I first heard the word said aloud on a playground. I was 9 years old. An older girl made a jokenot funny enough to bear repetition, not homophobic enough to require criticism. I pretended I understood what it meant, and in the car home, I asked my mother. She said it’s a word for ladies who want to date other ladies, and that there was nothing wrong with it.

I was first called a lesbian in a cafeteria. I was 10 years old. I had just cut off all of my hair, because I didn’t want to look too much like a girl. A girl at my table, who was tall, pretty, and liked poetry almost as much as I did, said that I looked like a lesbian. I asked what she meant, and she said that only lesbians have short hair. I was confused.

She said, “Like Ellen. She’s a lesbian and she cut off all of her hair.”

And I said, “Ellen is a lesbian?”

“Ellen from Ellen, yeah.”

She went back to her chicken tenders. I couldn’t bring myself to eat anymore, and I wasn’t sure why.

When I got back home, I googled “ELLEN LESBIAN,” and, boom, she certainly was one. Soon after, I took a sick day, and I just watched her talk show all day—rewinding and rewinding, focusing on certain words. On the way she dressed. On the way she talked. I didn’t care about the guests, I just cared about her. I didn’t know why, at the time. It was one of those periods of hyper-focus that have plagued me from my youth—the month that I watched Princess Bride every night and tried to look like some sort of 9-year-old-girl version Cary Elwes, for example, or my overnight memorization of every Andy Samberg line from SNL episodes I watched behind my mother’s back.

Instead of pondering my obsession with Ellen’s button-ups, I spent my next sick day watching other TV, as was my wont. As still is my wont, I guess. I was an only child who wasn’t focused enough to work on homework, and both of my parents were at work, so I could watch whatever I wanted that had already been watched on the Tivo or anything in syndication.

I ended up watching Buffy reruns. The next sentence feels as if it’s already been implied.

I wasn’t swept away by Willow and Tara. I wasn’t weeping because, finally, I understood something about myself.

It felt nice, though, to see two girls who liked each other. I was sad when Tara died, but only that—unaware, in my youth, of the heavy implications of a show killing off a lesbian. Willow and Tara made me happy in the same way that Jim and Pam did, at the time. They reminded me that love was out there, I suppose.

Nothing clicked, but my heart felt warmer regardless.

The next year, I had my first ever crush. I had always pretended to have crushes beforehand; I made pro-con lists of every boy I knew to decide which one of them I had a crush on. (Pro: He has a pet newt, which is cool. Con: he’s a boy, which is gross). My crush was the same girl who told me that I looked like a lesbian. I didn’t know how to react—it didn’t feel wrong, necessarily, to like girls, even though I knew by that point that gay people weren’t “normal.”

I didn’t tell anybody about the crush. Why would I? I did what most middle schoolers with embarrassing crushes did—I changed the lyrics of Taylor Swift songs to better suit my situation, and I wrote our initials into my notebook. I didn’t know how gay-married names worked, so I hyphenated them.

Our initials didn’t work very well together.

She said “Well, obviously,” when I came out to her, the summer before sixth grade. This was a common reaction. This is still a common reaction.

My straight friends’ love of the lesbians onscreen didn’t stop them from isolating me, didn’t stop them from letting me rot in my own self-loathing.

On Glee, the coming outs were big, or not there at all. They were dramatic, they were important. And somehow, this wasn’t either of those.

I didn’t want to be like the lesbians on Glee, though, so maybe it was for the better. They were mean, and they were always fighting. That wasn’t me. I was boring and chubby and didn’t really play sports.

I was outed the summer before I turned 14. Orange Is the New Black was getting popular, and, with the exception of my massive crush on Samira Wiley and my adoration for Laverne Cox, I didn’t really get it. My straight friends’ love of the lesbians onscreen didn’t stop them from isolating me, didn’t stop them from letting me rot in my own self-loathing.

I turned to TV, like I always did. I gave up on most shows with lesbians in them because I couldn’t stand dramas; couldn’t stand the threat of seeing people like me killed off. I had read up on how I projected myself onto characters I saw myself in—what if Ben Wyatt was a woman? What-ifs turned amateur-fan-fictions defined my early teenage years, clawing, desperate for representation that felt like me, representation where I didn’t have to worry about those who felt like me being crammed into unhappy endings. I rewatched Buffy and screamed about it. I signed petitions about shows I never watched, raged against the deaths of characters I didn’t even know the slightest thing about.

High school started. I made other gay, bi, and trans friends. We started writing works for ourselves, filling in the voids that surrounded us. We made films, we made stories. And, yeah, we cheered and wept when Rosa Diaz on Brooklyn Nine-Nine came out, because we’re only human.

Listen, I am 17 years old, I am a lesbian, I am still desperate to find myself in the one thing I have always relied upon.

But, listen:

Maybe I can make my reflections for myself, someday.