Stories from My Youth

August 9, 2010  |  advice, journal entries

From the Ask Me Anything questions from Sugarbutch’s 4th anniversary:

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

1.

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.

2.

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.

3.

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?

 

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12 Comments


  1. so, i guess it's weird, but it's kind of reassuring to hear from someone else with an anti-climactic coming out story. i mean, mine has a high point or two ("you're gay" i think i owe chris five bucks." being my favorite).

    hmm, as for teen and body, god, maybe i ought to write a post about it. i think that growing into a girl's body was one of the more difficult things i ever went through. ugh.

  2. the drama kids that wore black and were (are) into sex and psychology…did we go to the same high school?

    though I'm femme I find myself vibing quite a bit with your story, Sinclair; I'm slowly coming to realize how being a young femme is not exactly the same as being hetero and feminine…

    I definitely compensated for my WASPy upbringing with DH Lawrence, gypscy clothes, and Wicca in high school, which has only evolved into being a lit/smut/sex blogger geek, hippie-mama femme, and plant-conversationalist. I wonder if anyone, regardless of background, had a stable, celebratory puberty… I was so riddled with anxiety that I just remember never being happy and waiting for my "real life" and "real self" to just spring into being one day.

    Also I'm really glad you linked to the "Father's Son" piece, I'm looking forward to reading it. :)

  3. Wow, six years. That's a long time. I wonder how you feel about it now. Sounds like he was a nice guy.

    My coming out was also anti-climactic. Or sort of didn't happen, I guess, it was more an assumed thing about me(? either that, or no one cared). I went to an arts magnet high school in an urban area. In other words, tons of fags and fagettes. My actual coming-out-to-my-friends took place at age 14 and went as follows:

    Friend (in regards to her boyfriend): "Yeah… he says he sometimes has weird fantasies about touching other boys' nipples underwater. But I'm like, it's okay. I think we're all a little bit, you know 'like that.'"

    Me: "I think I'm entirely 'like that.'"

    Friend: "Yeah, you totally are."

    So that was that. I told my mom later that year and I waited years later to tell my dad, who didn't live with us and was going through some personal changes at the time. I didn't date anyone through high school, although I did kiss a few girls, and and I lost my virginity to a girl at a precollege program at age 16. (Question: is it losing my virginity if I just went down on her and she didn't actually top me? It felt like it. I let a girl fuck me about a year later, though.)

    As for my puberty: I'm not curvaceous at all with an androgynous face. Puberty didn't cause me a lot of trauma. Puberty also came late for me, I didn't menstruate until 14. I really thought I was trans, though, around that time. I don't know if that was a 'oh my god, puberty' thing or not. I was obsessed with wearing masculine clothes and hairstyles, as well as with binding. I really wanted to present as male. Some of it might have been a fear of my body becoming more feminine, and thus more vulnerable, I suppose. I thought way more about gender presentation than about having sex or having a girlfriend. I still only wear men's clothes, though I've mellowed out on passing.

    High school and middle school sucked. I hated school, and I hated myself during that time. It was probably mostly internal and had more to do with family issues than gender or sexual identity. I think if I had experienced bullying around that age, I might not have made it through school, so it's a good thing I didn't.

  4. 1. Yeah, I have the warmest memories of summer camps. Mostly I went to music camps, where we would rehearse with an orchestra most of the day, there would be some German folk dancing (which can be so, so, so much fun!) and chamber music in the evenings. Someone would always have a guitar around and sing their own songs, we would simply sit around and talk all night long.

    2. I have thought about this a lot. My upbringing was quite "non-sensual", kind of hard to desribe. In my family, any kind of "(sensual) perception" didn't count a whole lot (be it the appreciation of food, art, smell, etc.). Accordingly, there also wasn't any cuddling, touch, not between my parents and not towards me. I think this is partly the reason, why during puberty I didn't have any relationship with my body at all. I didn't touch myself, I didn't stand in front of the mirror watching changes, etc. (Did others do that?) I didn't exactly "fear" my body turning into a woman's, I sort of had no opinion at all about it. My body simply existed. No surprise I didn't care for sexual relationships, kissing, making out with either sex. It was really strange to me. Only when I was around eighteen did I consciously reclaim my sensuality in a broad sense, I deliberately enjoyed the taste of things, I enjoyed the "performativity" of making music, the beauty of arts and nature. I then also realized that my body was really feminine and began embracing it. This was also the time I finally started to develop a relationship with my body (and had sex for the first time, with a man though).

