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Looking back at old photos with my then-girlfriend, she pointed out my teenage likeness and crooned, “Aw, straight Becca!” at the visibly uncomfortable young woman captured in the photo. My shoulders were held in a perpetually apologetic shrug, my teeth gritted for a fake smile, my waist encircled by my prom date—a very kind but altogether oblivious straight boy. It’s hard to reconcile the guarded, unhappy, person in those pictures with who I am today: gayer than a flannel parade, and living proof that It Gets Better.

Like many whose coming out was a slow burning candle, I made up for lost time by fully immersing myself in queer culture. I cocooned myself within a rainbow bubble of queer friends, politics, literature, and work. Any LGBTQ events, whatever the niche, were marked on my calendar. And no matter how bad the latest gay movie, you bet your ass I went and saw it.

My home was filled with rainbow gifts, breast-themed decor, and yonic artwork. I leapfrogged from relationship to relationship, so everyone who had ever asked, “How do you know you’re gay if you’ve never tried it?” would be proven wrong when all the belated evidence was stacked up before them.

The rainbow bubble was safe, it was comfortable, and it fostered a built-in camaraderie within the small blue splotch on the map where I lived, surrounded by a sea of red. Before I knew it, the only thing I had going for me was the rainbow bubble. My whole life had become my relationship, identity politics, and scoffing at cis folks with knowing superiority.

Needless to say, this reliance on others to define myself was not sustainable. Eventually, I found myself single for the first time in a decade: alone, save for a pile of rainbow clutter. When had my queerness become the most interesting thing about me? The only thing about me? Newly single and looking back on my dwindling activism over the past few years, the biggest qualifier for my entry in the gay olympics was now gone, and it felt like I was somehow less queer now that I wasn’t dating anyone.

My personal experience in the LGBTQ community suggested that gay women could choose one of three options when it comes to dating:

The first option was to be in a long-term relationship, in which you’re constantly apple-picking, remodeling your house, and either adopting a pet or a child as you start looking more and more like one another with each passing day.

The second option is to date around with the ferocious and aggressive mindset of a Pokemon trainer trying to catch ‘em all. This involves trolling LGBTQ churches, book clubs, meetups, and bars, a fair share of dating apps, and usually results in dating your ex’s ex as you tipsily proclaim at your favorite burlesque/queer bar, “I hate drama.”

The third and most terrifying option is to become a shadow-queer. Single for eternity, alone save for your many pets, folks loudly joke that your genitals have shriveled up, not caring that you might overhear them. Your skin turns to dusty tissue paper for lack of being touched, and each night you dream that you’re all alone at an Ani DiFranco concert in a sea of happy couples, only to wake up in a cold sweat, still alone in your bed.

This third option, albeit embellished, terrified me. Truth be told, the idea of being single at all terrified me. The skepticism of those who insist you can’t truly be gay until you’ve tried it came screaming back. I thought, Maybe they’re right. If a gay lumberjack is single and falls in the forest, does she still make a sound?

"Your skin turns to dusty tissue paper for lack of being touched, and each night you dream that you’re all alone at an Ani DiFranco concert in a sea of happy couples, only to wake up in a cold sweat, still alone in your bed."

Newly single, newly sober, and struggling to find a new normal, I had to ask myself to what extent my gayness makes up my identity. I no longer wanted to be the drunk girl at the bar hitting on baby gays, but I still wanted to be a resource to cis straight folks who had questions or needed gentle guidance on how not to be unintentionally insensitive. If I wasn’t so-and-so’s girlfriend, I had to figure out who I was instead.

That inner closeted teenager inside of me threw a raging tantrum. Somehow it just didn’t seem fair that heteros don’t experience this same kind of identity anguish. Do they ever worry they’re being “too straight”? Doubtful.

Luckily, a breakup was a perfect excuse for a fresh start and a much-needed reality check, although I hardly felt that way at the time. With my old friend group gone and seemingly limitless free time, I was able to meet new people I normally wouldn’t if my hand were tightly grasped in a girlfriend’s.

To my utter amazement, happy and single queers are out there, and I found that their friendships were not surreptitious attempts to date. As important as it was to reinforce my queer friendships and shake free of the stereotypes I held, I found it just as important to branch out and befriend and advocate for those who didn’t exist in the rainbow bubble.

I found myself thinking back to that closeted teenage girl in those old family photographs. t was so hard to be happy when I wasn’t honest with myself and others. I understand now that it was an important part of my coming out process to, at the time, identify first and foremost as queer, and as everything else second. Although I’ll concede that this phase may have lasted a bit too long, it was invaluable to be here, be queer, and get used to it—so I could slowly but surely get used to everything else, including the fact that my identity will always be evolving.

Image via Getty