“You always liked boys!”
When I finally told people about crushing on a woman, they were confused. I thought that after years of unrequited crushes, I finally figured out the dating game. No pining, no crying to Taylor Swift, no nervous waiting for the green light to show up by her name on Facebook: when I really liked the girl who would be my first significant other, I quit stalling and just asked her out.
We dated for a couple of months, until we agreed it wasn’t working out and that we should just be friends. After we broke up, I wondered if maybe those who had been confused about my feelings for a woman were right and my abstinence-only upbringing had simply made me afraid of sleeping with men. Maybe my coming out that year was all a sham. Maybe I was actually that bisexual stereotype who just wanted sex with anybody. I wasn’t sure.
A semester later I was scrolling through Twitter and found tweet from Autostraddle’s account about Everything Sucks! and I was suddenly dying to watch the show. A ’90s nostalgia TV series starring a Black boy and lesbian white girl in a high school AV club without making their identities the point of the show? Incredible. As soon as I had a free evening, I made myself a cup of tea, and settled into bed to watch the first episode. Before I knew it, I had finished the entire show.
In the first episode, literal drama queen and aspiring actress Emaline appears with her drama club boyfriend Oliver, and it’s easy to assume that she’s straight. Some of my queer friends even told me they couldn’t get past the first episode because they thought she was a jerk.
Yes, Emaline bullied the main character and AV club member Kate at school, and sure, Emaline was obsessed with Oliver, but the camera honed in on Kate watching Emaline was an on-screen version of the common queer girl eye contact. I immediately knew they were going to end up together.
Liking boys didn’t mean you couldn’t like girls too. I was suddenly invested.
When I was five, I raced to ask Jared, the boy who sat next to me in preschool, if he liked my shoes, purple jelly sandals with heart cut-outs. I don’t remember if he did, but I remember how much I liked him. He was my first crush. After Jared, there was Kenny and Aaron and Isaac and the other Kenny and Evan . . . I averaged one semi-serious crush on a boy per year for the next 15 years.
All the while, I found myself crushing on boys that I couldn’t even imagine kissing, chalking it up to my hesitations with the creepy nature of crushing in general.
I’ve looked at girls the same way before, unsure of what it meant that I couldn’t stop looking at them, wanting something I couldn’t quite name. This was always with girls I wasn’t as close with — kind of like how Emaline and Kate initially only knew each other as high school acquaintances in different grades — but I never understood where that tension came from. I didn’t have the words to express those crushes because I wasn’t supposed to have them at all.
With the look between Emaline and Kate, everything made sense.
Growing up in the southern United States, sex was taboo, and women finding other women sexually attractive was completely unthinkable.
When I spent time seeking out movies featuring queer women, hoping it would help me make sense of my feelings, they did — to an extent. But Kissing Jessica Stein, Blue is the Warmest Colour, Atomic Blonde, and hell, even feel-good indie flick Princess Cyd were all about queer women having sex. At a time when I was questioning my motives for finding women attractive, these movies only made me feel worse. I worried that I was falling prey to the world’s over-sexualization of women, or that I was merely sexually repressed and looking for anybody to find attractive.
But Everything Sucks! was different. In the series, Emaline and Kate have a sweet, adolescent crush story where Emaline takes Kate to a hidden stairwell and asks, “I like you. Is that okay?” Kate is so startled that she says, “yes,” immediately. They realize they like each other and that’s it.
Just like all my silly middle and high school crushes on boys, it wasn’t about sex. It was about the emotions that developed from the typical teenage drama. Seeing Emaline and Kate’s relationship on-screen was a relief: I felt less guilty about finding women physically attractive because I saw that those feelings could be more than just that. Before then, I hadn’t known that attraction could come in various forms, and I was afraid of admitting that I found girls physically attractive.
When Emaline confessed her feelings to Kate first, I was thrilled at how much I could relate to her: Emaline’s pining for Oliver probably confused Kate, who might have assumed she was heterosexual before that moment. Similarly, when I tell people I’m bisexual, they don’t take me seriously or they ask if I just “flipped sides.” It doesn’t work that way, but when you’re bisexual, you do often have to be more clear than others about who you like — otherwise, people tend to make assumptions about your orientation.
The other lead character Luke has a crush on Kate, and that also helped me to better process the platonic relationships I had. Luke and Kate reminded me of how tense I felt the second my guy friends approached me in any way beyond platonic. I was all too familiar with Kate’s obvious discomfort with Luka’s affections, despite their very real friendship. I wasn’t comfortable finding women physically attractive, and men finding me physically attractive felt just as bad.
Today, I understand that my initial attraction to women is usually physical while my initial attraction to men is usually emotional. In that sense, I’ve been lucky to never fall for friends who were straight women, since I couldn’t think of them romantically, but I had also been unfortunate in not wanting to date friends who were men that I did love. I just needed someone who I felt was safe enough to be attracted to in more than one way, over time.
By the end of Everything Sucks! I decided that I couldn’t think about attraction through gender, or I would forever prevent myself from falling in love. If someone made me feel the way Kate made Emaline feel, did it matter who I was physically or emotionally attracted to?
In the last episode, Emaline shows up to their movie premiere at school wearing the outfit I had worn countless times: a short sleeve button down, mom jeans and Docs, despite having consistently dressed in a feminine way throughout the show. I audibly yelped. Was this the accurate bisexual representation I had been looking for? This character dressed like me, acted like me, and made me realize I didn’t have to push myself into boxes regarding my sexuality just so other people could understand me.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was falling for a guy I wasn’t physically attracted to yet. Months after finishing the show, I was comfortable enough with my bisexuality to date my first boyfriend. Emaline’s initial eye contact with Kate was a reminder that just as Emaline wasn’t suddenly a lesbian, I wasn’t suddenly straight. I won’t always like boys and girls in the same way, and that’s perfectly fine.