The first time I kissed a girl

I have been working a lot on long form writing as of late, writing which I hope will one day become something I could call a *book*. Here is an excerpt from that work. It is the story of me at a young age, finding my way, and kissing a girl for the first time.

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I believe I peaked at age 13. Never before or since have I been as self assured, confident, witty, or smart. I know more now but I understand less.

The other day I was sitting in the tub with Lola on speaker, my phone placed on top of the closed toilet seat. She didn’t want to hang up even though I am trying this new thing where I ignore my phone starting at 9pm. It was 9:45pm. My therapist keeps suggesting that I need to get further into my body and feel my feelings IN my body. Just now as I was typing the word “body” my fingers automatically typed the word “phone.” Thats fucked up, huh?

In order to get into my body she thinks I should sweat more. I workout quite a bit, and I sweat there, and that absolutely takes me out of my head. Which is good. But mostly I don’t feel my stomach. Well, what I mean by that is that I feel cortisol coursing through my guts when my anxiety is triggered by literally anything. The rest of the time, when I cry or feel joy, I only “feel” the idea of it in my mind, perceive the tears intellectually. Think about the thing that makes me feel happy. My stomach is only good for anxiety. And real talk I don’t feel “joy” very often.

I have a feeling that sitting in hot water will help me get in my body more. The only problem is that I work at a tattoo shop and get tattooed a lot, and timing being what it is, I end up not being able to soak in hot water for weeks at a time. Because, for those who don’t know, you can’t soak in water with a new tattoo until it is healed, which takes 3-4 weeks.

So here I am in the tub on a rare night between tattoo healing. While I soak Lola and I discuss her goddaughter’s recent birthday.

“I loved being 12 and 13. I think I peaked at 13- its been all downhill from there. Don’t tell her that though” I say.

“Bammmbi,” Lola responds by way of illustrating her disbelief. As in- you did NOT peak at 13. When we first started dating she took to calling her dog bayboo. She also started calling me bayboo. Its a mix between baby, bae and boo. Our phones autocorrected bayboo into bamboo enough times that we started calling each other bamboo. Then bambi, bambam, bampersand. Bambelijah is our biblical name. Bambelijah Wood is our Hollywood Hobbit name.

“No really. When I was 13 I knew way more than I know now. I wasn’t insecure or scared, I was just curious and smart. Its been downhill from there for the most part, and I’ve only just started climbing back up in the last 6 or so years.” Which makes sense because I am now 31.

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When I was 12 I met many of the people who would help shape me, who would change my life forever. Before then, the things that informed my sense of self were:

  1. Discovering Nirvana, the unplugged album, in 3rd grade. My brother owned this CD. I remember learning about Kurt Cobain’s suicide.

  2. A pair of ripped jeans that I had worn out myself, some knock off converse, and some lace up canvas boots my mom had gotten me for Christmas. They were sand colored and had a low heel. My cousin got a pair before me and I was red hot jealous. I must have begged my mom for a pair. I was probably around 10 or 11 at this point.

  3. Speaking Spanish as my first language, being very aware that I wasn’t blonde or blue eyed, and wishing so hard that my name was Stephanie.

  4. Somewhat understanding that at some point I had a sister, born many many years before me, who had died.

  5. A puzzle, that when put together created the image of technicolor ballerina bears. I loved constructing that puzzle around age 5, when my parents were battling over child support. The image of the bears is always with me.

I first observed Lilith walking down the halls of our middle school. She wore tons of eye liner and had recently cut her hair into a pixie cut. I wanted to be her best friend.

One day she told me she was bisexual. Next thing I knew, every other girl in my group of friends also said they were bisexual. So I too was bisexual, finding words to put to things I was starting to learn about myself.

I told my parents, triumphantly, one night over dinner. My step father congratulated me and my mother waxed poetic about not being able to have any friends of ANY gender over for a sleepover EVER AGAIN. Don’t worry mom, in a few years time I will have gotten pregnant anyway despite all care and rules you put into place.

My first crush was on Mimi. Someone told someone else who told someone else that one of us thought the other one was cute, some sort of middle school rumor mill.

