Pink, yellow, and blue glowed on the screen of my iPhone 5c—I was transfixed by the colors. I was twelve years old, a middle school student in the fall of 2014, and I sat upright in bed scrolling through Instagram after school. “Pansexuality is attraction to anyone regardless of gender,” one post’s caption read. I turned the words over and over again in my head while I stared at the screen. It made sense to me: why would you discriminate based on gender? I thought. My contemplation brought Ella to mind. We had never met, but we ran an Instagram account together, where we reposted text posts from Tumblr with colorful borders. She once said she identified as pansexual, and I always thought she was pretty—her cute blonde bob, her thick-rimmed glasses, freckles peppered across her cheeks. I often found myself thinking about her, almost with reverence, and my desire to be her friend was astronomical. I came hastily to the conclusion that I was like her. In that moment, alone in my childhood bedroom, I officially shed my straightness.
That year, I existed almost exclusively behind my phone screen. I locked myself in my room every day after school, sprawled out in bed, and scoured the internet for anything adorned with rainbows. On Instagram, I found colorful infographics describing queer identities and teenage girls with pixie cuts who told me it was okay to be gay. Eventually I landed on Tumblr, where I felt safe—everyone else was gay, so it was okay for me to be gay, too. But as soon as I left my bedroom, I logged out of Tumblr and trapped my queerness inside where nobody could find it, sequestered behind the chain-link fences and faded walls of my middle school.
A few months after I first delved into Tumblr, I decided to bring my queerness into the real world. I laid on the shag-carpeted floor of my best friend’s basement the first time I told anyone I was queer. Our weekly sleepovers required deep conversations, muttered sleepily from the comfort of the ground. This discussion didn’t hold the significance I imagined it would. “I’m pansexual” slipped out, followed by a response of “me too,” and the night carried on unceremoniously. The next day, I returned home sleep-deprived and sank into my bed with the same heaviness as before. Three new people knew I was gay, but here I laid, still alone in my bedroom, still trapped in my head. Most nights I locked myself in, away from my family, and let my thoughts consume me. After a few more months, I called my mom into my bedroom late at night. She perched on the edge of the bed and asked what was wrong while I felt the pressure in my chest build. It took me some time to come out with the words—I was so used to pushing them down as far as I could. She held me while I shook and told me she loved me.
By eighth grade, I’d come out to the most important people in my life. At school, though, I still felt unprepared to wear my queerness proudly. The kids at school were absorbed in their preteen angst, poking fun at everyone and everything, so I stayed quiet until I was back in my room. I spent many more days behind my closed door on Tumblr, realizing along the way that queerness wasn’t quite as simple as I thought. My queer mutuals were sharing stories of discovering their sexuality, and as I read I considered my own experiences and began to question my identity again. I cycled through labels and tried to find what felt most like me. I felt I needed to label my identity to express my attractions exactly and tell the world who I was. After a few months of microlabeling, I settled on bisexual to best describe my attraction as it shifted and evolved.
I settled into my bisexuality as high school began, and my bedroom became a space of comfort and belonging—though I spent years there feeling deeply confused and alone. My openness with my sexuality grew, and I was eager to let people in. On most weekends sophomore year, my friends would pile into my bed and we’d talk about girls in the darkness. We worked our way through the LGBTQ+ movies section of Netflix, awash in the warm glow of my laptop screen as we laid enraptured by Blue Is the Warmest Color. I was safe and comfortable, free to be a teenager first and queer second.
Then, on a cozy November night in my junior year, I brought my first boyfriend into my bedroom. It was one of the few nights in my short, tumultuous relationship when I felt warm and at ease. I invited him and some friends to hang out in my parents’ hot tub; after some time, the house filled with laughter and loud conversation and he excused himself to my room for some space to breathe. I followed him in, the voices reduced to a low murmur, and laid on top of him in my bed. I rested my head on his chest and listened to his heartbeat while he stroked my thigh. In my bedroom, away from the background noise and the eyes of others, we settled into a comfortable silence. In the safety of my bedroom, we reached a level of intimacy I had never shared with anyone before: becoming content with each other’s presence in silence.
For over a year after I cut him out of my life, I couldn’t share this closeness with another person. But late last spring, my first queer romance began, and I found myself again snug in my bed with a partner, at ease with gentle touches and hushed voices. I felt all the same emotions—the giddiness, fear, and satisfaction of exposing my authentic self. I was validating my queerness to myself after years of it existing as an abstract concept. I’d always thought about being queer, but I’d only experienced sex and romance with men. Sometimes I’d wondered if I was faking bisexuality to be quirky—maybe I thought women were pretty but would never actually be with one. But with my first queer partner, I discovered my feelings were just as intense as they had ever been with men.
Unfortunately, my relationship was cut short a few months later when I moved cross-country for college. I left for my overwhelmingly queer liberal arts college ready to kiss as many girls as I could.
My new bedroom is over 2,000 miles away from home, a dorm room three stories up in a hundred-year-old brick building in New York. Tonight, I’m bringing a girl here to watch a movie for our second date. Sitting in my twin bed, looking out over the bare trees and residential quad, I wonder what my middle-school self would think of me now. I couldn’t imagine these years back then; it seemed there was nothing ahead but my bed, the closed door, and the emptiness of being alone. When I’m back in my childhood bedroom, those are not the times I remember. My old bedroom is a time capsule—it invokes the memories of my coming of age, the euphoric feelings of finding myself, feeling seen and loved. The door will always be open.
By Maya Page
Illustration by Robyn Phelps