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Coming out as a lesbian while in high school in a small, conservative Texas town is not an experience I'd wish on anyone. I came out the year before Ellen's "Yep, I'm gay" Time magazine cover, amid the thrilling heyday of the Lilith Fair lesbofest summer tour of 90s awesomeness.
I announced to my family and a few close friends that I was, in fact, a raging homosexual, and then proceeded to watch those nearest and dearest to me recoil in horror, shocked that, like a wolf in sheep's clothing, their super girly femme friend was actually a total dyke.
While I was a complete wallflower nobody while in high school, being one of two out gay students is like having a huge, neon rainbow flag hovering above your head wherever you go, and it wasn't long before I'd hear random guys loudly announcing, "There's that dyke bitch!" every time I'd walk through the halls.
This was before bullying was a buzzwordy "thing," and I just figured the taunts were from colossal but harmless assholes who had nothing better to do with their small-dick issues than harass the straight-looking girl who threatened their egos with her sexual preference. That was until someone smashed in all my car windows (I had a tiny rainbow pride sticker on the back windshield) and left a threatening note.
The cops told me it was probably just a prank and dismissed my concerns. I knew it was no prank, and the words in the hallways no longer rolled off my back; they sank in deep. I’d cry in my bathtub at night, or steal my mother’s cigarettes and my father’s alcohol to escape. I finished my junior year of high school, flunking out of several classes since I'd skipped so much school to avoid the harassment, and vowed never to return.
I'd always done fairly well in school, and the summer between my junior and what would have been my senior year in high school was beyond depressing. I figured I'd just get a GED, or get a job, or something. But in reality, I had no plan.
My senior year started without me, and after about a month of sitting around doing nothing every day, my parents started to receive letters in the mail, something to the effect of, "Get your stupid kid in school or she'll have to come to court for truancy," or whatever. So, I met with a high school counselor who, while completely disregarding the harassment I'd received, did bring up a promising option to complete my education and not have to return to the nightmare high school: alternative school.
Yes, just as you might think, this was the kind of alternative school where the kids who'd already been to juvie 8 times went, along with the pregnant girls and the 21-year-olds who just couldn't seem to graduate. And, apparently, the lesbians. As an added bonus to not being called a "dirty cunt-licker" on the daily, the alternative school would allow me to earn a "real" diploma instead of a GED, something I didn't give two shits about, but my parents did.
Within 30 seconds of walking through the door to begin my first day at the alternative school, I became profoundly aware that everything in life does, in fact, happen for a reason -- for there before me stood, in all of her short-haired and collared-shirt glory, my new lesbian teacher.
If it was possible for gaydar to explode your head right off your body, mine certainly would have launched directly into the stratosphere upon the realization that I'd be spending the next 7 months of my life in a very small classroom with this very attractive woman. It was like the clouds parted and delivered directly to me my own personal dykey softball coach angel to help guide my misguided ass through all the pain and confusion and awfulness of being young and gay.
While the elation of simply realizing that there were older, fully functioning gay women in the universe who hadn't been completely demolished by their teenage years was highly encouraging in and of itself, the novelty eventually gave way to a full-blown and gut-wrenching crush. The daydreams of my elaborately crafted fantasy world usually involved slipping myself into the role of her long-term lover (who I once had the pleasure of meeting, which led me to further convincing my delusional self that I'd definitely be hotter and more intelligent than her in the future, which would thus negate any of Elise's* doubts about spending forever with me).
I suppose (duh) I wanted what I thought they had -- love, stability, a true partnership, spending the rest of your life with the person you can't live or breathe or function without. But life has a way of not being the fantasyland in your head, and, with the exception of "running into" her (and by running into, I fully mean "going to places I knew she'd be") a few times outside of school, nothing ever became of those fantasies.
That is until 4 years after I'd graduated from high school.
Since I was such an incredibly smart and mature teenager (cue eye-roll), I had no plan after high school, so I spent a year working at a power plant (still have no idea what the company I worked for actually did, but I hope it involved eels), then moved even further into the vast nothingness of West Texas, where I alternated sporadic college classes and binge drinking with hunting down every lesbian within a 300 mile radius (thanks, Internet!).
But through it all, I kept in touch with Elise through emails and the occasional visit when I was back in town. Eventually I moved back to the area where I lived during high school. I told her about all of my crazy exploits in the barren gay wasteland of West Texas; she'd offer up a personal tidbit or two, but never anything too revealing.
