When you were a teenager, how did you feel about your body? Can you tell a story about coming out as gay to friends or family members when you were younger? Did you ever go to summer camp?—Dora
As a teen, I think I was mostly just confused about my body. I developed breasts early and was curvy, though a bit heavy-set, as I still am. When I hit middle school, suddenly my friend circle shifted away from the ones I’d grown up with, as our different class backgrounds became a problem. They could suddenly afford things I couldn’t, and somehow understood this world of being a girl that I didn’t. I was a reader, on my own, a little bit of a loner, and started hanging out with more and more marginalized crowds, like the girls who also developed early and then, later, the drama kids and the smokers.
It was around then I started getting made fun of for my clothes and lack of “style,” I started getting bullied a little, I started getting made fun of extensively for my breast size. So I got a little obsessed with girl culture, whatever there was of it in the early 1990s, which certainly looked different than it does today. I subscribed to YM and Sassy and then Seventeen, obsessing over makeup and style and shoes, always completely unsure of what I was doing.
It’s only recently I’ve been revisioning this part in my own history a bit, seeing it anew. I kind of figured that was a typical process, this obsession with femininity, these attempts to fit in, the obsession with shoes, the way I hoarded makeup so I could claim to have an extensive collection and know all about it but never used it, my extensive dangling earring collection. Recently, a friend said to me something like, “That makes sense: you’ve always been dapper, even if it wasn’t as masculine.” And I think there might be some truth to that.
I think, too, there is truth to the outsider complex I felt around femininity, especially as a teen. I was terrified of what my life would be as a grown “woman.” I remember having panic attacks when I considered what my life after high school would be like. Not that I loved high school—I just couldn’t understand what was next. That was why I ended up in a very stereotypical hetero relationship, one where we both reproduced everything on TV we thought we were supposed to, which was very comforting: at least I knew what was expected of me.
But that’s a different story.
After a certain about of obsession over clothes and hair and makeup and femininity, and after the teasing and bullying just kept getting worse, I kind of just gave up. I cut my wardrobe down to black, and that was basically it. Black turtlenecks, black jeans. Which I wore year-round. Which I could do, in Southeast Alaska, where it’s mid-60s and 70s in the summer.
The new solid black wardrobe was a bit of a hit, and I fell in with the drama crowd, with more nerdy outsiders like myself, with the folks who were interested in sex and psychology.
I started feeling better about my body. Perhaps because I was covering it up, perhaps because I was getting a bit older (fourteen! fifteen! so different than twelve) and things were evening out, I didn’t feel quite so awkward in my own skin. But I did, of course, and continued to, for years really, until finally arriving at this gender identity, and getting rid of my dresses, moving on from undies that never quite fit my ass, non-apologetically donating my (few) pairs of heels.
I think most teens have awkward relationships to their bodies. Most of us don’t know what to do with ourselves for a while, and need time to grow into the changes. I certainly was no exception. I wonder if I’d stumbled on butch earlier, if I would have been happier.
It’s strange, I don’t really have any specific coming out stories. I definitely told my crew as early as middle school that I was pretty sure I was bisexual, and I don’t remember it being a big deal. We didn’t talk about it, but they knew, and sometimes I would talk about kissing a girl or other classmates who were known to be bisexual. Some of my teachers were gay, a few different women I can think of, though no men that I know of. My band teacher for three years had a flat-top haircut and never wore skirts. (I wonder if she was out, happy, partnered. I don’t know anything about her personal life.) There was a lesbian couple who lived across the street from me, and another down the street. There was quite a bit of gayness around, I guess.
I came home one winter holiday and wore a rainbow necklace with two intertwined woman symbols—you know the kind. I remember my mom asking, “Are you trying to tell us something?” I laughed and said no. It was just what I wore, every day, constantly, at that time. But I guess I was telling them something … perhaps I thought it wouldn’t really matter to my parents, so I didn’t need to make a big deal out of telling them. So I didn’t. I probably should have. It was probably a way to avoid confrontation, even if I didn’t expect it to be negative.
Not as though it was a secret—I told them as soon as I was dating someone new, my mom and I especially remained quite close and knew a lot about my life and what I was doing. We started having elaborate, extensive conversations about feminism and women’s history as I worked on my Women Studies degree.
I feel like I should have some better coming out stories than that! I’ll keep thinking. But I think that was the extent of it: I never made a big deal out of it, and nobody else did, either.
Well, somebody did: my ex-boyfriend, Mike. Late in our six-year relationship he became a bit obsessed that I was going to leave him so I could come out, and, well, I did. I don’t recall any specific conversations about my sexuality, but once I did leave him, he and I both knew I was coming out.
Yes, I attended fine arts camp for a few different summers, maybe three, which isn’t quite what most folks think of as “summer camp” but is the closest I’ve got. It wasn’t residential, and was at the high school, so it isn’t quite what most people’s sense of summer camp is. I studied writing, art music, singing, drama, and dance, and attended a couple different summers. In other summers I took a theater intensive only, then later started working at my dad’s store during the summers.
I don’t remember a lot of kids going to summer camp—perhaps it was the isolated nature of my hometown, which is land-locked and only accessible by boat or plane, or perhaps my friends, especially later in high school, were from families who weren’t particularly well off financially—but I (and other kids) did attend the Methodist Camp that was out the road. I never attended it through religious organizations, it was rentable by others and the only time I was there was through school.
Camping is just The Thing people do in the summers in Alaska, especially in my hometown, so I spent a lot of time hiking with friends, camping out, renting cabins for the weekends, building fires on the beach, and much of those other campfire summer camp activities that it seems are common for you lower-48-ers.
And what about you all? Did you go to summer camp? How did you feel about your body as a teen? What was it like to come out to friends or family or both?