She had a slumber party that year for her 14th birthday. It was a winter birthday, right after the holidays. The day of her party I took myself shopping on St Mark’s place and bought myself my first REAL pair of Converse sneakers, using holiday gift money. There was a guy who had a small shoe store- it was more of a hole in the wall that extended much further back than you could see from the street. His specialty was to add platforms to Converse sneakers. I bought a red pair, because I had convinced myself that my favorite color was red. In retrospect, I only said this to stand out from everyone who thought it was cool to reclaim pink.

By this point I had also cut my hair into a pixie cut with strange long bangs in the front. Lilith had helped me with the cut. If I am being honest, my first crush on a girl was on Lilith. I was in love with her the way you are in love with your best friend at 13, completely obsessed, certain that everything she did was literally art. I would write her notes and letters, because we were friends, but quickly they turned into love letters. I would confess, as best I could, my deep and utter admiration. She rebuffed my advances, knowing better than I did, how it was really all a game of youth.

The day of Mimi’s birthday party, I knew that she knew that I thought she was cute. I wore fishnet stockings under ripped jeans that, this time, I had cut up. I had mints and perfume in my bag, probably a Gap Body spray that I had gotten for the holidays. I wore a rainbow beaded heart choker. It was cooler than it sounds and if I still had that necklace I would wear it today. I finished off what I would be wearing to Mimi’s party with my new red Converse sneakers.

Her mom had made us Pad Thai and flour-less chocolate cake- parties for my friends in middle school were always more sophisticated than seemed appropriate. Her mom had a huge standard black poodle named Bette, who, at being surrounded by a dozen screaming tween girls, was having an identity crisis. Over the course of the evening Bette pissed and shit in the house several times.

As the party wound down, I would catch knowing glimpses, Mimi and I sharing in fear and excitement. I spent most of my time in middle school perched up on the crest of this wave, riding the feeling of anticipation, knowing, in a very clear and palpable way, that my whole life was ahead of me. I was old enough to know how real and exciting that was, and young enough to not yet feel like I had failed at anything.

It felt like that tingling sensation when everything in Spring is budding and exploding around us, mirroring our internal turmoil. I wish I could have held onto myself at that age. I wish I could have kept that curiosity. I knew what I wanted to learn more about and I didn’t know to be scared of it. Here I am showing up to a house I have never been in, eating dinner cooked by a mom I didn’t know, feeling certain that I would end the night having kissed a girl for the first time. I don’t feel half as brave today as I did that night.

As our friends rolled out sleeping bags and brushed their teeth, our moment became more and more imminent.

We are sitting on the couch, alone in the living room. I am guessing most people in the house are asleep but I care about absolutely nothing else in the world. I am so nervous. We innocently check in with each other “Have you ever made out with anyone?” I had- my first real “boyfriend”, earlier that same school year. She had too- someone at camp, if I recall correctly. We move closer together, I have mints in my mouth and am recently perfumed, which is so cute and tender in retrospect. We start kissing, and she pulls away for a moment to comment on the minty-ness.

It could be that we kissed forever. But probably it was more like half an hour. We tipped toed back into her room, giddy. Drunk with power of self possession, with a secret. It meant everything to me. It was the first moment of the rest of my life, Mimi’s 14th birthday party.

She slept soundly in her lofted bed made of reclaimed pipes. I slept on a deflating blow up chair on the floor, twisting and turning.

The following morning, with her nerves pushed beyond reason, unsure of which way was up or down, her canine world turned on its side, Bette the poodle made her way into the middle of the room and urinated on the face of an unsuspecting and still slumbering party attendee. We all woke up the screams “OH MY GOD, THE DOG IS PEEING ON MY FACE.”

There were endless birthday parties which invariably devolved into games of truth or dare and spin the bottle: all our thinly veiled attempts at setting “The Stage.” We all made out with each other, we explored our sexuality from within the safety of our small preteen world, in our childhood bedrooms. At my 14th birthday party a few months later, Mimi and I locked ourselves in my bathroom and went down on each other for exactly 20 seconds each.

We were known as slutty bisexuals at various other middle schools, and personally, I was proud of the label for a time. It was my first experience of empowerment and of giving absolutely zero fucks what my reputation was, because I knew who I was and what I was.

