At the age of fifteen, begin a long distance relationship with Miles, the skinny son of one of your dad’s college friends. Visit him regularly and remain infatuated, even after he looks deep into your eyes and says, “I want to give you oral pleasures.”
On your third trip, he’ll ask, “Do you think you’re a lesbian?”
Your silence will allow him to launch into his fascinating theory on the feminine confusion: “Every girl I’ve met has been worried she’s a lesbian, and it’s all bullshit. Of course they’re not all lesbians—there’d be no straight women left!”
Back in your sleepy Somerset town for your sixteenth birthday, hold a party in your garden. Watch your ex-boyfriend, Peter, crawl into a tent with a girl from the sixth form, and finish the nearest bottle.
Position yourself in the exact centre of your lawn, so that tents surround you on all sides. Swallow the July air and growl from your lungs, “I’m a lesbian!”
The next day, listen to your best friend, Harriet, relate the details you can no longer remember. Exhibit appropriate amounts of shame as she recalls that you kissed Leah (Peter’s most recent ex-girlfriend), then Jenna (a not terribly attractive girl with a penchant for Lincoln Park hoodies), before pouncing upon Harriet herself and claiming to have loved her for years. Show suitable astonishment at the last part, despite your three-year infatuation with this elegant, acned Barbie-doll. Plead ignorance, apologize profusely, and blame the Bailey’s.
When the summer holidays end and you return to school, ignore any choking noises in the bathroom and whispers of, “That’s the nerdy girl who gets drunk and becomes a lesbian.”
However, take your responsibility to maintain this reputation seriously. Do not be discouraged by the popular girls who avoid you, and feel free to punch your male friends with whom conversations about your fantasies always end, “But you’re bi though.”
Develop a collection of witty responses behind which to hide your feelings of isolation. For example, when Cheat slouches beside you in the common room as you’re eating a granola bar and asks, “Is that a dyke bar?” respond quite simply, “Yes, I’m about to shove it up my cunt.” Although he’ll run out of the room in shocked disgust, his opinion of you as a lesbian will have risen.
Live on the glory of your birthday night for as long as possible, but when the opportunity arises, solidify your shaky sexuality in the minds of your peers. At a house party, whirl around the Lambrusco-littered living room in search of Leah. Kiss on the couch until she deserts you for a rugby player. Return Anna’s gaze from a corner and sidle up to her with what you think is a flirtatious line about getting another drink. When she admits that you are the first girl she has kissed, crack jokes about popping her lesbian cherry because this is the most that will ever mean in a small town in the South West.
When some months later you’ve become so disheartened by the heteronormativity of your small town surroundings that you decide lesbians are a myth, content yourself with reading Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit and writing imaginary love letters to Harriet. While your friends laugh that your latent lesbianism is a harmless quirk, privately lament the plight of the outcast in society as if it were still Victorian England. After watching Tipping the Velvet, come to the conclusion that it would actually have been easier to be gay then than it is now.
At a New Year’s Eve party, drink mysteriously mixed cocktails and team up with your friend Toby to form a terribly clever club called “Ibs.” With an air of superiority, peruse the party declaring yourselves Ibs until someone politely informs you that it’s pretty obvious what you mean and are you both aware that you’ve just announced your dubious desires to the entire sixth-form?
Arrive at university believing yourself at last free to be who you want amongst crowds of like-minded, academic students who will talk about books and art and sit around wearing berets and planning their great artistic futures.
Spend your first weeks in York going to Weatherspoons, drinking until you throw up and talking about what happened in Eastenders. Accept the compromise that you cannot have everything but at least you’ll no longer have to hide your sexuality.
However, in the queue for the Gallery nightclub your netball-playing neighbour, Hannah, will turn to exclaim, “There’s a lot of gays here, don’t you think?” Mumble that you hadn’t noticed and crawl back into your cheap Ikea closet.
At pubs and bars, always position yourself with your back to the wall. This way, while you friends chat about Championship Manager 4, your eyes can slip undetected from pert denim to impossible bosoms. Your 3am dreams are of breasts the size of navel oranges, tweaked from smooth torsos, but the girls you see have only the fake spheres of foam bras, so your gaze will rest more easily upon flat stomachs and sprayed-on jeans. You don’t mean to stare, but it’s impossible not to; girls have to know this when they dress like that. However, you’re no Tetley’s drinking, football playing lad who can buy them three drinks then force your tongue between their lips while you fumble for your keys, so you’ll learn to be subtle.
After a few months of being straight at university and accidentally sleeping with a boy in your seminar group, discover Gaydar.com.
Create a profile that describes your profound complexity as a human being. Sift through your inbox, deleting the sordid, the butch, the old, the couples and the frankly weird. You’ll be left with a petite girl with vociferous opinions about gay rights and a love for Ani DiFranco. Send a nervous email suggesting you meet. Go to bed dreaming of yellow days holding hands in parks and scarlet nights under silk sheets.
