I’ve always fancied myself a Proper Lesbian. I have a respectable collection of flannel shirts. I chose the restaurant when my date is “okay going wherever.” I never ask a girl out if I’m not sure she’s gay. And I certainly never crush on straight women.

So, I was surprised when I realized I have been crushing on the same straight woman for nearly a year. So much so, that “crush” is really more of an understatement to save my ego. More accurately, I had a full romantic attraction to a close friend. A friend who is straight and in love with her boyfriend.

The Ingredients

Prep time: 1 year

1 cup blurred boundaries

1 dozen Drunken Weekends

1/2 quart feelings, to taste**

Infatuation

Lust

Guilt

Shame

2 tsp denial

1 tough conversation

**The blend that I used, but feel free to substitute to taste

The Steps

Muddle the boundaries with the drunken weekends

The nature of friendships between women makes it easy to blur boundary lines. This particular friend and I already had a relatively intimate relationship. Between all the playful flirting and cuddling and quasi-romantic bonding, my guard was low enough to let a tiny crush slip past. But after throwing back a few cups of college-strength cocktails, the boundary lines went from blurry to invisible. At that point, my guard was asleep at the wheel while that tiny crush was in the backseat turning into full-blown romantic feelings.

Stir in the denial, let it sit

At first, I rejected the idea that my involvement in this was foolish. I was convinced this wasn’t a typical lesbian-likes-a-str8-girl situation, because it was mutual. I wasn’t playing this game alone. She initiated much of the physical contact we ever had. She verbally expressed  how much of a crush she had on me. She even explicitly told me if it weren’t for her boyfriend, she’d be with me.

Of course, I didn’t believe all of those drunken declarations. I wasn’t waiting on her to drop her man, her sexuality, or her life to run away lesbian-ly with me. I dated other women. I didn’t hold out much hope. So it was a harmless crush, right?

Fold feelings into the mixture

I was charmed by her. I was impressed. And dazzled.

Again, the past tense verbs merely protect my ego. I am still all of those things.

But one year after I unconsciously began this process, I found this crush was no longer “harmless.” And that I was fantasizing about being with a woman who was planning the rest of her life with her boyfriend.

The final product:

Once all of the ingredients have been combined. You’ll be left with an unhealthy attraction to a straight woman and a mess, one indistinguishable from the other. The final product isn’t edible or useful. Logically, it should just be discarded.

Recipe Addendum

Before you throw away your concoction, there’s a secret ingredient that may keep intact the friendship underneath the mess. By itself, it’s bitter and avoided by most reasonable cooks. But, if you’re like me, you threw reason out of the kitchen way back at step one.

Grate a tough conversation on top of the entire mixture

I sat down with her, even if drunkenly. And I told her everything, as if she didn’t already know. I told her how innocent it started out for me and how intense it had grown to be. Most importantly, I told her I’m letting go of the feelings I have for her and how foolish I felt for ever developing them in the first place. She accepted it and understood her role in the process. Our friendship has carried on seemingly undamaged.

The new final product will be loose, but still hold it’s shape. It will be edible, but not palatable. On the bright side, if you soak the mixing bowl long enough, you may be able to use it again for future recipes.

Try this recipe at your own risk; I cannot guarantee the same results.

Like many people my age, I grew up laughing at reruns of The Wayans Bros. on MTV. And like many people I grew up with, I was a child of divorce. While casually watching NBC one night, I found a funny intersection of the two.

Marlon is a new sitcom driving Marlon Wayans’ quasi-comeback. In the show, Marlon’s character (bearing the same moniker) and his ex-wife Ashley (played by Essence Atkins) have a friendly divorce. Marlon frequently visits their two children, who both live with Ashley. Ashley and Marlon joke leisurely and co-parent with as much ease as a married couple would. The children seem to be satisfied and even benefiting from the non-traditional arrangement. This reminded me of my childhood.

