Crushed Out

By Liz Massey, February 2017 Issue.

A lot of LGBTQ adults will tell you their awareness of their sexual-romantic attractions and/or gender uniqueness stretches back to their earliest memories.

One of the clearest ways my proto-queerness reared its beautiful head when I was a youngster was through my crushes. My choice of celebrity role models and real-life infatuations provided ample evidence that “one of these things is not like the others,” and it was me.

Take, for example, the interrogation I received when I was six and I was required to hang out with an age mate while my parents went to a party. This girl rhapsodized for at least 30 minutes on the many virtues of David Cassidy of “The Partridge Family” and was quite put out that I didn’t share her excitement about him.

About 10 years later, I was jokingly accused of not being an “All-American girl” for being oblivious to the male starpower of Bruce Willis during his “Moonlighting” days. (He did have nice hair then.)

In between those exposures as a romantic outlier, I was busy surreptitiously having crushes on an assortment of fetching girls and women, including:

• Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter)

I thought her outfit was too skimpy, but she was strong, had an invisible plane and fought Nazi spies!

• The Bionic Woman (Lindsay Wagner)

This heroine had extra-human strength and she, too, got to do cool spy stuff.

• Jo from “The Facts of Life”

(Nancy McKeon)

She had a motorcycle and wore a leather jacket. That is all. (Swoon.)

• Actress Kristy McNichol

The actress who was the source of this crush combined girl-next-door looks with a sweet charm. If I had actually seen her and Tatum O’Neal in the movie “Little Darlings” when it came out in 1980, I think I would have spontaneously combusted.

When it came to my real-life infatuations, I was a sucker for a strong, sporty girl, or a smart, confident woman. While I didn’t have too many crushes who were secret agents (unless they were really good at keeping that secret!), I did have Gaby and Lisa, who were star athletes in soccer and basketball; Stephanie, who led our high school newsroom with both intelligence and a sense of humor; Allison, who wowed me in college with her guitar playing and out-lesbian charm; and my high school band director and journalism teacher, who set my musical and professional writing aspirations on a firm foundation.

Looking back on all this, I’ve come to realize that crushes represent our projections of what we value, who we find attractive (very important for young LGBTQ hearts and minds!), and the sort of people we want to become. My sporty crushes reflected my love of being active. My spy crushes demonstrated the crafty and significant ways in which I wished to use my intelligence. The musician crushes connected my passion for the arts to the passion I felt for my talented musical friends. My crushes on my teachers gave me hope that I would some day develop into a professional who had something to give back to others. My motorcycle-gal crushes … well … while I’m doing well to pedal around the neighborhood on my adult tricycle, I think those infatuations represent the wildness and subversiveness that lives beneath my suburban middle-class exterior.

Lately, I have taken to consciously seeking out grown-up crushes and sharing my affinity for these fine women (and the occasional fellow, since there are a few gentlemen who also meet these aspirational criteria for me) with other besotted comrades. Currently my fangirl list is taken up by the following celebrities:

• Rachel Maddow

Rhodes scholar, out lesbian, policy wonk, pantsuit wearer extraordinaire and one of the most intelligent and incisive news commentators out there. What’s not to like? (And cute as a button, too.)

• Sarah McLachlan

I’m a huge fan of Sarah’s unique songwriting and singing talents. I love the fact that she can turn even the most upbeat holiday song into a minor key dirge. I also love that she dealt with creepy deranged fans by writing the song “Possession,” which made her money off of their unwanted letters to her.

• Claire (Caitriona Balfe) from the “Outlander” TV series

No matter what century she’s in, Claire speaks up for what’s right, takes care of those more vulnerable than herself, and supports her equally sexy husband Jamie while looking fabulous in 18th century haute couture.

• Jennifer Lawrence

Because she is just a general badass. No matter how submissive or powerless her character starts out behaving in a movie (her role in Joy being a recent example), she finds a way for them to pursue their own destiny, often with a great deal of self-assertive flair.

Filmmaker Wes Anderson has written about both the power and danger of crushes for early adolescents.

“When you’re 11 or 12 years old, you can get so swept up in a book that you start to believe that the fantasy is reality,” he said. “I think when you have a giant crush when you’re in fifth grade, it becomes your whole world. It’s like being underwater; everything is different.”

Adults have the option, given their more seasoned perspective, of coming up for air when they have a crush. We can dive deeply into the positive qualities our crushes represent to us – but also have the sense to realize that the strengths we see in them are also in us, and have been there the whole time, waiting to be discovered and expressed.

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