One Year Out

It’s a Friday night.  I’m sitting at a dining room table in a charming brownstone in Brooklyn, drinking wine and snacking on French cheese, surrounded by a circle of my peers.  My professor has invited us to her home for an end-of-semester celebration.  We’re adults now, we can sit around drinking and talking about literature. The world of academia is a world I’ve chosen to spend the next five years in, a world I will probably spend most of my life in, and it’s important to me that I feel at home here.

For me, an essential part of feeling at home is being out.  It’s something I’ve had to work on ever since I graduated from Mount Holyoke, where by the time I was a senior you were pretty much queer until proven straight.  That’s not the world we live in, unfortunately, and when I moved to New York City, I had to decide whether, and how, I would come out.

It didn’t happen all at once.  It started first with friends, and then with fellow students, and then with a not-so-subtle comment about lesbians in my history class, and then with a heart-to-heart with my boss at work, and by the time the spring semester hit, there was no going back.  I was out to my professors, colleagues, and co-workers, and I felt lucky to be in a place where that was possible.

I joke sometimes that I’m the “token queer” in my department, always talking about the social construction of gender and writing papers about lesbians.  I’m proud to be “that feminist,” the one who never lets you get away with a racist, sexist, or homophobic comment, the one who always brings it back to the patriarchy, the one who talks about periods when there are men in the room (the bloodier, the better).

By now, people have more or less gotten used to it.  They laugh at my raunchy jokes, they ask me about my date with the cute girl I’ve been gushing about, they nod politely when I go on a feminist rant in the middle of class.  

And then, they start asking questions.

“When did you know you were gay?” they’ll begin, and then, “How did your parents react?” and before you know it, “How do you have sex?” (or even, in one instance, “Who plays the man?”)

I used to think it was my duty to educate: These poor straight people, I reasoned, they just don’t even know what they’re talking about.  They’ve never talked to a real live queer person.  They just want to understand.  They mean well.

It would be easier if I could just make a blanket statement about these scenarios, say which questions a straight person can ask and which they can’t, what responses to offer and when to offer them. But the truth is, it’s different every time.  It’s different being asked about my coming out story by a new friend when we’re bonding over coffee than it is being asked by a professor who barely knows me in a classroom full of fellow students.

This is what happened last week, as we sat around drinking wine and talking about literature in my professor’s adorable Brooklyn brownstone.  Somehow, we got onto the topic of college.  With tears in my eyes, I told the story of the first time I ever visited Mount Holyoke, the way I fell in love with the college as my parents and I drove past the clock tower on that crisp April evening, the way I felt at home the minute I stepped foot on the campus.

“Were they cool?”  My professor asked, referring to my parents, who I had mentioned only in passing.

“Cool?”  I replied, caught of guard.

“With you being gay?”

I felt as if someone had knocked the wind out of me.  We hadn’t even been talking about my coming out, and the story I was in the process of telling really had nothing to do with my journey into queerness.  But instead of letting on that my professor’s question–asked completely out of context–had made me feel like the smallest version of myself, I mumbled some kind of a vague response, and changed the subject.

As the evening went on, this continued happening: questions thrown at me as if I were a walking encyclopedia of queerness, eyes turned to me every time anyone mentioned anything that was even remotely “gay,” homophobic jokes veiled as clever jibes.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire and respect my professor, and I appreciate my peers (all straight women, I should add) and the work we’ve done together over the course of the semester, but as the night went on, I began to realize that while everyone else was beginning to feel more and more and home, I was beginning to feel more and more like a stranger, or worse, like nothing more than the search box on google.gay.  

It’s hard for me to write about this night for several reasons.  First of all, I am mortified to think that my professor or peers might someday read this post, and tell me that I was overreacting.  “It was all in good fun,” they might say.  Or worse, “I never said that!”

