I met Mary Lambert once, on the street in summer. It was a blazing hot day, the day gay marriage had been legalized, the day love among people of the same gender was made the law of the land.
I was rushing to get Yoga to the People in the East Village when, there was Mary Lambert, walking toward me on the sidewalk.
“Are you Mary Lambert?” I said.
“Yes,” she said, smiling. I think she was both happy to be recognized and bewildered, maybe annoyed to be stopped. Regardless, I quoted a poem of hers, “Body Love.” I said, “I can split my wrists to reveal a battlefield too but the time has come for us to reclaim our bodies.”
It was an inappropriate lyric to quote on the street. Mary’s face broke into a smile.
“Wow,” she said. “You’re legit.”
I handed my phone to the girl next to me on the sidewalk, a girl who was my girlfriend at the time, and asked her to take a picture of Mary and me.
When the camera flashed something ethereal soared upwards. Something about the moment, the day, the light on the street in the sun, became eternal.
Or maybe I just wanted it to.
I was a sophomore in college when I found out about Becca.
I was sitting at a table in the dining hall with my friends. The dykiest lesbian at our school, Morgan, sat down at our table and pulled up a picture on her cell phone.
“Look,” Morgan said. “These two girls on the soccer team are dating.”
In the picture, a tan girl with curly hair and moonlight eyes sat next to a blonde girl. They were grinning, with their arms wrapped around each other.
Something in my heart changed irrevocably.
Maybe the way I stalked Becca on the internet at the end of my sophomore year is polemic to my generation. I checked Becca’s Facebook every day, my stomach dropping when it wasn’t updated, my heart pounding when it was.
There was a night all of the athletes stayed up in the field house to raise money to prevent cancer. We were playing a basketball shoot-out game, and Becca was behind me, shooting the ball, trying to shoot me out of the game and eventually, she succeeded. It was the only time Becca and I interacted that year. I remember when I finally became Becca’s friend, and I brought up that shoot-out game, and she said, “I can’t believe you remember that too.”
It’s not a metaphor, it’s just what really happened.
“Your life in this format?” Zadie Smith asks this of Facebook’s ubiquity, of its monotone blue, silly lack of art. My life, in this format. Pictures of Becca at the beach, in a pink bikini. Pictures of her scuba diving and playing soccer. Then sophomore year ended, and in the delight of summer, Becca and Alex’s relationship ended, and in the sweating joy of early August, I returned to college, determined to talk to her.
Because of obsessing over Becca on Facebook, I knew that Becca and a girl I lived with, Diamond, sometimes watched “The Jersey Shore” together on Thursday nights. I knew that Diamond planned to go to Becca’s room this coming Thursday to watch “The Jersey Shore,” because Becca had posted about it on Diamond’s Facebook page.
I went downstairs about the time I knew Diamond would be leaving.
I said, “Diamond, what are you doing tonight?”
She said, “I’m going to my friend Becca’s to watch ‘The Jersey Shore.’”
I said, casual as fuck, “Can I come?”
Jump ahead an hour. I’m sitting on a bunk bed in a room full of sophomores, the only junior. I’ve just caught a glimpse of Becca’s gleaming tongue ring. She’s just said something about her “ex,” and I’ve pretended to know nothing about it. Forty minutes later, Diamond and I are alone in Becca’s room, Becca and I are exchanging phone numbers. We’re laughing about her giant Jamaican stuffed banana. Her brown hair is so pretty, her brown eyes are so large, her brown skin looks so soft.
One night, at 4am, Becca texted me: “Want to meet on the steps of the English building?”
It was the night I came out. I was sitting with Becca on the steps of the English building across the path from the dining hall. It must have been just becoming spring. I wore a long-sleeved red t-shirt that read Ursinus Cross Country.
“Are you gay?” Becca asked me. “You keep looking at my lips.”
I didn’t say anything at all for too long. Then, I said, “I’m not sure what to say.”
“This is like pulling teeth,” Becca said.
It was not unlike being on a very high diving board. You’re aware that you’ll be fine if you jump – it’s just that your reality will change. You will be in the water instead of ten feet above it. And, you’ll have to deal with the sickening helplessness during the fall.
“Okay,” I said. “I am gay.”
I remember Becca invited me back to her dorm to cuddle. I remember I accepted, perhaps too enthusiastically. I remember she then rescinded the offer on the grounds that her roommates would think it weird she brought someone back so early in the morning. It was edging on 5am and the sun was rising.
It’s now five years later and I have no idea why I didn’t invite her back to my dorm room.
Are you tired of talking about this? I am too.