The fictional family of Marlon: Ashley (ex-wife), Marlon, Zack (son), Marley (daughter) source:IMDb

As a Former Child

My parents were married for a few years before I was born. But their marriage ended when I was two years old. From then on, I lived with my mom and my two sisters (both from my mother’s previous relationships.) My father lived about a 15 minute drive away. He would come over occasionally to bring firewood, cut the grass, or just to eat dinner and make dad jokes. This carried on for most of my childhood. Until his job relocated him to Virginia when I was 14. We held a fairly steady correspondence, until he passed away when I was 18.

My parents were always open about their friendship, their marriage, and their divorce. In fact, the first thing I learned about their divorce was my mom telling they went out to dinner at Red Lobster after it was finalized. Of course there were the not-so-pretty details, like my father’s alcoholism and my mother’s controlling nature.

But, even in my fatherless household, I couldn’t quite relate to the “tragic” narrative TV shows always showed about children of divorce. And still to this day, I just don’t feel like I missed out on anything by not having an in-home father.

Nearly every household in my childhood community was lead by a single mother. That was all I had known as normal. The few lasting marriages I saw between my aunts and uncles were riddled with infidelity and a type of patriarchy that never sat right with me.

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The cast of The Cosby Show.

Consequently, as a child, I genuinely thought the happy, traditional two-parent home was just a made-up on TV fantasy. (see: Cosby Show, My Wife and Kids, etc.) Further, I thought the Child of Divorce trope was entirely fabricated as well. I didn’t get why children on TV were so bent out of shape over their parents’ divorce. I say that as a testament to how fulfilling my childhood was, not as a detractor from pain that divorced has caused many people. I would have been grateful to have seen a show like Marlon during my childhood.

As a Future Parent

Just like any other family structure, being raised by divorced parents came with some downsides and struggles too. Marlon doesn’t exactly capture some of those feelings. So, I look to Raven’s Home. In my childhood, Raven Symone was the star of another perfect TV family in her show That’s So Raven. But the actress has returned to Disney Channel in a TV show much more like my own childhood. Raven plays a single mother of two. She and her children live together with Raven’s best friend, Chelsea, and Chelsea’s son.

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From Raven’s Home

In episode 4, “The Bearer of Dad News,” Raven’s ex husband has to tell their kids that he’ll be moving to Texas and won’t see them as often anymore. The mood of the episode darkened and the children’s faces got long and sad. While I initially identified with the kid’s angst about the change, my attention shifted to the parents’ reactions.

As I get older and have more frank conversations with my mom, I uncover more of the details in my parents’ divorce. Now I can see how some of my parents’ smiles in front of me had just been tears and disagreements behind closed doors. In the same way, Raven’s Home showed how the adults handled tough times. Raven and the children’s father, Devon, had a heartfelt talk without the children around. They joked about having one last hurrah, then came to a solemn goodbye.

This episode was like peeping behind the veil of “grown folks business.” When I was a kid I didn’t understand how much effort it took for my parents to raise me while living apart and forging new relationships. But now that I’m slipping into adulthood, I recognize how hard my parents worked for my happiness. And I’m thankful that they worked so hard for it, especially my mother. Lastly I hope I have that same strength in raising my children, whether in marriage or divorce.

So…

I never saw my parents kiss before they left for work in the morning.

Or join a couples’ book club.

Or wear matching outfits to church on Sundays.

But I value what I did see. I saw them calmly set aside their differences to buy the wacky toys on my Christmas lists. I saw them both at my rec-league basketball games, even though I played terribly. And I saw them love and respect each other outside of marriage. Seeing that has taught me things that I could use in my future marriage or, albeit, divorce.

Because I was raised in such a pleasant divorce, I can love and wed without the crippling fear of divorce. Because I know I can raise happy children and have a healthy family without being married. And because I’d probably be great divorce.

SZA finally dropped her album, CTRL, which was apparently long-awaited by everyone but me. I had never been much of a SZA fan but after listening to CTRL, I am officially hooked.

Per usual, my review will be half musical assessment and half anecdotal narrative, based on the emotions and memories this music evoked.

CTRL had an encompassing effect on me, as if the emotions it stirred up within me came from all directions. While SZA sang about her damaging relationships with men, I thought about the times I’ve been hurt by men and even women in the same ways. But conversely I thought about the times when I was the one inflicting that same hurt on someone else.

