The Way I Am

Frontwoman of Roan Yellowthorn opens up about sexuality in moving essay.


Published:

Jackie McLean

 

The first time I fell in love with a girl I was eight years old. I was auditioning for a community theater production of the Wizard of Oz in the summertime. The theater smelled like dust and paint and adrenaline. She was sitting there in the middle of the group of older kids across the aisle. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. I stared. I couldn’t look away. She was laughing and lively. I had never seen someone who looked like her before. I had never seen anyone so striking. Her hair was blonde, spiky, short. She had a checked collared shirt on. She wore black glasses and a choker. I kept staring, hoping she’d look back at me. Terrified that she would. I wanted to be next to her. I wanted to smell her.

 

I didn’t understand that feeling. It was too strong to ignore, but it was too unusual to explain. I thought about her for weeks afterward, but I never talked about it to anyone. What was there to say? I didn’t know crushes could exist between girls. I’d only heard of it happening between girls and boys. I didn’t have words for what I’d felt, so I put it away.

 

When I started school, it happened again. I developed obsessive crushes on girls and boys, alike. When I had feelings for a boy, I talked about it to other people. I made a performance of it. I dramatized it. When I felt the same thing for a girl, I pushed it down. I tried to ignore it. It made me feel like something was wrong with me. Like I wasn’t normal. Like I was creepy. I didn’t want to be creepy. I wanted to be popular. So I tried to fit in and act naturally. I failed. I was awkward. I was nervous. I was uncomfortable. I couldn’t relax. I stared too much.

 

One day at the end of middle school, a group of girls surrounded me and asked in a chorus if I was a lesbian. ‘What are you talking about?’ I asked, feeling humiliated, feeling like they had caught onto my secret creepiness. ‘You stare.’ said one. ‘You stare at Ashley. We’ve seen you.’ Ashley was standing there. I definitely stared at her. She was beautiful. ‘No I don’t.’ I said, lamely. ‘Lesbian!’ they shouted and dispersed.

 

When high school started, I made it my mission to be as boy-crazy as possible. I didn’t want to ever repeat the humiliation in the middle school hallway. Luckily, I’d developed curves the summer before so the role of the siren was easy to play. I basked in the attention. It was fun. I started going to parties. I started looking for a boyfriend. Looking for a boyfriend was partly an excuse to bond with other girls over the drama of it, and at the parties, I secretly hoped I’d kiss a girl. It wasn’t long before that happened. No one accused me of being a lesbian.

 

It’s taken me a long time to be comfortable with my sexuality. Only in the last few years have I really started to own it. I used to worry that if I expressed any sort of feelings for someone of the same sex, I’d be ostracized or condemned or somehow excommunicated. The stakes felt high. But life is better when I let myself feel, and I can’t help falling in love with friends and strangers regardless of their sex. It’s just the way I am. It’s how I’ve always been. 

 

About the author:

Jackie McLean is the daughter of American music legend Don McLean. She is the frontwoman of the band, Roan Yellowthorn. To follow Jackie and the band, and to listen to her new album, Indigo, visit www.roanyellowthorn.com

 

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