I’d stay up until 3 or 4 a.m. the room lit with a pink glow, filled with the sound of fingers tapping on a keyboard. I was 16 when I joined Girlpunk.net. This all-girl forum quickly became a window out of my small town. It made me feel like the life I wanted was possible—punk shows, wild clothes, sneaking into clubs. These were the girl friends I always dreamed of. Dream girls who I would trade studded clothes with, and dance all lanky and cool next to. Girls to fall asleep with, side by side.
The girls were from all over the world, most of us teenagers, and bored. On the forum we shared photos of ourselves (this was pre-MySpace): neon hair, mohawks, polka dot dresses. We traded music and talked about books and movies. Each of us became the persona we created, through avatars and lyrics. There was magic in this and I became convinced that, if only I lived near these girls, I would somehow be okay, I could be myself.
I don’t think many girls on the forum were out, but we were often flirty with each other. We talked endlessly about the things we would do to Brody from the Distillers. ”I’d ask her to sign my c**t, with her tongue.” This was Xea. She wore brown Dickies with metal and had studs jangling from her hips, her hair in stiff liberty spikes.
Soon, Xea and I were chatting. Then, sending letters and mix CDs with original art. I remember her voice on the phone, ragged, her laugh high and clear. She told me how she kept her hair up with Elmer’s glue and about ‘77 punk. I felt warm just listening, absentmindedly tracing the patterns on my bedspread with my fingers.
Xea and I talked about bullies at school. “We will battle them together,” she said. “Or we will run away. I will take you, and we will run and run until we are out of breath. We’ll find a barn, we will go inside and I will kiss you. We will throw off our clothes and roll into a pile of hay.” My heart quickened.
Our conversations went on like this—but, you know, I was straight. This was also the early ‘00s, when gay marriage and LGBTQ rights began to come to the forefront. It seemed to make things feel more divided than ever in my religious hometown. A town that protested “Showgirls” for weeks when I was a kid because of its “sinful” lesbian scene.
The debates with kids at school and conversations with my own family members made my face turn angry and pink. I argued, my chest heated, for gay rights but I personally digested their message-—queer was somehow wrong. Liking girls was not okay.
I held onto Girlpunk as the space of my dream girl friends—not girlfriends. The girls who would make everything okay. Girls to listen to records with, take lazy bubble baths with. Girls who would get me. I held onto this, until I went away to art school. Then I started to meet girls I dreamed of. Did I want to just be friends? Finally, one asked me, “Are you bisexual? “
“I don’t know,” I responded. I laughed, knowing … I could finally say yes.
I was slowly coming out to myself, but those dinner discussions about gay rights re-played in my mind. I didn’t believe in heaven and hell, but that feeling of being a sinner remained. Logically, I knew better, but there was a seed of guilt inside. A seed firmly planted by my Dad’s fists pounding on the table during those debates.
The debate was now in my head. Dramatically in the shared dorm bathroom, I cut my hair into an angled pixie, long hair covering the floor. I was going to be bisexual. But I was awkward with women, filled with self loathing and uncertainty.
I found her on Facebook—the girl in the elevator with hipster hair and smeared eyeliner. It was in fact Xea. Xea was in the same city, at the same school, as I was.
Soon, we were messaging each other. Then, we were hanging out, swigging whiskey from a flask on the train, my fingers absentmindedly tracing patterns onto her Pocahontas dress. Soon, we were making out in alleyways, our hands running marathons over each other’s bodies.
My first internet girl friend became my first IRL girlfriend. And in that shared history, I could face the messages I got from my family and community about my sexuality. Sitting next to Xea, everything was safe. When my Mom said it was a phase and my Dad didn’t say anything, it was still okay. Xea was the dream friend I always wanted, the dream girl I couldn’t admit how much I wanted.
In being with her, I could be close to myself. I could accept myself, as I always was, and could now see.