Abby Lee Hood is the curator of this month’s series, #lgbtSHEs. Throughout June she’ll be provided her perspective as a member of the queer community and guiding us through questions on identity. Lead Me Back to Me is an homage to Abby Lee’s own journey of queer identity. Abby Lee is a queer sci-fi/fantasy writer and nonprofit communications professional in Nashville. She loves stories that make the hard days a little easier, whether it’s telling a joke while presenting a social media workshop, writing a short story or tweeting about a cause her client supports. Ask her about her love for Chicago, adopting senior dogs, and her hedgehog Noodle.
Probably the first thing I ever really identified as was an explorer. As a kid I made maps of the farm I grew up on, regularly ranged miles from home into the woods on my own, sometimes taking a book and packing up a snack.
I was wild and I raised myself outdoors and in books, away from my quarrelsome family in the quiet beneath the trees. The need to protect and the desire for safety and solitude manifested from the very beginning.
As I grew older, I began to identify myself as other things: a girl, a writer, a student and a fiddle player. I knew I was weird and I was often bullied, but I took refuge in “Redwall,” “Harry Potter” and other favorites.
By the time I hit middle school, I had one of my first real kissing experiences with a classmate who was my best friend. She was also a girl. We did it at night on my dad’s weekend while I was on the phone with my boyfriend. We did it to impress him, and though something distinct and unnamed roiled in my stomach in that dark giggly bedroom, I did not add anything new to my list of identities. I was raised in the South, unaware that girls could like both boys and girls, and still staunchly indoctrinated by my religious and conservative family. I told no one about the kiss, which I enjoyed very much.
My next queer experiences were few and far between, another kiss with a girl on vacation, an act as close to sex as you might expect from a high school senior drunk for the first time and very much in love with another best friend. But still I was blind to my own experiences and though I had strapped on many labels and identities by this time—not a popular kid, ex-cheerleader, musician, redneck, rebel—I was not yet ready to bear the label of queer.
College came and I was set free. I moved to Chicago, transferred to a liberal arts school and for the first time in years, perhaps since I had last hidden myself away in the mulch of last year’s leaves in the woods behind my home, I could breathe. Really, truly breathe. There was nobody to judge me, my experiences or my lack thereof. In a city that gave me as much space as the next ant in the colony I went unnoticed. Nobody cared what I was or what I wasn’t.
Finally, and at long last, the humming of the truth in the back of my brain grew so loud it escaped from my lips and I said it.
Those two words started the beginning of a very long and sometimes uncomfortable and confusing journey. When I dated a boy I thought I’d marry, did that mean I was faking it? Was I really straight? Then when I discovered I was also attracted to transgender and non-binary folks, did that mean I needed a new label? I was lost in a sea of new identify options and unsure of which to claim. It seemed nobody in my new liberal arts college was straight but everyone had opinions about what kinds of labels were problematic or harmful, and some had real prejudice against other queer people. I learned about biphobia, transphobia, racism and privilege in the LGBTQ community and so much more. I consumed Tumblr discourse, hot takes and articles and I educated myself as much as I could to make up for time lost in the years I was unable to be fully myself. I landed on the word queer and it felt my own. It felt like a word that addressed my gender, which is somewhat fluid, and my orientation, which is heavily skewed toward women and nonbinary people. It is the word I use all the time now; I added it to my permanent collection of identities.
In the following years, I have been blessed to find balance on a path that truly feels my own. I am out at work, to my friends and online. I am out to my father’s side of the family, although they are not supportive. I am not out to my mother, at least not explicitly, but I think she has her suspicions. It isn’t safe for me to come out to that side of my family and so I decided it is simply none of their business if or who I am dating. We don’t talk about it.
Though it feels inappropriate and untruthful to spoon feed you false hope or insincere victory fist pumps just because it’s Pride, I can tell you that it’s possible to do at least one thing. Every day, you may take one little step, one foot at a time, down the path you have been on since you were born. When you blessed the world with your entrance upon its stage you were given a journey and it is your place to walk it. Those of use whose paths are paved in rainbow may find it a little more difficult than some, though we are not the only group who suffers. Many may find their paths cluttered with multiple painful obstacles, and while I cannot follow you down paths that are not mine, my heart is with you as you walk.
One step at a time we make a little progress and I believe what you will find is that the person waiting for you at the end is the exact same person that was standing at the beginning.
Although the world put its expectations, cultural bullshit, hardship and unrequited selfishness upon you, you have known yourself longer than you can even remember. As you journey you may find you peel back those layers others used to cover you up.
On my way, I have found the little girl who was exploring, lost in her fictional worlds and talking with her favorite characters is still there. She always was. She is writing her debut fantasy novel as we speak. She has many identities, and she can proudly proclaim each of them.
It brings me great joy to tell you that the best me, the real me, the me at the beginning and end of my journey, are the same girl. And she is proudly, unabashedly, unashamedly and absolutely, queer as hell.