I’ve never been good at playing it cool. My typical first date includes a few hours of pre-scheduled freakout time, paired with some classic chronic overthinking. When I invited my first queer date over to my house, it was no different.
My roommates witnessed my stress routine earlier that day as I prepared my room to appear as artfully indifferent as possible. I stuffed my teddy bears into my closet and shoved my dirty clothes under my bed. I contemplated canceling, blaming an illness that involved as little bodily fluids as possible, but ultimately found myself waiting for their knock on my door. A joint sat in my sweaty palms.
They arrived and luckily didn’t see through my careful mist of artificial coolness. Or if they did, they gracefully played along. I led them to my room where an ASAP Rocky poster stared down at us as we passed my bong back and forth and giggled at each other’s high eyes. We spent six hours talking, both of us anxious to fill the silence. They sat on the edge of my bed, draped in orange sheets and a green comforter, looking out of place in what I would come to recognize as their daily uniform: a black beanie, hoodie, jeans and converse.
I’ve always known I was different. Growing up in a small, southern, conservative town, I desperately tried to hide the difference I was so aware of. I developed my first crush on a real-life girl (not a character on the other side of the TV screen) while in high school. Though I never spoke to her and never mentioned the feelings to any of my friends, intense shame brewed in me.
When I got to college, I hoped for steamy queer dorm room make outs, eyebrow slits, and dyed hair. But I couldn’t rid myself of the distinct need to cater to every man around me. To mold myself into a frat boy’s dream. To make myself smaller, and hope my secret identity would be kept under wraps.
My secret shame eventually boiled over. I hit a breaking point when I found myself crying into my pillow as I lied beside a man, understanding it was time to face my biggest fear. In true queer fashion, my gay entrance happened at college. My new queer friends acted as genies, granting my wish of self discovery. Of course, my magical carpet ride did not come without a little turbulence.
Three years later, I’m waking up on the same pillow in the same bed. But this time, I’m staring at my girlfriend asleep beside me. My first queer date grew to be my first queer love. They wake up and make fun of me for staring. They refuse to accept my compliments because it’s too early in the morning, but it’s my favorite time of day to see them. The light coming through my windows and dancing around their face, getting caught in their eyelashes. Our legs twisted around each other, hiding from the day beneath my comforter. I make us coffee, tasting both and giving them the sweetest one. They make us eggs and hashbrowns because I always burn them. We play the crossword and make up reasons to spend our entire day inside.
I’ve never felt more known than when they put their hand over mine to stop me from biting my nails. I’ve never felt more loved than when they hug me from behind as I’m dissecting my body in the mirror. I’ve never felt more cared for than when they let me take the only empty seat on the subway. I’ve taken my stuffed animals out from the closet and put them back on my bed. My girlfriend has added their stuffed pink bear to the collection. I’ve been honest with myself. To think I could have missed this.