Until one fateful day.
I'd stopped by the school on a whim, unannounced, and slipped into her office. Immediately, I knew something was up. She looked like utter hell, not the usual radiant, bubbly, forever positive and encouraging teacher I was used to. She and her partner were going through a nasty breakup after her partner's revelation that she'd been having an affair with a man. There was a house to be sold and a decade-long relationship shredded to pieces to heal from.
I tried to be compassionate, to have empathy for this pain I was light-years away from understanding or experiencing myself. But what was the whisper in the back of my mind, churning itself into a full-fledged scream? "NOW IS YOUR CHANCE! YOU'VE WAITED FOR FOUR YEARS FOR THIS MOMENT! DON'T FUCK THIS SHIT UP!”
I waited a slightly acceptable few months before dumping my 4-year-old confession on her head in the dim light of a gay bar parking lot next to my shitty Dodge Neon. Classy, I know. Exactly like the fairytale I'd seen in my head.
Pretty sure I had to tell her more than once WTF I was getting at, as I like to have uncomfortable love-confessing conversations in thinly veiled metaphor. Elise was shocked, had no idea I'd been pining away all these years, said she was flattered, but generally the vibe was definitely deer-in-headlights, with me driving the car and bracing for impact.
I went home that night halfway elated I'd finally had the balls to say something, and halfway scared shitless that I'd just ruined a great friendship with someone whose role in my life I valued a great deal and didn't want to lose.
It wasn't even noon the next day before she called. I couldn't tell you where we went for our first "date," probably because I was in complete nervousness blackout mode, or perhaps because the next few months were a blur of restaurants and concerts and entire days spent having wild, mind-blowing sex, sex, sex, and, oh yeah, more hot sex.
It was my fantasy come true.
Only, not really, because while I was head-over-heels batshit nuts in love, Elise was still reeling from her recent breakup, and guiltily convinced she was doing something that was morally wrong in being with me, her former student, despite the fact that I had long-since graduated and had been the one doing all the pursuing in the first place. But, it was a small town, and people talk. It’s hard to take your girlfriend to a party and act casual when some of your friends sat in her class a few years prior.
So we were always looking over our shoulders, nervously waiting to run into someone who knew us in the student/teacher context, or escaping to neighboring towns to avoid prying eyes. Then there was the other elephant in the room, a 21-year age difference.
While I didn't have a problem relating to teacher in certain aspects, the life experiences of a 22-year-old woman and a 43-year-old woman aren't exactly congruous. Half the time I felt like the dumb, inadequate teenager to her worldly, refined class, and the rest of the time I desperately tried to convince her of just HOW desperately I loved her, despite not actually having a clue as to how to convey this. I was young, aching with lust and desire in every inch of my being, wanting to be wanted, wanting to imagine a fairytale ending to the years I spent dreaming of her.
Predictably, my role as post-relationship rebound expired a few short months later, and she moved 800 miles away. She had a new girlfriend lined up before the U-Haul pulled away.
Over the decade since our torrid romance, my teacher has resurfaced in my life several times -- mainly, I suspect, when things come crashing down in her world and she needs a reminder of love. The first time occurred about a year after her cross-country move. Later, I had an affair with her, sneaking around behind my partner’s back until one day I came home to find the locks changed and all of my belongings dumped off in the garage. Maybe it was because I felt she was my first true love that it was so impossible to ever fully let go.
Today, it seems like every 5 minutes, there’s another news story about some illicit student-teacher relationship blasted all over the media. I always wonder how many of the students were the ones initiating things. Certainly there is no excuse for a true Creepy McCreeperson predator situation, which usually materializes as the older man coming after the innocent underage girl. Is it less creepy when she’s 18 and he’s 49? Or if the genders are reversed, or if it’s a same-sex couple?
The person I wanted when I was 17 wasn’t different when I was 18 or 22. What might have happened if I’d started my pursuit while still in school? Furthermore, are student-teacher relationships still intrinsically unacceptable once the student is of age?
So, I wouldn't recommend sleeping with your high school teacher, or spending years on end longing away for them, watching the sands flow through the hourglass until you’re finally legal. I'd be lying if I said this relationship hasn't been indelibly written on the slate of who I am and colored my view of every other relationship I've had since.
But do I regret my parking lot confession and the resulting semi-fairytale I was able to sorta realize for a short, blissful time? No, not at all. Because really. How many people get to live inside their fantasy? Not too many, I'd suspect.
* Name has been changed