The second reason why it’s difficult to write this is because it’s about more than just one evening of uncomfortable questioning.  It’s about the fact that coming out can be as terrifying as it is liberating, and that some nights, it’s more of a burden than it is a relief.  

But at the heart of all of this is a deeper question: when you live with an identity that has historically been invisibilized, misunderstood, and antagonized, how do you fight for visibility, understanding, and empathy without losing yourself in the process?  

The reason why it bothered me so much to have my professor ask about my coming out was not because I am ashamed of the story, or because it is too painful to tell.  It bothered me because that story matters to me.  There is no simple answer to the question “how did you come out?”  It is a story that needs time.  It is a story that needs a dedicated listener.  It is a story full of pregnant pauses, colorful details, and vulnerable confessions.  It is a story that I cherish.  It is a story that is profoundly and uniquely my own.

Part of the reason why Marnie and I started this blog in the first place was because we both longed for a space where we could share these stories with readers who cared, with people we trusted, in a space where we had the time and freedom to craft these stories in an intentional and meaningful way.

One of the main reasons why we longed for this kind of space is because we had already experienced it.  For four wonderful years, we had lived at Mount Holyoke, a place where coming out felt more like coming in.  

Thinking back on it now, it’s not so surprising that I teared up while telling my classmates about the first time I ever visited Mount Holyoke.  Because here’s the thing, it wasn’t just the way the clock tower looked that April evening, lit up by the vibrant colors of a New England sunset. It was the fact that, on the first night I ever spent on campus, I found myself sitting at a dining room table in the Rockies, surrounded by a group of friendly, intelligent, beautiful young women, welcomed into a space where storytelling was not just a momentary distraction, but a way of life.  The stories we shared that night, and every night since, were the colorful threads that formed the fabric of community.  What I knew that evening, more than anything else, was that I was already home.

It’s been one year since I left Mount Holyoke, and one year since I started coming out to the wider world.  If I’ve learned anything in that year, it’s that home is a story only you can tell.

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Image courtesy of MHC Archives
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Reading is Sexy #3: Women

I read Women in one sitting.

I had been waiting months to read it.  My aunt passed the title my way sometime in October.  I had just moved to the city, and books were already piling up next to my bed, forming a kind of barrier against the window. I started therapy, and developed a new ritual: I would walk out of my therapist’s office (in tears, of course) and make my way to The Strand. I’d pick a book, smell it, read the first few sentences, caress its cover, decide it had to be mine.  I’d buy it, walk across the street to the coffee shop, sit with a cup of coffee, and begin reading.

I kept looking at Women, every time I went into the store.  It was so small, so bare.  I liked the way it didn’t try too hard to be anything, to grab my attention.  Beige cover, brown title, one word.  It reminded me of French bookstores, those lovely, perfect stacks filled with white and beige spines, consistent to the point of madness, differing only in name.

full_women-web-front-cover

When I saw it again, walking through the stacks last Saturday, I knew it was time.  I remembered reading the review, something about a woman falling in love with a woman for the first time, a lesbian coming-of-age story, or something like that.  Oh yes I better read that, I thought.

It’s Saturday night.  My parents have just left after their first time visiting me in the city.  Off they go with their suitcases and bags and photographs of the city.  Once they leave, the illusion of living in a family again (coffee handed to me when I wake up in the morning, how was your day? when I return from school, what should we watch? cramped in the queen bed at night falling asleep together like we always used to do) has left with them.  I am alone in my apartment and we have been walking all day and my feet hurt and it is so quiet here, how is it so quiet here? How could my apartment feel so different, and yet so familiar, as if the months I’ve lived here were my whole life and none of it.

I get annoyed at the sunlight, stubbornly sticking around longer than it has in months.  I make tea, because I’m trying this new thing where I give my body what it needs to teach it what it wants and then I learn that it can want what it needs and right now I really really want a cup of very hot jasmine tea.

I sit on my bed, propped up against the headboard, and I’m holding my tea, and it’s so quiet I wish I could scream just to test it, but that only makes me want to cry, so I grab the book and start reading.

