While it's safe to say that I didn't grow up in the really bad old days of homophobia, I did grow up in the 90's and go to a catholic primary school, so it was only marginally better.
In my very small, cliquey school, I was unpopular. I was bullied. I was crushingly lonely. I had no one to share my conventional feelings with let alone my sexual ones. I struggled to appease the mean girls for years.
Between the ages of 8-11 I had other strange feelings about women; Maggie Smith in The Secret Garden, Eleanor Bron in A Little Princess, Joan Cusak in Toys, Elizabeth Ashley in Dragnet, Eleanor Parker in The Sound of Music, to name a few. So yes, there was a theme emerging, but that's a whole other issue to unpick a whole other time.
My earliest full-blown fangirl obsession was without a doubt, Gillian Anderson in The X-Files. I was completely infatuated with everything about her. I wasn't supposed to watch the show but I would tape it and watch it when no one else was home, or when I was pretending to watch something else. I was a sneaky child. Mostly out of necessity.
I was more confused than ever by age 11. I felt wonderful every time I saw her. I felt giddy, excited, alive and, somehow, not so lonely. All the empty spaces in my heart and in my life were filled and overflowing. I didn't know why no one else seemed to have these feelings like me. I would (probably not very) casually mention it in conversation but no one seemed to pick up what I was putting down. At this time it became increasingly clear to me that this was an uncommon experience.
I filled diaries with poems, collages, and entry after entry of enthusiastic rapture. And I filled them with questions. I was desperate for answers but there were none inside me.
After years of push and pull, by 1997 I had finally made some headway with the mean girls. Home life was rough that year but school at least was getting better. I had built up what I thought was some trust with the ringleaders. But kids are awful.
Like most of my peers at that time I was into the teen magazine, Dolly. Absolute trash of course, but we all read it for the sealed sections that talked complete nonsense about orgasms and g-spots...and for Dolly Doctor. A write-in collum answering readers' medical questions. In this collum, I remember reading a question about being gay and I remember the response being ambiguously unfulfilling. But it gave me the idea to write in myself. All my questions might be answered by the Dolly Doctor!
I don't know why I thought it was a good idea to type my letter on the family computer. Kids aren't known for forward-thinking, I guess. Anyway, this bit is excruciating so I'll get it over as quickly as possible.
Essentially, my parents called me into the study, showed me the letter (which read, in summary: I am obsessed with Gillian Anderson, am I gay?), and asked me if I wanted to see a psychologist. It went on for what felt like ages but that was the gist of it and it made me feel fucking terrible. I hated it.
Looking back, I wish I could tell my poor, lonely, chubby little baby self that if I could just hold on, things would get better. People would get better. If I could, I would go back and stop what happened next because it was even more fucked.
The next year, Dolly Doctor-gate apparently far enough behind me, but so many questions still consuming my mind, I wrote a letter to one of the mean girls. I can't even remember which one. I don't even want to try to remember. I spilled my befuddled heart onto the paper with a genuine hope for connection, understanding, humanity, anything. I explained my confusion as best as I could. I have no idea what it said, now looking back I am filled with cringe imagining how clumsily guileless it must have been.
What I definitely do remember is that when I handed over this letter, my very clear instructions were to flush it down the toilet after they read it. I remember that especially because that is not what happened next.
Not only did the letter get passed around the mean girls but it ended up in the hands of a teacher and then the principal of my very small-community, catholic primary school.
The next bit is a blur and I'm pretty sure that's by design of self-preservation.
I remember being taken into a small room of the school and being interrogated by the principal, a middle-aged man with whom I had no rapport. He asked me so many questions. I said nothing. Not a word. I hung my head and I cried. I don't know how long I was there but it felt like forever.
I have been a victim of sexual assault, but I genuinely think that time, in that room, with that man, was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. I don't know what he wanted from me and I don't know what the fuck he was thinking. I can't apply hindsight because I can't remember enough of what he was asking, but I do feel that nothing he actually said would look better in the rear-vision mirror. Whatever he was trying to do, he fucked it.
And from then on I was afraid of my own feelings. I became more sneaky. I was so ashamed. I was more alone than ever before. I made myself a whole different public persona.
I had an answer to one of my questions at least - I was different from everyone else.
I was not going to expose myself like that ever again.