March 19th, 2011 - Amy Estes
My friend Brian and I drove from Sacramento to Oakland to the Fox Theater to see DJ-musician Girl Talk, whose mash-ups and dance music had brought him to wild popularity. I played his album on repeat for months. Brian and I started slugging down whiskey in the car, and once inside the theater, I bought an overpriced Diet Coke and Malibu and waited for the warmth of the alcohol to fill my body.
I felt sexy that night in the hip-hugging jeans I wore specifically because they wouldn’t fall down while dancing, a low-cut tank top, and comfortable-yet-stylish Nikes, an outfit I chose because I wanted to drunkenly lose myself in the anonymity of a crowd, feel the thrum of the beat in my teeth, and dance hard until sweat poured down my cheeks.
I was chasing any experience that made me feel alive in my 27-year-old body, because most of the time, I felt dead inside. And, most of the time, I wished I was.
There wasn’t anything obviously wrong with my life. I had a steady job as a high school English teacher. I’d found mild success writing online and I spent my weekends driving to Los Angeles or San Francisco to hang out with the friends I’d met through the blogging world. I immersed myself in mining the monotony of my days for personal stories, and posting my 20-something reflections for the world to read. I found my only true joy in writing, something that has been a throughline for my entire life.
There were problems not visible on my blog or in my classroom. I was drinking too much on weekends, spending myself into an impossible albatross of debt, and desperate to find anything that would make me feel good in the moment, even if it wasn’t wise in the long term. I woke up most nights in cold sweats, in tears, in night terrors, haunted by the ghost of a truth that never seemed to materialize in the morning. I couldn’t decipher what was wrong, why was I making such bad choices, why was I so unhappy.
I assumed the problem was my relationship. While I’d gone to that concert with Brian, a friend I’d dated and slept with off and on for five years, it should be noted that my boyfriend, Andrew, was out of town playing poker and even if he hadn’t been, wouldn’t have come to see Girl Talk. To be clear, this concert wasn’t a secret. Andrew knew exactly where I was and with whom. He didn’t care. We’d been together for four years, stuck in a cycle of fighting, him leaving or cheating, me returning to my nebulous non-relationship with Brian. Neither of them seemed eager to give me the relationship I thought I wanted (marriage, 2.5 children) so I directed my efforts towards giving them the relationship I thought they wanted (sex with a “chill” girl with no real commitment).
Ten years later, I can see so clearly that I was trying to outrun something I didn’t have the courage to admit. Since my best female friend had kissed me in middle school, I had been spooked by a truth that my religious upbringing made it impossible to say: I am queer.
At 27, it had seemed too late to double back and be myself, but not saying it was killing me slowly.
Two and a half years later, I fell in love with a woman who stopped me in my tracks and let me say it out loud: I’m queer. It turned my life upside down, and she broke my heart, but it gave me the freedom I’d been chasing.
As a 37-year-old woman in a happy queer marriage, my heart breaks a little bit for that 27-year-old girl who prayed that the beat of the music could drown out the truth of her life. I wish I could pull her off the dance floor and beg her to tell the truth. Still, it’s not a sad memory, because when I think of dancing to a mashup of Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares To You” and Lil Wayne/Birdman’s “Stuntin’ Like My Daddy” in a sea of sweaty bodies, I remember feeling overwhelmed with a snippet of sheer joy amidst internal chaos. Even then, there was so much more truth inside of me than I realized. I feel so grateful I stopped running long enough to find it.
Amy Estes is a writer, comedian and educator from Sacramento, CA. Amy’s humor writing has been featured on McSweeney's, Slackjaw, The Belladonna, Weekly Humorist, and her other writing has been featured on the Huffington Post, Evocations Review, The Financial Diet, PULP Mag, Livability, POPSUGAR and other places she can’t remember right now. Amy’s live storytelling has been featured in shows like Mortified, Cliterary Salon, Greetings From Queer Mountain, The Racket SF and on SoulPancake. She was a featured speaker at Creative Mornings: Sacramento in September 2019. In 2020, Amy and a fellow humorist launched Hot Gay News, a weekly podcast where two middle-aged queer women try to explain pop culture to one another…for some reason. You can (and quite frankly, you should) listen to it here. Currently, Amy teaches satire writing for the acclaimed Second City, comedy classes for local non-profits, and middle school English. When she’s not writing or teaching others to write, you can find her drinking coffee with her wife and dogs, reading books, and watching her murder stories. Or napping, if we’re being real about it. She is also hard at work on her first book, a memoir. It’s going well, thanks! Or terrible. Depends on the day.