I kissed a girl for the first time on the night of Mardi Gras.
I was in Grade 7 and she was my best friend. I had been questioning my sexuality for a year, but my classmates had long suspected that I wasn’t straight. People in my small Louisiana town had labelled me a “lesbo” since elementary school. I was a tomboy who wore tube socks up to my knees and Chuck Taylor knockoffs with flames on the sides.
That night in 2005, my best friend, who I had an unrequited crush on, kissed my neck and I kissed hers back. We did this for a while before moving to each other’s lips — not a single word was spoken. The next morning she gasped when she looked in the mirror. Purple circles swirled on her neck. I saw the same splotches on mine.
“Maybe no one will notice,” I reassured her.
On Ash Wednesday, we arrived at school together with black ash crosses on our foreheads and matching hickies on our necks. During gym, our classmates circled us like piranhas. We ducked a barrage of questions. Ew, did y’all give each other hickies!? My friend said she had burnt herself with a flat iron. I claimed it was a rash and pretended to scratch my neck. Unsurprisingly, no one believed us.
Rumours lit up our small school like a barn fire, but they only seemed to follow me around. Classmates snickered and teachers turned their noses up when I walked into the room.
My best friend distanced herself from me. She told everyone I was obsessed with her, borrowing a line from the movie Mean Girls, which came out around that time and summed up my middle school experience. Her other friends rallied around her and treated me like a leper. One of them, Britney, called my house and threatened to beat me up. “Leave her alone, you psycho lesbian or I’ll beat you up!”
Having four older brothers, I was a scrapper and waited to fight Britney in my front yard.
She never showed.
Near the end of the year, Britney invited me to stay with her family at a hotel. I eyed her skeptically. “Please,” she said. “My parents never let me have people over.” We hadn’t hung out before and she had called me a psycho lesbian months earlier, but I accepted her invitation — I didn’t have many other friends.
I hung out with her family, swam in the pool until dusk and shared a hotel bed with her that night. It was the first time another girl had allowed me to sleep next to her since the rumours started.
I was afraid to lie too close. What if she thought I was trying to make a move? Petrified, I clung to the edge of the bed and slept on my back like a mummy, careful not to touch her. But I felt her beside me, her breath thick with tension as if she, too, were trying not to touch me. Static filled the empty space between us, but we ignored it. In a small town like ours, lesbians looked one way: like me. And Britney, who wore makeup and had permanently flat-ironed hair, didn’t fit the profile. She was an early bloomer. Boys liked her, so everyone assumed she liked them back. No one questioned that. Not me. Not even herself.
Nothing physical transpired between us, but after that night, our perceptions of each other changed. She no longer saw me as a predatory lesbian, prowling the hallways for straight girls to convert, and I no longer considered her a heartless mean-girl. We developed a mutual respect for one another but remained mere acquaintances at school.
At the beginning of Grade 8, Hurricane Rita struck our state. Many students relocated. The first girl I kissed was one of them, and so was Britney. They moved away and I moved on.
I befriended the new kids that transferred to our school. These new students didn’t care about my reputation. Then, in Grade 9, I officially came out, taking the power away from anyone who wanted to shame me. By that point, my queer sexuality — though not embraced by any means — was old news.
Britney returned to town at the end of that year. The majority of people she hung out with in middle school had moved away, so our familiarity brought us back together. We no longer cared about the things that had mattered in middle school: drama, gossip, popularity. Soon we were inseparable.
I walked to her house on the weekends, which soon turned into every day after school.
She had internet and my family didn’t, so we spent hours updating our Myspace pages and streaming emo music. Since my parents worked a lot, her family became my surrogate family. Her parents were younger than mine by a decade and I viewed them more as cool older siblings than as authority figures. I was out to them and they didn’t care that I was gay. I ate dinner there, helped babysit her younger siblings and joined them on family outings. They accepted me like their own.
Britney and I did dumb small-town things together. We loitered at Burger King, broke into the public pool in the middle of winter, took silly pictures for our Myspace pages and played truth-or-dare poker, a game we made up. Our friendship was easy. We didn’t fight or argue.
Then one night while we lay beside each other, we spooned. The next morning, she was distant. Platonic friends could cuddle with each other without it being sexual, I said, and I wasn’t attracted to every girl I saw.
“What’s your deal?” I asked. “Why are you being so weird around me? “
“I know cuddling doesn’t mean anything,” she said. “I just don’t want to make our relationship awkward.”
I agreed and though I continued to stay over and sleep next to her, we stopped cuddling.
But something changed between us that night.
A seed had been planted that we refused to acknowledge. But burying seeds only makes them grow. I stopped hugging and touching her, and overanalyzed our most mundane physical interactions. I worried she was afraid of me. And she was afraid — but not of me.
A few weeks later, we camped out in her backyard. Despite our no cuddling rule, we inched closer and closer to each other throughout the night. The static I had felt two years before buzzed between us. Our bodies touched, but I kept my arms glued to my sides. She nuzzled my shoulder and the hairs on my neck stiffened. I didn’t want to read into things or make our relationship awkward, but her breath was close enough to warm my lips. Our mouths grazed, and I froze. We held this pose, lips barely touching, for what felt like an eternity. Neither of us made a move, yet neither of us pulled away. My head swelled like a balloon, and just when the pressure became too much to bear, she kissed me.
Later on, we abandoned the tent, crawled into her bed, and watched Buffy The Vampire Slayer as the sun rose.
We didn’t talk about what happened in the tent. I leaned in again to kiss her, like I had the night before, but she stopped me. I expected her to pull away and ban me from ever coming over. I thought our friendship had ended. Instead, she said, “If you want to keep kissing me, we have to be in a relationship.”
I was flabbergasted. I didn’t know that was an option.
I didn’t know Britney liked girls until that moment, and the thought of us being in a relationship hadn’t even occurred to me. I was accustomed to female friends kissing me in secret but not wanting anything more. Here was a friend I had grown close to over the past few months, telling me the only way she would kiss me was if we were officially dating. The entire situation seemed too good to be true.
“Okay,” I said.
And then I kissed her again.
Britney and I have now been together for 12 years, and we recently celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary.
Being out and in a relationship at 15 had its hardships. We lived in a conservative area, and many people in our town disapproved. We lost friends. We weren’t allowed to attend the homecoming dance together. Same-sex marriage was illegal in our state at the time, so we knew we couldn’t have a future there. Our only option was to leave.
In college, we travelled to Massachusetts to get married, but our union wasn’t recognized in Louisiana for another four years. Now, our marriage is legal in all 50 states.
Our love story was unexpected. We were enemies, then acquaintances, then friends, then girlfriends and now wives.
The night she first kissed me seemed to come out of nowhere. In hindsight, the dominoes had been laid years before we actually got together. Middle school was hard. Coming out was hard. The way other people minimized our relationship was hard. But loving each other was easy once we stopped overthinking it.
Britney and I were high school sweethearts, a common concept that rarely applies to queer people. Queer people from small towns, especially in conservative hotspots, are expected to escape to the big city to find love and acceptance. While Britney and I eventually escaped, we did so together.