    3. I came out first as a lesbian really late with 27, my coming out as a femme was about two years ago. My family (though catholic) reacted quite favorably, my friends weren't very surprised, either. Looking back I can't believe I didn't understand earlier, why my relationships with men just didn't work out. Sometimes I think if I had known a lesbian at the time, things might have developed differently. That's why I volunteer in a group that does LGBT-sex education in schools. Maybe (hopefully) we can make a difference for others…

  5. 1. I went to Summer camp- a christian based one through the YMCA that had cabins without walls- just support beams and a plastic roof and a concrete floor. This girl told me that she thought that all fags and dykes would rot in hell (and she was just generally an awful person), so I found a packet of skittles and ground them up into a powder and sprinkled it over her bed and duffel bag. As we didn't have any walls, the insects flocked and I somehow managed to hide my smug satisfaction at getting her back for being such a bitch. Otherwise, summer camp was pretty fun. I went for about 4 years.

    2. Pretty bad, really. I didn't like my body and it didn't like me. I was teased a lot because I developed breasts early and didn't have a flair for fashion or dressing well. I was a normal shape, but a lot of the girls around me were rail-thin and used that to play on my insecurities. It just generally sucked.

    3. I came out twice. When my family and I moved to France and I was about 14, my mum found a book about lesbians in my stuff and confronted me about it, threatening to send me to straight camp. I pretended it was a phase. Then I came out again when I was 16, when I had my first girlfriend and we were in the UK. My dad changed the topic to temperature conversion from Celsius to Fahrenheit and didn't speak to me for a month (he lives in the US), my mum was upset about not having grandchildren until I reminded her that she had 3 other kids to get them from. As time has gone on, my mum has been a lot more supportive and is dealing with it really well. My dad, on the other hand, still dissolves into stony silence at the slightest mention of LGBT issues, but he'll have to get over that. I'm currently contemplating coming out to my dad's girlfriend and her family, but they're born again christians and I don't know if I can be arsed.

  6. I never had any big body issues going through puberty, but now that I have my adult female body I occasionally look at myself in a mirror naked and think, "Weird. Is that really my body?" It's not really a bad feeling though; more neutral to good. I think it's probably from always seeing the female body from the perspective of the "other" in ads and things. It's a bit odd to have grown into the "mysterious and incomprehensible other sex" myself. But maybe it'll get less odd as I get older.

    Also BAND!!!!!!! It seems like there are a lot of music geeks here. What do you all play?

    • ;-) I'm (amongst other qualifications) a classically trained violin teacher. But I play the piano (that was mandatory) and sing, too.

      • Cool! I'm primarily a flutist/piccoloist. I was a music major for a semester, but I dropped it because I want a job but don't have the temperament for teaching. :( I hope I can find a way to keep playing when I graduate though.

  7. Coming out as queer to my family was hard for me, as I felt that I couldn't really explain myself to my mom so that she'd really grasp the concept. The term 'queer', though widely used, is a foreign word in my language and doesn't have a good translation.

    I new my whole youth that I wasn't straight, usually thinking myself as bisexual. But then when I entered university and started reading Women's Studies and queer theory, it kind of clicked. I was, and, am, a queer (usually considering myself as a genderqueer femme person). But how to explain that to my mom who's really an old school radical feminist Woman? :) I never could. Se she sees me as bisexual, and I guess that's as close as she'll ever get.

  8. I remember my early teen years as being lonely and a little boring. Being a homeschooled kid with very religious parents, I obsessively hid every part of myself that might have brought confrontation. Being in a hormonal frenzy, I remember reading erotica at night and getting off. A lot. Sex always was a taboo subject in my parents' home, we never actually had 'the talk'.

    I had two styles back then: hot topic goth and soft butch. I wore baggy men's clothes to cover my body; I've always been fat but I didn't like my curves. It was a few years later that I overcompensated for my lack of femininity by being overtly girly with everything I did.

    Coming out was a rollercoaster for me. Mostly everyone I know has been supportive, maybe because I never made that big a deal of being queer. My parents, as you can imagine, still give ne hell for it. I clearly remember my mom telling me after I'd come out that she didn't believe me, and that I was going to hell. I often wonder what would happen if she found out I converted to paganism, but that's another story for another day.

