ANNIE FRAZIER HALLADAY
I was 13 years old the first time I learned about the existence of queer women. My mom and I were visiting her side of the family in western Massachusetts and we took a day trip into Northampton; In case you don’t know, Northampton has long been known as a very queer city.
(Photo is an actual National Enquirer article about Northampton published in 1992)
We were walking down the street and two older women in front of me were holding hands. I remember seeing one of them kiss the other on the cheek. My tiny, young, queer heart leapt. With joy? With concern? I was excited? Or scared? But mostly confused. Did women do this everywhere? Are they allowed to do that? Am I allowed to look at them when they do that? Why wasn’t anyone around me freaking out as much as I was? Where was I?!
This moment stuck with me. The way I see this memory, the streets were streaming with rows of rainbow flags, but I’m fairly certain my brain made that part up (then again, it was Northampton). At first, I wasn’t sure I had seen what I thought I had. I thought there was a chance I had misinterpreted things. So I did what any young teen in the 2000s did: I resumed my game of The Sims and tried to find out if I could make one lady Sim kiss another lady Sim. It worked. Obviously, the next move was for them to move in together and spend a lot of time in their epic pool.
So then I knew that women could have relationships with other women. With this new knowledge, I was prepared to be cool, unsurprised and as supportive as possible towards the few people in my small town that came out as bi or lesbian in the years that followed.
But for a long time, seeing those women walking down the street holding hands was the closest range and most vividly I remember seeing a relationship between two women.
I knew I liked “boys”. And I think I knew I felt something about a few “girls”. But I never realized that maybe I wanted to have relationships with them.
It wasn’t until the end of high school that I learned an acquaintance of the family was a lesbian- but I still never saw that relationship in a close or personal way. It was more of a quiet detail that I probably wasn’t supposed to know about: some big, highly confidential secret talked about in hushed tones because it’s rude to talk about other people that way (much the same way I heard my family talk about my older brother’s ‘roommate’).
I heard repeatedly from our evangelical church community that it was Wrong, that tolerance was a sin, and the only way to show love to my brother was to cut off all contact until he came around and found a nice woman to marry.
Which all added up to this: I had almost zero modeling of Queerness and Queer relationships and no clue about what attraction between women might look like. Anne of Green Gables had not prepared me for this (though I will forever root for Diana and Anne to be the unabashed lovers they deserve to be in a future remake).
Even after I had kissed a girl for the first time, I had no idea what attraction to another girl was supposed to feel like or look like and so I pretended those feelings didn’t exist, or brushed them away. I knew I felt something, but it was too strange, too difficult and too shameful to begin think about what those feelings were.
Through college, I started to explore those feelings more. I went to Gay-Straight Alliance meetings (as a straight ally, of course). I allowed myself to kiss and be kissed by other women when it felt right. I even started having sex with women. When I got hurt, I didn’t feel entitled to it- weren’t we just friends anyway? I had only heard messages that relationships between women didn't count or didn't matter, so I thought my hurt and my feelings didn't either.
I couldn’t think about those feelings in a head on way- as if my life was in the dark and that was something in the corner of my eye I couldn’t quite see.
A few months shy of graduating college, and probably eight years after kissing a girl for the first time, I turned in an assignment about family culture- the things I was taught that influence who I am. I was told by my professors to rewrite it. I hadn’t dug deep enough and it wouldn’t pass as it was, not even nearly. They kindly recommended I ditch the whole piece and start from scratch.
Infuriated and embarrassed, I began the rewrite. I decided to write instead about the conservative church environment I had grown up in and how it impacted my beliefs around how women are supposed to be. I wrote the entire paper in one constant stream in an angry late night flurry (like all good college papers). I spell checked, printed it and went to sleep.
When I read the paper through the next morning,my stomach dropped.
I had written something along the lines of ‘Women were expected to always be in line with the decisions and opinions of the men around them: god, husbands, pastors, elders and fathers. Women were expected to listen to men, always defer to men, and always to love men.”
The words rocketed around my brain and I realized:
I AM NOT STRAIGHT, AND I NEVER HAVE BEEN. I’VE JUST BEEN TOO SCARED TO LET MYSELF BE SEEN AS ANYTHING ELSE.
It was huge. Through writing, I had accidentally burst through the closet door I had only a vague understanding was there. (My Hermione Granger side feels inclined to state that, for the record, I got an A on that paper).
Soon after, I felt things begin to open up around me. I was able to see many of my murkier friendships in a clearer light. There were a lot of aha moments around various relationships I’d had- some more painful than others. I was able to let go of the friendships I realized I was (futilely) hoping would magically blossom into romance. I began to learn and acknowledge what attraction feels like for me. I practiced flirting without feeling ashamed. I sought out queer stories and started coming out to people in my life.
By acknowledging that calling myself straight wasn’t doing me any favors, I was also able to acknowledge that my foray into monogamy wasn’t working for me either. I was able to get out of an unhealthy relationship and start making decisions for myself (just myself). I began proudly claiming my queer identity and I’ve never gone back.
I've also experienced the downsides of being out: the most stinging memory being the time I was physically forced away from someone I was on a date with, and then aggressively grinded up on because a couple of straight dudes couldn’t believe she and I weren't there to pick them up. And I still struggle to find acceptance in the queer world when I'm perceived as not ‘queer enough’ because of my relationships with men.
In the five years since that time, I have voraciously sought out other queer stories. Being in community with other queer people has become so important and dear to me. In some ways, I feel like I’m trying to replace the harmful narrative (and fill the void) that I experienced for so long.
I want to know about the other people like me- the ones that may have been unsure, or needed to try on a few identities before embracing one that felt right. I seek out the stories about people coming to terms with who they are. The ones that were right in front of me, going through the same thing, and I had no idea. I want to know where our stories ran parallel, and where they diverge.
Finding the strength to be honest with myself has been so, so worth it. And finding a community that values loving and accepting each other even when we have big differences has been so beautiful.
Forming friendships with other queer folks (and supportive non-queer folks) has been so life-giving, and I would be thoroughly lost without you. Thank you all.
And finally, I have so many seasons of The L Word to get caught up on before the reboot- I'm officially accepting applications for help with that!