On Being Hurt

The album starts with a clear theme, opening with dialogue from SZA’s mom speaking about losing control. Then SZA begins Supermodel with a faux sense power stating she’s leaving her man and his “shit.” But this quickly unravels as she poses a question in aside, “Why am I so easy to forget like that?” This spirals into a complete surrender of that control and deeply vulnerable proclamations:

“Leave me lonely for prettier women,
You know I need too much attention for shit like that.”

“I could be your super model if you’d let me.”

And a repeated, “I need you.”

-SZA, from “Supermodel” on CTRL

Needless to say, I was neck-deep in my feelings after just the first song. The same vulnerability can be heard on Anything when SZA begs the question, “Do you even know I’m alive?” along with a penetrating stomp-and-clap feel.

The tenderness of these lyrics spun me back to my late teens, when most of my love was unrequited and most of my love interests were the type of dirty men SZA mentions on Broken Clocks.

Ironically, the sorest memory I have on being ignored and emotionally manipulated was done by a woman, not the boys I chased in high school. We hit it off during a school visit over the summer leading up to freshman year. In the Fall, we arrived on campus and we both quickly found out she was out of my league. Then she started to govern her actions accordingly. Occasionally she’d play into my funky little feelings to get what she wanted out of me, which was usually small things like weed, a borrowed jacket, a Big Gulp from 7/11.

Once she randomly asked me to hold her hand while we were out with friends. I thought I was #inthere. But I noticed she kept glancing at another girl in the group, a girl she’d been involved with. She only wanted to hold my hand to make the other girl jealous. If only SZA had dropped CTRL for me back then. A little while later I finally let go of that hopeless crush. Then I started dating women who actually liked me, and whom I inadvertently hurt.

On Hurting Others

Already drowning in my feelings after Track 1, silly of me to think SZA would let up on the next song. While I was busy swaying to the melody, SZA snuck in and hit me with the question of the century on Love Galore.

“Why You bother me when you know you don’t want me? Why you bother me when you know you got a woman? Why you hit me when you know you know better?

-SZA, from “Love Galore” on CTRL

Apparently I wasn’t the only one affected by the lyrics (see video below.)

So after listening to the song, I really sat down and wondered: Why do I bother her when I know I don’t want her? The “her” in the question being the women I’ve led on (both intentionally and not.) And the answer to question being, shallow selfishness.

Fast forward 3 years from that embarrassing, freshman year crush. I’ve recently found myself in the pattern of entertaining women I’m hardly compatible with for the sake of it. My last romance was a brief fling of this nature. I knew after the first date I had no romantic interest in her, yet I kept dating and having sex with the girl. That was wrong and immature of me. And now every time I pick up my phone to text an old flame or message a new Tinder match who I know I have no intentions of actually dating, I hear SZA ask me “Why you bothering her?”

The song that struck even deeper with me was 20 Something. It was SZA who begged,

“Why you ain’t say you was getting bored? Why you ain’t say I was falling short?”

-SZA, from “20 Something” on CTRL

But I heard it in the voice of my first love, who cried the same questions to me at the end of our relationship. We were together for about a year. I became overwhelmed and was not emotionally mature enough to know it, let alone communicate it. So I checked out of our relationship mentally. I heard “Why don’t you take me out any more?” and, “When was the last time you touched me?” many times but didn’t take the chance to come clean.

I continued our relationship after having fallen out of love with him, while he laid next to me every night under the assumption I was being honest. It took nearly an entire year post-breakup just to forgive myself for hurting him that badly. SZA went right on ahead and dug all those feelings up too.

The album has a tidy ending, with SZA’s mom wrapping up her sentiments on control and SZA thanking her. CTRL felt like a conversation between mother and daughter, obviously, but also between SZA and her situationship-chasing younger self. I was moved by her vulnerability; I feel like I grew with her through this music.

