“Cradling the softest, warmest part of you in my hands.”
Invoked in me are teenage feelings, almost a manic kind of emotional state where everything is just raw, unabashed, and new. Ani Difranco, particularly the older albums, has that effect on me. I listened exclusively to her for years in high school before i moved on to darker, harder things. She spoke to me with her poetry, her gender identity, her sexuality. I didn’t know what to do with my feelings at that time, they were so all-encompassing. I knew I liked women. I knew it in my heart of hearts and I didn’t know if it was okay. It was much easier to like boys. It was expected to like boys. But when I stopped trying to ignore that I also liked girls, I was stunned and pacified. And then I would turn around and notice that yes, I still liked boys. It made sitting in a room full of people I could be attracted to very overwhelming; once that perception settles in, it’s hard to turn away. That was before the binary of gender dissolved in my brain.
The opening to “hat shaped hat” is drums starting faint, and gradually increasing until your mind is swimming in them and they are all that can be heard: deafening drums. This represents for me the feeling of discovering attraction. It is faint, and builds until it is all that can be felt.
I am a walking, talking, gesturing nerve-ending.
“The problem of heaven is solved.”
I told my mother once.
When I said I was bisexual out loud and it mattered, I was almost done with teenaged years. I am sure I had said it before then. I had thought about it enough to have surely spoken the words, had I not? Could I have made it that far, in the circles I spent time in, without the words passing my lips out into the world? I suppose it is possible.
When I was eighteen, I was working for a massage place: the kind that gives happy endings that no one really talks about but everyone jokes about. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, and an easy way to make money. My politics around sex work were as they are now: reduce the harm.
I was laying, sprawled out and staring at the ceiling, on the floor in the living room of the apartment we were working out of. The carpets were soft and beige, like the walls. My boss hadn’t bothered with wall hangings, or much furniture, hence why I was lounging on the carpet; there were a lot of plants around, vines and ferns in larger pots, and a few orchids on counters where the kitchen met the living room. I said to her, over the phone, “I don’t think I’m straight, Mom. I don’t think I’m gay, either,” and she spit words back at me like bullets. “That is ridiculous; I didn’t raise you that way.” I told her I had to go, and hung up. I laid there on the floor a few feet from the glass door to the balcony, looking out into the sky. I was numb. The balcony was small but I had a clear view through the bars of the railing, like a cage I had not escaped from with that phone call. I felt beige like the soft carpet under my shoulder blades and the walls around me. There were the green leaves and blue skies to break the monotony of that moment and that room. My thoughts dwelled on whether I had done the right thing in saying something to her for a moment, and passed quickly. She had never been a source of solace for me, or a protector, and to think I was going to get any positive response from her about anything that I felt was important had been a grave oversight. Silly, I thought to myself, to hope.
I didn’t speak to my mother again for months, but I did go back underground. I hadn’t even kissed a girl at that point.
I stayed in the proverbial closet, buried, for over a decade.
“There’s no escape, there’s no excuse. Just suck up and be nice.”
When I was going to hairdressing school, and maybe nineteen, one of the girls I went to school with took me home to her husband, and fed me wine until I willingly put my mouth on her clit while he took it upon himself to fuck me. I don’t consider that to be my first time. I think of it as something someone else did, some other person who was so drunk she didn’t even know what it meant.
“but for the purposes of this song, let’s just say I’m doing fine.”
The first time was when I was twenty nine and yet another woman brought me home to a man, but this time I was falling in love with her.
“You are zesty! Faboo,” she said to me in that first message through an online dating platform. She wrote me long letters over email before we even met; our dialogue just got longer and more elaborate. We met for breakfast at a small cafe that is notoriously without queues on the weekends, and I still think of her every time I go there. I didn’t know what to expect from him at all. I had asked nothing. I just assumed he was attractive because I thought she was breathtaking. Sevens go with sevens, nines go with nines, don’t they say? I walked in and she lit up with a smile, leaping out of her seat and pulling out a chair for me. They had brought me flowers. He sat with one ankle over the opposite knee, leaning back casually. His glasses made him look so intelligent. He was a stockier build with dark hair and eyes, just the right kind of goatee. She beamed at me as I looked at him and smiled. She thought I was so brave to just trust that he was safe, because I trusted she was safe, and to not even ask to see a photo of him. I trusted her with everything after that first message, if I’m being honest.
Sometimes you just know.
“I’ve got the memory, your warm skin in my hands.”
We had a really lovely meal, and talked about everything from books to politics to non-monogamy, to what it was they wanted and what I wanted. He had an event to go to, so she and I went for a walk and settled into big comfortable seats at a coffee shop. We talked incessantly for another two hours. I couldn’t get enough of watching her mouth form words, her lips shaping vowels and the corners turning up and a slight dimple when she cringed, smiled or laughed. She had tucked herself cozily into the larger-than-necessary cafe chair with her feet underneath her, thumbs were skirting the edge of her cup. I memorized it all.
When we parted ways, she drove me to the train station, and we agreed I would go to their home at the outskirts of the city for an overnight in a couple of weeks. I was dying. Fourteen days were not ever going to pass.
“This is only a possibility in a world of possibilities.”
I borrowed my dad’s car and drove the couple of hours journey. The space they occupied was beautifully decorated with art he had done himself: paintings and sculptures peppered the living quarters and gave it a very grown up feeling. I felt like a teenager who had yet to get her shit together enough for this; I was in completely over my head, but I was giving it a shot anyway.
