I grew up in Staten Island, New York…
I usually pause after saying this out loud in order to allow people time to smirk, laugh, or make a comment. Staten Island has become somewhat of a joke thanks to reality television, but I think I can safely say that lesbians everywhere would have been okay with growing up in Staten Island, specifically you sporty spice lezzies. While it does have a bad rap, I’m realizing that when I was in high school, Staten Island teens had a very progressive and game-changing attitude toward how homosexuality was viewed. Let’s travel back to 2000, shall we?
I attended an all-girls Catholic high school, as a basketball player no less, and being a lesbian had just become a socially acceptable fad. My high school was like a “Hit Me Baby One More Time” video, featuring the cast of “The L Word.“ It was every straight boy’s wet dream – plaid skirts rolled up at the top to appear shorter (until caught by Sr. Mary Francis), knee-high white socks, hair scrunched with mousse, gel, and hairspray (in that order) pulled back by a bra strap headband, caked on makeup straight from Sephora, complete with 14k gold XO bracelets, nameplates, name rings, and hoop earrings. However, there were also consistent detention slips being given out by administration and faculty for finding four feet in a bathroom stall daily. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t EVERY straight teenage boy’s wet dream, but certainly Staten Island kids named Anthony, Joey, and Christopher. The thing is, a lot of these boys and their Italian horn gold chains were being rejected by the beautiful Giovanna’s and Angela’s of St. Dominic’s because a new breed was created in this very school. This new breed developed a curiosity in many teenage girls that was completely inescapable– the Training Wheel.
Training Wheel – (n.) female attracted to other females usually exuding masculine qualities on the exterior, yet retaining interior feminine qualities (i.e., sensitivity and keen listening skills) that allow them to befriend and attract any and all genders, however choose to maintain an immediate social circle of predominantly feminine, straight women. Usually considered one’s stepping stone into the lesbian world. Synonym: Shane McCutcheon from “The L Word.” (I will refer to “The L Word” as many times as needed throughout the course of this story.)
Once a young, straight woman meets said lesbian, it can almost become too much for her curiosity to handle because of the TW’s ability to create chemistry out of thin air. The standard attire of the Training Wheel from 2000-2004 in Staten Island included, but was not limited to, Air Max 95’s, oversized sweatpants typically representing a sports team, a V-neck t-shirt or matching oversized hoodie (weather permitting), and the very crucial hair bun. Sometimes the bun was accompanied by a pre-wrap headband or maybe an intense amount of hair gel; regardless, the bun was the essential identification piece because therein lies all of the power.
As far as my story goes, I was considered a minority in my school. Not only because I was 100% Latina in predominantly Italian and Irish Staten Island, but also because I had a boyfriend (… right?). Out of my 13-girl close, personal friend circle (THIRTEEN), there was an astounding 3 of us that didn’t partake in the lesbian shenanigans. Shenanigans being the Thursday night ritual of sneaking out to the gay bar in Jersey, “taking over the world” meaning channeling every girl’s inner lez while she was under the influence, and attending every basketball and softball game in the tri-state area, obviously. This shit started to spread like wildfire. Looking back it’s almost mind-blowing to realize that I was fortunate enough to have grown up in a world where something this controversial was instantly accepted. Kids that could have potentially been suffering and hiding in shame throughout high school on a daily basis didn’t have to in this community because they had a safe haven within their peers. The weird part was it honestly became as trendy as rhinestone Bebe t-shirts.
Years had past and it seemed even younger generations continued the fad or at the very least allowed people to be their genuine selves without ridicule. After college and post-college, I figured, I made it through 4 years of being around this in my high school with some questioning and no action, I’m not gay, right? Wrong.
Enter, my very own Training Wheel. At 23-years-old, one of my childhood friends who was obviously* a lesbian (*see training wheel attire listed above), was introduced back into my friend circle. The bun unleashed its fury and I was the target. After leaps, bounds, and hurdles, here I was with a crush on a girl. Then, one fist-pumping night out on the island, we saw one another and ended up making some bad decisions. I felt the “connection” and became one of those girls who started saying things like “I think I might be like bisexual?” and “I don’t know, we just get along so well and she always knows what I’m thinking” and the worst of all “I’m not gay, I just like her.”
On top of the initial “OMG am I a lesbian?” and “how exactly am I supposed to do this?” questioning, I also had to face my gay friends who knew me as the everlasting straight girl with the slightly effeminate boyfriends (duh). Coming out is difficult for a lot of people, but in the case of the Staten Island gays, it was more like I was just late to the party.
Since that relationship, I’ve come to accept that I’m interested in both men and women. While it may have been hard for me, I knew everything was going to be okay regardless of who I was sexually attracted to because of my experiences growing up. I am grateful for the judgment-free relationships I’ve developed because of that annoying little island and in 2015, I can confidently say I will always be a sucker for a good bun.