My Queer Story

Elementary school:

+I’m on the school bus sitting behind an older girl. She is playing with her hair and I stare at her, intrigued. She turns around and says, “What are you staring at, white girl?” I blush deep red and look away, unsure what I did wrong.

Middle school:

+I still wear my brother’s hand-me-downs. I’m comfortable wearing shorts that reach my knees, jeans with holes in the knees, and shirts multiple sizes too large for me. But I begin to feel self-conscious because the other girls and some of the boys bully me. I am pressured to start dressing more like a girl and I begin to wear tighter jeans and shorter shorts.

+A new boy moves to town and he becomes my boyfriend. We kiss behind a building during a school field trip. We ride bicycles and play soccer together.

High school:

+Students bully a history teacher they assume is gay. I don’t take part, and among certain groups I question their need to make fun of him – I know what it is like being bullied. But I don’t know what gay means, so I mostly silently watch and hurt for the teacher. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do or if I’m even allowed to do anything. I don’t know if being gay is ok, but I don’t see why it shouldn’t be. I occasionally use the term, “That’s gay,” but each time I do it feels wrong, so I stop.

200326_504232577184_5843_n
Charis, third from left. Pamlico County High School soccer team. Circa 2004

+I am the only female on the soccer team and there are people who call me a dyke. There are other students who say I sleep with all my teammates, so I’m a whore. I’m used to being bullied by now so I run with it and prefer to act more like a dyke than a whore. During my senior year I cut my hair short; I mean for it to be a pixie cut but give up on styling it. When I’m on the soccer field it is difficult to tell whether I’m a boy or girl. I stuff a sock in my underwear and make sure the other team can see it.

+I date a couple guys, but it all feels like a game that I’m supposed to play to prove I’m not a dyke. One of them rapes me. I don’t know that I am allowed to say no and I think this is what I’m supposed to do to be a good girlfriend.

+After a school play, I go to an after-party and we play truth or dare. I accept a dare to make out with a girl, so I climb on top of her and we make out. I’m too pre-occupied with concerns of whether I’m a good kisser or not to consider whether I enjoy it. I’m also afraid the adult chaperones will come upstairs and we will be punished.

+One of my best friends comes with me on a trip to a conference my mom is attending. We decide to undress and change in front of each other after a day on the beach. It is the first time I’ve seen another girl’s body up close, besides my mother’s. I’m intrigued and slightly embarrassed. We look at each other before turning away and we don’t speak of it again.

College:

+A basketball coach from my elementary school days, who I’ve always looked up to as a mentor, takes me to dinner while I’m visiting my hometown. She asks me out. She is 32 years older me. I lose my hunger and stumble over a response like, “I like you as a friend, but I’m not attracted to women.” She maintains contact with me for many months after, but I feel awkward when we talk. I’m confused because of our age difference, but also because I never considered the possibility of being anything but straight. I let it go to the back of my mind, although I have a weird feeling each time I visit my hometown.

+One of my closest friends and I decide to be “married” on Facebook, until I begin dating a man and  “divorce” her. We even stage a fake wedding late one night outside the college chapel when I find a wedding dress in a thrift store. We call each other “Wyf,” using the Middle English spelling from Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.

+I become good friends with another woman and we label ourselves TILs: Together If Lesbians. We hold hands on purpose when we walk to class together. We even iron “TIL” onto matching shirts we wear to class.

+Shortly after a break up, my friendship with two female friends deepens. I become a mutual friend to their complicated relationship. I have sleepovers with each of them separately in their dorm rooms on the nights they are going through some drama. I enjoy the cuddling with them.

+Another friend and I create a different label for ourselves. We call each other PS: Pro Sexual, to combat other labels that have been created to define sexuality. I am realizing I might be attracted to women, too.

1927881_504238824664_7640_n+I shave my head. Some people call me “Sir” while others ask if I’m a supermodel. I am delighted and do not correct people when they think I am a man.

After college:

+I think I develop a crush on the woman my ex boyfriend ends up dating. She and I become good friends and cuddle in my bed with her son. I wish we could kiss.

+During my next relationship I begin saying that I’m bisexual, then omnisexual, because I don’t want to box myself in to a gender binary system. When we break up, he says that if I end up in a same sex relationship and my partner and I want children, he is happy to donate sperm.

Larry Gaissert
Photo by Larry Gaissert

+Many of my friends are in the LGBTQQI spectrum, and I see myself more as a cis, straight ally simply because I can’t claim that I’ve been part of a relationship that isn’t opposite-sex, and I definitely identify as a woman. I don’t think I can be omnisexual until I can prove it. I attend the NC Pride Festival and march in the parade with my church, wearing a rainbow sheet as a cape. It is my first glimpse into a celebratory, accepting, loving world of people who are gay, lesbian, trans, queer, questions, intersex, asexual, or allies. I feel safe enough to yell, “I love you!” to the people who show up to hold signs with hateful messages on them about gay people.