This was probably the most tender time of my life. Mimi and I would listen to Ani DiFranco for hours. That guy who sold me the converse sneakers also sold Mimi her first pair of Doc Martens. His shop was across the street from the place where everyone got their first tattoos. He has no idea how important he was to us. My friend Sidney told me about Sleater-Kinney that year. I don’t remember who it was that told me about Bikini Kill, but I also unearthed my brother’s old Tori Amos CD. I was finding my way, creating my own history, gathering up important artifacts, cataloguing items that would be important to the historians putting together the facts of my life in future centuries.

Tattoos

The other day my father and I dropped Lola off at a tattoo appointment. As we drove away he asked me what I knew he was thinking- “Why on earth do you all get tattoos?! I literally CANT understand it!”

My father is kind of Old School. He was born in the 1940s in Chile, spent basically his whole life working in the world of academia as a Spanish Literature professor, and spends his time reading and thinking about language. Things that make sense to him: the opera, The New York Times, the critique of literature, deep thinking, intellectual conversations, and ham sandwiches. Things that don’t make sense to him: pets, unpaid internships, bad grades, his smart phone, vegetables, and mine and my brother’s tattoos. Well, presumably everyone’s tattoos, but more specifically, the tattoos on people he knows. I remember once when I was in my late teens arguing with him and my stepmother about my tattoos, and telling them that whether they like it or not, they are going to have to start accepting these tattoos on my body cause they aren’t going anywhere, and their response: No, we never have to accept the tattoos on your body.

I knew I wanted to be tattooed starting at a pretty young age. I have always been aesthetically inclined, I studied art in high school and college, and my attraction to subcultures has always been strong. My favorite CD to listen to on repeat when I was in 5th grade was Nirvana unplugged, I considered myself a “punk” and a riotgrrl in middle school when I discovered Bikini Kill, I came out as bisexual (ooh la la) at 13, and I wore slips as dresses to school, much to the chagrin of school officials. The groups of people I idolized- homosexuals, musicians, artists- well, a lot of them had tattoos.

I got my first tattoo when I turned 18. Its a poem about the ocean by Chilean poet (and family idol) Pablo Neruda. I got tattooed at MacDougal Street Tattoo, in the Village in NYC, by some super apathetic dude, and while he tattooed the back of my thigh (right under my right butt cheek) I read White Noise by Don DeLillo. I used to be way cooler. I put A+D lotion on as aftercare, and paraded around the halls of my high school feeling very very superior.

At age 19 I got my second tattoo- I picked a super ambitious image (an antique print of a bird I found in some ornithology book at the Smith College art library) and a super ambitious location- right below my collar bone, with the tail feathers wrapping around the side of my left breast. Thats right- I got my boob tattooed at the second go around. This tattoo was done in Boulder Colorado while I was visiting my brother over Spring Break, took hours, and hurt like HELL. That was my first year at Smith College and I was feeling super gay, super liberated, and super entitled to take my shirt off and not give two damns about this tattoo guy seeing my boobs. Apparently everyone else was scandalized- but I was like, tough shit- tattoo my boob please.

My collection of tattoos has continued to grow over the past 13 years. I’ve got a pig, a bear, a key, a lantern, an apple for NYC, a rabbit eating a carrot, a tattoo that says Lez, some roses, a skull, TCB, a snoop dog lyric, 2 pairs of scissors, an umbrella for Portland, a ton of friendship tattoos, a literal “bro-tat” with my brother, some tattoos I regret, some I’ve covered up, some I have  with ex partners, some with ex friends, some with current friends who are also ex partners.

All of them have hurt a lot, some of them more, depending on the location. I don’t have a favorite one, but I do like some more than others. I have two appointments coming up, and in order to support this habit, I recently started working the counter at a tattoo shop by my house. I have been tattooed by some super sweet and incredibly talented artists. I have also been tattooed by some mega douche bags, and a lot of those tattoos I have covered up, or have plans to cover up.

So really though, what is it that I like so much about tattoos? For real, they are expensive. And FOR REAL- I repeat- they HURT. Every time I sit down for one, I think to myself, what on earth is wrong with me? Why am I subjecting myself to this? But deep down inside I know that I am going to keep getting more tattoos, and sure enough as soon as that particular tattoo appointment is done, I am ready for the next.

