Being Queer often means certain experiences happen on a different timeline.

You might not have grown up in a community where it was safe to explore your sexuality or gender identity, so you never got that perfect coming-of-age movie love story. Maybe you never felt like you could relate to the people around you while growing up, but couldn’t quite figure out why.

Sometimes it takes a major change — whether that is leaving home for university, or spending a term abroad — to provide an opportunity to learn more about who you are.

Two Ubyssey writers share their Queer “firsts” in the following essays.

Finding the right fit

I was the first of my friends to have my first kiss. It was in the only gay bar in my hometown, before I left for university. She came over and offered to buy me a drink. We danced, then she kissed me. Afterwards, I said to my friends, “I definitely like women.”

I had my first crush in grade eight — it was my best friend, a straight cis woman. My next crush was a girl who lived near me. After that, the cute employee at the bookstore who recommended the worst romance novels — thank you, Ashlinn!

I loved all of these women, had never been interested in men and had never been close to a guy. Yet, until I came to university, I still identified as bi.

There was something about that label that felt safe. Like there was still a part of me that my grandparents could love. If I played my cards right and married a man, they’d never know that I liked women — “not that there’s anything wrong with that,” they’d say (subtext: there definitely is).

I jumped straight into a label without testing it out because that was the second safest one to use in my conservative city.

I moved to Vancouver, where I lived alone and had no friends established, where all I had to do was explore my new environment. I could be anyone here. I was untethered. For the first time, I could take a step back from a label I clung to for so long.

As someone who craved safety, that was kind of terrifying. My old gymnastics coach used to say comfort only kills flowers, not weeds.

I couldn’t slip on another definitive label until I actually knew that it fit, and I’d only know that it was the right fit if I put myself out there. I introduced myself as she/her, she/they, they/them — who cares? Someone called me sir, and I liked it. What does that mean? Does it matter?

I went to a pride club masquerade ball.

I flirted with the girl who sat next to me in GRSJ (shoutout to Dr. Snowden for bringing us together).

I went to a hockey game with a boy and wished the kiss cam would land on us.

I went to a concert with a girl I met in the bathroom that day, and it was one of the best nights of my life.

I didn’t have the same luxury as my cishet peers to safely explore my identity before university. I still don’t have a definitive label, and maybe I never will.

I’ll stick with Queer, and for the first time, I’ll enjoy the uncertainty.

Eliza Mahon

A newfound energy

I was 19 when I looked in the mirror and saw myself for the first time.

When I was younger, my hair had never been shorter than my chin, but now, only its longest strands brush my ears. I often looked in the mirror, drew my hair into a ponytail and pretended it wasn’t there. I would pretend I had a more masculine look; I wished I had a clean, neat, combed cut instead of loose, long waves that I’d always straighten into submission.

I’d straightened myself into submission for so long, it felt like I was looking at someone else in the mirror.

My physicality would never allow for someone to see me as male, regardless of my haircut. I’d chosen a style very different from the norm in Vancouver, where I’d just moved to study.

To an observer, I was certainly not a man, but certainly not what I’d decided made a “Vancouver woman” either. I was not anything in particular. I began growing my hair out, believing the validation of others would heal more wounds than my own self-acceptance would.

During my term abroad, I met another agender person for the first time. We sat across from each other at a table during a Queer mixer and exchanged numbers. We had a history class together, and a couple of times I proposed lunch.

We’d sit, then they’d take a photo for their food blog and I’d watch them. We’d talk about being older siblings, about being Americans in the UK and about where we come from. I had seen myself in that mirror over a year ago, but now someone else could see me too.

They weren’t my first kiss, but they were my first… something nameless. Something special, transformative and wholly irreplaceable.

They were my first lighting a match with a hot plate, my first Halloween get-together, my first chai latte, my first loaded stare as we looked at each other for the last time. They were my first “I’m glad to have known you.” They were the first set of eyes that knew I wasn’t just my body — that I was more than my secondary sex characteristics and the baggage they come with. They knew my essence was separate from my being, and I hope I played the same role for them.

When I returned from Scotland, my closest friends marveled at a new and inexplicable confidence that had blossomed during my time away. They said I had “rizz.” I was an energized presence. I was sharper, more self-assured and I carried myself taller. I had come back more whole than I had left.

More than ever, I knew who I was, and I knew this was because my friend in Edinburgh had known it. They had known me, and I was glad for it.

Laura Summerfield