By Jasmin Singer
When I was a little girl growing up in those fluorescent 1980s when my bangs were crooked and I was a proud, card-carrying member of the Whitney Houston Fan Club, I possessed a longing that even Whitney couldn’t fulfill.
Despite my long string of heartbreaking crushes on my women teachers, it would be many years before I’d come out—eventually trading in my accidentally asymmetrical bangs for an intentionally asymmetrical ‘do paired with telltale thick glasses and, most likely, tickets to an upcoming Indigo Girls concert.
Purpose. Connection. Direction.
I came out as bi at 19 after I boldly met a woman in an AOL chat room and we went back to her apartment all the way in Queens to awkwardly sleep together. Looking back, it’s abundantly clear that I was not even remotely attracted to her, but that didn’t matter—because I had started the powerful process of liberating a part of me that desperately wanted out.
It would be another eight years before I would realize that I was a full-fledged lesbian—a revelation I had after an experience with an older butch who was the first brave (and possibly hopeful) soul to inform me that she was absolutely certain I was gay. (She never did get her toaster.)
Love. Lust. Allyship.
And yet, despite my rainbow socks collection, when I was first asked to write about what being queer means to me, I was befuddled. It’s like asking me what it means to have a belly button. I don’t particularly think about it very often, but I’m happy it’s there.
As time went by, however—and my curmudgeonly disposition faded ever-so-slightly (along with my bright crimson hair dye)—I challenged myself to connect on a deeper level to what my queerness means. And as I lit my Bette Midler candle and meditated on the question, the answer came to me.
Empathy. Passion. Compassion.
Being queer means I can write my own script. It means I can free myself from the very narrow world that many straight people have available to them. It means I can dye my hair and tattoo my skin and pierce my face and sob over Patti LuPone ballads without feeling threatened by a heteronormative society that is banking on my assimilation.
It means I can be a safe space for younger queers who want very much to find mentorship and allyship and don’t know where to turn; I get to be that person for them—the one who reminds them they’re exactly the right level of fabulous just
as they are, today. It means I can hold my wife’s hand and kiss her in public and normalize something for a queer-leaning teen that sees our amorousness and recognizes the possibility of happiness. It means I can ask for the things I want and need—whether in my relationship, in my workplace, or from myself—without letting fear dictate my moves.
Because I’ve overcome fear already. I’ve teetered on the edges of despair and self-destruction but I always found my way back thanks to a global community of LGBTQIA+ goddesses who wanted me there, even if we hadn’t met. And as I got older, the knowledge that I can see my way through challenging times effectively gave me permission to take risks; to throw my name in the hat, even when it was a near impossibility; to go big or go home.
Partnership. Self-confidence. Collective care.
And it’s paid off. No longer needing to ascribe to societal norms because society as a whole was not mine for the taking and “normal” was never a word people used to describe me anyway, my queerness opened me up like a candy jar—ready to give and receive all the sweetness in the world. I became an activist for so many communities whose trajectories were not as upward-tilting as mine, fighting for the rights of trans Black women and men, of those whom society still deemed “less than,” of animals.
I went vegan 18 years ago, a life- and career-defining decision precipitated by my relentless pursuit of boycotting cruelty. My queerness had loosened the jar lid; all I had to do was barely pivot and the rest came pouring out.
Fun. Connection. Community.
All around me, everything I see and do and am—everything I believe in, fight for, care about—is a direct extension or result of my queerness. The little old rescued dogs who sleep by my side as I type this. My brilliant, nerdy wife in the next room putting together plans for our net-zero home construction. The media nonprofit I co-founded that focuses on changing the world for animals. The Newark LGBTQ Center that welcomed me in as a board member. The anthology I edited last year on antiracism and animal advocacy. The friends I have, the challenging conversations we spark, the space we hold, the unconditional love we share.
These are all reflections of my queerness, luscious manifestations of the life I have built after that fateful decision to bravely find my truth and tell my story, at first tip-toeing and then finally leaping out of the closet with my hands in full-on Evita mode.
Bravery. Wholeness. Authenticity.
The tremendous gifts I have been presented and the ones I am lucky enough to give away are, in its most simplest term, pure expressions of my worldview, my identity, my queerness.
And that—Whitney Houston—is the greatest love of all.