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Queer Teenage Dreams: Redux, But Way Better
Hello dear ones,
I was thinking of you as I sat stranded in LA Sunday and into Monday after my flight was cancelled and rescheduled. Sometimes the universe has other plans for us. I hope that you enjoy this writing.
A few reminders and FYIs before we dive in:
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Through my closed eyelids, I can sense the neon lights as people dance to Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl”: This was never the way I planned / Not my intention / I got so brave, drink in hand / Lost my discretion / It's not what I'm used to / Just wanna try you on / I'm curious for you / Caught my attention. That this song is playing as I make out with my date, Max*, is too perfect. I kissed many girls. But this is the first time I’ve made out with someone, girl or any other beautiful gender expression, in a cemetery.
We’ve come to see the 1999 cult class But I’m a Cheerleader in the Hollywood Forever Ceremony, the last of our activities on this epic twelve-hour date. I was fourteen when this movie came out, but wouldn’t see it until my early twenties. The basic plot is this: Megan, a high school cheerleader played by Natasha Lyonne, is sent away to “True Directions,” a conversion camp for people who are gay. The movie is a satire of the heterosexual matrix, a term I learnt from Judith Butler that explains how cisheteronormativity teaches us that the sex we’re assigned at birth = our gender expression = our desire in the opposite sex (e.g. female = woman = desire for men). Each time the people working at True Directions try to teach gender norms by doing the gayest shit ever, we all erupt in laughter.
Throughout the movie, I can feel Max and I’s bodies inching closer to one another on the blanket until, at last, our heads touch, and I feel their short dark curly locks atop my new pixie cut. I’ve been mesmerized by their curls all day and now, as I run my fingers through them, they’re even softer than I’d imagined. When we turn to face one another, I ask Max if I can kiss them, and they smile and nod. Cue the most epic public make out I’ve ever had – made all the better by the fact that the couple behind us has been locked on the grass making out for many minutes. We join them, bodies reclining, aware of a foot that keeps drifting over into our make out zone and hitting Max’s head. This moment is equal parts awkward and sexy. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’m overwhelmed by the softness of Max’s lips, which I have also been staring at all day, just as I stared at them six years ago, when Max showed up with their partner at the time, for my thirtieth birthday party. When I saw them pop up on my Tinder during my visit to LA, I swiped left and hoped that they’d do the same. I was so stoked when we matched – ‘holy shit I thought you looked familiar,’ they exclaimed. ‘You are breaking my brain!’ – and planned a date for my last day in LA.
After an incredible brunch, we went and put up stickers in her neighborhood: Abortion is Health Care and If cis men needed an abortion, they could get one at an atm. Along our walk we saw a long line up outside of a Sanrio shop selling plush animals and decided to line up. I told Max that I’d been looking for something soft to hold for comfort, something that would help my inner little ones feel safe. When we got to the front of the line, we were informed that we could have our photos taken with Cinnamonroll, a white puppy with chubby cheeks and long ears, blue eyes, pink cheeks, and a plump and curly tail that resembles a cinnamon roll. “Oh, that’s okay,” I tell the person working there. “Are you sure? Cinnamonroll is about to leave.” I look at Max and see that they are more than down for this ridiculous photo op, and so we pose beside this small human inside this mascot outfit. Eventually, I select a plush stuffed sea creature for my inner teen and we leave the store with smiles on our faces.
We spend the afternoon lying on Max’s lawn, reading side by side. That they’re reading Sally Rooney’s novel Conversations With Friends pleases me immensely and I ramble on about all of the things that I love about her writing: “She creates these female protagonists who are not totally likable and yet you can’t help but root for them. Like you just see them doing these things and you want to scream ‘NOOOOOOOOOO!!!’ It can be all too easy to judge characters like this. But that’s so boring to me. Like I have been that person making those stupid choices!” With their head resting on their hand, they look at me and smile. I suddenly feel shy. Queer teenage feels.