“Girls are cruelest to themselves. — Anne Carson, The Glass Essay”

I am not sure whether to be annoyed or curious by this epigraph.  Any book that begins with “girls are” or “women are” is immediately dubious, in my opinion.

I choose to be curious.

The first few pages sweep me away.  They are beautifully written, tangling past present and future around a central figure, the narrator’s lover, a “her” that goes, at first, unnamed.  It is immediately clear that the narrator will speak of love, try to untangle the meaning of the words tattooed on her lover’s back: “Love, the poet said, is a woman’s whole existence.”

A Virginia Woolf quotation on the first page: this looks promising.

“I am trying to decide what you need to know about Finn before we start,” the narrator explains.  “I don’t know if I will be able to get you to see her the way I saw her.  I worry that if I cannot make you fall in love with her inexplicably, inexorably, and immediately, the way I did, then you will not be experiencing the book in the way I hope you will.”

I should have known, after reading this passage, that I wouldn’t be able to put the book down.  I had to know how the narrator “saw” Finn, what made them fall in love, why she’s talking about their love in the past tense, what went wrong.

“Isn’t it sad to talk about ex-lovers in the past tense,” she says on the next page, “as though they are dead?”

It doesn’t take long before I’m crying.  Page 15, to be exact.  I suppose every person who’s been in love has that list of things that set them off, make them ache.

On page 15, the narrator sleeps over at Finn’s apartment for the first time.  Finn offers her pants to sleep in, they get into bed together, Finn holds her, they can’t fall asleep, they tell each other stories.

I’m aching.

(Dyke Aching was the original title of the book.  Seems fitting.)

It goes on like this, and they fall in love. Or at least, that’s what the narrator calls it.  Love as in: a woman’s whole existence.

The narrator becomes obsessed, unable to hold back even though she knows that Finn is in a relationship with a long-time girlfriend. After sleeping with Finn for several weeks, the narrator begins to wonder if she herself is queer, though she never thought she was.  

I wanted so badly for this book to be revelatory, for the feeling of those first few pages to last. I was so hungry for an honest, tender portrayal of a woman’s first queer relationship, and the heartbreak that follows.

But by the end, I was disappointed.  I got the feeling that the narrator wanted me to be on her side, hating Finn for for breaking her heart.  But I wasn’t on her side. In fact, if anything, I was on Finn’s.

Here’s why:

Reading this book was kind of like falling for a straight girl: she is beautiful and charming at first, but in the end you have to accept that she just isn’t playing for your team.

As I got further and further into the meat of the novel, I felt more and more uncomfortable with the narrator’s depiction of queer women.  Finn is your stereotypical butch character: always wearing men’s clothes, always the one doing the fucking, emotionally unavailable, attracted to “girly” women.  The narrator constantly makes comments about how much more “dramatic” her life has become since dating a woman, an observation that Finn affirms, saying that’s just how women are.

And then there’s the endless pathologizing of the narrator’s own sexuality.  She’s a substance abuser, and Finn is like a drug to her.  She misses her mother, and being with a woman fills that roll… On and on and on.

And then there’s the passage where the narrator, fed up with Finn, decides to brave a dating website.  Her description of the women she goes on dates with would be funny if it weren’t so offensive: the first is a “bike dyke,” the second a U-Hauler, another a vegan.  This was supposed to be funny.  It wasn’t.

And then there’s the fact that being in a relationship with Finn makes the narrator literally lose her mind (episodes of mania, drug abuse, depression).

Finn is left heartbroken and depressed, ruined by her relationship with the narrator.  “I can’t be in a relationship with anyone,” she says, if you have to grieve something, grieve that.”  

It goes on like this, depressing trope after depressing trope, until it finally comes to an end.  

I close the book.  

I’m full of disappointment, and frustration, and judgement.  I wanted you to be everything!  I feel like screaming at the book.  I wanted you to be something else!