  9. My coming out wasn't dramatic, either. I grew up liking boys and girls, but never mentioned it until high school when I admitted to my boyfriend at the time that I thought another girl was cute. He was bisexual, so he was totally cool with it. I never told my parents, and it wasn't until college, until I had my first real girlfriend, that I decided to say it. When I told my mother that she and I were "more than just friends", she said, "I know. You're into girls, we knew, you told us you were a lesbian when you were seven." !?!?!? I think my response was, "Oh, uh, ok then," and walking out. XD

    As a teen I HATED my body. I developed early, and have always been tall (I'm 6'1" now, might still be growing at 26!), so I stood out. Plus, I'm a chunky kid, and that was a source of deep depression for me. Only recently have I come to kinds like how I look, even if I am heavyset. Still trying to drop the weight, but for me now, not for what I want others to like.

    I never went to summercamp, but I did work at a Girl Scouts camp. Most of the staff were queer or queer-friendly, and the kids – oh, you can play spot-the-queer-child easily there. :) I had two of the older campers, approx 16 and 17, come out to me that summer, and I told them that it's perfectly normal, it's all about love, and love isn't wrong. Apparently the Girl Scouts organization and the girl's Catholic family didn't think so, so I'm not working there anymore. But I don't regret it – that girl heard the truth from me, and that's all that matters. :)

    Side note – said kid is now 18 and contacted me, saying how thankful she is that she met me. She'd going off to college and is already seeing a girl from there. :)

  10. 1.) I had to start wearing a bra when I was about 10. I was mortified! I was always pretty chunky, so I had inferiority complex from a young age. I hated my body, but wasn't really willing to do a whole lot to improve on it. (Though in school wasn't hugely out of shape, due to gym class and walking to and from school. (or running from school when some of the worst female bullies would chase me. Luckly that was middle school and I lived down the street from school.) I started my menses at 12, again being mortified. Not so much the function of it, but the having to worry about regular changes, being smelly..the cramps…argh. lol.

    2.) I came out twice. the 1st time when I was 21, and the 2nd, a few weeks ago. lol. (I'm 34.) Now, the 1st time…I came out as bisexual. I had a couple (minor now that I look at it now.) crushes on coworkers and acquaintences, most of them femme types. And I still liked males (and was totally boy crazy in my teens! But anyways, my family reacted in a predictable but annoying manner: "Oh she'l grow out of it..it's just a phase" Grrr. Granted…sometimes it is just a phase, but I really wish people wouldn't say that. It made me feel like my feelings weren't valid. Even if it was a phase, that doesn't make it any less frustrating nor confusing. So, even after I came out….I never did anything about my attraction to women. I think I was afraid to. I found (and still do!) both men and women to be confusing..but in some ways, I felt it was easier dating men, and besides that's where most of my attraction was. Slowly though, into my 30's there was a shift. I had joined a website with quite a few Butch Females And Trans Males, and found myself attracted to quite a few. So did research, and felt that I could handle being involved with ethier. LOL. The Gods have a fucked up sense of humor. Because my attraction to Bio/Cis gendered.) males started drying up. That really knocked me for a loop. So, all this had been boiling for a while, and I finally had to come out (again.) So far, only told my father and one of his sisters. (Whom I am sure sooner or later tell the other sister.) Both reacted neutrally. I asked my dad recently whether or not he was suprised, and he said that while he wasn't expecting it, it didn't surprise him ethier. He figured that I had finally worked thru where I am at, and that other then being concerned about society's anti gay thing, he is okay with it. And I think, (with exeption of 1 brother) that the rest of my family will react virtually the same way. Most of my family is fairly liberal. Most of my friends are from the Pagan,Kinky or LGBT communities, and are fine with my being Queer.

    3.)Summer Camp…lol 1 summer before 2nd grade went to the day camp program at the Y. I suspect it was so I wasn't underfoot, with my family trying to pack up and move. The other that even comes close, is the week long 5th grade camp. Do those count? During the summers, I ethier hung out with friends, or did chores for money (2 dollars a day if I cleaned up the living room and kitchen. Woohoo. lol.) Or I read and watched tv alot. Later on, in my HS years, I had summer jobs at a day camp for special needs kids.

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