When we arrive at the cemetery I am giddy. This is the first time either of us has been around so many people since the pandemic began and I can’t stop bouncing around to the pop music that’s playing as we wait for the show to begin. Sitting on our blanket, I wonder if Max is into me, and I do what all teens do: I closely monitor the distance between our limbs. As my knee rests against their leg, I wait for them to move and therefore signal lack of interest. But Max stays just as they are and I remember to breathe.
The fact that I am on a gay date, watching this movie in a cemetery, with a babe of a human, has my inner teenager sooooooooooo stoked. I’ve known I was queer since I first started to experience desire. But growing up in the suburbs in the late 90s-early 00s meant that being out wasn’t really an option. Nor did I even have the language to fully describe my experience (remember, the internet wasn’t barely a thing at this time). My high school might have had a daycare, but it didn’t have a Gay Straight Alliance. Besides a girlfriend that I fooled around with the summer before high school, I wouldn’t have queer sex until I started university. And the human I was back then was a hot mess who would get way too drunk at the queer dance night, make out with many different humans, and then wake up the next day wondering wtf had happened. It was not a good scene.
Now, I am about to turn thirty-seven. I am no longer that teenager, and yet that teenager still lives inside of me, yearning for the experiences that they didn’t get to have growing up – because of trauma, drugs, dissociation, and cisheteronormativity. The missing experience is a term I learnt in a class on the evolution of somatic psychology with Kekuni Minton. Within each nervous system state – play, joy, depression; fight, flight, freeze, submit, attach-cry – there is a missing experience that shapes our beliefs, emotions, sensations, movement.
Amongst the missing experiences are attachment experiences, such as co-regulation, attunement, and repair after rupture, as well as self-regulation. If we didn’t learn how to self regulate because we didn’t have caregivers who modelled that, then the missing experience is my therapist helping me build new self-regulating resources. We may have missed out on positive beliefs. I grew up believing that my needs were too much; so the missing experience is requesting my needs and being met with the affirmation “your needs are not too much.” Alongside these is emotional processing. What feelings need to be felt and expressed? Growing up I wasn’t allowed to be angry. I skipped over it. So I needed there to be space for me to feel angry. And I needed that anger validated: E.g. “It makes so much sense that you’d be angry about X.”
On this date with Max, I get to give myself the missing experience that my queer teenage self dreamed of. Except now it’s way better because I have boundaries, a differentiated sense of self, and have healed a whole lot of attachment wounds. When Max asks me “Do you want more?” and I am able to say “yes” and know that I mean it — so many missing experiences are gifted to me: consent, autonomy, the recognition that my pleasure and my boundaries matter. I am not dissociating. I am present.
When we hear the music start to fade, we know it’s time to leave. While we’re here for this graveyard make out, neither of us wants to get locked in here all night. As we stumble out of the trees and onto the path, we laugh with the giddiness of two teenagers who’ve just gotten away with something so pleasurable. As we kiss goodbye, I have another realization: I’m not freaking out about what all of this means. The next day, I fly back home to Edmonton and I have no clue whether Max and I will continue talking or see each other again. I hope that we will. I want to know this human more. And, if this is where things end for us, I can be happy with that too. In a world that tells us that the most meaningful relationships are long-term, I have found so much healing in fleeting encounters. Right now, I feel open to possibility and uncertainty doesn’t feel quite so terrifying. Because my teenage self is here, alongside adult me, living their best queer dreams.
*Name has been changed for anonymity.
My inner teenager LOVED to collage and so I wanted to share a free collage kit with you. 10/10 recommend finding a photo of your younger self that you can photocopy and integrate into the collage.
I just signed up for this free workshop “Do the Work: Learn How to Become an Ally to the Black Community” hosted by Chakita Patterson on July 28th at 7pm CT.
I really wish I could attend this “Sex and Trauma Healing Workshop for Queers and Community,” which is co-facilitated by Noah Kloze, who I did some somatic sex therapy work with. If you’re available, it’s happening on July 10th 10am-1pm PST and is $35-85 USD.