Girlfriends vs. girl friends: straight women and girl crushes

Looking back on the roller coaster of my adolescence, there are two categories of girls whom I will never forget: the bad girls, and the best friends. The bad girl — you know the type: they smoked, they drank, they cut class — often intersected with the best friend, and then things got really interesting.

“All teenager girls are half-lesbian,” Emma Straub begins her recent essay on the intensity of girl-girl friendships for The Paris Review. I can concede with her to a point — every best friend I had struck me with heady infatuation, inspired hundreds of hours of phone calls or filled notebooks, and influenced my every article of clothing, haircut, poster, or CD for the rest of my adolescence. And while Straub might not speak to what happens when teenage girls with girl best friends are full-lesbian, she at least nails a few particulars of those unique friendships.

The bad girls of “Foxfire,” as led by HBIC, Legs (Angelina Jolie)

“No other love is like the love of a teenage girl,” writes Straub. “All passion and fire and endless devotion — at least for a week.” True that. If she had to pick a favorite friendship, though, the idol of all teenage idols, she would pick the best-girl-friend of Angela Chase of My So-Called Life, the one and only Rayanne Graff. Straub suggests that the entire series, even with its cute boys and annoying siblings and other distractions, really propels itself on the magnetic draw of Rayanne.

Really, when asked to recall the landscape of your own youth, who wouldn’t remember the girls who challenged teachers, fascinated us, caused a ruckus, possessed style, and (probably) had a favorite brand of cigarettes to smoke under the bleachers? These “bad-girls,” as Staub calls them, decorate many of our friendship narratives.

“My first high-school Rayanne,” she remembers, “from whom I learned to inhale, wasn’t a virgin, and when she was drunk, her Southern accent got stronger. When she was bleaching my hair in her bathtub, we laughed so hard and so loud that her younger sister told us we needed hysterectomies. I had never been happier, more fully in love with the very moment that I was living, even with a head that smelled like ammonia.”

So to Staub, and as many portraits of teenage girlhood go, having intense relationships to your girlfriends (and that’s girlfriends as in friends-who-are-girls, not girlfriends as in the-ones-you-met-and-dated-once-you-got-to-college) is as normal as Bonne Bell Lip Smacker. It’s a tiny bit of a relief, when looking back on my budding lesbianism during high school, that maybe those best friends I made and loved so fiercely, enjoyed me as much as I enjoyed them.

Evie (Nikki Reed) was a bad girl BFF in “Thirteen”

But if I ever tipped the scales and tried to make a girlfriend out of a girl friend, I tended not to succeed. My So-Called LIfe, Part 2? We could only hope.