(Disclaimer: this story is not based on personal experience)
When I was fifteen, I decided that I wasn’t straight.
Just like that, lying in bed, staring up the ceiling, headphones covering my ears like pop punk ear muffs that were trying too hard to be edgy and cool with their sellotaped together, scene grunge look.
I decided that I was gay.
I’d thought about all the boys I knew in class earlier that day, going through each of them one by one, and deciding whether I would marry them or not. The list was longer than I’d anticipated, and I felt the screaming, angsty vocals in my ears slowly draining out and away down the peripheral drain of lost thoughts and dreams.
Were any of them even hot? Or was I just trying too hard? You weren’t supposed to find spotty, scrawny high school boys even remotely attractive, and certainly not to the point where you began to dream up your potential (forever fictional) offspring and practically drool at the idea of the opportunity to procreate with them.
So then I turned to the girls, in a small act of teenage rebellion perhaps brought on by the large poster in the corner marked out with the words ‘PRAISE GOD, DON’T DO DRUGS’. The list was even longer, if I recall correctly, furtively turning my head around the classroom and objectively adding any girl whose breast size looked to be larger than 36C.
That was what lesbians were into, right? Big breasts and flowing hair. I could be into that, too. Easily. I would make a brilliant half lesbian, or a lesbian that also likes guys. I could take tips from Ellen and Sue Perkins, prominent TV people that I knew to also be lesbians, just like me. I could host a TV chat show or make dirty puns about cream as people make cakes. Or I could be like Sandi Toksvig and start hosting a quiz show.
Although, could you be a lesbian if you still thought about having sex with guys? That was difficult. I wasn’t even sure, and it was too much of a risk to get my phone out in class and look up the terminology. I knew they monitored the servers because Jack Buckingham had got caught out for searching ‘XXXL BOOBS HOT LESBIAN PORN’ into Google, as a joke. He’d been suspended for a week.
At some point, I remember making a list of every person in my form room, marking them out with a wobbly blue circle for the guys, and a neat pink square for each girl. I took a third colour – orange – and slowly, steadily ticked against every single name that rang a bell to do with ‘attractiveness’.
To fifteen year old me, that was either breast size or height, or both if someone was that lucky. And steadily, the number mounted, until I realised that I was almost definitely in love with everyone in my tutor group bar my best friend, who was hot but off limits because she was very, very straight indeed.
That was twenty-nine people.
That’s a lot of people to be almost definitely in love with, especially at the tender young age of fifteen.
I’d shoved the list right into the bottom of my bag when the bell went, cheeks pinker than the salmon sunrise sky as I quickly shoved my books and pens in after it, covering my un-Christian shame with torn paper and pencil shavings. I didn’t even think about it for the rest of that day, although I’m sure there was some inkling at the back of my mind as I stared up at Mary Magdalene’s painting, our headmaster reciting some bollocks about Satan and sin in the background.
The list wasn’t uncovered until I got into bed that night, tartan pattern red and black flannel covers pulled up tight against my chest, giving my neck an odd, very large kilt to wear, minus the tassels and extra fleece.
I normally chose a book from my shelf each evening, to climb into bed with and love the whole evening through, but my bag was leaning against the front left desk leg, zipper slightly open. It rang a bell in my head somewhere. It made me remember.
Unfolding the scuffed, pencil stained piece of 25mm blotting paper with the tips of my fingers, I slowly edged my arms out from under the duvet covers, raising the paper to my face so I could get a better view of the names emblazoned in Tesco Value pen ink.
Then I held my breath, as I slowly counted the number of blue circles with a tick next to them, tongue twitching along with each digit, heart beating faster and faster in my chest.
And so on, all the way up to thirteen boys. My eyes quickly jumped to the neater, pinker, girlier squares, quickly adding each up, my mind willing there to be more, because that, to my fifteen-year-old mind, meant I was gay. And cool. And about as far from the Bible as I dared to be, in my bubble of Catholic school where a transgender girl had been expelled only the year before for walking into the girls bathroom and trying to apply lipgloss.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5…
I breathed a sigh of relief, paper fluttering from my hands like a butterfly as I let it slowly drift all the way down to the floor. Fifteen girls, thirteen boys.
As of tomorrow, I would be a lesbian.