The next morning, I sit down to write this post.  I think to myself: yes, here it is, my chance to have revenge.

I start writing.  I pick up the book from time to time, flipping through to remind myself what it was that made me so angry.  I find myself rereading the first few pages.  I find myself unable to stop.  What a beautiful sentence, I think to myself, what a great moment.

And then I realize: this is exactly what it feels like.  To fall in love with someone like Finn.  Looking for a certain reflection of yourself in the other person.  Looking to be affirmed, understood.  Seeing only the beautiful things at first, ignoring the flaws, until they grow in size and soon they are everything, and you are left wondering what exactly it was that you saw in that person in the first place, what it exactly it was that made you think you loved her.

So I guess, in some ways, this book accomplished exactly what it set out to do.

I fell for Women inexplicably, inexorably, and immediately, and it broke my heart.

Not Two, Not One

It is a sunny day in early March, and I take a moment to sit in my body.

The first thing I notice is a tightness in my throat.  I’ve been speaking the name of someone I loved, and I can feel the way the sound of it lingers, lodged neatly between my lips and my lungs.  I let it stay just as it is, heavy in the path of my breath.  I acknowledge all the joy and pain that made it so, and I travel down.

My shoulders are a paradox of strong and weak, resistant to the gravity of my arms, steadfast in support of my head, but weak: always ready to cave in, towards the heart.

And then there’s that one spot of pain I’ve always had, at the bottom of my left shoulder blade.  The same place where I imagine a wing might attach to the bone.  I don’t have wings, but sometimes it hurts as if I had lost them.

Lowering my attention, I circle around the ribcage.  It’s a place I’ve always trusted, a place I always wished I could be closer to.  I spent years fighting with my very skin, thinking that if I could make my body smaller, bring it closer to the outline of my bones, I might find a life more solid, a self more sure.  Today the battle calms, and I try to soothe the scars.

I move gently down, into the dip beneath my lowest rib.

This is the place where I like most to linger.  A place I have only recently come to love.  The place where I am most myself.  My waist, which exists somewhere in the space between breast and hip, is a pliable place where bones meet but never stay, where I bend close to the ones I love, and hold myself when they go away.

The folds of my hips and knees and ankles are the strength at the base of all this longing.  I make angles with my body to meet the weight and lightness of each day, to stand and sit and move through the world.  My feet, folded to meet the ground, know the world as a continually solid thing.

I breathe.  I breathe from the top of my head to the tips of my toes.  I breathe from the follicles of my skin to the marrow of my bones.  

My body is a map.  My body is a destination.

*

I remember the first time I ever meditated.  I was visiting my Aunt, and she invited me to join her in her morning meditation.  “If your thoughts start getting the better of you,” she told me, “just focus on the sounds around you.  Softly name them as they come and go.”  I followed her instructions, viciously shutting down any thoughts that came to mind, so focused on the sounds in the room that I forgot to breathe.  By the time the twenty minutes were over, I felt dizzy.

Almost a year would pass before I meditated again.  So much would happen in those ten months.  I would fall in love for the first time, have my first relationship, graduate college.  And I would do all of this while coming out.

I say “coming out” because it didn’t just happen once.  In fact, it’s still happening.  It’s a decision I make on a daily basis.  It’s a decision I make when I get dressed in the morning, when I get a new haircut, when I shake hands with a stranger.  It’s a decision I made when I decided to write this post.

But in order for any of those decisions to be made, I had to come out to myself.  And to do this, I had to sit with my body, and listen.

For twenty years, I had been telling my body a story.  “Listen,” I said to it, night after night, “this is who you are meant to love, and this is how you are meant to love him.  This is how you are meant to look, and this is what you are meant to wear, and this is how you are meant to walk.  This is how you are meant to be.”  

Until one day, my body revolted.  

