I can’t sleep with the light on. The room must be the darkest dark, pitch-black, outlines just barely perceptible for my body to unwind itself into sleep. To be flashed by the brutal white fluorescence of the light hurts, impairs my vision, and disturbs any notion of sleepiness in me. The melatonin doesn’t activate. The brightness of the light removes me from that in-between place, from the world that exists only when we sleep, which for me, only exists in total darkness.
That’s how it feels to have a crush on a girl. To like a girl—that head-spinning, flustered, heartsickness—is not so much a feeling as it is an exposure to light too bright to look directly at. I don’t know how to hide from it, where to run. This urge grabs hold of me, claws at my self-awareness, at my self-acceptance, and refuses to move. I want to disown this want, this heady frantic animal called desire, and unbelieve that I, a girl, could want another girl. After years of being a self-proclaimed “angry queer” without denial, my guilt is everlasting and hulks cold in the pit of my stomach. I cannot detach myself from the guilt of being a queer girl, the shame that feels synonymous with queerness even though I know better, even though I know it shouldn’t make me feel sick. Even though I know there is nothing wrong with me or what I want.
But things happen—sometimes almost imperceptible, insidious, cloaked in innocuity, that make me pause. Before I came out, a tricky and often frustrating concept in itself, moments like these stopped me from being honest or open about my sexuality, about my identity. These moments unsettled any sense of self-assuredness I felt:
“I’m just saying. If I had a really close female friend who I found out was gay, and she didn’t tell me, I’d be weirded out. I mean, we had sleepovers, we shared a bed, changed in front of each other—it’d make me uncomfortable, for sure.”
“Okay, pansexuality definitely isn’t a thing. Just doesn’t exist.”
“Girls making out with girls is really freaking hot.”
Fetishization of my sexuality, of something intrinsic to my selfhood, something complicated and sometimes scary, permeated conversations, bled into conversations. When dared by a boy, girls would kiss other girl. Girls would perpetuate the fetishization, and I would slink into discomfort, disoriented by the ways in which female queerness was perceived.
Our language embodies this fetishization, this “no homo” mentality embedded into every piece of our hookup culture. We use terms like “girl crush” in questionable ways to ensure that we’re platonically crushing on another girl, to reaffirm our heterosexuality and evade every hint of anything else. A crush is a crush; one need not identify as gay to crush on someone of the same gender. My life as a queer teenage girl has been stifled and damaged by the cultural imposition of the binary. To think of sexuality as something binary in any sense of the word, to believe that gay and straight are the sole options, that one must identify with something concrete in order to make others comfortable, instills an intangible sense of shame deep down in me. I am not the representative of the LGBTQ+ community, but to dismantle outdated and repressive dichotomies of sexuality, and gender, seems to be a somewhat universal goal of ours.
The terror is twofold for those of us who are queer and happen to have a crush on someone of the same gender: firstly, we experience the general emotional maelstrom that is a crush, and secondly, we have to feel that while also maintaining a hyper-consciousness about it. I don’t want to make her uncomfortable. She’ll be weirded out. I can’t let anyone know or they’ll think I’m creepy and gross. Guilt rises in me, an automatic reaction, and I wish I could detach myself from this shameful tendency. Cultural cues have taught me to fear my own feelings—the gay ones, that is—and to repress them at any cost. I lose the overwhelming, erratic, painful, intoxicating experience of a crush, of catching feelings, in the murk of guilt, shame, fear, and self-disgust. I lose that experience in my desperation to suppress it.
Feelings are messy animals for everyone, no matter your gender or sexuality. But to be unable to feel things without a shroud of self-hatred about feeling those things, to have to coexist with a choking, limitless guilt like that, is another experience entirely. I want everyone to be able to feel the tumultuous colors of adolescence without any of that guilt. I want queer people to be able to live their lives and feel their feelings without a culture that tells us to deny those feelings, to blend in and suppress, to cater to the comfort of heterosexual norms rather than our own. And let me be clear: to have a crush on someone, unapologetically, is different than actively harassing that person with aggressive attention and demands for reciprocation. I’m not advocating for that kind of crush—that’s not fun for anyone. It’s harassment.
What I do believe, wholeheartedly, relies on this fundamental notion that everyone should be able to be messy, over-feeling human beings. Everyone should be able to have feelings for another person (provided no aggressive action is involved) and have to deal with that cluttered emotional state. A crush is a crush, and feelings are feelings. No one else can dictate what legitimizes your own feelings, because no one feels quite the same way.