Growing up, I was very closeted. I call these “The Straight Years,” because I think they need their own titled-chapter. I hoped that my unhappiness with men correlated with my inability to pick the proper ones, rather than the overwhelming evidence that, instead, I was a big, huge lesbian. This evidence being that I had to carry around tissues at all times to sop up the drool that would pour from my mouth if I, by chance, even heard Natalie Portman’s name. Looking at myself now, I barely recognize her, this version of myself that was in so much confused pain, living someone else’s life.
At eighteen, I had a large group of straight girl friends. The amount of cheap vodka we consumed together is deplorable. We wore heels and skirts and too much makeup, pointing out frat boys to each other and swapping sex stories — the best orgasms given to us by men. It was a blessing, especially then, that I was a fiction writer. We were very platonic, by which I mean that showing any signs of intimacy to one another was deemed lesbian.
I came out at 21-years-old, shortly after a trip to London to visit my at-the-time boyfriend who was there for work. We were in a dimly lit bar, some speakeasy-looking lounge with lots of red and black and Edison bulbs providing just enough light to look at a menu and one’s neighbors. We both ordered Manhattans, making some sort of a joke to the English bartender that you just can’t take New York out of someone. I looked over to my right and saw this tall, lanky, stunning, blonde woman. She looked at me, smiled, and waved. I looked over at my boyfriend and asked if he, by chance, knew her (there was just no way she could be waving at me). He looked, shook his head. (so, she was waving at me). “Shall we talk to her? Maybe she would…you know?” I asked him, insinuating that perhaps she was into me, that perhaps she would be open to sharing a bed with us both that night. His response was, “When are you going to just admit you’re a lesbian?” The exact answer to that was 7 days later.
After that, I went back to New York and, shortly after, met a woman who would, for the most part, ruin my life. That’s how the first woman goes, so I hear. I was desperately in love, the kind of love you one day prove to yourself was not really love at all, but rather, a chase of an idea. She hated her gayness, spent all her time with cis-heteosexual people. I was newly out and isolated. I’m a double Pisces, which means that I’m, one, too fragile to exist, and two, that I have a lot of love to give. And so after we broke up, I was on a quest of sorts. I was tired of being in environments that didn’t promote self-acceptance and love for my queerness. I wanted to find my crew, a gorgeous group of people who would simply just be gay with me.
Two years later, I was invited to a backyard party in Bushwick by a girl who would one day become my girlfriend and then my ex. I was excited, albeit a little uncomfortable. I didn’t know anyone going except for one or two people. But, I was eager to meet new folks, and I was excited about this cute girl inviting me to a party, so I went. I walked through that sliding glass door, and I met them: this beautiful, kind, loving group. But I was in uncharted territory. I started to slowly discern who was there with their ex or their current hook up, who was also their friend and the ex of their original ex; I entered this strange loop of, “You know each other…how?” I watched them all hold hands, caress each other’s faces, kiss on the mouth. I had been so accustomed to treating my friends as, well, friends. When I was “straight,” any time I kissed a woman, it was in secrecy — except in the rare times I would kiss a friend in some strange, peer-pressured party scene, usually in order to please a group of boys that would grow up to look like Brett Kavanaugh. In other words, kissing my girl friends was rebellious, taboo, and something I didn’t really do.
Regardless of the curiosity of my new environment, there was a part of me that instantly understood what was happening — aside from my initial slight confusion about who may go home with who. At the crux of it, I knew they were all “together,” whether platonically or romantically. It was a sixth sense almost, like traveling around just to finally plant your feet on the ground and look up to find what you had been searching for all along. They were choosing to love each other in this way, and once you got to understand who was who, you also understood that the friends weren’t showing each other love in a sexual manner. It was boundless, and in that, it was shockingly beautiful.
It was this strange, incestual queer family — a group of people, who, despite being told their identities were an abomination, chose uninhibited love. Large parts of my heart are in that backyard even still, as we’ve all moved into new homes or gotten into serious relationships; two of us even got married. I did not know what it meant to be accepted until I met them. I was so accustomed to “typical friend drama:” fights that would ensue from minor miscommunications and boy-related topics. These friends communicate until you think blood may pool at the bottom of their mouths. Nothing is left unsaid, even if it’s painful, because we know the sanctity of having found one another at all. They are my bread and butter, my reason for rising to every occasion.
But the intimacy in our friend group confuses most people, even folks in our community. We hold each other’s hands under the table, we kiss on the mouth, we twirl what hair is left on each other’s heads — we cannot possibly get enough of one another. Recently, I was at LELA Bar in the West Village, where a good friend of mine works. Two of my other friends were with me, sitting on either side of me. I kissed them both on the lips hello, and we periodically caressed each other’s faces or held each other’s hands in the middle of our conversations, wine in our free hands. Eventually, a woman next to us leaned over and said, “Excuse me, are these both your girlfriends? I’ve always admired couples like that.”
But we aren’t girlfriends. We’re friends. And sure, I have been romantically involved with both of the friends I was with, but that was many moons ago (a lesbian’s way of saying something was a while ago when really it’s only been a few months).
I think so many of us have searched for love and acceptance for so long that we’re confused by the “normal boundaries” of platonic relationships. We love each other so intensely — so grateful we are to have each other at all — but in the beginning, we can’t shy away from the fact that many of us are also attracted to each other. Each story seems to go the same way. We get closer to another friend in the group, or we all meet someone new, and one of us latches on romantically until that eventually loses steam and we realize we were meant to be friends to begin with. So many of us in the community are still friends with our exes; we don’t want to let each other go. But for my friends, it seems to go deeper than that. We still maintain this sense of closeness in our friendships, but once the transition from romantic to platonic is solidified, the intimacy isn’t sexual. And it doesn’t always need to take the form of pecking each other on the lips, but instead holding hands and stroking each other’s hair, sitting on one another’s laps and holding each other close. I think we’ve learned that love is metamorphic, transferrable — it doesn’t have to be just one thing.
In many ways, I want my story to be about queer folks loving harder than heterosexual people. But it would be facetious and filled with holes, especially with the confusing nature of my friend group’s intimacy within the community. It’s not about being gay or straight. It’s about how, as a society, we’ve placed everything in a box — even how we love. We are meant to show platonic love in subtle, friendly ways, while we’re meant to show romantic love in more physically affectionate ways. There’s meant to be a clear dichotomy between the two. But why?
For me, I am challenging the status quo about platonic intimacy, because I’ve been put in a box my whole life, even (especially) by my own self. The way I show love to my friends may be intimate, but it isn’t sexual. And yes, many of us have been romantically involved in the past — or are in this moment — but if and when the romance ends, there is an active involvement to ensure it transitions into a friendship.
My partner often preaches about the idea of radical love, and that’s exactly what this is: choosing to radically love one another, no matter what, and choosing to show each other that love in a way that makes us feel safe, appreciated, and seen.
We love this hard — have the capacity to love this way — because we understand the importance and irreplaceability of true love and acceptance. Each of us has been cast aside by family members, old groups of friends, and society at large. We’ve been told we aren’t good enough, been disowned or ignored. We have been embarrassed, told that queer love is invalid or disgusting, and so, when we find love, we’re not eager to let it go. We’ve earned it.
I have no idea what I would do without these people. They’re my family, the homes I run to. It feels foreign and disingenuous to love them in any other way. We’ve all worked so hard to get here, to this place of openness, visibility. We’ve worked so hard to be ourselves, finally finding a home in each other. So, yes, dammit; I kiss my friends. And I’m so glad I do.