+After another break up I reconnect with one of my girlfriends from college and we spend some nights together. We make out and a couple times we have sex and I have no idea what I’m doing. It feels good to touch and be touched by someone with the same body parts I have. I feel like I understand what feels good to her even if I am awkward and nervous and afraid. I only know how this works with a penis and I don’t want to mess up and oh. my. goodness.

+I realize I am definitely attracted to women and I claim that the next person I date will be a woman. I think I’m a lesbian now. I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of being attracted to both men and women. But I fall for another guy, and we move to California.

+I attend San Francisco Pride and decide to wear pasties to the parade. I’m unable to be a spectator because so many people are looking at my breasts adorned with rainbow heart pasties. A Getty Images photographer asks to take my picture and I smile and pose. Later, when I search for my image, I see that the photographer has left out my face and only included my torso, prominently objectifying my breasts.  I am angered and realize that because San Francisco Pride (being more progressive) is more of a celebration than Pride in North Carolina it has actually become a breeding ground for perverts to gape at both women and men who have come to this space that is meant to be safe for them to gather without fear of being ridiculed and objectified. I decide I must continue to be omnisexual for political reasons.

1514594_10152682939630011_3676376461752484389_n                                          +Almost all of my friends in California are lesbians. I play soccer with them, have parties with them, and go to their weddings. Most of them at first assume I am straight because I’m dating a man, and I feel I have to prove to them what omni means, so I call myself bisexual for a short time. It isn’t until I attend a fun, weekend-long lesbian soccer tournament and they see me make out with women that they believe me. At the next and then the next annual lesbian soccer tournament weekend, they expect to see me flirting with women.

+I become close friends with a woman through my job and it is to her I reveal that I’m wondering if I should take on the label of queer. I am afraid of the term because it is not widely used and both straight and gay people seem to ridicule it. I decide I am willing to accept I am queer around the same time my friend realizes he is transgender. As he transitions, I learn more about what it means to be transgender than I ever could read or discover on my own. He and I support each other as we grow into our newly realized identities.

+In my next relationship I ask if I can be the boyfriend and he says yes.

+During 2015 Sacramento Fashion Week, I walk as a model for a men’s collection. My eyebrows are darkened and a mustache is painted on my upper lip. I feel empowered and enjoy a break from high heels. On the same night I discover I have been cast as a model for Queer Fashion Week.

+A few months later I come out to my family as queer.

+During Queer Fashion Week I discover an amazing environment of people who are queer, trans, bi, lesbian, androgynous, femme, masculine, and everything in between.  I make out with androgynous supermodel Rain Dove on the runway and wear her clothes the next day after spending the night in her hotel room.

+I begin adding pieces of men’s clothing to my closet and awkwardly experiment with more masculine looks, struggling to find pants that make my large butt look less female.

11222117_924997191524_8537019921584998515_n+I attend the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City, Utah, wearing men’s clothes. I even borrow a fake penis from a friend to have in my pants, because I want to see if I can pass as a man. I also want to gauge people’s reactions to someone who does not follow the gender binary. I want to learn so I can understand ever so slightly the experiences of trans men, but I’m also not sure if I want to identify as female any more. I don’t think I want to identify as male either. I learn quickly how difficult it is to choose what restroom to use when I look neither obviously male nor female. I am afraid I will enter the men’s restroom and be harassed or questioned by the men there. I am even more hesitant to go into the women’s restroom because I do not want to strike fear in any women who think a man has entered. I am relieved – but do not wet my pants – to discover there is one unisex bathroom in the convention center and I use that for the duration of the event. I feel safe, unquestioned, and human. I am so glad there is a place for me to pee without fear of being discovered or assaulted. A man calls me “Sir” on the sidewalk and I am exhilarated. The final day I wear a dress and makeup to see if anyone notices. I compare many subtle differences in the ways people reacted to and treated me when I was a man versus my day as a woman.

+I now understand and accept that my queer identity is fluid and that I do not need to define it in strict terms. I have learned that I can be queer and omnisexual and omnigendered without having been in a relationship with someone who is not a man. I have learned that I do not have to be as attracted to every gender equally – that is why it is called a spectrum. It is ok to be me.

I’m 29. I’m queer; I’m still questioning my gender; and I love everyone.


A newly signed law in North Carolina, introduced suddenly and signed into law in less than 12 hours at the end of March, now requires people to use the restroom that corresponds with the gender that is on their birth certificate, which specifically targets transgender individuals. It is because of this new law I decided to write my queer story in support of all those who are continually being discriminated against and potentially put in harm’s way in my home state of North Carolina.

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