Sailor Mars was my first crush, and I think when I realized it — when I realized I didn’t simply like her hair, didn’t only admire her sass, didn’t just want to shoot fireballs out of my pistol fingers — everything else became clear: not only did I like girls, but I was also a hopeless, complete and utter dork. I was 11 years old, and I spent that summer before the 7th grade crying in secret, reading Sailor Moon yuri fanfic, and then crying about that, too.
When I think about it now, I can’t help but laugh. I want to take the nearest person and blab this story, and I want them to think it’s funny, for them to laugh with me, the way you might if you scrolled down to the very bottom of your Facebook feed and read the song lyrics you posted in your morose teenage years. That out-of-body experience of being an adult and getting to laugh at yourself as though you’re laughing at someone else. This is one of my favorite things to do. This is why I blab all my own secrets. But that summer, and the decade of summers that followed, I couldn’t tell anyone. I was too terrified of being unloved, not by a single person, but by all people.
It was before I even knew the word for homophobia, before I knew about shut-ins and basement dwellers who watched anime all day long. All I knew, in the vaguest terms, was that I was doomed. At this point in my life, no one had made the rules for me. The crap I saw on TV didn’t apply. Where other girls could fantasize, I had to project. Their feelings were canon and mine were not. What a bust.
Shame is the only thing that will drive a 6th grader to cry about how much she enjoys literally anything. This must be why girls like me spent so much time reading fanfic. This must be why, even now, we fawn over the romance in the Legend of Korra finale. I think we are looking for proof. The more evidence we can stockpile that love like this is real, the more we have to prove to ourselves, and to everyone else, that we are real, too.
I rewatched the series many years later, when the US decided Americans were ready for the unabridged version, complete with all the queer stuff. I’d long since heard about the queer stuff in Sailor Moon, the queer stuff in Card Captor Sakura, and others like them. I’d just played the coming out indie game, Gone Home. I can’t count the times media played a role in my shame, and now, the role it’s had in my pride and liberation.
“I’m queer,” I said to my brother one afternoon over lunch. I’d taken him out to Chinese food to butter him up, as though finding an opportunity to tell him was making him go out of his way. I was certain he would have seen all the signs, whatever they were. For some reason, I was afraid the first thing out of his mouth would be, “I know.” Confirming that this story wasn’t mine to tell, but one for others to take from me, speculate, and gossip. Even in my twenties, I was afraid of mass rejection. But I’m getting less afraid all the time.
“‘Queer,’” my brother repeated. “What’s that mean?”
“I don’t know how to explain it,” I said. I was pushing chow fun onto his plate so he’d look at that instead of at me. “I’m just dating someone right now, and I want to be able to tell you about her.”
“Well, that’s cool,” is all he said, emphasis on the word cool. Something about me was cool. I’m cool? Since when?
Together we dug in. I felt good, even with how tired I was. Everytime I tell someone, it’s like I’ve just run a mile. I can feel that entire summer fall away from me, finally noticing that I’m always carrying the weight of it around. But I’d told him, and everything was cool. I felt a rush of love and gratitude for how cool it all was, how cool he was with me.
As I was counting out cash for the check, he asked me if I wanted to play some Goldeneye. I put my hands together in the shape of a gun and pulled the trigger from across the table. “Pew pew!” I said aloud. But in doing it, I wasn’t thinking of bullets, but of stars and magic and fireballs, and of girls like me.