by P. Kristen Enos
(All rights reserved)

When people ask me at what age I had come out of the closet, I always qualify my answer of “at age 20” with explaining that “coming out” for me meant when I had accepted my identity as a lesbian, and all the risks and rewards that come with it. Obviously, it is not the age that I started to show signs of actual attraction to members of the female gender.

The first two decades of my life were a well-intentioned but seriously clueless path to developing my lesbian identity. And the clues become more pronounced and frightening the older I became.

Primarily due to being raised in a conservative, military family and having a devout born-again Baptist Christian phase from about age 8 to 14, I assumed the default identity of heterosexual. I say “default” because it was just the thing to be. I had crushes on guys and even culminated with a brief stint of a boyfriend (with sexual activity) during my freshman year of college. In my murky, stumbling process of growing up, I had no reason to really question my identity as a heterosexual, or so I told myself.

But when I had finally faced the possibility of being a lesbian, I didn’t fight it, because suddenly everything in my entire life up until that point completely made sense.

The saying is that hindsight is twenty-twenty, and this definitely applied in my case.

I cherish people who have had special roles in my life, even if they are no longer part of it. And one of those people was my kindergarten teacher, Miss Price.

Now, I’m currently 42 and my childhood memories are mostly fuzzy, but I remember her. Or, more precisely, the “essence” of her. The pretty looks with long hair and glasses combined with the gentle and kind demeanor. I clearly must have adored her given the fondness in my heart when her memory comes up in a rare while.

I’ve had people ask me why I would actually label it a “crush”. Couldn’t it have been for wanting a mother or sister? Or was I actually claiming that I was sexually attracted to her?

On the first question: I really don’t think I viewed her as being a mother or sister. I have both in real life and I never spent any moment trying to find substitutes.

On the second question: no. I was 5 years old! My attitude towards her was no more perverted than adorable pictures of boy/girl “couples” who are always appear around Valentine’s Day. And our culture never questions their presumed heterosexuality.

Adults may have seen my adoration of her at the time and dismissed it as a “phase”.

But then that “phase” came roaring back in a couple of years when I had developed far more vivid attractions to female celebrities, to the point of drawing hearts in magazines and pairing my name with one of them. (And no, I’m not saying which one because that might be a column for another day.)

So why don’t I pinpoint the female celebrities as my milestone of first true evidence of lesbian attraction? Simple: it just makes sense if you look at the entire arc of my development as a person.

And even in my bumbling attempts at being straight, there isn’t a man that held even a remote sense of romantic fondness in my memories. My attraction to boys and men always felt like I had to put some effort into it. In fact, I can’t even remember the first man (real or celebrity) that I was supposedly attracted to on that level that could be the starting point for heterosexual development. And I have a frighteningly accurate memory for some things.

I cherish that memory of Miss Price as just genuinely sweet affection. No dyke drama mind games or sexual intensity to confuse or gross out anyone.

My friend Mary, a heterosexual mother of three, once told me that she loved the pure honesty of children that defies social perspectives sometimes. That they will say or do things that if looked at from their perspective without adult filters, you would find how complicated our social norms are as adults. This from a woman whose self-description is of a smart ass from New Jersey.

Then again, Mary grudgingly admitted the other day that her “Mini-Me” 4 year-old daughter asked her seriously, “Mommy, why is your butt so big?” She had to remind herself that genuine honesty for pointing out that your mom had a fat ass did not deserve a time-out.

But when I mentioned Miss Price to Mary, she was genuinely baffled.

She had known me for almost twenty years, and with that my official coming out story.

She blurted in disbelief: “That’s not possible for you to have had a crush on her! You didn’t know what you were then!”

I couldn’t help but smile at the fact that her last words were exactly my point.