I remember the day.  I was standing at the bottom of a spiral staircase in the south of France, embracing a woman I couldn’t seem to let go of.  I remember the feeling of a million tiny magnets sewn into my skin, pulling me to her.  I remember the feeling of her arms around my waist, the way they fit into the pliable space between breast and hip.  And I remember the feeling of my shoulders caving in, towards the heart.

It was only when I listened to my body that I learned to call this love.

*

But what does it mean, to listen to the body?  What does it really mean, to sit?

In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki offers the following wisdom:

“Now I would like to talk about our zazen posture.  When you sit in the full lotus position, your left foot is on your right thigh, and your right foot is on your left thigh.  When we cross our legs like this, even though we have a right leg and a left leg, they have become one.  The position expresses the oneness of duality: not two, and not one.  This is the most important teaching: not two, and not one.  Our body and mind are not two and not one.  If you think your body and mind are two, that is wrong; if you think that they are one, that is also wrong.  Our body and mind are both two and one.  We usually think that if something is not one, it is more than one; if it is not singular, it is plural.  But in actual experience, our life is not only plural, but also singular.  Each one of us is both dependent and independent.”

I have returned to this teaching again and again.  I have sat with it, walked with it, listened for its echoes in my body.  And part of the reason why it has meant so much to me, this idea of not two and not one, is because it has deepened not only my understanding of meditation, but also my understanding of what it means to be queer.

Just as everyone who practices meditation defines their “practice” in different ways, “queer” means something different to every person who uses it.  I identify as “queer” for this very reason: it is a word that allows for endless definitions, redefinitions, expansions and transformations, a word that is both personal and universal, both singular and plural.  

For me, being queer is not just an identity I hold in my body (as in: I am biologically attracted to women), and it is also not purely an intellectual choice (as in: I choose to be in romantic relationships exclusively with women).  When I say that I listened to my body at the foot of that spiral staircase, the first time I ever had feelings for a woman, I don’t mean that I did so at the expense of my mind.  In that moment, my body and my mind were not two, and not one.  I was not who I thought I was, and exactly who I hoped I would be.  I was new, and I was old. I was confused, and absolutely certain.  

As my meditation practice has deepened and I have sat, day after day, in the “oneness of duality,” a space has opened for my body to be not only object, but also subject, not merely possessed, but also possessing.  Coming out has also meant coming in: facing myself in the stillness, and letting myself simply be.

One of my favorite queer poets, Mary Oliver, says it best:

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Fuck is a four letter word

“Say it!”

“No.”

“Say it!”

“I can’t.”

“Just say it!”

“F…..”

“C’mon Hannah, it’s not that hard. Fuck, fuck, fuck!”

This, in a nutshell, was my childhood.  

It’s funny, right?  I, the consummate lipstick lesbian.  I, co-author of Femme as in Fuck You.  I, with my lace up combat boots and sassy undercut and distressed denim jacket.  

I, Hannah Leffingwell, was unable for the better part of twenty years to say the word “fuck.”    

I was that girl, front of the class, hand in the air, long straight hair parted precisely down the middle of my head, wearing an ugly chunky sweater and ill-fitting bell-bottom jeans.  I was that girl who felt nauseous if I realized I had forgotten my homework (which never really happened).  That girl who shhhhshed you in the library.  That girl who fast-forwarded through sex scenes even when she was all by herself at home.  That girl with her nose in a book and her head in the clouds.  That girl. 

If you had asked me, at the age of fifteen, what I wanted from life, I would have given you two solid answers: To go to Mount Holyoke College, and to marry a man.

If you’re laughing right now, I understand.  

Would you laugh more if I told you I also planned on “saving myself for marriage?”

Probably.

Needless to say, “fuck” was not in my vocabulary.

I remember the first time I ever said it, by accident, alone in my car.  I was driving home from ballet class, blasting “Little Lion Man,” dreaming about a boy I had only met once and knew I would probably never talk to, and it just… slipped out.  I really fucked it up this time, I sang.  And then I blushed, my whole body filling with a tangible wave of shame.

