“Complexities of Unconventional” by Elaina Hampson

Her name was Stephanie, a tall, muscular creature with cascades of brown hair and a husky voice. Lady Godiva in the flesh. 

Every Tuesday and Thursday, I was captivated by the shining essence of her—the way her glasses hugged the ledge of her nose; how she’d blow strands of hair away from her face; the light thumping of her fist as she diligently took notes about media and ethics. 

I remember the guilt, the feelings that stirred as she slid past me to get to her seat, or the sinking in my stomach whenever she was absent. Instinctively, I knew what it meant. It transcended girl crush territory. It was the way I’d felt when I met my boyfriend at the school newspaper, the way I felt with the first girl I liked even before that. Warm.

Normally I would count down the days until the semester was over, but now I felt blessed that the weeks were crawling by. While I slept beside my boyfriend each night, I thought of her and what it might be like to be in her bed instead.  

I came out in Melody’s kitchen on a chilly Friday in May, at the end of junior year of college. The floor in her apartment slanted downward towards the back door, which was always swung half open. Cigarette smoke wafted in tight curls from the porch as an El train whirled by. I tried desperately to refocus my eyes, stupidly choosing that floor, that optical illusion and its impossible landscape.  

I was four RumChata shots deep when I made my confession. It had been bouncing off the walls of my brain for some time. The alcohol must’ve persuaded me to let my guard down, convincing me that what I had to say wasn’t that bad. I was in excellent company to dish, with Mel and her roommate being lesbians and all. If I should be spilling my secret to anyone, it should be in this company.  

Because most our friends were already tipsy, everyone just kind of nodded and smiled and continued taking shots. Mel, being the seasoned drinker that she was, had not yet crossed over that threshold. She was probably even sober at the time. She listened intently while I babbled on to no one in particular.  

My boyfriend’s couch, sometime during junior year of high school. I came over to be rebellious in all the ways that teenagers do. But while I came to see him, I also came to see his sister. We were in the same grade and her hair was hot pink like cotton candy. She was the first girl I ever had real feelings for.

While we kissed, our bodies meeting like a horizon line, I closed my eyes and pretended that I was kissing her instead, feeling guilty and dirty. Still, as we climbed the stairs to his room later that night, tripping and laughing in the darkness, I looked for the light under her bedroom door.

I’ve been struggling to be honest with everyone, but it’s so hard to hide it. I’m gay, Elaina. I like girls.  

2:00 a.m. Chicago time, 3:00 a.m. in her native Michigan.

Her distress was nearly tangible through the receiver, her shame dissolving into the telephone line and materializing in my ear. No one had ever come out to me before, not in the backwoods suburbs that I called home. Quite frankly, I was floored.  

The call, unanticipated and surprising, upset me. It wasn’t the admission that lodged a lump in my throat, but the feeling that this was a disappointing confession instead of one of relief. Worse yet, there was nothing I could say to make it okay, to make her feel okay, and even if there was, I was too tongue-tied to spit it out. Before she hung up, I told her there was no need to worry, that nothing could break our bond. I loved her back then, my fierce and golden Michigan girl.  

Thank you so much for telling me, I said.  

Dial tone.

What about that one over there? He gestures toward the girl at the kiosk. We were walking aimlessly through the mall when he singled her out, a petite pixie cut blonde.  

He was my best friend, my sanctuary, so naturally there were few secrets between us. The idea that I liked both men and women fascinated him. Whenever we passed a pretty girl on the street or watched a movie, it was always the same question.  

What about her? Like he was taking inventory of my tastes. The scientist and his subject.

I obliged at first. I would nod or say, not my type, as if I even knew what my type was. It was easier to be complacent instead of indignant, instead of telling him that I wasn’t attracted to everything that moved.

He was one of the few who knew, aside from that handful of folks from Mel’s. I wasn’t ready to explain myself to a world that didn’t understand the duality of bisexuality, the duality of me.  

Finals were over, putting me one term away from graduation. Some girls from work decided we should go out for drinks. I’d developed a crush on one of them, Liz. My boyfriend only vaguely knew that I also liked women and, like most other men, found it to be hot, a quirky little attribute, some semi-truth.

We started out with a couple of drinks, but quickly got carried away. We bounced from bar to bar and amidst our romping, Liz pulled me aside, giggling, and kissed me. It wasn’t a drunken peck, but a full-blown kiss than felt longer and weightier than it probably was.  

The drinking continued and, in the end, I had to call my boyfriend for a ride home. I told him what happened, expecting him to be mad. I had kissed someone else, someone that wasn’t him. To me, it was a big deal. It was a betrayal of his trust. But he laughed and told me it was fine. It’s a phase.

Liz apologized the next time we worked together. She explained that it was innocent, that she was drunk and curious. To her, it didn’t mean anything.  

When I found out he was bi, we were drinking beers on the patio. There was nothing grand about it, nothing that felt like a confession. It was two words, casual and cool. My ex-boyfriend.  

I’d asked him what was bothering him, not expecting the response I was given. It was shocking, not because he was bisexual, but because we were one in the same. It was like finding a diamond in the rough. Here was a man I was casually hooking up with, a man who also liked men, like I was a woman who also liked women.  

In the end, he went back to his boyfriend, and I went back to mine.  

Three months shy of my wedding, my mom and I went to see Demi Lovato. I was always a little lukewarm about her, but she was different than I expected. Flanking both sides of her stage were LGBT+ flags. Queer couples kissed and cried in solidarity. I was thrilled and honored to be part of the community, even if at times it felt like I didn’t belong.

But some part of me was worried and upset. My mom had no idea about my sexuality. As far as she could tell, I was just an enthusiastic ally. My breaking point was when Demi closed the show with a powerful performance of “Tell Me You Love Me.” I was surrounded by so many people in my community who were proud of who they were. Before I knew it, I was pushing back tears. I tried hard to swallow the sadness, but I couldn’t hold it in anymore. When my mom looked back at me, I was sobbing and as she grabbed me to pull me into a hug, I whispered my truth to her.  

Nine months after our wedding, my husband and I were driving around aimlessly, talking about anything and everything. The conversation shifted to the government’s new policy on transgender military applicants. I ranted about the ridiculousness of it all, that some folks really thought a person shouldn’t be allowed to serve their country because of who they are. He quietly listened and I waited for the topic to switch over to something lighter.

He sat in silence for a while, thoughtful if not slightly apprehensive. Do you ever regret it, that you couldn’t date more women? I could have lied to spare his feelings, but that wasn’t necessary. He took a vow, we both did. For better or for worse. Of course. And we talked about it, all of it. Every sweet and sour truth, no more holding back. We weren’t in the mall anymore. I was no longer his subject, but his equal.

Born and raised in Chicago’s West Dunning neighborhood, Hampson relocated at 7 to the southwest burbs, where she fell in love with star-filled skies and the splendor of nature thriving around the Fox River. In June of 2015, she graduated from North Central College with a Bachelor of Arts in Interactive Media, Studio Art and Journalism – returning again to complete a Master of Liberal Arts program for Writing, Editing and Publishing two years later.