Sunday, September 21, 2014

CHIP's STORY

Name: Chip
Years in Girl Guiding: 18 years
Roles in Girl Guiding: Unit Leader
Location: Ireland  

When I was sixteen, my (male) best friend told me he was in love with me and tried to kiss me. I would have been ecstatic, apart from the glaringly obvious fact that he was gay and simply trying to convince the world – and himself – that he was straight. I felt sorry for him because I thought it must have been so difficult to be gay, especially growing up in a very old-fashioned, Catholic corner of Ireland. Being gay here is often viewed as an illness that can be treated or grown out of, or just a plea for attention.          
 
   
He later confided that being considered an outsider, feeling that he had to tone down every reaction and gesture, and the uncertainty of having a family were the toughest things for him. I was sympathetic, but silently thankful that I was on the straight train to marriage and babies. I was hit on once by a girl while on a "gay night out" with him, but that was really the height of my experience with non-heteronormative activity. Until Summer 2013.
I decided to work at a Girl Scout camp in New Hampshire because I had just finished university, was unsure about what I wanted to do with my degree, and I have been part of the Scouting Movement in Ireland since I was six years old. I really wanted to give something back to the organisation that had given me so many magical experiences and wonderful friends.   

I arrived in New Hampshire with a group of 10 other international girls: most from England, some from other parts of the UK and a few from further afield. Meeting and getting to know the American staff, I couldn't believe how diverse they were. They were very fluid in their sexuality and gender, and more surprising to me was how open they were. I met people who identified as agender, transgender, gay, bi and queer, amongst many other things. My eyes were open to how wide the spectrum is, and I realised how unversed and uneducated I was about LGBTQ issues.

At camp, I developed a close relationship with the American nurse. She was 21 and the first time I saw her, she was stomping across the lower field in a cut-off shirt and Ray Bans. W. was (and is still!) enigmatic and everyone at our camp fell in love with her instantly. She was so fun and unpredictable and such a breath of fresh air during stressful camp life. I liked her big white teeth and she liked my “cute little butt." Once after a night off (where I got sore feet and made her piggyback me around), we fell asleep together in the staff lounge and when I woke up, she was running her fingers along my thigh.

I nervously jumped off the couch and avoided her for a few days. I was scared of how much I liked it, I think. She invited me on adventures during our time off, we skimmed stones and tried to find hidden places around camp to hang out. She forced me into intense talks about my feelings, which was hard for me because I'm not emotionally expressive. At all. Somewhere between leaving cute notes for each other, napping in her office and getting jealous when either of us spent a little extra time with someone else, we fell in love. She asked me tentatively if I wanted to set boundaries. I said no.

A few days before my 23rd birthday, we were lying in her tent with our noses touching for what felt like an hour. I thought because she was a lesbian and was used to kissing girls, she'd pluck up the courage to kiss me. But she didn't, so I kissed her. She said she'd never date a straight girl again, but would make an exception for me.

It was difficult to understand what I was feeling because I had never had romantic feelings for a girl before, but I couldn't ignore them and starting a long-distance relationship was the only way forward for us. The thought of her with someone else causes me physical pain.

Coming out to my family and friends back home, I had a few mixed reactions. My mum looked at me with a cocked head and said, “Well, whatever boils your kettle...” and went back to playing Candy Crush. When she told my dad a few days later, he said he knew that I was gay “three years ago” but was just kidding. My parents are both laid back and place happiness way above fitting the norm. Some of my friends were less accepting. I guess that I have always been part of the "popular" crowd at school and the thought of one of us being gay really didn't fit in. I've distanced myself from them now, not simply because they aren't accepting of me and my girlfriend, but because I don't think I can be friends with people who are so closed-minded.

My hardest coming out experience was with my aunt. I have lived with her for ten years and she is deeply religious. When I told her about W. she said she loved me no matter what, but she would pray for me. When W. came to Ireland to spend Christmas, I noticed that my aunt was quite cold, and instead of addressing her with her name, she would call her "that American girl." In March, she asked me to move out. She said it was for a variety of reasons, but deep down I knew it was because she couldn't deal with the relationship I am choosing to be in. It's difficult because she was my mother figure for such a long time and helped me through a lot, but her beliefs just can't allow her to accept it right now.

I'm grateful to the Girl Scouts because they've helped bring me together with the greatest love of my life. Being at camp for the first few months of my ambiguous sexuality was perfect because it provided me with a safe and loving environment to work things out without fear of judgment or abusive behaviour. I don't think that it helped me realise my true sexuality, but it definitely made me see that whatever body parts you do or do not have are irrelevant if you connect with someone.

What I love about the relationship W. and I have is that we fell in love completely innocently. There were no games, we rarely texted, and we were just were so happy to be in each other's company. I loved her before I kissed her and I know I can't have a happy life without her.

For now, I have no idea what sexuality I am, and I'm surprisingly okay with that. I still squirm a little when someone asks if I have a boyfriend and I'm currently struggling with something called "femme invisibility" because I apparently don't look like a lesbian – whatever the F that is supposed to mean. As far as I'm concerned, that statement is as stupid as, “You don't look left-handed!" In Ireland, it's difficult to explain a fluid sexuality, so for me to contest that I'm a lesbian even though I have a girlfriend is such an arduous process. 

I'm going with the flow, and still obsessed with W. a year later. No one has ever annoyed me as much as she does, but no one has ever, or will ever, make me as happy as she does.

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