By Jessica Jin
By JESSICA JIN
You’re a straight human. Straight-A, straight Asian, straight hair. You hear people talk about the lesbian in your high school class like they’re whispering through a mosquito screen. “I saw her with her girlfriend at Starbucks,” someone on the other side of the bathroom stall says. “You know she doesn’t even tuck her tail into her skirt? It’s like she wants other people to see.” You are uncomfortable, but only in the way that you feel when you can’t remember something that hasn’t happened yet.
You know you like some things about high school—first period Lit class, music, the 3pm bell. Other things, like other people, are more unclear. You keep your head down, and vicariously live through your friends whose parents do cool things like let them date, and speak English.
One time a boy stretches in class and you notice the way the shirt reaches up and the window shade to your shame is pulled open. Your ears fill up with your own embarrassment, red like the candy you stole when you were eight. “Where did you get that?” your dad said, his face a taut rope. “Who did you take that from?” You cannot return the snapshot your mind has made to the store manager. Your dad’s head bowed, his hand tight around yours tight around the crinkly strawberry print cellophane that burns in the center of your palm. You stopped eating candy after this.
In creative writing class you write about your family a lot because you haven’t learned how to write about sex yet. One time you write about a dead kid and your classmate tells you it’s your best work all year. When you start writing about sex you will remember that stories have to be sad to be good.
You meet the girl that the boy you like is seeing. She is bisexual, she says. “She reminds me of Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim,” says the boy you like. She is white and has a black bob streaked with blue. She wants to show you the British comedy she likes. In math class, your math teacher—the cool one—sees the two of you on the beanbag in the corner, under the same blanket. “Get a room,” he jokes. You laugh, because you know that you have to be white and look like Ramona Flowers to be bisexual.
You’re in college now and meet a lot of people you like talking to. A few of them call themselves queer. “Some of us are lizard people too,” they say. You like being around them.
On your first break home you tell your parents about your new friends. “How do they know they’re lizard people? At this age? Aren’t they a little young?” Your mom says. “I don’t know Mom, how did you know you were human?” She touches her skin and looks scared. You say you’re tired and go to bed. You lie awake for four more hours.
You enter your sophomore year. You grow into your newfound sense of independence, legs shaky with a sense of freedom. You make more friends. Some of them are lizard people and some are not. You walk on your new, free, legs into a relationship that you think will be short. A month later his body feels strange next to yours. You consider pushing him out of your bed. You tell him you need space, that it feels wrong somehow, that you aren’t sure who you are. Your relationship is shorter than you expected.
You’re in your bedroom avoiding homework and watching Youtube videos when you click on a video of a dancer. Her cropped hair flies as she pops her body to Destiny Child’s “Say My Name.” You feel that familiar window shade unfurling in your stomach. “Shit,” you say. You’re gay. Bisexual? Behind the window shade are a hundred hidden things. You touch the skin behind your ear, suddenly self-conscious. You feel scales.
A week later, on Coming Out Day, your best friend announces to the internet that she is bisexual. You delete the note that you were writing that starts, “Many of you may have thought you knew who I was.” You don’t want to seem like you are copying a trend. You aren’t even 100% certain you aren’t lying? Could you be lying? Oh god, what if this is all just a chemical trick being played by your brain? The scales behind your ear are still there, bristling.
At a party some guy says,
“I had a friend once who came out but then they got back in the closet.”
“What? How can you get back in the closet?” you say.
“They just did. Stopped seeing guys. Stopped talking to our friends. Started wearing these long-ass overcoats to hide their tail.”
“Whoa,” you say.
“Yeah. Like if you’re not gonna act like a real lizard person, don’t even pretend. Right?”
“Right,” you say. You pull your hair behind your ears.
You start googling “How to come out as a bisexual lizard person” but do it in incognito mode so it won’t show up in your browser if anyone needs to borrow your laptop. You start watching TV shows where girls kiss other girls and also turn into lizards. You get through the entirety of The L-Word in a week. Even though none of the characters look like you, you just want to know what being a lesbian means, and also what lizard people do with their scales. On spring break you’re trying to find a show to watch with your mom. “L-Word? What does that mean?” she says, when the lesbian epic scrolls by on the screen. You panic. “L-lizards,” you say. Her mouth is a thin, flat line. You end up watching The Proposal that night, sunken into the couch next to your mom, trying to calculate the least gay way to look at Sandra Bullock.
It’s summer now. Being yourself is hard. Some nights you lie in bed looking out the blank rectangle of your window and wish yourself into nonexistence. It seems almost easier not to have a head, or hands, or a body, or a tail. When you have sex you think of it happening to a shapeless, bodiless form lying somewhere next to you. You wish you were normal again. You wonder what normal means. You think about the strawberry print cellophane crinkling in your eight-year-old hand, the taste of red in your mouth, more chemical than fruit, something you weren’t supposed to be eating.
You take more classes on women, gender, and sexuality. Switch your major from biology to gender studies. You don’t tell your family until you come home with a tattoo. “This is my body,” your mom says, holding your arm, your flesh red indentations in her grip. “What have you done to my body?” “This is a symbol of my life, you say. You think you see her cry behind her closed face. The scales behind your ear lie flat and smooth.
You start bouncing from therapist to therapist. Each one of them agrees that you are right that you are depressed. Each one of them thinks that it is related to your mother and to your sexuality. You think that they might be right but you still insist that you are fine every time you walk into a session. One of them says, “I think you should use this year to experiment with your sexuality.” You say, “Yes.” You end up cancelling every date you’ve ever scheduled with a girl, using excuses like “I agreed to this for all the wrong reasons.” You lie in bed feeling more alone than ever.
Despite everything you feel more like yourself than you have in years. You let yourself go out on the weekends, and the weekdays. You go on long walks around ponds with friends, and you write. You start to understand that being whatever the heck you are is sort of like a long journey through a forest—dirty, kind of scary, but also wholesome and green. And the quiet part of yourself that has always held itself back takes a deep breath of air.
Jessica Jin ([email protected]) promises she’s human.