Pride Month Reflections 2021 - Lindsey Hall
As I sit in my van, trying to write this "Pride Month" blog under a hot, Montana summer sky, reflecting on my story and what piece of it I feel compelled to share today, I notice that I can't help but keep turning my thoughts back to the myriad of ways humans face their sexuality: all the twists and turns and uncertainty that comes with trying to accurately pin, or discover, an identity. The stories I've heard over the years and the ones I hear now.
There are more deserving stories out there than mine. Harder situations. Voices that deserve to be heard — and won't be. Voices that deserve the platform I have the privilege to share on here. It causes stirring guilt inside of me, though I suppose I remind myself that my story, too, is relevant in its own regard. That there is another woman out there, 22 or so, who is likely grappling with the same uncertainty and confusion that I felt then, in 2011, when I met her.
Recently, on the Instagram site "Upworthy," a series of photographs were posted that specifically honor gay men throughout the years. Gay men in the 1920s, the 1800s, stolen pictures of men loving one another, lying next to each other in bed reading the newspaper, or a man's hand on his lover's thigh, in a world that had not yet come close to accepting that love in any circumstance.
I think about how difficult that must have been: to be those men, then. All I'll ever have to compare it to is my own experience: a 22-year old white female living in 2013 affluent suburban Dallas, Texas. A debutante. A sorority girl. A fraternity sweetheart one year. An Ann Taylor-buttoned cardigan-wearing, diamond earring studs reflecting in the sun type of young 20s insecurity.
I think about how hard it's been over the last 10 years of my life to "come out" to my family — even now, with the backing of the media, the majority of Americans, and the hip new mainstream shows that always make sure to plug in an LGBTQ+ character or two.
And how hard it must've been for those men to love each other back then, amidst that unsafety, concern, confusion and pain of society's relative disgust and lacking acknowledgment of the most basic, natural, encompassing, human feeling we possess: love.
I think about Emma.
And how Emma Hooper came into my life on a grey day in Spain in 2011.
How she was funny and smart — and maddening.
Mostly, she was beautiful, in every sense of the word.
And I loved her.
I would come to love her very much and for a very long time.
And how conflicting that love felt then, at 22. Unraveling everything I ever thought I knew of who I would be in this world.
Even now, I still think about that love for her — the first love of its kind for me: dissecting it over and picking it apart in my mind, late at night, driving the van on a lonely highway from one place to another. A water bottle in my lap and The Cure's "In Between Days" drifting from the speakers, out the rolled-down window, and into the Montana sky.
I think about that first love even now, though I've dated and loved others. Even when the novelty of my own sexual identity wore off and I accepted who I was and the vast range of human beings I find attractive or can fall in love with.
But she was the first. And as such, the first of anything — unknowingly — seems always to become a symbolic figure of whatever feelings that "first experience" brings. In turn, she is now the symbolic human that challenged every single belief I'd been told about myself at 22 and who I was "meant" to be — coming from a religious, conservative, southern background.
No, I certainly did not go looking for this identity mayhem then, but there she was: a 5'6", long-legged, grey-jean wearing human with a black blazer on, standing there in my Spanish class looking awfully uncomfortable as the gaze of all of us fell on her when the door shut behind.
Right from the beginning, she stirred something in me. My sunglass-shielded eyes constantly floating to her when she sat around the cafe tables after class: her hands flying in the air as she told a story and everyone laughed. I decided it was her confidence — and that amidst my own, festering eating disorder, her (seeming) confidence endeared me to her. Her openness about being a lesbian was something I'd never seen in my world in Fort Worth, Texas. I was drawn to it.
Later, when we started to speak directly, I found myself stumbling over my words - a novelty for my extroverted self. My eyes would dart from meeting hers when she looked at me. "Get it together," I'd hiss at myself when she'd turn. What was this hang-up I had? I wondered, late at night, the fan in my au pair room blowing humid circling humid air.
Eventually, we grew close — late-night Skype conversations from our respective Spanish au pair homes. We'd laugh about our au pair families and their quirks, share stories of our countries — the UK and U.S. Shared snarls over Bush. One day, she sat next to me at the cafe after class. "Vanilla latte?" she asked, placing a coffee in front of me. I smiled. She memorized my order. Within weeks, we were texting daily.
We're best friends, I decided, though neither of us ever said it. And then one day, we weren't. And that's a story I keep for us.
For a year, we did everything together in Europe. I was in love, my hands on her face in pictures, a smile so big my eyes squint, late nights playing Talking Heads "This Must Be The Place" in her Manchester, UK flat, and train rides to London, my head on her shoulder — and even then, in those precious moments, I knew I would miss her. And I would miss her someday forever, though I never told her that then. In the back of my mind: "One day, I'll leave. And I will leave her. Because I will never be this person at home."
I think about the selfishness I inflicted on her to protect my life at home. And how terrified I was of my life-changing if people knew. I think about how I believed — and in some instances, still do — believe that if I were truly open and forced my family to talk about it, I would lose my parents.
I think about how I loved her — and I knew it. I couldn't deny such a basic human emotion. But how I didn't want to love her, too. And how the two lived in tandem together after a while. And I couldn't decipher which was more powerful.
Mostly, I think about how ridiculous the antiquated narrative is that LGBTQ+ people would ever choose to put themselves through such painful experiences like mine "for attention." No one would self-inflict this kind of pain if their heart's desires weren't so deeply woven into the fabric of who they are. Loving a man, woman, or nonbinary person — none of that really matter — not when it comes to loving another. Love is simply — just love, the universal emotion that will never be unanimously defined.
All of it causes me to ponder, late into the night sometimes, how many human beings out there in the world have turned away love for the sake of keeping the life they felt they couldn't turn away from. Or the parents they didn't want to lose. The job they thought they "needed" to keep. Or the societal position they found themselves in. Worse, for fear of being killed.
Years later, when it was all over, I'd publish a piece about sexuality, and I'd write about Emma, the first woman I ever loved. And I'd write that in my experience, you really have no way of knowing which ordinary days will someday feel important.
And no idea how beautiful the ordinary becomes once it disappears.
Situations are not magical because they've been conjured for us by some mystical force. They are magical because we create them and later label them as such.
Ten years ago, Emma Hooper changed the nature of my life in a manner of seemingly irrelevant and ordinary encounters. She challenged everything I thought I knew about myself at that age, and ultimately her existence changed my entire way of thinking and being.
We would break each other's hearts the following year, in the explosive way first experiences like this do, and in the mix of all the confusion of my early 20s, be a heartache that helped lead me to rehab, and now — to blogs like this.
She was a risk I had yet to understand the day I met her, and risky people are labeled as such because they come with either great consequence or great reward. With Emma, I learn, I ultimately am left with both.
The reward is her memory.
The consequence is that she existed in the first place but no longer in my life.
For all those things, I am forever inclined to appreciate her. Talk about her. And think of her on these Pride Months.