How do I explain this to my father, who has, over the years, stopped asking me if they are permanent, and has started ignoring my growing collection, but nevertheless, still asked me the question just the other day- why do you get tattooed?

I was recently working behind the bar at my other job, chatting with one of the baristas about our future tattoo plans. She has some beautiful work on her left arm and has been completing a sleeve over the last few months. We were commiserating about how different spots on her arm hurt more, and how the older we have gotten the more tattoos have started to hurt, and so we got onto the question of why we do this.

So I said to her what I think to be the biggest truth for me, one that I have learned over the years: every time I get a tattoo, especially one that captures the image I have in my mind, that fits in the right place on my body, it feels like some part of my self image is falling into place. It feels like I am further claiming that one particular part of my body as mine, and only mine, with which to do as I please, and of which I don’t owe anyone a single explanation.

I started there, at that, with my answer to my father. And I continued: This act, of claiming, is not just important as a female bodied and identified person, its also important as a queer person. Since forever the “female” body hasn’t been regarded as ours, but rather as public property for public scrutiny and ridicule. And same goes for the bodies of queers, those of us outside the “norm,”- truly, how beautiful it is, and how terrifying as well, to forge our own path. Our own “norms” and our own standards of “beauty,” of relationships and family, of life goals.

Getting tattooed is also to fall inline and become part of a historical tradition of body art and modification, one that has been expressed by various indigenous cultures the world over. Getting tattooed can be rooted in religious practice, it can be rooted in the practice of queerness, in the practice of rebellion, and for me, in the practice of self awareness and in the harnessing of personal power.

For me, its also a completely ridiculous exercise in the even more ridiculous idea of “permanence.” Invariably I get people saying to me “I love tattoos, but I could never get anything tattooed because I change my mind all the time and I couldn’t possibly decide on anything I want to look at forever.” Want to know something though? Guess what isn’t forever- this body. And by extension, anything you do to it in this world, in this lifetime, is in no way permanent, and every time I agree to have someone ink my skin, I giggle to myself about the actual impermanence of it all. The moment is fleeting, the pain is fleeting, and in the end, this body, with all its art and flaws, will fall away to impermanence.

You know what else is true? The more tattoos you get, the less precious they become. When I first started getting tattooed, uff, I would think about a tattoo idea for months before I committed! I would draw and redraw, I would ask friend’s opinions, I would draw it on myself. It has felt really good to let go of some of that over time, to instead feel lighter about the experience, and instead of focusing on the permanence, focusing on the fleeting whim of a moment that feels good and memorializing on my body. I am not scared, I do not feel fear of cursing a relationship or friendship, I do not fear regret- this relationship to my body and literally what I do it, is so incredibly freeing.

And lastly- I get tattooed for the art of it, simply because I think tattoos are beautiful, and interesting and as trite as this might sound, fucking cool. Which is a totally legitimate reason, in my humble opinion, to get some permanent art on your body.

I am not sure if this explanation made sense to my father. But it was a great reminder to myself that there are so many ways to relate to our bodies as fully our own, and tattooing is one of my favorite methods. Mystery solved!

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Happy Pride- Why am I a Concerned Lesbian?

I recently came out as someone who does AND enjoys Crossfit.

I have NEVER before in my life enjoyed any sort of physical activity. I have literally given away hundreds of dollars to gyms through unused memberships (thirty dollars a month adds up), attempted and promptly given up periods of “running” (that shit is free and horrible), focused only on cardio when I did get my ass to the gym, and mostly felt uncomfortable and directionless when trying to engage in any type of exercise.

I wasn’t raised to be active. My family didn’t put a premium on sports or sweating, and as a person socialized “Female,” I certainly don’t recall encouragement from society at large. Encouragement to be thin, yes- but through dieting and based solely on impossible aesthetic standards with absolutely zero regard for my physical health. My parents (all four of them) are the academic type and encouraged me to get good grades and expand my vocabulary. Which is great- I use the word Superfluous in casual conversation all the time. But for most of my life I didn’t understand the value of feeling myself in my body- which can be done in many ways, one of them being through any sort of god damn physical activity.