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Master of None is a scripted dramedy on Netflix, created by Aziz Ansari. I wasn’t very moved by the first season, and stopped watching about half-way through. But I was drawn back in by a relatable episode following Denise Watkins, played by Lena Waithe, as she navigates being the only lesbian in her family. Throughout the episode, I noticed just how similar my story was to Denise’s. 

Her story reminded me of the day I came out to my mom at our favorite Waffle House. I always love writing about stories that make me feel less alone in my experiences. But the true reason I wrote this piece is for the people in my life who weren’t there to see me cry over a pecan waffle, unsure of whether I’d still have my family’s love and support after my tears dried. And for anyone who may not be able to come out quite yet. So, let’s begin.

Youth

The episode catalogs Thanksgiving dinner in the Watkins’ house through the years. In childhood, Denise was a Regular Kid™. The only visible deviation about her was her preference for sporty clothes and her distaste for the frilly confines of the skirts her mom picked out for her. 

Like my mother, Denise’s mom (played by the amazing Angela Bassett) only gently attempted to correct this behavior, mostly hoping her daughter would outgrow it. Besides, at that point, neither Denise nor I knew we could be gay.

Teenage Years

The episode then jumps to Thanksgiving during Denise’s high school years. Denise and Dev (Aziz’s character) smoke weed in Denise’s bedroom while her mom and aunt were preparing dinner downstairs.

(Sidenote: Now I might be brave enough to come out as a lesbian, but I was never reckless enough to light more than a candle in my mom’s house. I probably wouldn’t be alive to tell that story anyhow.)

As Denise slumps hazily on her bed, she ogles up at a poster of Jennifer Aniston. I guess having a bedroom covered in gorgeous actresses and no male heartthrobs was also something Denise’s mom assumed to be benign. When gazing lustfully at the poster, Denise still doesn’t quite have language for what she feels in the moment.

While I can’t relate to gazing at Jennifer Aniston, I was more of a Nia Long and Sanaa Lathan kinda girl, this is a common experience among lesbians.

I went years having inexplicable fascinations with certain women, before realizing those thinly guised “girl-crushes” were actually just attraction. It finally registered that I liked women during senior year of high school when my fantasies about a girl-crush were no longer platonic-passing. It was an aha moment, “Whoa, I wanna be her girlfriend.” But alas, I stayed in the closet until college.

College and Coming Out

When I went off to College, I was far enough from home to just be out and openly date women. Presumably the same was true for Denise. On a visit back home, Denise is eating at a diner with her mom. Then, her mom casually throws in a,

“At least you’re not pregnant,”

to go along with a,

“Dating any boys, yet?” or my all-time favorite,

“When you get a husband…”

Denise swallows hard and just spits out, “Ma, I’m gay.”

What resonated most with me was that Denise’s mom responded almost exactly like mine. My mom casually asked, “Anything hot on the press?” (which is how we ask each other what’s new.)

I answered like I had rehearsed a million times, “Yeah, I’m dating someone……a girl.”

Almost as if Angela Bassett sat in that very Waffle House, she acted out my mom’s reaction to a tee. She kept her composure, mostly. And rationalized how absurd of an idea having a gay daughter was to her.

Coming out to my mom wasn’t violent or more traumatizing than any other day as a lesbian in this society. She made sure to tell me I was an abomination but she didn’t see me differently, a response that she seemed to only half-believe. I’m still not sure which half.

Bring Her Home to Mama?

The last segment shows the first time Denise brings her girlfriend to Thanksgiving and how her family reacts. Unfortunately I don’t have a personal piece to add to that because I haven’t had the chance to eat Thanksgiving dinner with a woman I love.

By the end of the episode, Denise’s mom comes around to accept her daughter, and even bonds with Denise’s girlfriend. I can only hope for the same outcome.

It’s been two years since I came out to my mother. I’m not ashamed any more. I’m certainly afraid not any more. And I’m not in the closet any more…to anyone. I don’t know if this’ll make my next few Thanksgiving dinners awkward. But I do know, if someone claims they love me I shouldn’t have to meet any more criteria than just being myself.  And I do hope this’ll get me out of some of those, “Got a boyfriend yet?” conversations.