I remember the first time I knew I was gay was at night, in bed, in seventh grade. I had just found out what lesbian meant. Everything suddenly made sense, but this was a revelation that brought on panic. I imagined a girl in my class, Julia. I imagined kissing her and touching her face and eyelashes. The affection in my stomach surged. I wanted to kiss Julia. I wanted to touch her pale skin and rub her blonde hair between my fingers.
I remember thinking, fuck. Then, I repressed it for eight more years.
I want to meet the thirteen-year-old girl I was then and see her with different eyes. I’m sure I was very pretty and very deserving of love, but I had no idea.
What is with the self-hatred fed to young girls. Are you tired of it?
Maggie Nelson has written that true queer pride is the refusal to feel shame in the presence of others’ shame. Perhaps this is what queer is, because you don’t choose to be gay, but you do choose to be queer. Queer is the refusal to feel shame for one’s gayness, amongst other things, namely the rejection of the gender binary and the patriarchy.
Last week I watched Andrea Gibson get onstage with Mary Lambert on YouTube. Andrea Gibson performed her poem titled “Orlando” and Mary Lambert’s angel voice rose above, knotting us all together. Andrea Gibson used her poetry to rip open her soul, and then Andrea and Mary gave each other a hug onstage that made me feel like they were the only two lesbians in the world and the rest of this was all our fault.
After the massacre in Orlando I became obsessed with one girl killed, Akyra Murray. She was the youngest one killed. She was only 18.
The day after Akyra was killed her father was interviewed saying, “I know my daughter is in a better place now than America. You can’t even go on vacation.”
It’s hard to say what about Akyra obsessed me. I think it was the stunning openness, the vulnerability in her face.
Maybe it was because she was from Philadelphia, she had just graduated from high school and she’d earned a basketball scholarship. She’d scored 1,000 points in her senior year basketball season.
I read an interview with Akyra’s mother in which she described the night Akyra was killed alongside 48 other beautiful queers. She was on the phone with Akyra and she said “All I could hear was my baby screaming.”
Maybe it was because Akyra was black, and adorable, and it isn’t fair that her race had to be the recipient of so much unfairness and hatred, and it wasn’t fair that she individually had to be the recipient of so much unfairness and hatred. When I looked at the pictures of her on the internet, my stomach wrung in knots, all I wanted was to pass her the love in my heart, communicate the knowledge that there is love and good in the world and that the love and good in me saw the love and good in her.
But I could do no such thing, because she was gone.
You should probably know about this day in the rain and mud. It was eighth grade gym class. We were playing touch football. Probably, I was in love with Meghan.
Probably, Danez Smith said it best in “On Grace”: “I stopped playing football because being tackled / feels too much like making love.”
Why did Meghan get so angry at me?
We both jumped up to catch the football at the same time, and wound up hitting each other with our elbows. On the way to the ground I said something like, “You fool!”
Which, I know, I shouldn’t have said. I was thirteen.
So there we were, muddy and on the ground, and Meghan sprang up and punched me in the face.
Quickly, two of her friends were holding her back. One of her friends was holding me back. Meghan was much more popular than me in eighth grade. One of Meghan’s friends said, to Meghan, “She isn’t worth it.”
She was talking about me. I wasn’t worth it.
Months later, Meghan and I were on the same all-star basketball team. We were wearing our blue mesh jerseys that said All-Stars on the front, and I felt like one. I felt like an all-star. It was before the game, and I was sitting on a couch. Meghan bounded over and sat on my lap. She held my face in her hands.
She said, “I love you.”
I said, “You do?”
A few months after that, Meghan was sent off to anorexia rehabilitation and she never came back to our high school. I never saw her again, but I did write her a Facebook message about my middle school crush and she never responded. Maybe Leslie Jamison said it best when she wrote that anger is nothing but unacknowledged shame.
Once, in first grade, I said to my friend Lauren abruptly: “Do you like me?”
She blinked at me, confused. Then said, “Yes.”
I think we both knew that her “yes” was the answer to a different question, one I hadn’t asked.
When I was in fifth grade, I was obsessed with my best friend, Christine. I wrote an essay about how much I loved her, which my teacher liked so much he read it out loud to the class. As he was gearing up to read, I left the classroom and went to the bathroom. I hid outside the classroom in the hallway, peering in the classroom window, until Mr. Schwartz put my notebook down and I could tell he was finished. Only then, I walked back in, and the whole class laughed.
One day, after college, Becca left a message on my cell phone. She was obviously very drunk, but in the message she told me she’d figured everything out.
“I know exactly what life is for,” Becca slurred into my machine. “And I know what happens when we die. It has to do with tightropes, and balancing scales. Call me back.”
Heart racing, I called her back as soon as I could, but she didn’t answer. When I spoke to Becca the next day, she told me she’d been black out drunk the night before, and that she could no longer remember what life was for, or what it was all about.
She laughed, and then she said, “I can’t believe I said that.”