“On Compulsory Heterosexuality” by Melissa Benedetta Calzari

I know how to tell if a boy likes me; I’ve been taught how to.
I know what to do, what to say, how to sway my hips; I know
if he’s just not that into me and how many days I should wait
before calling him back. I know how to get out of an uncomfortable
date, which digit to change when giving my number out wrong
and how to laugh at the right times, but I couldn’t even look back
at her without shaking like a thirteen-year-old; this isn’t what
I’ve been taught at all.  

We ask each other what all the letters in LGBT mean.
I realized it last year. I’ve known all my life. I was 12.
We ask each other how sex works, how to meet other girls,
we share tips on coming out. None of us were taught this.
I tell people I like girls. I don’t use the L word, ever.
I take a deep breath and – nothing. It burns the back of my
throat like the name of a former lover I obviously don’t have
because who could ever love me if I don’t even know who I am?

I don’t know the proper girl-who-likes-girls etiquette like
who asks the other out and who pays for lunch. I realize
I’m asking myself who’s the man; I realize it will take so many
years to unlearn all of this. In three years of Cosmopolitan issues
I’ve learned everything I need to know to find a man, keep a
man, please a man – I’ve read exactly one article on homosexuality,
and it taught me how to convince myself that, believe it or not,
lesbians are people too, just like me and you!

I am expected to like boys so this is what I do. Nicholas
Sparks cheers as I get myself into a dreamy relationship
with a boy. Sweat drips down my spine the day we’re having
lunch and he asks if I know any lesbians. He probably knows
why I won’t have sex with him by now. No cheap high school
movie has taught me what to do, no columns in magazines, no
motherly advice. I still don’t have sex with him, though, so
two years later I can proudly declare myself a gold star.

I have to learn it all by myself. Queer slang, queer literature,
queer history. I’ve kissed a boy at fourteen, I didn’t even kiss
a girl before I turn twenty. “I didn’t even know it was
a possibility!” I tell my new friends. I teach myself how to
say the word lesbian out loud without having to choke back tears,
without wanting to kill myself. I stop myself from saying sorry
before or after I tell someone I’m gay – I finally teach myself
my existence isn’t something I have to apologize for.

Bio: Melissa Benedetta Calzari is a 20-year-old queer girl living in Milan, Italy. She’s currently in the process of getting a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Her poetry has been published mostly in independent zines. She writes about being a woman, being queer, and mental illness.


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