Sexuality, gossip, confusion and Catholic school

Illustration by Blair Gauntt

The dresser next to Alyssa’s bed is white. I take note of it as I start my second glass of wine, thinking how tragic it would be if I spilled. It’s Saturday. I don’t need another drink but say I need another drink as I read the situation, one I’ve found myself facing for the past year or so. I’m attracted to women, but don’t know how to view it without a lens. Media portrayals say it’s hot, Catholicism says it’s not. Sexuality clouded by a sea of confusion. She sets her glass down on the dresser next to mine and shows me all her DVDs. Gilmore Girls. That’s it.

I immediately ask if I can kiss her.

I graduated from Xavier High School in 2012. Overall, it was a pretty typical “white girl in suburban Iowa high school” experience. There were sports, theater. Occasionally, someone threw a party that got busted by the cops and everyone had to run. Bullying happened often. Most notably, through gossip. The bread and butter of insecure 16-year-old teenagers. If you hid anything at Xavier, somebody always had the ability to sniff it out. Word traveled fast. Validity never mattered.

If people thought it was true, it was.

Assumptions led to suspicion. Inadvertently or not, I felt friends start to pull away. Shorter hugs between passing periods. No more pet names to greet one another. Once everyone thought they knew what I didn’t, everything shifted. We’d stop huddling in the same dressing room to try on homecoming dresses. Compliments became curt. “Your butt looks amazing in those jeans” changed to “you look good.” No one wanted to cross a line in the sand I never realized I had drawn.

I began to internalize feelings of loneliness. My friends got hit on more frequently than me and I couldn’t decipher why I was missing out on my Rachel-Leigh-Cook-kissing-Freddie-Prince-Jr.-in-She’s-All-That moment. I started to self-harm. A lot. Everywhere I went, a knowing feeling followed. If I hung out with certain friends more than others, I was afraid it would come off that we were dating. When I’d fight theology teachers, pointing out subtle homosexuality in the Old Testament, I thought everyone knew. She likes girls, they’d say. That’s why boys don’t kiss her. That’s why her high school crush calls her “intense.” Defective. When I admired strong women, I said I had a girl crush. Are you sure? My friends would ask. Are you sure it’s not just a crush?

What’s more isolating than figuring out your sexuality is the feeling everyone already found it for you.

I posted a photo of my best friend and I after we graduated college. My arms wrapped around her. Her kissing my cheek. I wrote a nice Instagram caption. Immediately, my inbox flooded with friends from high school who knew. Who thought they knew. I’m happy you’re happy, they told me, despite the fact I had started seeing a guy I was interested in. I didn’t want any person to claim they had me figured out before I did. There’s no battle to be had but a booth of people waiting for me to pull a chair up as they pat my knee saying “oh honey, we know. We’ve always known.”

Assumptions. Suspicions. Results.

Further reading: Cedar Rapids’ Xavier High School upholds Catholic doctrine at the expense of LGBTQ students

At 24 years old, I’ve only now begun undoing years of disappointment. Nights spent kicking myself, losing sleep over conflicted feelings towards friends have translated into nights spent kicking myself for acting on those feelings. Anxiety has become full-blown paranoia. I can’t hug or be proud of my female friends without feeling like they hate me. That they’re not going to invite me to sleepovers because I put my sleeping bag too close to theirs. At 17, I felt alone. It’s a loneliness that morphed into isolating myself from people whenever I feel I’m growing too close. There’s so much weaving to unweave from growing up in a community that taught you marriage is for men and women. That prom is, and still is, for men and women.

That who you love defines who you are in accordance with Catholic scripture.

Alyssa has her arms around me. I wait until she falls asleep before I sneak out, gathering my clothes by the illuminated light of my phone. My earrings, my wallet, my shirt. Maybe, in another life, I stay long enough to see breakfast. Pancakes that sit on her white dresser, covering the wine ring from the night before. Maybe she becomes my favorite place. But right now, I can’t shake the feeling that the weight of her arms around me is less than what I’m supposed to be used to. That she smells different than men I usually wake up with.

I know no way of communicating this than through a text the next morning saying, “I just can’t be emotionally intimate, right now.” I feel terrible knowing she’ll wake up to someone who fled in shame, but I still go. Knock over the red wine, stain the white dresser and don’t even say goodbye.

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