Content warning: The following story tells of a survivor's experience of what it was like to come out as a lesbian.
"The Scenic Route to Self-Acceptance," Brittany Rasmussen
“Charlotte is a lezbean,” an 8-year-old girl wrote on the school bus window, the teenagers behind her encouraging her and snickering as Charlotte moved to the front of the bus to escape them. She didn’t really know what a lezbean was, despite writing it on the school bus window at the encouragement of the teenagers, and therefore didn’t know what made it a bad thing to be. But she wrote it anyway, wanting to fit in and not be picked on for once.
When she turned 12 and got to 6th grade, she was warned by her classmates to stay away from Angel and Kathleen because they were thought to have kissed in the bathroom.
One day on the bus ride home, Kathleen waved at her as the bus passed by her house. Embarrassed, she turned her head away and pretended she didn’t see her.
She is me.
I received a lot of messages growing up about the value of being gay, and the messages were that it was of negative value. It took a long time for me to be okay with my orientation as a queer woman, and I would like to tell you my story of self-acceptance.
When I was 16 going on 17 I worked at Subway for the summer, and was frequently put on shifts with Jenna. She had a good sense of humor, was easy to talk to and get along with, and had a beautiful smile – truly, you should have seen it. I enjoyed being on the same shift rotation with her, but didn’t think much of it.
About halfway through the summer, I was driving home from work one day and stopped at a red light. Jenna took a left at the light in her blue Cougar, perpendicular to me, and passed by. She was wearing her glasses, her red and blonde hair in a messy bun with two sticks crossed through it. My heart skipped a beat and I felt e-lectric.
For the rest of the summer, I looked ahead on the schedule to see if I was working with her. I was excited when we were on the same shifts and would eagerly go to work. I tried not to think about the way I was feeling too much and told myself that I just thought she was cool.
The feelings became persistent and I couldn’t turn off the way I was feeling by thinking myself out of it. I started going to the gym to sweat the gay out, and the more I thought about her the harder I worked out, believing that it would somehow “fix” me.
Spoiler alert: it didn’t.
When the summer ended, I quit working at Subway so I could focus on school. This also allowed me not to be around Jenna, which made it easier to let the feelings fade.
In retrospect, I now realize I had crushes before Jenna, but that Jenna was the first girl I recognized having a crush on.
Fast forward to freshman year of college. I made a few friends in the residence hall and we were together all the time, eating meals, watching movies, studying, and sometimes even napping in each other’s rooms. We bonded quickly because of all the time spent together, and I grew especially close to Elizabeth. After several months of significant amounts of time spent together, Elizabeth and I developed a relationship beyond friendship, but undefined.
That relationship ended badly and traumatically, and I explained it away by saying I was experimenting in my college years, that I was lonely and she was there, and that it was only due to the amount of time we spent together. I told myself that I had confused friendship for something more.
I dated Clinton to try to forget about her, but constantly compared him to her. His kisses were wet and sloppy and I felt like my face was being swallowed; hers were more precise, delicate, and thoughtful. He was boring and just wanted to listen to country music and watch shows about tricked out gas stations; she and I got a piercings together and went out dancing. He hardly talked; she shared her dreams for the future and talked about her family.
Since he didn’t work out, I tried to date Andrew. But Andrew said he hated Tim Burton, and that (and the peen) was a deal-breaker.
By sophomore year I couldn’t deny that I had loved Elizabeth. I had learned through extensive socialization as a child that loving another female was a problem. I went to counseling after this realization, and in my first session asked that the counselor fix me so I wouldn’t be gay anymore. She assured me that being gay was not a problem, and that I didn’t need to be fixed or cured of it. I was reluctant to believe her.
At the prompting of my psychologist, I engaged in self-reflection and self-care activities. I routinely went to the gym, a place of refuge, to compliment my therapy; wrote in a journal to process my thoughts and feelings; and surrounded myself with symbols of strength.
I listened to a lot of Lady Gaga, finding strength and confidence in her music. I remember listening to “So Happy I Could Die” because she sings, “I love that lavender blonde, the way she moves, the way she walks,” and being in awe of her courage to sing about a same-sex attraction. I have an affinity for Lady Gaga because her music made me feel confident during a time when I otherwise felt ashamed.
I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the representation of Willow and Tara, and gained further comfort from the representation of a loving, committed relationship between those two. (I now have a bonsai tree named Tara and an aloe vera plant named Willow.)
Pop culture was my solace.
After several years of processing what my queerness meant to me and 13 counseling sessions spread through sophomore year, I warmed up to the idea and felt okay with it. I did not come out to anyone at the time because I feared how my friends and family might react, and when I thought of them I felt less okay with my queerness. When I thought of it separate from everyone around me, I felt comfortable with it.
The summer after sophomore year, Elizabeth and I started talking again and we eventually ended up dating during my junior year of college. It took a long time for me to be okay being with another woman, as it was an admission of my queerness, and I was proud to finally be open about and comfortable with our relationship. That relationship has since ended, but I am happy to be in a spot in which I can be in a relationship without feeling ashamed.
Though I am in a good place with my queer identity, I still navigate discomfort caused by messages I received growing up and misconceptions about my identity. I have trouble making eye contact with women because I don't want them to think I'm attracted to them - I learned growing up that there are straight women that think a lesbian will be attracted to them simply because they're a woman. I know this is not how it works from experience, but I also know that there are straight women who do not believe that's not how it works.
But we are all just people in progress, and I am not excluded from that. I am continuously working on accepting myself and trying to live a life in alignment with who I am, with a goal of doing so unapologetically.
I have come a long way through counseling, self-reflection and self-care, Lady Gaga, queer culture, and the support of friends and family. After that long and painful journey, I’m now out, I dress how I want to dress – bowties included, I’m part of an LGBTQ+ faculty and staff association on campus, and am assuming the role of advisor to the LGBTQ+ student organization on campus.
A rainbow flag hangs in my apartment, my personal symbol of the journey I have taken to get here, fighting for myself in order to feel unashamed and okay.
About the art:
Brittany is an incredible person, and one of Katy's good friends from grad school, so it's nice to have her share her story with the project for this month!
For Brittany's piece, she wanted something related to her love of Minneapolis. So I wanted to create something that was in my style, but also a little different because I wanted to try something new, so I busted out my Jackson Pollock style and splattered the canvas with paint using my hands and it got REAL messy. I used all of the colors of the rainbow to celebrate queer pride in this piece.
After everything dried, I took a paint brush and freehand stylistically drew the letters MPLS on the canvas. MPLS is the shorthand abbreviation for Minneapolis. I absolutely love how this piece came out and I think it fits Brittany's aesthetic very well. And I'm glad to know that she loves it! I can't wait to make more pieces like this!
Thanks to Brittany for sharing this awesome story!