When your fifteen-year-old boyfriend, Peter, asks, “Do you think you’re a lesbian?” your silence will prompt him to explain his fascinating theory on the feminine confusion: “Every girl I’ve met has been worried she’s a lesbian, and it’s all bullshit. Of course they’re not all lesbians–there’d be no straight women left!” In your sleepy Somerset town, hold a garden party for your sixteenth birthday. After watching Peter crawl into a tent with a girl from the grade above, position yourself in the exact center of your lawn, swallow the July air, and growl from your lungs: “I’m a lesbian!” The next day, listen to your best friend, Harriet, relate details you can no longer remember. Exhibit appropriate amounts of shame as she recalls how you kissed Leanne (Peter’s most recent ex-girlfriend), then Jenna (a not terribly attractive girl with a penchant for Lincoln Park hoodies), before pouncing upon Harriet herself and claiming to have loved her for years. Show suitable astonishment at the last part, despite your three-year intoxication with this elegant, acne-d Barbie-doll. Plead ignorance, apologize profusely, and blame the Bailey’s.
Back at school, ignore any choking noises in the bathroom and whispers of, “That’s the nerdy girl who gets drunk and becomes a lesbian.”
However, take your responsibility to maintain this reputation seriously. Develop a collection of witty responses behind which to hide your feelings of isolation. For example, when your friend, Cheat, slouches beside you in the common room as you’re eating a granola bar and asks, “Is that a dyke bar?”, respond quite calmly, “Yes, I’m about to shove it up my cunt.” Although he’ll run out of the room in shocked disgust, his opinion of you as a lesbian will have risen.
Live on the glory of your birthday night for as long as possible, but when the opportunity arises, solidify your shaky sexuality in the minds of your peers. At a house party, whirl around the Lambrusco-d living room in search of Leanne. Kiss on the couch until she deserts you for a rugby player.
When, some months later, you’ve become so disheartened by the heteronormativity of your small town surroundings that you decide lesbians are a myth, content yourself with reading Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. While your friends laugh that your latent lesbianism is a harmless quirk, privately lament the plight of the outcast in society as if it were still Victorian England. After watching Tipping the Velvet, come to the conclusion that it would actually have been easier to be gay then than it is now.
At a New Year’s Eve party, drink crudely-mixed cocktails and team up with your friend Toby to form a terribly clever club called “Ibs.” With an air of superiority, peruse the party declaring yourselves Ibs, until someone politely informs you that it’s pretty obvious what you mean, and are you both aware that you’ve just announced your dubious desires to the whole of Year 13?
When you arrive at university, believing yourself at last free to be who you want amongst crowds of like-minded, academic students who will talk about books and art and sit around wearing berets and planning their great artistic futures, do not be too dismayed that you spend your first weeks in York going to Weatherspoons, drinking until you throw up and talking about what happened in Eastenders. Accept the compromise that you cannot have everything but at least you’ll no longer have to hide your sexuality.
However, in the queue for the Gallery nightclub, as your netball-playing neighbour turns to you and exclaims, “There’s a lot of gays here, don’t you think?”, mumble that you hadn’t noticed and crawl back into the closet.
After a few miserable months of playing straight at university, discover Gaydar.com.
Create a profile that describes your profound complexity as a human being. Sift through your inbox, deleting the sordid, the butch, the old, the couples and the frankly weird. You’ll be left with a petite nineteen-year-old with vociferous opinions about gay rights and a love for Ani DiFranco. Send a nervous email suggesting you meet.
Wait at the corner of the cathedral in a pool of lamplight, noting the atmosphere is so charged that this must be the night you’ll fall in love. Watch five or six people pass, permitting your heart to race then relax each time.
Finally, while fiddling in your bag for something to make you feel less idiotic, hear your name. Look up and let your eyes settle on a person who looks about twelve.
Though you’re short yourself, no more than 5’1″, this girl is a good three inches smaller than you. Also, her arms somehow reach to her knees, making her look a little like a primate.
Feeling terrible for your shallowness, follow her to a bar. Make excruciating small talk for as long as you possibly can without running out of the place screaming, “Monkeys are invading!”
Warily try Gaydar again. Arrange to meet HelenDalek23 in a pub by the river. She’ll be beautiful in a gothy sort of way. Over many pints, learn she is a Trekkie but forgive this minor detail because of her nose-ring.
