by Ava Harrington, Staff Writer

Illustrated by Brooke Ripley

I am in fifth grade when I see a Playboy ad for the first time. My mother, sister and I are at some wholesale store.

“Don’t go anywhere girls,” she calls before venturing away to find something, towels or linens maybe.

I watch disinterestedly as my sister flips through a rack of tacky posters placed in the back of the store, plastered with puppies and video game characters. Then there’s a silence, a pause in her pattern, and I glance up to see my sister staring at an image. It’s of a woman. A beautiful woman, wearing a fur vest with nothing underneath. It’s winter and she is icy and cold like the snow around her. Besides the shock of the almost-nudity which has almost worn off, there is nothing about this photo which should hold my attention much longer. Yet I continue to stare at the two round bulges under her vest, then her striking eyes, then back to her chest again. There’s an tingling in my gut, more intense than when I watch the boys on the playground. They are nothing compared to this girl​—​this woman. Before I have enough time to take in her beauty (there will never be enough time), my sister turns around and makes a strange face, quickly flipping to the next poster. My face flushes bright red as my mother returns and leads us away. Neither of us mention the poster again.

I am in sixth grade when I have my first sleepover, with my best friend Mara. We lie together in her bed, watching a murder mystery; she softly gasps at each new plot twist. Soon she falls asleep on my shoulder, her head finding its place in the curve of my neck. The scratchy blue quilt rises and falls with our synced breath. The woman in the poster drifts across my mind. I still have that same feeling in my gut, that tingling, however it is different now. This is warm. I’ve known for a long time that I love this girl next to me who breathes softly and laughs loudly, but isn’t this how every girl feels towards her best friend? It’s an innocent love, as innocent as love can be. But there’s still something…wrong. I shrug her head off of my shoulder and roll over, my back to her face.

I am in seventh grade when I go to a semi-popular girl’s slumber party, and we’re lounging on pink pillows wearing sticky face masks that prickle my skin. Suddenly, we begin make up stories about our first kiss and our first time, even though none of us have even gone out with a boy.

“I think it’d be kinda cool to kiss a girl.”

There’s a silence and they all stare at me. I don’t know why I said that, don’t know what I’m talking about.

“Are you like, a dyke or something?”

I don’t know what that means, but it doesn’t sound good.

“Ew! No. It’s just that all the boys I’ve kissed have been so gross, I bet we’re just so much better, you know?”

This satisfies them enough to return to their debate of which eighth grader is the most attractive. But I am silent, and confused. I consider what I could have possibly meant, and why I felt compelled to say that. I remind myself that I have a crush on a boy right now, so I couldn’t be a…a dyke. I want to kiss boys, so I must not want to kiss girls. I spend the rest of the year promising this to myself until I believe it’s true.

I’m in eighth grade, having a sleepover with Mara again, though I haven’t had that fizzly warmth in a long time. I’ve since dismissed it as a weird eleven year old kind of thing. Now I listen disinterestedly as she details the girls at her new school, the sluts and the whores and the ones who give blowjobs under the bleachers during football games. I talk about the girls at my school too, but I’m more interested in talking about how I like their personalities and how pretty they are and all that. I tell Mara all about one girl in particular, Alyson, and how she’s so badass and feminist and bisexual, a word that still feels new and fun in my mouth.

“But how do you ​know​ she’s bisexual?” Mara prods.

“Well, because she said she was.”.

She stays silent for a moment before chiding,

“She’s way too young to know that.”

My body tightens; I remain silent. I roll over and turn my back to her, feeling…betrayed.

This is the end of the conversation, but the beginning of something much more important. My thoughts begin to run rampant, deliberating the statement she had so flippantly added. How could she be so dismissive towards something my friend has struggled with for so long? And what of the other pieces of Alyson’s personality I had shared? The only things she knows of my friend are that she likes to sing, wears glasses, and identifies as bisexual, and yet Mara has determined that one of these is blatantly false. ​It leaves me feeling nauseous and itchy. Why do I care so much? It’s not my life she’s judging. ​Or….is it? I stare into the darkness tossing and turning, thinking. For the first time I allow my thoughts to come freely. I think about the poster, the sleepover, the slumber party. I understand what I have already known. What I already am. Here, in this bed, in her bed, staring at the peeling wallpaper of the dim room, I am anxious, yet relieved. I am confused, yet sure. But for the first time, I am truly honest. My sexuality has not been hiding from me. I have been hiding from it. I don’t like it, not at all. But I know that it’s there, whether or not it’s right.

It’s ninth grade when I quietly accept who I am. There’s no fanfare, no quirky, tear-jerking celebrations like the ones you see on Twitter every so often. And it’s certainly not perfect. Sometimes even now, as I tug at the purple pink and blue friendship bracelet around my wrist, thoughts creep into my head about the rightness of who I am. But it doesn’t matter, because I’ve completed the most difficult task of acknowledging that, right or wrong, this is who I am. I’ve come out to the person who matters the most: myself.