Written by Ariel Robbins.
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon.
In high school I used to wear an XL maxi pad to my best friends’ house for sleepovers so she wouldn’t feel how absolutely drenched my panties got when we cuddled, as straight friends do. When her leg crept between mine, straightly. When I traced her nipple through her jog-a-thon sleep tee, platonically. Those days – as it is for so many of us – repression was my first language, shame making me bilingual. I was addicted to this intimacy we never talked about in the morning, pledging on my drives home or to school that it’d never happen again. It always did. And thank god it did. The emergence of queerness is so f*cking beautiful. Somehow, it was reciprocated with this best friend. We’ll call her M.
Together we explored our feelings under the guise of persistent, default straightness. “Girls just do this,” “Girls act gay when they’re not really gay,” “Just us, two non-lesbian lesbians,” we joked, in denial as deep as our fingers were in each other.
We were attached at the hip, in classic queer-foreshadowing fashion. Two best friends that wrote each other notebooks full of poems, that stayed up ‘til 5AM touching curiously. We cried for days when we went to our separate colleges. We cried for days when one of us had a crush on a boy in class. We wrestled with scathing jealousy, for the lack of definition in our relationship made us susceptible to other relationships, and we didn’t know why it hurt so bad. But we did know. And one night when she drove 500 miles to visit me, she held me and said, “Maybe we should stop. What happens when one of us gets a boyfriend?” And we looked at each other and laughed. What a stupid question. Heteronormativity almost got the best of us. But it didn’t. Kind of. We decided to be a couple that night, our sophomore year of college.
I romanticized the secrecy, idealizing this relationship that was “only for us,” not publicized on social media or in bars, or…anywhere.
M was my first love, my soulmate. We were a couple! Privileged enough to exist within geographical and broader social structures that accepted queerness. But, M couldn’t come out. Moreso, she wouldn’t. Her internalized homophobia was loud — inescapable. Her family would turn her back on her if they knew. It was so often them or me. The closet was more comfortable than confronting all the choices she couldn’t make. I was on the other side of things, ready to run strap-ons a-blazin’ into queer community, which I did, but I also, upon M’s request didn’t tell family or friends. I romanticized the secrecy, idealizing this relationship that was “only for us,” not publicized on social media or in bars, or…anywhere. M found avenues to explore her queerness privately. She revelled in gay YouTubers, living through them the life she told herself she couldn’t live with me.
The second and third year of our relationship came and went tucked safely in the closet. People started asking questions, I kept lying to them. No, we’re just friends. Yes, mom, I’m dating around. The conversation between M and I remained cyclical – I’d bring up coming out, she said please don’t do this, she said her family would find out, she said she didn’t want to talk about this anymore. End.
Despite those questions, I always found relief in how much she loved me. Every bit of me. So wholly and deeply. Just not how I needed her to.
In the back of my mind sat the threat that she’d never be able to come out. How long was I supposed to do this? To love in secret? To avoid holding my partners’ hand in public because she didn’t want to be seen with me? Despite those questions, I always found relief in how much she loved me. Every bit of me. So wholly and deeply. Just not how I needed her to.
Things got harder when she moved overseas for graduate school. I thought that this move would be the perfect opportunity for her to start anew, to come out with people that had no ties to her family, that had no preconceived notion about her identity. But it didn’t work like that.
I was set to visit during her first year, the fifth year of our secret relationship. I remember asking, Please can you introduce me as your girlfriend, this time? She told me no. She told me don’t do this. It hurt her too much. It hurt me too. I had to balance the understanding I had that it is hard and scary to come out. You can lose resources and people in your life at the cost of being yourself. But also the frustration, the unfairness, the selfishness I felt at feeling those things. This ultimately resulted in things coming to a hard, but loving end after almost 7 years of being together. Almost 7 years of being closeted.
I am so, so thankful for my time with her. I am also thankful it came to an end. Our break-up freed us both.
I learned so much in my relationship with M. I loved so intensely before I knew how to healthily have someone in my life. I sacrificed bits of myself that I learned can’t be sacrificed if I’m going to be happy. I ignored lifestyle incompatibility, because all of the other compatibilities felt so strong and present. I am so, so thankful for my time with her. I am also thankful it came to an end. Our break-up freed us both. Suddenly, I got to prioritize myself, my identity. During my journey into uninhibited queer actualization, I met my current partner, a brilliant, silly, beautiful, ever-evolving trans man. We are the most straight-passing couple you’ve ever seen and I couldn’t be happier.
My grasp on queerness is present both in my ability to love out loud (finally!), and in all the subtler ways I’m so hella f*cking gay. It feels so good to be here, it feels so good to hold my boyfriend’s hand in public. It feels so good to say “Don’t worry, we’re queer,” after we make a gay joke to folks that may perceive us as straight, to be constantly unfolding what queerness is to me, to us, and what it can become. The limitlessness of it. The truth of it within myself.
About The Author
Ariel is a queer artist based in the Bay Area.