Wait at the corner of the Minster in a pool of lamplight, noting the atmosphere is so charged that this must be the night you’ll fall in love. Finally, while fiddling in your bag for something to make you feel less idiotic, hear your name. Look up and let your eyes settle on a person of about twelve.
Though you’re short yourself, no more than 5’1”, this girl is a good three inches smaller than you. Also, her arms somehow reach to her knees, making her look a little like a primate.
Feeling terrible for having such a shallow reaction to her appearance, follow her to a bar. Make excruciating small talk for as long as you possibly can without running out of the place screaming, “Monkeys are invading!”
Warily try Gaydar again. Arrange to meet HelenDalek23 in a pub by the river. Arrive to find that she is beautiful in a gothy sort of way. Over many pints, learn that she is a Trekkie but forgive this minor detail because of her cool nose-ring.
After last orders, stumble into Reflex, the club with the revolving dance-floor, and proceed to entertain the middle-aged men that make up the clientele by participating in a nothing-short-of-filmic rotating kiss.
Two days later, meet at The Terrier. After one pint and some suitably coy uncertainty, accept the invitation back to her house.
Sit on the floor of her cosy living room as she rolls a joint. Smoke self-consciously as you talk and flirt. Arrange yourself sexily on the floor with your head on a cushion gazing up at her, occasionally pinching yourself to check this is real.
Wake up. Realise it is 2am and you are still arranged sexily on the floor, with a blanket thrown over you. Creep around the house and detect Helen fast asleep high up in a cabin bed. Consider joining her, but sheepishly opt to curl into a foetal position alone on the couch.
In the morning, accept a cup of tea and mention nothing about the night before. Never hear from Helen again.
Give up on life and love and devote yourself to your studies and the drama society. Don’t check Gaydar until two weeks before the end of summer term. Find a series of emails from a girl desperate to meet you because you both live on campus. Think, what is there to lose?
Meet at Wentworth bar. Nadia will be Lebanese and beautiful, and an incredible flirt. Allow her to buy you a beer and lead you back to her room in the graduate block. One month and two days before your nineteenth birthday, peel a pink shirt from Nadia’s torso and hesitantly place your lips to her left nipple. Fall easily when she pushes you to her queen size bed, and hear, as through a dream: “This is it!”
Read a Wikipedia article about tracing A-Z with your tongue in order to stimulate the clitoris in a regular but unrepetitive way. Apply this new wisdom and enjoy the ecstatic gratitude of your first girlfriend.
In the morning, sip Nadia’s sweet black coffee and decide this is bliss.
However, the piping liquid will sour on your tongue as she murmurs: “I should tell you something. I have a fiancé back in Lebanon – Raef. I told him about you and he wants us to have a lot of fun. Is that okay with you baby?”
After Nadia’s fled to her fiancé, spend the summer of 2005 stage-managing a play in London. Every day for six weeks, travel by tube to Earl’s Court. Spend three hours a day bathing actors in light, then retire to the bar downstairs with your boisterously American co-Stage Manager, Becca.
On your third or fourth drink, lower your voices only slightly to discuss sex. Listen to your Amazonian friend’s debauched tales of sleeping with her professor, cheating on her boyfriend, sneaking girls past her homophobic parents, and currently attempting to seduce both the director and the sound designer. Offer moderated versions of your own exploits, painting Nadia as the tragically doomed love of your life.
At some indeterminate point after the final curtain of closing night, Becca will slur, “Everyone here knows I like you. Why haven’t you kissed me yet?”
It’s important here that you do not move silently towards Becca to grant her wish.
Instead, reply that you really have to leave because the last tube is in five minutes. Mutter you’re sorry and that you hope she has a good flight. Assure her you’ll still visit her in Philadelphia for New Year’s Eve and hug her goodbye.
Miss the last tube and get lost in Putney trying to figure out the night buses.
In September, board a British Airways Boeing 777 at Heathrow and begin an exchange year at a picturesque New England women’s college.
Initially, encounter only international students. Hang out with two sisters from Oman who arrived with thirteen suitcases, tell you they really want to pluck your eyebrows and regularly mention that they hope there aren’t a load of “lessies” living nearby.
Once the semester starts, sign up for the fall play. After two weeks of rehearsals, choke on your curly-fry as Jen asks, “So, are you gay or what?”
Gawp when she tells you the cast were placing bets because Mia had noticed your rainbow socks, bracelet and belt, but Liz had thought that meant something different in Europe.
Tell her no one has questioned your sexuality before. Conclude that you are pleased, though a little embarrassed, and write a mental note to throw away said socks, bracelet and belt.
Greedily consume the queer spectacles of your surroundings. Imagine yourself part of any one of the attractive fem couples you see. Dream of U-Haul clichés and a feline filled future.
In October, donate eleven inches of your hair to Locks Of Love. Two weeks later, crop the remaining bob into boyish spikes.
Meet Lizzie Stein.
Fall for Lizzie Stein because she listens to Aimee Mann, has handcuffs hanging on her wall and introduces you to But I’m A Cheerleader. Howl to Tori Amos in her SUV as she reaches sixty at midnight along 47th Street with the windows open and her hand upon your thigh.
