How Gaydar Taught Me to Trust Myself

The summer before my sophomore year of high school, I had what I now realize was one of the best jobs ever: working as a day camp counselor with five to seven-year-olds, alongside a girl I immediately had a crush on. Amy (whose name I’ve changed in the interest of her privacy) was on the JV cheerleading squad at my school, and I had seen her around, but our circles never overlapped. 

From the first day of summer camp, I immediately felt drawn to her in a way that fell somewhere in between really wanting to be her friend and the unthinkable. I woke up every morning excited to see her, and we started to hang out at night after we got out of work. I liked her so much that I let her drive my mom’s station wagon across the parking lot, which would have resulted in sudden death if my mom ever found out. It was all worth it for the moments when she brushed her hand against mine; when she asked me why I didn’t have a boyfriend, and when she told me she didn’t want one either.

At the time, my crush on her felt so beyond the realm of possibility, like every other crush I had, and so it never occurred to me to ever act on it. Just like how I never did anything when the girl I swooned for at my waitressing job asked to see my tongue ring and then if she could give me a ride home. Even after I came out, I never allowed myself to believe that a girl would actually be interested in me, so whenever I met someone, I would immediately adopt a buddy-buddy kind of vibe and then write sad poems about my unrequited feelings.

As the years unfolded, I learned from Facebook and word of mouth that most girls I had crushes on in high school eventually came out as gay, bi or queer. Of course, someone being into girls doesn’t mean they were ever into me, but it means that them liking me back was more in the realm of possibility than I ever thought at the time and that I did pick up on something. When Ellen Page came out as a lesbian on Valentine’s Day two years ago, I wasn’t the only queer girl out there thinking, “I knew it!” But I had spent years arguing with friends that I just felt that she was—not because of how she dressed or talked, but because of some murky-yet-undeniable intuition I had that somehow, she was like me. It felt good to know that I wasn’t losing it when I thought that, or when I thought that Amy or my waitress crush or any of those other girls might have been flirting with me. It was a direct response to the voice in my head that constantly told me I was different than everyone else, that how I felt was weird, and that no girl would ever be into me.

The truth is, the first real test of my gaydar was on myself. I grew up in the days of dial-up modems that tied up the phone lines, so I didn’t have an outlet to research what I was feeling or find other lesbians to talk to. I always knew that it must mean something that I daydreamed about girls, felt a rush when I held a pretty girl’s hand and felt incredibly bored kissing boys. But it took me 19 years to name that and to realize that while I was different than most girls, there were girls out there that felt the way I did. The clues didn’t come from my hair or clothes or even my extreme love of The Craft and Ani DiFranco (though maybe they should have). They came from a core so deep inside me, I couldn’t deny it or mute it, no matter how hard I tried.

I wonder if, all along, what I’ve thought was gaydar was really “Like Me-dar.” I’ve always been a sporty femme, but as a teenager I didn’t see representations of queer women in the media that reflected me, or know any in real life, and so I didn’t know where I fit into the world. Meeting girls that might be like me, or seeing them on-screen, felt like having a stream of light finally pierce my pitch-black closet.

However Amy ended up identifying, I hope that she’s happy, wherever she is. I hope she knows how grateful I am that we were able to really see each other and that she helped me to see myself, too.