You know what happens when you never learn to feel yourself inside your body? Tons of bad shit, and for me it includes dissociation, and lots of anxiety. Of all types! The acute kind, the daily kind, the kind related to flying, the kind that leads to IBS, the kind that causes me to ruin lots of relationships, the kind that leaves me feeling lost, groundless, and depressed. I’ve tried lots of ways to treat this anxiety- meditation, diet, staring at the ocean, therapy, getting a dog, quitting coffee- and all of these helped. But it always felt like I would get a momentary leg up on the anxiety, finally finding a fix!, and then I would deal with a hard day at work or a flight and it would all unravel, leaving me feeling like I was taking two huge steps backwards.

For a few different reasons though, I decided to try Crossfit about 5 months ago. There was a lot that lead up to this decision, but mostly it was because my gf suggested I try it so many times that I figured even working out would be worth shutting her up.

Aside from being extremely against all physical activity (read: intimidated) I thought Crossfit seemed, well, dumb. I was put off by how much people who do Crossfit talk about Crossfit (what do vegan crossfitters talk about first?), and I had a hard time admitting that there was something else out there, something super basic and elemental such as the habit of exercise, that could help with my anxiety. Sometimes, as much as we suffer from our pain, we learn to identify with it. We think it IS us, and all that we deserve, and to lose it would be too big a relief, that it would throw the Earth off its axis and the universe would find itself unbalanced. Or maybe I am just dramatic, but I have felt so stuck in my anxiety, its hard to think of a world beyond it. Of myself without my old friend, as abusive and manipulative a friend as she is.

I could have of course tried any sort of physical activity, but this was what was being suggested to me. In February the opportunity for a super affordable month long foundations course at a gym run by PoC and queers arose, so I signed up. The class met every M, W and Th at 8am for one hour and we would stretch, go over some of the different movements you find at most Crossfit gyms, and then end with a metabolic conditioning session. And that shit was HARD. During the first week I cursed in my head the whole hour and thought to myself, I will finish up this month and then call it quits on Crossfit FOREVER.

During the second week, I was like ok- actually, starting my day achieving something that feels physically challenging is kinda neat and makes me feel sorta good… but I know I am not going to enjoy weight lifting and I don’t want to get “bulky” and look “muscular.”

During the third week I was like- HOLD THE PHONE, weight lifting is actually kinda fun and totally something that has been missing from my life. Like literally, all I have ever considered exercise is cardio (see: socialized female and “beauty standards for women”) and the goal has never been strength but rather weight loss. I’VE BEEN LIVING A LIE.

During the fourth week I was like THESE PEOPLE ARE MY FRIENDS AND I LOVE THIS PLACE.

Well maybe thats excessive- BUT- at the end of the foundations course I had to admit to myself that I was starting to feel good in a new and different way, that I never ever felt uncomfortable or intimidated at the gym, that the coaches were nice and interested in my progress, and that the self esteem boost I got from knowing that my very own body could do all these hard things that my mind thought were impossible- it was worth the early mornings and admitting to people I do Crossfit.

OK so now that all that is out of the way- I am getting to the real point of this whole damn thing, which is “Why am I a concerned Lesbian?” Well, let me tell you.

After about five months of doing Crossfit, getting stronger, and feeling a REAL break in my daily anxiety (!!!!!), I decided to share some of this story on the internet. Now I am of the opinion that generally speaking, sharing anything genuine on the internet, specifically social media (I am looking at you Facebook and Instagram) is a BAD IDEA. The internet is a playground of dysfunction in which people’s absolute worst comes out. I know this, because I have participated in all that garbage for most of my life. I had my first screen name in 5th grade (it was the title of a Nirvana song) and my friends and I catfished all over the place in chatrooms all night long, giggling and feeling the power of anonymity. I had a Friendster in high school through which I experienced for the first time the self esteem crusher that is posting pictures of yourself for public scrutiny and the sick comparison of your “life” to the way other’s “lives” look on the internet. Everyone else looked more glamorous, like they had more fun, went to more parties, were thinner and had better clothes. I fully participated in this cycle, posting only the best pictures of myself, editing my existence to look as good as possible so that I could illicit jealousy in anyone else. I had a Myspace, a Facebook- actually, I started with Live Journal in middle school and jesus christ that was a mess. And also, I currently have an Instagram account.