Learn too late that Lizzie Stein is in love with Lauren Cooper.
Over the coming months, accept your role as second best and willingly skip through the snow at midnight to hang out with Lizzie on the days Lauren snubs her. Write terrible poetry about this “cruel cat who wraps herself in leather and winds (you) on her claws,” and gleefully title the paper for your queer poetry class, “The Hermeneutics of Flirtation In (Gertrude) Stein’s Tender Buttons.”
When Lauren likes Lizzie, comfort yourself with Joanne. Joanne knits while watching House and has a dental dam taped to her door. Sleep in her bed three nights a week and own your own toothbrush in her dorm, but never kiss Joanne. Frustrated and confused, ruin the whole thing by sending an email that expresses something about enjoying spending nights with her but wishing you could do a little more than sleep.
She won’t reply.
When the semester ends, take Becca up on her offer to visit her for New Year’s and arrive in Philly unsure what to expect..
At 11.34 on your third evening, Becca will sway to Billie Holliday in her living room. When she asks you to dance, take her palm. Giggle about last summer, and place your arms around her waist so your hips touch. Act bashful when she says you’re beautiful, and, on tiptoes, initiate a kiss.
Spend the rest of your visit sneaking into her bedroom after her parents have gone to bed and stifling each other’s moans.
Watch Brokeback Mountain together and agree to—whatever happens and whoever you each marry—meet up every few years in exotic countries for forbidden affairs.
Leave Philadelphia, once again broken-hearted by circumstance, but determined to return in the summer.
Back at college, decide it’s time to purge Lizzie from your system. Date Alexandra, a Jewish coxswain from Connecticut who voted for Bush and moisturises three times a day. Enjoy making out on her bed every other afternoon, and listen patiently while she whines about her ex.
After three weeks of kissing Alex, realise, despite her incredible four-hours-in-the-gym-a-day-body, you never miss her when she cancels a date and you are still IM-ing Lizzie Stein about Baise-Moi and theories of bondage into the early hours of each morning.
Before you have a chance to raise this lack of chemistry with Alex yourself, find her at your door wanting “to talk.” She has come to inform you that she really likes you, but she’s getting back with Cassandra.
Wish her luck.
Recommence making out with Lizzie on the occasions Lauren rejects her.
Become agonizingly aware that everyone on the campus except you is having hot lesbian sex and develop consecutive crushes on Caitlin, Althea, Eliza, Julie and Jen. Act painfully self-conscious around them all, but ask none of them out.
Wear you new vintage velvet jacket to a dorm party and dance with Andi. She’ll get your attention by flashing one pancake breast and you’ll develop an immediate infatuation with this mohawked Twiglet.
However, agree to walk back to your dorm with Christine Butler to pick up more alcohol. Sleep with Christine, who wears sweatpants to class, plays Apples To Apples and doesn’t trim her fingernails.
Travel over the summer, allowing for a three-day stop in Philly.
Smile politely at the unknown boy who answers the door and ask for Rebecca.
Watch happily as Becca emerges from the kitchen. Respond enthusiastically to her hug and imperceptibly replace your real smile with a forced one when she gushes, “This is Tom. Remember I told you about my ex? We got back together.”
Back in York for your final year of university, muster the courage to attend an LGBT party. This won’t be the flamboyant and proud experience you have come to expect, but a limp gathering in a campus bar of the few dozen students who do not quite blend into the gap-year bronzed, public school kids who dominate York’s population. Talk only to funny-looking Freshers who walk like boys. Remain on the mailing list but fail to attend another event.
Kiss solely boys, and only them accidentally, but talk openly about the women you dated in America and revel in your status as the one lesbian in the Drama Society.
After a performance in May, bump into a guy wearing an identical shirt to your own. Laugh when Ellie runs up to you and cries, “You guys are York’s Posh & Becks!” Plan with this boy a fake “hot date” to stir up gossip amongst your friends.
Have an enormous amount of fun on this and other hot dates, safe in the knowledge that Sam doesn’t see the point in dating (he told you so on the first hot date), and, anyway, he knows you’re a lesbian.
Three weeks before you turn twenty-one and four days before graduation, invite Sam to the Leaver’s Ball. At 4am, loitering outside the fancy racecourse building, he’ll pluck up the courage to kiss you. Instead of reverting to your natural scorn of all things heterosexual, delicately lift your heeled foot onto the step behind it. Instead of thinking about the satin-gowned girls beside you, steady yourself with a hand upon Sam’s shoulder. Instead of worrying you’ll never be respected as a queer artist if you kiss white, middle-class boys with English degrees, softly glance from his mildly pretentious cravat to his neatly shaved jaw. Instead of remembering your ambition to have a civil partnership and six cats, imagine being held in Sam’s arms. Fantasize about spending the summer together before making a long distance relationship work while you get your MA in Chicago, then moving in together upon your return. Finally, press your X chromosomes to his offered Ys and kiss him back.