To most people, I’m a pretty typical girl who likes girl things, who has been with a guy for 12 years. Simple, uncontroversial. Few people probably realize I’ve ever felt ashamed or confused about gender or sexuality. But as I sat down to write this post, I realized that in fact, I’ve dealt with layers of confusion about it as long as I can remember.
When I was a little girl, I spent a lot of time pretending to be a boy. Mind you, it was in the context of pretend games, elaborate pretend games with my friends where at first I co-opted other people’s characters and by the age of nine I was transitioning into original creations, but I never cared to be a girl. My female friends all wanted to be women–warrior women, healer women, girly girls, wise women, female dragons…you name it, but it was always female. And my male friends always played boy parts. I was the only one who had to step out of gender.
I was quite self-conscious about it, and increasingly so over the years. My friends never outright mentioned that it was WEIRD that I always wanted to play boy parts, but I felt different. Ashamed, even. I tried to mask it by throwing female characters into my play, art and writings–look, a wise woman, an elven archer, a tribal chief who is the most badass person in the village!
But it was always forced. The girls were usually relegated to love interests to the fascinating boys. I identified with the guys more. I wanted to be them. I wanted to blame it on the fact that, in the 80s/90s entertainment of my formative years, guys tended to be more interesting. But I’m not really sure it’s “them”. Other girls of my generation liked pretending to be girls, writing about girls. I still identify with my male characters most. The only difference is that now I’m more willing to accept my yang moods, to own skinny vintage neckties and all the things that match them–my boy-self dwells, perhaps, on a stylish British street around 1965 or perhaps 1973 (the psychedelic period in between he can take or leave), and he is also in my closet.
I remember when I found out what a lesbian was. I’m not sure how old I was, but I was probably older than kids are now, maybe 10 or 11, because there were few gay characters on TV or anywhere, at least not openly. But as soon as I learned, I worried that maybe I was a lesbian, because I liked pretending I was a boy, and I had always felt there was something wrong and weird about it, just as being a lesbian seemed to be wrong and weird. It wasn’t something people talked about, it wasn’t a word people said. I didn’t even yet know about all the religious persecution that could come wrapped up with being gay because I didn’t come from a remotely religious or conservative family, but even in my hippie homeschooler world, I understood it must not be normal or else people would talk about it.
I was also pretty boy-crazy, though, and throughout my teens I had mad crushes on various boys. Also, the internet happened. I started to realize there were other girls who preferred writing about boys, and girls with glorious wardrobes who would dress like a 50s bombshell on Monday and an English schoolboy on Tuesday. I also got into anime. In anime, it was okay to be gay, okay to be straight but dress in drag, it was okay to wander around in bondage gear or furry costumes, even…pretty much anything went at anime and comic cons, and however weird you were, you knew someone else was far weirder, so it was all good. I started to realized what a complicated, confusing, glorious, fraught, fascinating world gender and sexuality were beyond the world I had known as a kid.
I also occasionally ran into a girl on the internet who seemed to be a kindred spirit, who would give me a fluttery feeling that was a lot like being in love. If they dropped out of my life, as internet friends tend to do, I’d feel…well, kind of heartbroken. There were no sexual thoughts associated with these friendships, only intellectual and emotional, but after one particularly crushing loss of friendship when a friend of mine got busy with school and another relationship, I started to wonder. And the fact is, I’m just not a very sexual person anyway…at least, I’m very cautious about that aspect of myself. I fall in love with boys in a pretty similar way as those close female friendships unfolded–I like guys because we have a lot to talk about, similar sense of humor, similar interests, an emotional affinity… I was never the kind of girl who cared about rock-hard abs or jumped straight to kissing fantasies. I started to wonder if maybe I’m bisexual. Or maybe I’m asexual and I just like really strong friendships. Frankly…if I had to choose a label for myself, I’m not sure what it should be.
A funny thing did happen when I admitted, at least to myself, that maybe I wasn’t 100% straight: I started being able to write about female characters a lot better. I started to be able to put more of myself into them, and some of the girls I’d had strong feelings for over the years, too.
When I started working on my latest book, Dark Metropolis, with a setting based on the free-wheeling mood of Berlin in the 1920s, I knew this would be a wonderful book to include a romance between girls. This was something I feel strongly about, because, although this is changing, there are still very few lesbian romances in YA, especially in fantasy, and I love playing around with gender and sexuality themes. The characters of the girls came easily…but the romance did not. In my heart, I felt it. On paper, I hesitated.
I think the trouble for me *was* that I felt it. And a part of me still felt ashamed. To acknowledge that I did feel ashamed makes me, quite frankly, sad. If I, in my late twenties, still felt some deep-down shame just to write a fairly chaste love story between two girls, how hard is it for many teenage girls in real life to acknowledge their feelings for other girls? And this is a thought I had to keep coming back to. I think I would have felt so differently about myself as a kid if the books I’d read had included LGBTQ characters. Books are important to me now, but as a teen they were *everything*. I owed it to girls of the future to just get over it already, and write the things I felt. So I did. I kept rewriting the scenes between Nan and Sigi and pushing them a little closer each time, peeling back another layer of feeling. I still think I can probably do better, of course…quite likely I always will. But it was a cathartic book to write, in many ways, and I hope it is one small step to a world that is more open and free for every sort of person.
Jaclyn Dolamore is the author of Magic Under Glass, Between the Sea and Sky, and the upcoming Dark Metropolis. She has a passion for thrift stores, history, vintage dresses and organic food, and lives somewhat reluctantly in Orlando, FL with her partner and three weird cats.Twitter: twitter.com/jackiedolamore