The day I was supposed to give this speech was at a board meeting where a church and its pastor were there to condemn and demand the books be removed. I cried too much to talk then. This seems like a good place to put it.
I am six.
I am a girl who kisses other girls. Kisses on the cheek, whispered I love you’s. Breathless and blushing as we curl up beneath the covers until morning.
I can recite Disney movies by heart, fairytales are full of happy endings where a boy and a girl find true love. In my closet, there are very clear lines between pink and blue, what can mix and what can not. Girls only love boys, and boys only love girls.
I am fourteen.
It is a warm July. Fireflies in the air, bare feet on the grass, and my first boyfriend kisses me mid sentence.
My first kiss.
A moment that every movie, every fairytale, every romance, had told me would be life changing. Done in half a second, and I do not feel warm or fuzzy or happy. I only feel a vague disgust that his mouth had been on mine. I keep talking, finish what I had to say before I was interrupted.
The moment is gone.
I do not kiss another boy, and I wonder why I am not like the other girls in school. I devour books. I read romance, fantasy, science fiction, dystopian, and contemporary novels. They establish all the milestones I am not hitting. I wonder if something is wrong with me, but I am sure all things will come in time.
I am in college, a boy is asleep in my bed. My neighbor tells me I should lose my virginity. She says my entire perspective on life will change. She says I will be a woman.
Am I not a woman now?
I spend our hours together panicked. I feel sick and scared. I am grateful when he falls asleep, and then I am annoyed. He is in my bed, too hot, too big, breathing too much. Invading my space, unwelcome and unwanted.
I wake him up early in the morning and he leaves my room.
My life is unchanged. My opportunity is gone. I close the door to my dorm, still a child and wondering why I am the way I am.
I date a boy who touches me too much. I date another who laments that I have no sexual desire, but he loves me and respects that I am just not ready yet.
He still reaches his hand into my underwear when he thinks I am asleep. He does not know I cannot sleep when he is in my bed, though he lives with me for months.
Sometimes we kiss — most often innocently. Sometimes he tries to kiss me deeply, tongue and hot breath in my throat. I hate every single touch of his mouth against mine.
Why am I like this?
A parade of partners who are kind and respectful for the most part. They do not understand my boundaries and if I am honest, I do not either.
I feel nothing for any of them. I love some of them, the way one friend loves another. Sometimes I love them like one loves an obligation to tradition. Empty, but the motions are there. This is what fairytales are built upon.
I think the problem may be men. I do not love them in a romantic sense. I cannot love them in a physical sense. Their bodies give me no feeling of longing or desire. Instead I think of kissing, of sex, and I feel revulsion.
I cannot be straight. Am I gay? I close my eyes and imagine holding the hand of a woman and I feel peace. I feel right. I feel like I am not broken.
I come out to my family at twenty-four, in tears. I say I am bisexual. It feels like an easier transition. They love me, they support me. The word is still not right, but I feel as if I have found a community.
Surrounded by individuals who are just as lost in their closets as I am, I try new words. Gay. Lesbian. Queer. Pansexual. Demisexual.
I try these words on like clothes and toss them. I find labels that do not fit, collars made of rainbow flags and colored stripes that grip me too tightly.
I am no one. I am nothing. I am broken.
I find one word. Asexual.
I taste it and it feels like honey and nettles on my tongue. Sharp in its newness, but sweet and right.
I find another word. Aromantic.
One is the inability to feel sexual attraction. One is the inability to feel romantic attraction. Both of these words slip on to me like a fitted coat. I am found in words I did not know existed.
I am thirty.
I am content that the love I have to offer is not the same love every book I have ever read told me I would experience. Instead I foster friendships and compassion. I am comfortable in my coat, a well worn friend, now.
Three months ago, I found a book called Loveless about a young woman navigating love, trying on her own coat, and learning about asexuality and aromanticism.
Lessons that took me thirty years, a connection that I found on forums and Facebook groups, calling out to me from the pages of a book.
I am no longer a child. I no longer see myself as broken, but if I could go back, if I could just slip myself a few pages of this book, if I could promise myself I was perfect and still so capable of giving so much love, I would.
What some may see as protecting a child does not take away the feelings in their heart. These books are a connection to a world outside the scope of their town and school. They are promise that we are not alone, that there are others just like us, navigating our closets for the labels that fit. They contextualize the feelings that already exist, giving us words to shape and form a concrete idea of who we are that would not exist without them. They help us understand what experience may not offer.
Removing books, banning books, does not take away the queerness from a queer child. It takes away the only support they sometimes have to learn who they are. These feelings do not go away. No child deserves to grow up feeling broken and alone.
So I want to say thank you to our library. Thank you for the display. Thank you for the books. Thank you for being an ally and opening your doors to all walks. For the children and adults who do not know they are not alone and the ones who have found their place, thank you for loving us all.