This word was never just a word for me.  “Fuck” was an expectation, an as-yet-unexperienced but inevitable submission, a visceral fear.  “Fuck” was all the things I didn’t want to do with that boy I was singing about.  “Fuck” was the reason I never called him, or tried to set up a time to meet.  “Fuck” was the way boys laughed at me when I started talking in class.  “Fuck” was the way I hid my breasts beneath too big sweaters to avoid their attention.  “Fuck” was wait, you’ve never dated anyone?  “Fuck” was you’ll like it when it happens.  “Fuck” was you’re going to a college with no boys?  

“Fuck” was everything I wasn’t able to say about a part of myself I didn’t understand.

Fast forward to my junior year of college.  I’m sitting in the common room of Safford.  It’s Thanksgiving break, and there’s no one around.  It’s just me and two friends, eating dinner.  Well, when I say two friends, I guess I should specify.  One of them, yes, a good friend.  The other?  Someone I had known ever since my first day of college, but rarely talked to.  Someone who made me blush every time she walked into the room.  The same someone I would fall head-over-heels in love with the next summer.  The same someone who would guide me, definitively, out of the closet.  And then break my heart.

But I didn’t know any of this at the time.  All I knew was that I could barely look at her without turning bright red.  When I learned she would be joining us for dinner, I felt this unfamiliar sense of dread and excitement.  I wish I could say I was confused by these feelings, but in reality I was so deeply buried in my repressive tendencies that I couldn’t even allow myself to enter a stage of confusion.

“So,” this someone said, her eyes like two laser beams shooting into my deepest self, “P. tells me you aren’t having sex until you’re married.”

It was just as abrupt as it sounds.  No segue, no easing in.  My friend P. would later describe it as an “intervention” – something they had both, apparently, been planning for months.

We can talk about the ethics of this situation another time, but the point is, I was taken off guard.  

“I just want to wait for the right guy, you know?” I said, stumbling over my words.

“But how will you know he’s the right guy if you don’t have sex with him?”

The answer to this question seemed simple to me: sex with a man was bound to be disgusting, I reasoned, and therefore, would only be enjoyable if coupled with the sentiments of true love.  If I found a guy I truly, truly loved, then maybe one day, somehow that love would magically make it okay to touch his dick.

This someone, the one who had been asking all the questions, looked at me in disbelief.  She looked at me like she and everyone else in the world knew something I didn’t know.  And then she said:

“What would you rather have in your mouth?”

The only way I can describe my embarrassment at being asked such a question is to say that my body felt like it was being invaded by a million tiny bugs, all of whom wished to make their way through my skin and eat away at everything beneath.  Every single muscle in my body was tensed, my cheeks were the brightest shade of red, my teeth were clenched behind the conciliatory smile I kept forcing to my lips.

It went on like this for what felt like hours.  Pointed questions, flustered answers, all interspersed with this someone’s own tales of sexual discovery.

At one point, she looked at me, with that “fuck if I care” look in her eyes, and said:

“You know, there’s a big difference between fucking and making love.”

But wasn’t that what I had been saying all along?

That night, I tossed and turned in my creaky twin bed.  It was Thanksgiving Break, and the campus was empty.  No voices shouting across Skinner Green, no raucous bands of students stumbling back from Chapin.  Just the arrhythmic clanking of the radiator, the occasional flush of the toilet, and the distant sound of traffic on 116.

I remembered back to all those nights, growing up, when I had lain in my childhood bed – no bigger than the one I lay in now – and wondered what it would be like to kiss a girl.  Wondered is probably too strong a word.  I didn’t really let myself wonder.  It was more like I found myself thinking back to certain encounters with girls during the day, encounters where I felt this burning need for an undefinable closeness, and thought to myself: What if I were to kiss her?  Is that what my body is telling me to do? Usually, I wouldn’t go any further than that.  My thoughts would jam, my body would close up like an oyster, and I would force myself into a tumultuous night’s sleep.  But from time to time, surrounded by the inky fears of night, I would think to myself, What if I was a lesbian? A word filthier, scarier, more taboo than any other.  More forbidden, even, than “fuck.”

