When I was fourteen, my friends—all of us with conservative, religious, Southern parents—used to smuggle makeup into school: lipsticks hidden in jeans pockets, little tubes of foundation shoved in their pencil cases. They’d apply their makeup in bathroom mirrors and purse their lips to kiss their own reflection. Growing up in a culture that was determined to convince young girls their sexuality was shameful and sinful made secrecy not only the obvious choice, but the necessary one. This was a matter of gender expression and reclamation, of establishing agency over a body that had recently begun to sexually develop, to hold the reins of their own sexuality in a society determined to commodify their femininity.
I didn’t sneak makeup into school. My backpack was full of a different kind of contraband, and in the bathroom before first period I would change out of my emo uniform du jour and into oversize cargo pants and the mens’ shirt I’d stolen from my dad’s closet. I went to an arts high school, which meant that when I showed up to meet my friends on the library steps where we always hung out before class and told them I think I’m a guy, actually, their response was just: “Cool.”
This phase, if you want to call it that—my parents certainly would have—lasted about a week and a half. It was the fear that I couldn’t deal with, the slow-rising dread that my family would find out, that I was making a mistake, that because another part of me still liked wearing skirts and lipstick that meant I was just lying to myself about the gut-deep need to have someone call me a nice boy.
I took off my men’s clothes and took my queerness underground. And by ‘underground’ I mean, of course, to the internet.