We ate snack things for dinner, which was to become a bit of a tradition. Those big green olives I love, fancy and strong cheeses, hummus, rice crackers, paté, red pepper marmalade, that sort of thing, all arranged beautifully on a platter. We drank gin and tonics (she had asked me what my favourite drink was and purchased the ingredients specially) and talked about relationships and love, their past exploits and mine. I did not share a bed with them that first night. I stayed in their guest room, a kiss stolen from me lightly (i had wanted her to, to be clear) before we went to our separate sleeping quarters. Her hand lightly traced my jaw and eyebrows as she softly put her lips to mine. My fingers instinctually went to the edges of her hairline at the back of her neck. I barely slept that night for the charge of excitement I felt.
“are you ready now. are you gonna glow in the dark.”
Communication continued as a few more weeks passed before we met again. They came into the city having rented a hotel room for the occasion; we went to a beautiful restaurant with middle eastern tapas, our eyes lit up with the excitement of what would come. She sat close to me and would touch me in subtle ways while I chatted away with him about growing up in this city and punk culture in the late 90’s. I felt her watch me as I spoke, quaking slightly under her gaze. It wasn’t unwelcome, of course: I was completely craving her attention. I could feel her eyes and it made me want to reach over and put an arm around her, or let my fingers rest on her knee, or some other slight gesture of “I know you’re right there”.
We retired to the room early. I was so nervous. I remember not knowing what to do or say, what to do with my hands besides fidget, whether to take off my clothes, when. I diverted for a few minutes by taking a shower when we got back to the room. I spent that time in the steamy heat trying to gather some gumption. All the initiative I needed to take was walking out of the bathroom in a towel.
It was enough.
I have hazy recollection now of how the sheets felt. How skin and touching, feeling weight on me, inside of me, felt. I remember dizzying orgasms and heart-stopping moments of intimacy. I remember the colours flecked in her irises.
“there was always the possibility of something becoming what it is.”
I remember the day after as a strange exercise in trying not to run into furniture, snapping out of preoccupation and pinching myself to check if I was awake. She said to me, in a slightly maternal way, that threesomes were particularly draining, and to be sure to be nice to myself for a couple of days. I was fuzzy-headed and blissed out for a week at least. My retention of conversation slowed to a crawl. I daydreamed more. I got very little in the way of work done.
He and I had an easy friendship. We seemed to emote the same, which meant we were able to talk with little inhibition. Quickly, he seemed to misunderstand how exactly to fit into my life. I thought that was strange. We were intimate friends, no? Wasn’t that enough? Wasn’t that actually really perfect, considering the potential for complication in the dynamic? Two is hard. Three is nearly never going to be equitable. I thought this was the best anyone could do.
“so wipe that smile off your face, baby, and try to be cool.”
I had other lovers at the time, one with which there was psychological damage to be repaired when I came out the other side, or escaped, even. She steadily watched me persevere through that, and the fallout. When I think of her custodial watching over the train wreck I found myself in, I think of her sitting next to me on her couch, legs crossed, back against the soft microfibre and very straight, shoulders back. One hand is below and the other is above mine, enclosing it. I think of her calm, steady eyes on me, and the love that they are filled with as she watches me in a state of anguish, tearfully not understanding what I was doing or being at the time. She didn’t speak much in those moments, she just sat with me and held my hand, sometimes my heart, as I wept or questioned, raged at the injustice or laid still with my head on her knee and her fingers on the slope of my neck. Periodically she would reach up with light fingers and brush my hair away from my eyes, or wipe a tear away with a tissue. She sat with me as I clutched my abdomen where the baby used to be that was put inside me, that I had surgically removed as if it were some kind of parasite.
“i’m cradling the hardest, heaviest part of me in my hand.”
Things between the three of us continued in a few different contexts for a few months before they started to become unsteady.
She and I were in a constant dialogue. The beauty of technology these days is that one can be in one ongoing conversation with someone that continues on for days unless their phone dies or some other impossible thing. The strings of text messages went on for ages. We talked about everything, and a lot of that time it settled on her relationship struggles.
The web was spinning.
“i guess that push has come to this, so i guess this must be shove.”
Before too long, she sent me a flurry of texts expressing sadness and frustration, and asking for my patience while they closed down their relationship to outside parties, so they could get their house in order. I, of course, supported their decision; they could not pursue outside relationships while their foundation was crumbling. Do what you need, love.
After a couple of months, she and I resumed spending time together as friends. We went out for New Year’s together, stayed in a hotel, had a lovely night. That time it was short lived.
Off again we went as her primary relationship imploded, leaving the wreckage of dishonesty, distrust and mismatched ideals.
“life is just a boring chore, and I’m living proof.”
I have space in my heart for a lot of people. She took up residence in there, and remains to this day. She will always be the first woman I really fell in love with, and I will always love her because of that, as well as because of who she is. There have been a few iterations of our relationship over the years: friends, lovers, barely speaking, back to friends. I can’t think of anyone I would rather have as my first.
There was a cementing for me that occurred around my sexuality with that relationship. I proved a lot of things to myself with her. It all became real. In the face of bi-erasure within my family, myself, as well as on the greater scale of society, I self-actualized as queer and as bisexual, or pansexual. I didn’t use the term “queer” for a long time because I thought that since I could hide, I didn’t get to use the word. I present as quite femme, which means that I’m not seen for that most of the time. I have privilege in that I can blend in, if I like. I don’t want to blend in, usually, and think it is actually pretty important that I try to not, because blending in is an easy out. I am grateful for the people I have particularly close to me who do see me and know that part of me.
“outside the glass the whole world is magnified, and it’s half an inch from here to the other side.”
My mother didn’t live past my 20th year, so she never knew, really.
Ani Difranco songs mentioned: Swan Dive, Hat-Shaped Hat, Pixie, Deep Dish, Angel Food, Glass House.