On that cold November night, as I lay in my dorm room, all of this came back to me like a deathbed epiphany.  All the girls I had ever felt indescribably, but unquestionably drawn to.  All the times I had hugged them for a just few seconds too long.

What would you rather have in your mouth? What would you rather have in your mouth?  What would you rather have in your mouth?  What would you rather…

Her words played over and over again in my head, her face floating in my half-dreams, her supple lips taunting me to choose, to choose, to choose… that feeling, my body drawn into itself as it fought the desire to hold her, to kiss her, to do all those things I had never even let myself imagine… remembering the way her small body had fit so perfectly in mine as we hugged goodnight… 

I fell asleep, and the next day I pushed every thought, every question, every desire from my mind, and continued on as I had for the past twenty-one years… I’m straight, I’m straight, I’m straight, I’m….

In love.  Or so it seems.  Three months have passed.  I’m standing in at the bottom of a spiral staircase, looking into the eyes of someone I care for deeply, someone I’ve only just met.  A different someone from the question asker, but who shares one very important characteristic: this someone is a woman.  We are holding each other, and I can’t seem to let her go.  We stand there like that, inextricable, for the longest string of minutes I have ever lived.  

It was around that time that I learned to say it. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.  Everything was changing.  I was learning the taste of wine, the smell of sweat in a crowded club, the feeling of 2:00 am on a deserted street, the meaning of the words “queer” and “femme,” the way to properly apply rose water to your wrists in a cramped French bathroom, the feeling of a woman’s body when she wraps her arms around you and lets you rest your head on her breast.

As the months passed, and I returned home to the States, I would learn other things too.  How to kiss, how to hold hands with a woman in public, how to wear my shirts buttoned all the way up, how to casually tell people I had a girlfriend, how to not-so-casually tell my parents the same thing, how to comfortably share a twin bed night after night after night with that someone and still get some sleep, how to say “I love you.”

I would learn in my body what I had never understood in words.  How to be gentle, and how to be strong.  How to ask, and how to answer.  How to give, and how to receive.

I would learn, in sum, how to fuck.  How to be a part of someone else, and let her be a part of me.  How to become, together.  How to be inextricable.

But I would also learn darker lessons. How to lie about who I was, how to disappoint the people I loved by telling the truth, how to let go of my girlfriend’s hand when we got off the bus in a new town, how to call her “my friend” without wincing, how to touch her leg secretly beneath the kitchen table when I met her family for the first time, how to lose myself when she left me, how to lose everything we had inextricably become, together…

I would learn that fuck wasn’t just a word I said in wonderment, in desire, in love.  I would learn that fuck was dirty in a way I never expected – dirty like life is dirty, in the way that dirt forms the basis of everything we love.

But in order to learn this, I would have to take a word that, for so many years, had alienated me from my own body, and make it my own again.  I would have to say it over and over and over again, in public, in private, in the least and most intimate of moments. I would have to study its vibrations in my throat, its shape in my mouth, its frequencies in each room I entered.  I would have to teach my fingers to type it, my pen to form it, my body to enact it.  I would have to estrange this word from its burden of past meanings, estrange myself from the burden of past selves, and meet it anew.  

Reappropriate, verb: to take possession of, to steal, to take for oneself.  

For twenty-one years, “fuck” was a word that did not wish to recognize me.  A word that challenged the very essence of my being.  A word that told me I was wrong.  

So I stole it.  I snuck in late at night, in the inky blackness of all my childhood fears, and I took it for myself.  

“Fuck” is a four letter word, and it is mine.