Like many people, my teenage years put me at the mercy of raging hormones, big feelings, and deep uncertainty about who I was. Completely new thoughts of sexual desire both overwhelmed and confused me. I didn’t come out until I was 22, so for a closeted lesbian teenager, female pop stars became a crucial site for understanding my desire.
I’ve been keeping diaries since the tender age of eight; my high school journals detail the trials and tribulations of boys, booze, and bombs in post-9/11 NYC, but they’re also filled with longing entries about the likes of Shakira, Nelly Furtado, and Britney Spears. These women allowed me to blur the line between wanting to be someone and wanting to be with them. In doing so, my fandom became an acceptable vehicle for both desire and fantasy. Perhaps that’s why these gay icons — who mainstream audiences primarily associate with cis gay men — are just as important to queer female audiences and other members of the LGBTQ community, too.
Scene one. I’m 15-years-old, it’s 2002, and I’m at Last Call With Carson Daly. I’m sitting five feet away from Shakira, trying not to scream. I scheme how to get Shakira to notice me and settle on screaming “Depeche Mode!” (her favorite band). She looks at me and smiles. That night, my journal entry is five pages of huge letters, many underlines, and uncontained excitement:
“Shakira acknowledged me. I f*cking waved to her and she looked at me and blew me a kiss, which is sort of weird but she was also staring at me, I think she was looking at my Depeche Mode shirt and I felt awkward and looked away BUT SHAKIRA acknowledged me.”
As a teenager, I felt like a shadow, hidden behind my friends who were more feminine, prettier, skinnier, and ultimately, more seen than I was. I internalized that feeling of invisibility as a corresponding sense of worthlessness. So, that moment of being acknowledged by one of my idols was a confirmation that not only was I noticeable, but that I was actually worth seeing, a feeling that I struggled to hold onto as I continued to feel unseen both as a closeted lesbian, and, eventually, while living openly as a lesbian.
Scene two. It’s 2004, just before my seventeenth birthday, and I’m watching a lingerie-clad Britney Spears make out with one of her dancers on stage during the Onyx Hotel Tour. “Breathe On Me” plays as she kisses him but I can barely get my own lungs to work. I glance over at my girlfriends, who seem equally mesmerized, and wonder if they’re looking at her flat stomach because they want it… or because they want to lick it. The next day, I get drunk and let my feelings out, writing in my journal:
“Holy f*cking sh*t, I “just” went to Britney – WOW. I mean, we all know I’ve seen sexual sh*t in my life (on TV or whatever, I know) but I swear I’ve never seen anything quite like this. Britney was so f*cking hot, I can’t even tell you. And we were really quite close. Her face, her body, her everything – the dancing!”
“Her face, her body, her everything” became a mantra of what I desired as a still-closeted gay woman who’d spent most of her life as a tomboy. I lacked these markers of female desirability in a culture dictated by a predominately straight male gaze, but my obsession with Britney let me feel — even if just for a moment — like I possessed them the way Britney did.