After last orders, stumble into Reflex, the club with the revolving dance-floor, and proceed to entertain the middle-aged men that make up the clientele by participating in a nothing-short-of-filmic rotating kiss.
Two days later, meet at The Terrier. After one pint and some suitably coy uncertainty, accept the invitation back to her house.
Flirt self consciously in her cozy living room as she rolls a joint. Arrange yourself sexily on the floor with your head upon a cushion, occasionally pinching yourself to check this is real.
Wake up. Realize it is 2 a.m. and you are still arranged sexily on the floor, with a blanket thrown over you. Creep around the house and find Helen’s bedroom. Consider joining her, but opt to curl into a fetal position alone on the couch.
In the morning, accept a cup of tea and mention nothing about the night before. After she directs you to the right bus, never hear from Helen again.
Give up on life and love and devote yourself to your studies and the drama society. Don’t check Gaydar until two weeks before the end of summer term. Find a series of e-mails from a girl desperate to meet because you both live on campus. Think, what is there to lose?
Meet at Wentworth bar. Nadia will be Lebanese and handsome, and an incredible flirt. Allow her to buy you a beer then lead you back to her room in the graduate block. One month and two days before your nineteenth birthday, peel a pink shirt from Nadia’s torso and nervously place your lips to her left nipple. Fall easily when she pushes you onto her queen size bed, and think deliriously: “This is it!”
Read a Wikipedia article about tracing A-Z with your tongue in order to stimulate the clitoris in a regular but unrepetitive way. Apply this new wisdom and enjoy the ecstatic gratitude of your first girlfriend.
In the mornings, sip Nadia’s sweet black coffee and decide this is bliss.
Have the piping liquid sour on your tongue when she remarks: “I should tell you something. I have a fiancé back in Lebanon – Raef. I told him about you and he wants us to have a lot of fun. Is that okay with you, baby?”
After Nadia’s fled to her fiancé, occupy your summer stage-managing a play in London. Every day for six weeks, travel by tube to Earl’s Court. Spend five hours a day in the theatre, then retire to the bar downstairs with the boisterously American technician, Becca.
On your third or fourth drink, lower your voices only slightly to discuss sex. Listen to your Amazonian friend’s debauched tales of sleeping with her professor, cheating on her boyfriend, sneaking girls past her homophobic parents, and, currently, attempting to seduce the director. Offer moderated versions of your own exploits, painting Nadia as the tragically-doomed love of your life.
After the final performance, downing farewell cocktails with the cast and crew, Becca will lean towards you and slur, “Everyone knows I like you. Why haven’t you kissed me yet?”
Do not move silently to Becca and grant her wish.
Instead, reply that you really have to leave because the last tube is in five minutes. Mutter you’re sorry and hug her briefly goodbye.
Miss the last tube and get lost in Putney trying to figure out the night buses.
In September, begin an exchange year at Mount Holyoke. Arrive at the picturesque New England women’s college excited to begin afresh, but sceptical of any rumors you’ve heard.
Initially encounter only international students. Hang out with two sisters from Oman who arrived with thirteen suitcases each, tell you they really want to pluck your eyebrows, and regularly mention that they hope there aren’t a load of “lessies” living nearby.
Once the semester starts, sign up for the Fall play. After two weeks of rehearsals, sit in Blanchard cafe and choke on your curly-fry as the set designer, Jen, asks, “So, are you gay or what?”
Gawp when she tells you the cast were placing bets because Mia had noticed your rainbow socks, bracelet and belt, but Liz had thought that meant something different in Europe.
Tell her no one has questioned your sexuality before. Conclude that you are pleased, though a little embarrassed, and later throw away said socks, bracelet and belt for fear of being too obvious in future.
Greedily consume the queer spectacles of the Pioneer Valley. Dream of U-Haul clichés and a feline-filled future.
In October, donate eleven inches of hair to Locks Of Love. Two weeks later, crop the remaining bob into boyish spikes, then get pierced by Penelope in Northampton.
Meet Lizzie Stein.
Fall for Lizzie Stein because she listens to Aimee Mann, has handcuffs hanging on her wall and introduces you to But I’m A Cheerleader. Howl to Tori Amos in her SUV as Lizzie drives sixty miles per hour at midnight along 47th Street with the windows open and her hand upon your thigh.
