By Sabrina Eager
Art by Sabrina Eager
I came out to my best friend Shivani three times. Not because she didn’t believe that I was queer and I had to remind her, but because I was wrong the first two times.
The first time was in a Panera Bread. It was my freshman year of high school. I was in love with our friend Anna, but I knew I wasn’t gay because … how could I be? I had a boyfriend the year before. I’d had crushes on boys my whole life. I had never even thought of girls as an option.
That year, I stood in front of the full length mirror that hung over my mom’s closet door for hours, concocting mental images of crushes on random boys as distractions. I imagined holding hands with the boy who sat next to me in biology, hugging the boy who I always high-fived when we passed each other in the cafeteria between classes.
That year, I spent hours researching sexualities on Tumblr to find something other than “gay” to define my feelings. “Quoiromantic” came up on my dashboard. A label for someone unable to distinguish between romantic and platonic attraction. I shed tears of relief and drew a picture in the colors of the quoiromantic pride flag to set as my phone’s lock screen. You don’t like Anna. You simply think you do. She is your friend. You do love her. But platonically. There’s nothing romantic.
“I’m quoiromantic,” I announced, Shivani sitting across from me in one of the red vinyl booths at the Panera at the Broadway Mall. I was at the same mall the year before when I heard that same-sex marriage was legal nationwide and somehow knew to file the memory. I explained the term, explained the confusion, and I asked her to name every boy that we were friends with. “Yes, I thought I had a crush on him for a week, or a day, or a moment in the lunchroom,” I confessed after each name. Sean. Dan. Jacob. All just fleeting moments. Merely flirtations with men I’d never truly love.
I did not mention Anna.
In May of our sophomore year, I told Shivani I was bi. We were talking on FaceTime after school. The month before, a friend called me cute during a chemistry lab, and the moments in the mirror suddenly stopped working. I could no longer chalk the skip-and-a-jump of my heart up to an identity based in confusion. As I stood in my mom’s room and analyzed my reflection in the full length mirror that hung over her closet door, my thoughts would settle on the series of inside jokes that we shared, the way her eyes would squint when she laughed, the skin on my arm where she grabbed me to drag me down the hallway.
“So I like someone,” I told Shivani. “But they’re not a guy.” The conversation is a blur in my mind, clouded behind nerves. Shivani remembers that I sounded nervous, but confident. She says that it seemed like I didn’t know how to form the words, but like I wasn’t worried about how she’d react. I do remember that she wasn’t surprised. She referenced the recent chop of my hair, the stereotypical “bi bob” I decorated myself with three months before. She recalls that it was sunny out, the May weather still warm outside our windows.
Once Shivani knew I liked girls, I would talk to her about girls’ hands. About how they are small and soft and fit perfectly in yours. About girls’ lips, how they seem so gentle and easy to kiss. I had yet to hold a girl’s hand, to kiss a girl’s lips, but I know that I never seemed to want to talk about boys in the same way. Never in the way that Shivani did. I cared more about cupping a woman’s cheek in my hand. About brushing a piece of hair behind a woman’s ear as she looked up at me from behind her lashes.
I more recently realized bisexual wasn’t accurate. Probably something to do with scrolling on TikTok and watching the men on my for you page slowly disappear into oblivion. I don’t quite know when it clicked. I don’t quite know when I told Shivani. I know she knows that I like the word “queer” now. That I can’t imagine a world where I end up with a man. That I’m basically a lesbian even if lesbian as a word doesn’t feel quite right. Not yet at least.
But I have held a woman’s hands, and I have kissed a woman’s lips. I cupped a woman’s cheek in my hand and brushed a piece of hair behind her ear as she looked up at me from behind her lashes. I was right all those years ago, talking with Shivani in the hallways of our suburban highschool. Small and soft hands have fit perfectly in mine. Gentle lips have made kissing feel so easy, like it’s what humans were meant to do.
When I tell this story or some iteration of it, people often ask if I’ve heard of compulsory heterosexuality, or if I’ve read the “Am I a Lesbian Masterdoc.” I have. It’s eerily familiar. Picking random boys to crush on. Becoming anxious around men you once thought you liked. It’s strange how a theory can make you feel so seen. How an article you read during your first term as a college student can come back to haunt you once it starts to feel real. How it begins to feel less academic and more like memoir. How it makes moments spent sitting in a red vinyl booth or speaking on FaceTime as the warm May air danced outside my window make sense.