling between myself and my religion and what everyone else wanted me to be. There’s no music played publicly about women who love women. I wasn’t exposed to any music that represented me, that made me feel normal. Everything is about how a guy loves this girl or loves his tractor. I always found that funny. Men could sing about loving tractors, but not each other. It sounds silly, but that’s how it was.
I hid myself, because I was afraid. I was afraid of being rejected. I held an intense fear of being hurt. I was afraid of being sexualized. When I came out most men were okay with it. They were okay with me, because lesbian or bisexual is a porn category. I’m allowed to exist if a guy can jerk off to it. Everyone asks for threesomes. Everyone thinks that they can change me, but the only person who changed me was Lucy. Or she didn’t change me as much as she helped me become me.
My story isn’t as tragic as most. I didn’t get beat up. I didn’t get kicked out of my house, but every time I mention anything gay my mom’s face changes. I know she tries for it not to, but it does. She gives a half-hearted smile and you can see the sadness in her eyes. I hurt her and that hurts me. My dad thinks I’m choosing to be the way I am. Sexuality is a choice to him. He loves me but I don’t think I will ever be able to get it through to him. I don’t think he will ever understand and love me for everything that I am.
My ex-boyfriend told me I was going to burn in hell and asked for a threesome in the same breath. So I learned that I was dirty. I learned that I was a bad thing. I learned that God doesn’t want me, but sleazy men sure do. I am to be used like a toy and then thrown to rot with the rest of the sexual deviants. How could God love me?
Here’s the part where my story gets a little more light-hearted. I don’t think God would want that anymore. I know it sounds blasphemous, but if I’m wrong I’m already burning in hell for who I am anyway. I just know that I as a writer am constantly changing and as I change my characters do too. I started my book in eighth grade with all straight characters. Now, the book has a mainly gay cast. As I change so do the rules I create. I sometimes wonder if God is like that too. That’s why he went from sacrifices to sending Jesus to us. There had to be a moment where he thought: Hey let’s do this instead.
Maybe God knows everything, but that doesn’t mean he can’t change. I don’t think God must be a fixed mark. When I read the bible that’s not what I see at all. I see a God who changes and whose ability to change doesn’t discount him being all-knowing either. Even if you know that one day someone will change your mind, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to change your mind before it happens. For example, I was told all throughout my childhood that I would change my career path from Kissin’ Kate Barlow (from the movie Holes) to a more suitable practice. However, even though I knew it would probably happen that didn’t mean that I didn’t still have a fiery desire to kill men and steal all their money. (I know that sounds so straight, right?) So, maybe God also has the capacity for change. Maybe God is as fluid as my sexuality.
The bible says that God made man in his image. Maybe he didn’t just mean physically. Maybe that’s why everyone looks so different. Maybe he meant that man, like him, has the ability to evolve, to change. I think that’s humanity’s greatest strength: the ability to listen. The ability to change. I think if God does too he probably found it in himself to love me by now. If man is made in his image, if man reflects God, then that must also mean that God reflects man. At certain times in the bible, things have changed. People have changed their minds. The laws of God reflect the laws of the land. So, now I am sitting on my bed while my mother prays. She’s probably praying that I won’t burn in hell. She’s really worried about that one. Anyway, I am sitting here reflecting on how the laws of the land are right now.
I remember when gay marriage was legalized. I wasn’t out yet. I was happy, but I did my best to not look excited about it. The reason I bring it up is that gay marriage being okay is the law of the land. If God changes and his laws reflect the laws of the society then maybe, just maybe, he can love me too. I don’t think I believe in God anymore or at least not the type of God everyone else seems to believe in. I believe there is something. I believe it is beautiful and no matter how my southern roots have conditioned me, I believe that any God worth believing in believes in me too.