Learn that Lizzie Stein is in love with Lauren Cooper.
Over the coming months, accept your role as second best and willingly skip through the snow at midnight to hang out with Lizzie on the days Lauren snubs her. Write terrible poetry about this “cruel cat who wraps herself in leather and winds (you) on her claws,” and gleefully title the paper for your queer poetry class, “The Hermeneutics of Flirtation In (Gertrude) Stein’s Tender Buttons.”
When Lauren likes Lizzie, comfort yourself with Joanne. Joanne knits while watching House and has a dental dam taped to her door. Sleep in her bed three nights a week and keep your own toothbrush in her dorm, but never kiss Joanne. Frustrated and confused, ruin the whole thing by sending an e-mail saying you enjoy spending nights together but wish you could do a little more than sleep.
Don’t be surprised that she doesn’t reply.
In January, date Alexandra, a Jewish coxswain from Connecticut who voted for Bush and moisturizes three times a day.
After three weeks of kissing Alex, realize, despite her incredible four-hours-a-day-in-the-gym-body, you never miss her when she cancels a date and you’re still IM-ing Lizzie Stein into the early hours of each morning.
Recommence making out with Lizzie on the occasions Lauren rejects her.
Become agonizingly aware that everyone on the campus except you is having hot lesbian sex, and develop consecutive crushes on Caitlin, Althea, Eliza, Julie and Jen. Ask none of them out.
Wear your vintage velvet jacket to a dorm party and dance with Andi from Hampshire. She’ll get your attention by flashing one pancake breast and you’ll develop an immediate infatuation for this mohawked Twiglet.
However, walk back to your dorm with Christine Butler to pick up more alcohol. Sleep with Christine, who wears sweatpants to class, plays Apples To Apples and, unfortunately, doesn’t trim her fingernails.
Back in York for your final year of university, muster the courage to attend an LGBT party. This won’t be the flamboyant and proud experience you have come to expect from Mount Holyoke, but a limp gathering in a campus bar of the few dozen students who do not quite blend into the gap-year bronzed, public school kids who dominate York’s population. Remain on the mailing list but fail to attend another event.
In November, visit Mia from Mount Holyoke who is now studying in London. Head for the infamous GAY club. Through disco spots, devour the DocMartin and nose-studded delights at the end of the rainbow queue.
Inside, notice a brunette. After your fourth Smirnoff Ice, march up to her and blurt, “My friend and I were talking, and she’s not sure, but I think you’re way too pretty to be straight.”
Prepare to run away, but instead let your jaw drop as the girl leans close to your ear and whispers, “I’m no fag hag if that’s what you mean. Want to dance?”
Try vaguely to regain control of the situation, but end up having fumbled sex with this nameless girl in the bathroom, and throw up in the taxi home.
Kiss boys for the rest of the year, and only then accidentally, but talk openly about the women you dated in America and revel in your status as the one lesbian in DramaSoc.
After seeing Hamlet in May, bump into a boy wearing an identical shirt to your own. Laugh when Ellie runs up to you and cries, “You guys are York’s Posh & Becks!” Plan a fake “hot date” with this boy to stir up gossip amongst your friends.
Have an enormous amount of fun on this and other “hot dates,” safe in the knowledge that Sam doesn’t see the point in dating (he told you so on the first fake date), and, anyway, he knows you’re a lesbian.
Three weeks before you turn twenty-one and four days before graduation, invite Sam to the Leaver’s Ball. At 4 a.m., loitering outside the posh racecourse building, he plucks up the courage to kiss you. Instead of reverting to your natural scorn of all things heterosexual, delicately lift your heeled foot onto the step behind it. Instead of thinking about the satin-gowned girls beside you, steady yourself with a hand upon Sam’s shoulder. Instead of worrying you’ll never be respected as a queer artist if you kiss white, middle-class boys with English degrees, softly glance from his mildly pretentious cravat to his neatly shaved jaw and thickly browed eyes. Instead of remembering your ambition to have a civil partnership and six cats, imagine being held in his arms. Fantasize about spending the summer together before making a long distance relationship work while you get your MA in Chicago, then moving in together upon your return. Finally, press your X chromosomes to his offered Ys, and kiss him back.