Let me tell you about the twins.
I was eight years old and had just moved to a rural town called Zurich. If you stood in the middle of the main road, you could see a sliver of Lake Huron on the horizon, and if all the kids in my grade were lined up on that road, they would barely be able to stretch across.
Of the 18 kids in my grade, there were two girls who were the clear rulers: the Douglas twins. They were smart and popular, with pretty, round faces, blue eyes, and straight, strawberry blonde hair. They reminded me of the Sweet Valley High twins—successful in every endeavour, the kind of girls that looked like they were meant to have stories written about them. The other girls loved them. Teachers loved them. Most importantly, boys loved them.
Within two weeks of moving to Zurich and meeting them, I had decided that they were my rivals. It wasn’t fair, I thought, that they could be pretty and be sporty and be good at school. It wasn’t fair that they had all of the boys falling at their feet, when none of the boys would even look at me. I was mousy and small, and being liked by me was apparently a worse affliction than the plague; one of the boys in our grade avoided me for weeks after finding out I had a crush on him. The same boy hung around the twins all the time, and the sight of him next to them made me sick inside, even long after I stopped liking him.
I worked to defeat the twins in every test, to be better than them at every sport. I would stare at the backs of their heads in class, trying to guess their secrets. The fact that they didn’t seem to be aware of our endless rivalry made me even angrier—with only 18 kids in our grade, I knew they knew who I was, but I wanted more than that.
I told myself that I didn’t hate them, because that would be ridiculous. No, I just wanted to best them. Nothing stranger than that. And I certainly didn’t like one twin better than the other. I certainly didn’t forget my sacred mission to triumph over her and her sister sometimes and find myself enjoying any sort of attention she gave me. No. We were rivals.
Skip forward seven years.
Let me tell you about Stephanie.
I was 14 years old and had just been thrown into the blender of high school like a piece of fruit; I was far too soft to make it out unscathed. High school was full of new kids my age—new boys to pine for and new girls to measure myself against. All the other girls seemed to be developing figures that I wasn’t, and I didn’t know where to look in the locker room. I changed into my sweatpants in a bathroom stall and glared at the popular crowd of girls who laughed in shorts on the other side of the gym.
Stephanie was physically perfect—she had good clothes, shiny hair, and a face that I once overheard a male teacher referring to as “Grecian.” She was just the right height to look cute standing next to any boy, and she had perfect breasts. I wouldn’t’ve been surprised to see someone like her on the set of a teen movie, smiling and flipping her hair.
Naturally, I hated her.
I hated her face and her smile and her fingers. I hated her last name. I hated the soft, stunned feeling that came over me the one time she complimented me in the bathroom. Apparently, my waist was tiny, and she was jealous. “Jealous?” I wanted to say. “Jealous, are you kidding me? Have you ever looked in a mirror?”
When questioned about it, I said that I disliked her because she had gotten a better part than me in the school musical, but even I knew that that didn’t explain just how much I hated her. Stephanie was popular and thus was friends with lots of mean girls, but she herself had never been particularly rude to me. And we weren’t rivals in schoolwork, the way I had been with the twins in elementary school. So why did I hate Stephanie more than girls who laughed at me in class and whispered behind my back?
I was starting to inch my way towards an answer, but it was too scary, so I stuck my head in the sand and ignored it. And then there was Meghan.
Let me tell you about Meghan.
She was the one that shattered the glass wall between my mental compartments of girls as friends or girls as enemies and competition. Meghan had ringlets of curly hair and an irreverent attitude towards everything, and was the coolest person in my group of friends. All the cute, artsy boys that I liked always ended up having crushes on her. I complained about it, grew bitter about it, and yet still desperately wanted her attention. I felt constantly insecure around her, even angry at times, because I understood too much why all the boys might like her.
How could I reconcile that desire for friendship and affection with an ingrained compulsion to hate any girls more successful with boys than I was? I spent the rest of my high school years lurking in her shadow, resentful and longing and confused.
Skip forward one year.
I was finally an adult, leaving Zurich for the first time to live somewhere else, to move in with ten other people and travel Canada. From 18 kids in my grade, to 18 years old and meeting Shaina. All that I need to tell you about her was that I didn’t hate her. Not at all.
For some people, living in denial of their queerness is like being in the dark, and accepting it comes as a sudden light. It wasn’t like that for me. It was more like I’d been carrying a backpack full of bricks for years. I kept telling myself that it didn’t hurt, that I felt nothing, but my body knew the weight was there. With every step, I grew sorer, more bruised, until I got to the point where I could barely move. Finally accepting that I was bisexual was like taking that backpack off and seeing how fast I could run without it.
From childhood, everything a young girl is told about the world, everything she sees in TV shows, movies, and books, sets up and reinforces the idea that other girls are to be viewed as competition for the attention and affection of boys. We’re given kitchen playsets and baby dolls and told again and again, whether subliminally or directly, that what we have to strive for is heterosexual marriage. That’s our end goal, our purpose. In this light, any positive qualities of other women are threats to us, not things we can appreciate and love them for.
There are a lot of narratives out there on the struggles of discovering queerness, but one of the ones I don’t see a lot is that of bisexual or pansexual women. There’s a specific type of misogyny that grows inside you when you’re pushing negative feelings towards other women because you can’t accept the reality of being attracted to them as well as to other genders. Had I been attracted only to girls, I might’ve been able to figure it out sooner. I could’ve realized that hey, I didn’t really want to be competing for the attention of boys, because I didn’t really want those boys after all. But when you’re a young girl who hasn’t been taught that you can be attracted to more than one gender, it seems like your attraction to boys is natural, and your fixation on girls… well. That must just be hatred.
When I looked back at the twins and Stephanie and Meghan and realized that I’d probably actually had crushes on them, at first I thought it was funny. But then I started to get very quietly angry. I remembered how miserable I was as a child over it all—how much I fixated on measuring myself up to those girls, on filing away my obsession with them into competition instead of attraction because I simply didn’t know any other way—and I got angry. I’m still angry. I think of all the time I wasted hating girls I thought were beautiful, and I’m angry that no one taught me differently. Those girls didn’t deserve to have those ugly feelings aimed at them.
When I was a kid, I thought about how unfair it was that the twins were liked by all of the boys while I wasn’t, but now all I can think about is how unfair it is that I wasn’t equipped with the understanding that the twins weren’t purely competition in some contest none of us had signed up for; they were people, people I could be attracted to or love or hate based on their own merit, not based on whether a boy thought they were prettier than I was.
There are so many things I know now that I wish I could go back and tell that eight-year-old girl filled with hate. I would stand beside her in the middle of the main road and look down at the lake, and tell her that it’s alright to have a crush on a girl, even if last week she had a crush on a boy. That it’s okay to love more broadly than people expect. I’d tell her that later on, she’ll understand even more—that a person’s body doesn’t define their gender, that there are people who aren’t boys or girls, and that bisexuality can extend to include them as well. I’d tell her that there are so many more possibilities for people and love than she can imagine right now.
I’d say to her, “Let me tell you about the twins.”