Picture the grimiest dive bar you know. Combine that with the most disgusting port-a-potty you’ve ever peed in. Combine that with the crowd that’s on the Long Island Railroad the day of the Saint Patrick’s Day parade. Multiply that by a million and you have “The Dizzy Lizard” Saloon. This is where I met my first serious girlfriend.
At Hofstra University in 2011, Long Island college students were still deep in our Jersey Shore phase—Ed Hardy shirts, bejeweled Blackberry cases, and spray tans. Like most college students, we were all looking for someone to fuck. Guido/Guidette coupling at the infamously gross Dizzys was our collective cultural practice. I, too, participated in this fist pumping, vodka-chugging, stretchy-neon-tank-top-world—only I never responded to the mating calls of “you’re mad beautiful” because I was queer. It seemed near impossible to find another girl like me.
Then I met Grace.
I thought life would be easier once I met her, but it actually became more complicated. I had to confront my conflicting identities head-on. Being together made us see how queer culture pushed against the culture we were living in. We were still young, relatively sheltered and unaware of life outside of Long Island. It wasn’t easy to be in a genuine, loving relationship with another woman. We grew accustomed to being cheered at while we kissed, or having a crowd of muscular guys with fake Chanel earrings watching us when we danced. Most times, it was annoying. Sometimes, it was mildly entertaining. Other times, it was downright scary. Girls kissing girls had a place amongst our peers, but that was only making room for one aspect of our complex relationship.
Before I met Grace, I felt both utterly out of place and at home. Growing up in an Italian American suburb, I was already immersed in the culture that thrived at Hofstra. My teens were spent cruising around blasting techno, frying at the tanning salon and getting ridiculous acrylic shovel nails applied (lesbian fail, I know). My teens were also filled with watching The L Word with the remote firmly gripped in my hand in case my parents walked in, obsessively listening to Tegan and Sara, and writing bad poetry about girls. Once I got to college, I thought my queer identity could flourish, but my suitemates, though amazing friends, were much like the girls I grew up around. I was not met with the queer girl gang The L Word gave me false hopes of. We quickly made friends with club promoters and became known for being party girls.
The first time I saw Grace, we were both trying to skip the line at Dizzys. We eyed each other competitively: we looked eerily similar—slutty crop top, ripped jeans, long brown hair, dark tan and over-the-top winged eyeliner. She got in before me and I decided I hated her. Once inside, we kept making eye contact. Each time I looked at her, she smirked. This bitch, I thought. At one point, she winked at me while she was letting a sweaty juicehead lift her off the dance floor and into his arms. Most people only see dancing this trashy on reality shows, but at Dizzys, it was as commonplace as hearing Sweet Caroline at straight people weddings.
“Future plastic surgeon,” my friend Arran said, nodding toward Grace. He always had perfectly disheveled hair and a perfectly coifed man by his side. There were far more gay men at Hofstra than lesbians.
“Huh?” I asked him, squeezing a lime into my vodka.
“That girl, over there. The hot one. She’s pre-med. Wants to be a plastic surgeon—make people as hot as her. She’s gay, go dance with her. She’s looking at you.”
I thought he was playing a joke on me, getting me to hit on an uptight Long Island princess.
“She’s gay, I swear,” he insisted.
Luckily, I didn’t have to continue this should I or shouldn’t I hit on her? dance because she walked right up to me and asked, “why are you so cute?”
Minutes later, we were making out on the dance floor. Hours later, we were in her bed. We stayed up alternating between talking and fucking until 6 AM. The few lesbians I casually dated before Grace snobbishly declared scissoring as a straight people urban legend. It made me feel ashamed because it was my favorite activity in bed. Luckily, it was Grace’s too. The next night, I sat staring at my Blackberry, dying to BBM her, but not wanting to come off clingy. My heart nearly leapt out of my chest when she messaged me with an address party here tonight, come see me. We began spending every night together and it wasn’t long until I moved in with her (U-Haul lesbians but with massive rolly carts for college moving instead).
At first, we felt like celebrities. We’d skip the line at clubs. People would whisper, they’re dating each other. The DJ would encourage us to kiss over the mic, and random guys would buy us shots. Being young and validated by attention, we enjoyed it. But that novelty wore off quickly.
We each had different ways of dealing with harassment. Grace was a more “go along with it for safety” kind of girl where I was a more “tell them to fuck off” kind of girl.
Once, we were walking to Dizzys and a DJ acquaintance of ours stopped me. “Wanna chill tonight?”
“No thanks, this is my girlfriend,” I replied.
“Then do you both wanna chill?” he smirked.
“I’m not her girlfriend,” Grace spat and walked away.
Inevitably, we had a fight. “Guys LIKE it when they find out we’re together. They harass us even more. Just say you have a boyfriend.” I knew her way of combating sexist heteronormative culture was more effective and realistic, but it crushed me. Somehow, it was okay to kiss me in front of a crowd, but claiming me as hers in front of one man terrified her.
Grace had a following of men courting her. One was a particularly juicy Greek man. I wasn’t as thrilled at the prospect of a threesome as they were, but I agreed. When we were lying side by side, as he fingered both of us, in between breaths, she turned to me and said, “I love you.” It sounds weird, but it was one of the most romantic, intimate moments we had. We were used to being on display: it didn’t feel sincere despite the intruder, it felt sincere because it was how we had grown together, always under the gaze of others.
We were infatuated with each other and increasingly disgusted with the people around us. We stopped going out—we were sick of fighting over how we dealt with cat callers. Taking a break from partying seemed like a healthy move at first. We communicated more, drank less and had even more sex. But then Grace stopped going to class, and I stopped writing. Our days centered around sex. It was like we could never get close enough. When she went to work, I lied in bed and masturbated until she got home. Then we’d fuck all night. It’s clear to me now that we had issues with sex addiction.
Though we had our problems, finding Grace was like finding a mirror, a queer culture and a mini wolf pack. We were delighted to have someone to watch the LGBT section on Netflix with, to go to Pride with, to understand the struggle of growing up in a conservative place. But we didn’t have much in common besides Long Island and our queer identity. Most of our conversations centered on how gay we were, conversations we were obviously starved for. On top of the aggressively heterosexual space we lived in, Grace had extremely religious, homophobic parents, and my mom had cancer. We were hiding from the outside world, and also hiding from our pain.
Grace and I treated each other like life preservers in a sea of sweaty straight people. But once we moved on from freshman year, we moved on from each other. She dropped out of school and I stayed. When we weren’t navigating Hofstra together on a day to day basis, we hardly had anything to bond us. The last time I saw her, our division was palpable. After growing older and more mature, meeting new people, dating different women and moving on with our lives in general, we no longer clung to each other. Thankfully, we’ve replaced neon tank tops with leather jackets, the Dizzy Lizard with chic bars and the dependence on each other with a confidence in ourselves. We realized that the world is a hell of a lot bigger than Long Island (hello Brooklyn lesbians!) We’ve outgrown the coffin sized space we built around our relationship, but now our worlds are wide open.