So whatever, I posted a video of me lifting on Instagram, and on Facebook I asked for gym suggestions in New York- this was my big unveiling. And the response was generally supportive, which is awesome! But, there was also this interesting bit of response that I was definitely expecting, and this is a response I have also gotten in person, not just on the internet.

This response is an interesting cocktail of equal parts shit talking Crossfit (by people who haven’t tried Crossfit), internalized misogyny (like suggesting that women’s bodies shouldn’t be able to do certain exercises), and warnings that I may hurt myself even though I am working out under the care and guidance of experienced coaches (warnings that would likely never be given to my male counterparts- surely not to my brother.)

Many of these responses have been from people in my queer community.

AND most of these things are TOTALLY things I HAVE SAID AND THOUGHT MYSELF. Except for the moment in conversation where it was suggested by a masc partner that their femme partner shouldn’t do Crossfit so as to not hurt her body and jeopardize her ability to carry their child. I don’t fuck with that depth of internalized misogyny.

One interaction in particular stands out, cause I took it as an opportunity to articulate some of the thoughts I had been formulating on the matter. Someone sent me an article through Facebook about a biggoted thing an owner of a Crossfit gym did. It was just the link to the article with no other information, and it was from someone I don’t know very well and hardly ever speak with IRL. It wasn’t upsetting or offensive, but I did think it was an interesting internet moment.

I replied saying that I had read the article, I knew about the situation, and I wasn’t planning on stopping something that felt good for me because some bigot was trying to ruin it for everyone else. But then I thought about it further, cause I realized that not only am I feeling good physically, I am feeling accepted and supported by the Crossfit community in a way that I have hardly ever felt by the queer community. In these past five months not once have I felt unwelcome at my gym. When work outs finish up usually people high five each other and encourage one another by saying good job, or well done. So cheesy, I know. But its actually a personal fact that I have felt more welcomed and seen at my gym than I have in 90% of queer spaces I have entered, especially here in Portland. And for every moment of feeling cheesy at my gym for being encouraged I recall a moment in which I was exclusionary of someone in my queer community.

Whether or not it was the intention of the message sender, the negative feedback I was receiving was just that- a reaction of negativity, in reaction to something I was clearly saying was a HUGE positive for me. Like- are you actually listening to me? I am saying I like this thing, I feel good doing this thing, it has helped my mental health.

And herein lies the concern. I am concerned for our queer community, concerned that we are happier to lick our wounds, talk shit, and try to bring down the positivity of other people, both within the queer community and outside of it, than we are to lift each other up. I have my own glass house, so don’t worry about these stones I am throwing. I’m right there with the best and worst of us. But, like, does it have to be like this? Does it really feel good to say we don’t want to do something because the other people who do it are happy about it and enjoy speaking about their positive experiences? Do we feel like we are above it and more cool because instead we choose to tighten up, hold our pain closer, and over identify with the exclusionary practices homophes are trying to push on us?

I feel really great in my body, maybe for the first time ever in my whole life. I feel like Crossfit is helping reduce my anxiety, and I look forward to my workouts. If you have any questions about Crossfit, I do actually like talking about Crossfit. If you want to talk about anxiety, I am here for you.

And now here is a whole list of disclaimers JIC-

  1. No, not everyone needs to do crossfit. I understand there are other ways to do exercise, and even still more ways to get in touch with your body. Crossfit is also expensive, and not accessible to everyone and I completely acknowledge my extreme privilege to be able to afford it at this time in my life.
  2. Finding your OWN way to happiness is SO valid, but for me true happiness is born out of positivity and acceptance, rather than shitting on everyone else that seems to be having a better time than me.
  3. Some Crossfit gyms are total bullshit. So are some coffee shops (yet I work as a barista), so are tons of tattoo artists (yet I love getting tattooed), there are terrible, racist, homophobic artists (yet I still like art)- I think you get the point I am trying to make here…
  4. I really love my dog- I wonder what he is doing right now.
  5. I REALLY love my queer community and everyone who said anything to me about Crossfit, both “positive” and “negative.” I am not trying to call anyone out here, just trying to hold up that mirror for myself and the people I love.
  6. Happy Pride, Portland- I hope you are staying safe out there and having a good gay ass time.