When I was 15 years old, my parents and I took a road trip to Boston to visit my older brother Blake. We drove from our town of Westport, Connecticut. I was sitting in the backseat, sporting my typical closeted angst-ridden grunge-goth lesbian-attire—a black fishnet shirt with a neon colored bra, wildly distressed super skinny black jeans, black motorcycle boots with actual springs in their five-inch platform heels, strands upon strands of tangled up faux pearls, a lip ring, an eyebrow ring, a nose ring and my hair twisted up into two ecstasy buns that dramatically shot out of the sides of my head, like unicorn horns. My parents were kindly letting me blast my music through the car speakers, and my song of choice at that moment was called “Eternally Hard” by a queercore band called Bitch and Animal. I rocked out hard in the back seat as the lead singer rapped about how she had “the best cock on the block” because it was “eternally hard” (it was a strap-on dildo, duh).
“Uh, are you a lesbian?” my dad asked me from the front seat of the car.
I felt my ears get hot. “NO!”
Dad kept his gaze direct on the Post Road and calmly tried again. “Are you bisexual?”
“It’s OK if you are.” His voice was even. My mother quietly chuckled from the passenger seat.
“I KNOW, BUT I’M NOT JEEZ, WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU THINK THAT, DAD?”
(Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because I was blasting a song about lesbians having sex with strap-ons in the backseat of their Mercedes SUV?)
I folded my arms and stuck out my lower lip. The truth was, I knew I was a lesbian. I was certain I was a lesbian like I was certain I hated math and loved art. I was certain I was a lesbian like I was certain I had been born with dark brown hair and alabaster colored skin. I was certain I was a lesbian because I had zero sexual interest in men, but I was obsessed—like completely, totally utterly, teenage-level obsessed with lesbians.
I wasn’t ashamed of being a lesbian. I secretly thought it was super cool and belonged to all of these LiveJournal teen lesbian forums. We would gab about how much we hated our small towns and how one day soon we would all meet up and go to a punk rock show New York City.
I feverishly listened to Ani Difranco, Melissa Ferrick, Bikini Kill, Bitch and Animal and more badass queer girl music every single day of my life.
“That girl thinks she’s the queen of the neighborhood
I got news for you, she is!
They say she’s a dyke but I know
I would scream along to Bikini Kill as I winged my eyeliner before school in the morning. “Rebel girl! You are the queen of my world!”
I endlessly fantasized about the day I could meet other lesbians and have a whole real life crew of dykes to roll around town with. I thought dykes were the coolest. I had my digital lesbian friends, but it wasn’t enough.
So if I was so proud of my fierce dyke-ness, why was I lying to my dad? My liberal, Jewish, forever Democrat, Manhattan-bred father?
I was lying to ole’ pops, because we never, ever saw lesbians. I knew he was OK with homosexuality in theory, but we had never seen two women holding hands or kissing or anything together. I had never even seen two women snuggling together by myself, let alone in front of my dad! The lack of lesbian visibility made me feel like a super freak. I didn’t want to be the shocking token lesbian all alone in my isolated little lesbian world. I’m very codependent by nature. I needed a wolf pack of queer girls. Or at least to know that wolf packs of queer girls existed outside of a Bikini Kill song.
Hiding my sexuality royally sucked. I was 15 and my hormones were raging like a Jersey girl rages in Seaside Hides on memorial day weekend. All of my high school compatriots were starting to lose their virginity. We were all completely obsessed with SEX, our young bodies teeming with those explosive animalistic feelings of lust for the first time ever. That’s such a rare, special time in your life, your teen years.
It’s when you first tap into your sexuality and nothing prepares you for the primal sensation that consumes your brain and turns you into one walking libido. And I pretended to like boys. I talked about boys the way I felt about girls. Like I was nuts for them.
There were zero gays in my school. In fact, homophobia was rampant in the privileged Connecticut High School hallways in the early 2000s, and because I already had a reputation as a rebellious wild child punk, people already made assumptions about my sexuality. I had recently confessed to making out with a girl at summer camp (I had actually had sex with her but I didn’t dare tell anyone THAT) and a bunch of sugar blonde cheerleaders were allegedly afraid that I was going to hit on them. (They should be so fucking lucky, right babes?) I vehemently denied my attraction to women and claimed I made out with the girl at camp ONCE as a DARE. Like who says NO to a DARE? I still never turn down a dare.
Anyway, I felt like a fucking alien freak and repressing my sexuality was awful. After all isn’t our sexuality at the very core of who we are? When you try and control something as natural and authentic as your sexuality, you can become a very dangerous person. You can become self-destructive.
And girl? I was self-destructive. I was a cutter. I stuck my fingers down my throat at least once a day and vomited up my food. I took speed. I smoked like a chimney. I was mean to myself. I was obsessively trying to whatever I could to control whatever the hell I could control. The pain (cutting), my weight (barfing) and my energy levels (speed).
So yes, that’s why I didn’t answer my dad honestly I guess.
Cut to later that evening. My mom, dad, brother and I are sitting at this SUPER trendy restaurant in a SUPER trendy neighborhood in Boston. I order a Cosmopolitan, and my parents don’t even care and I don’t even get carded by the foxy waitress in the leather pants. And suddenly I see something that transforms my world forever.
Sitting at the bar is a gorgeous woman with caramel colored skin and a sea of dreadlocks cascading down her heavily tattooed back. She’s got bee-stung Angelina Jolie lips and is wearing a cool, aqua colored bohemian mini-dress with little tassels all over it. Her cool-girl energy is palpable, and I can’t stop fucking STARING at her. My eyes are magnetically drawn to her. It wasn’t like I was attracted to her, I was just obsessed with her, in a way that felt spiritual. Like she was God or something.
And then, just when I thought I couldn’t get anymore mesmerized, this acid bleach blonde creature walks toward her. I say “creature” because she was one of those “entities” that transcends basic humanity. She was exotic. They were both creatures. Girl creatures.
They begin to kiss. Like really kiss. I had to pinch myself, was I imagining this? The blonde sat down next to the dreadlocked goddess, and they stared into each other’s eyes and stole little kisses and giggled and were openly affectionate. A rush of serotonin flooded my brain.
My self-destructive, closeted, eating-disordered, drug-addled teen self felt a huge shift happen. It was like a wild tide rushed over me and took the old Zara out to sea and spat a totally new girl out into the sand. Watching these two beautiful lesbians openly hang all over each other made me not want to hide anymore. There were lesbians out there! And they did go to trendy goddamn restaurants and dress stylishly unlike everyone in my stupid, narrow-minded Connecticut town claimed! I had never felt more proud to be queer and more excited to tell people.
I got up to “go the bathroom” before we left, but really to walk by the ladies and get a closer look. And I swear to my higher power (Lana Del Rey) that as I strutted in their direction, the dreadlocked girl looked at me and loudly said “She’s cute! I LOVE her outfit!” to her girlfriend. I was so elated I felt my body ascend into the air. I floated into the taxi with my brother to went back to his apartment, grinning from ear to ear. I was 15. I wore all black and wrote dark prose for fun. I hadn’t grinned since the sandbox days.
My parents were staying in a hotel so it was just me and my older brother and his very cool friends in his trashed, 20 something boy, sock-scented apartment. They brought out a bong. I took a giant hit and fell to the ground coughing up a vulnerable adolescent lung. After I recovered damn, I felt high. For the first time. I had never figured out how to inhale properly and used to pretend to be high with my friends. Now I was actually high. It felt awesome.
“Blake,” I said with a firm confidence I didn’t even know I had.
“Yes?” he answered, sensing I was about to confess something huge. His friends looked on eagerly.
“I’m QUEER,” I squeaked.
“That’s great! That’s like totally cool! That’s FINE! I’m glad you told me! That’s great, Z! I’m TOTALLY OK with that! Yeah, it’s TOTALLY COOL!” My brother sing-songed, overly enthusiastic because he was high and paranoid I was going to think he was homophobic or something.
“I wish my sister was queer,” his friend Jeff loudly whispered from across the room.
We all fell apart laughing, like happy stoned idiots.
That little scene in the restaurant turned me from a self-hating alienated homo to a proud, happy, excited for the future queer lady. I even stopped throwing up (I started up again in my mid-twenties, but that’s another story for another time, darling). I stopped taking speed, too! I didn’t feel the need to be in such fierce control of everything now that the core of me, my sexuality, had been freed from the painful tethers of oppression!
And this, kittens, is why I refuse to ever hold back on the PDA with whomever I’m dating (or sleeping with).
“Zara, don’t do that! We’re at a bar full of FRAT bros they’re going to objectify us,” my girlfriend will squeal when I aggressively make-out with her at a sporty bar.
“That’s not my fucking problem!” I’ll say, smiling. And in the corner of my eye, I’ll always see someone who is transformed in some kind of way by watching us be openly affectionate. Sometimes it’s a teen gay boy who suddenly feels safe in the sea of toxic masculinity because we’re there. And he knows if some unapologetic lesbians are in the room, they won’t let anything bad happen to him. Sometimes it’s a little closeted lesbian like I used to be. And I can see the relief sweep across her face because she knows now that she one day, she’ll be able to make out in bars too. Her life isn’t going to be resigned to a life of hiding. She will be able to express her love.
I always express my love, now. And sometimes it’s dangerous, for sure. I’ve been harassed by dudes, threatened and more. But it’s fucking worth every slur to me. I’ll take one for the team.
My favorite is when I see an older woman admire my girlfriend and I being affectionate. She fought for us to have the right to be affectionate! She appreciates that her protesting and her efforts and all the shit she went through to make the world SLIGHTLY more safe for queer people are sort of paying off.
When you are queer, being openly affectionate and out is a radically political act. You’re showing to the world that you have ZERO shame about your sexuality and that no amount of growls or grunts or threats from the masses is going to stop you from lapping it up in public with your partner.
And in the midst of all of it, I guarantee at least one person in the room, whether it’s a parent of a queer kid, a closeted queer kid, a queer adult who still harbors shame, or homophobe who SUDDENLY SEES WE AREN’T THAT DIFFERENT AND LOVE IS LOVE, someone’s life has been changed by you openly loving your partner.
And that’s why I PDA, all day, baby.