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It was the winter of 2006 and I had been dragged away to a cottage with my family, trapped in the wilderness with no Internet or outlet for my teenaged angst. All I had with me was Civics homework and the 2nd season of The O.C on DVD. Naturally, The O.C won out. By the end of the weekend I had watched the 4th disk so many times it couldn’t play without skipping.
When I was seven, my elementary school friend Katie divulged to me that her and another boy had tried “experimenting” with each other.
I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of confusion consume me as it dawned that all the “experimenting” I had done was with my girl friends, I hadn’t even considered doing that with a boy.
It confuses me that this revelation at such a young age did not make the puzzle pieces fit together any quicker. Having the majority of my sexual experiences that followed be with women didn’t change much of anything either. In fact it took me until the age of 21 to acknowledge my queerness, which was predicated with a year of secretly living with my then girlfriend while living in denial and secrecy to my friends and family.
This story is not only mine. It is that of so many other queer youth awkwardly inching their way towards accepting themselves and hoping those around them will follow suit.
Now at the age of 24, feeling comfortable and confident with who I am, I am driven to understand why it took me 14 years to recognize my sexuality as something valid.
I reflect back to disk 4 Season 2 of The O.C, most specifically to the episode in which Marissa Cooper and Alex Kelly share their first kiss. I remember how my heart skipped a beat. I remember the softness I felt seeing these girls fall for each other. I remember my heart breaking as I watched Marissa end things with Alex after falling back in love with her ex-boyfriend Ryan. Most importantly, I remember watching Alex disappear.
This narrative played out through any number of dramas and sitcoms that filled my youth. A queer female character appears, a relationship buds with the female lead, it is passionate and beautiful, it lasts roughly 3 episodes- then they disappear.
If not that, you watch the possibility of “experimentation” become the punch line for an episode. The female lead has a few too many drinks and tries something she never would- only to be left disoriented and disgusted.
This trope has become so recognizable as to have a Wikipedia page dedicated to it. It has been used time and time again to boost ratings and spice up the show- but as stated by Buffy the Vampire Slayer writer Marti Nixon, "You can show girls kissing once, but you can't show them kissing twice… because the second time, it means that they liked it".
This was all I had to go off of, these fleeting characters that were doomed for failure and erasure. I would watch these characters appear, only to know they would disappear a few episodes later without a trace.
I can no longer ignore the ways I internalized this, and the way it subconsciously played into trivializing the innate and inescapable feelings I was desperately trying to suppress.
This manifested in a very unhealthy mentality- I was able to be sexual with women as long as I recognized that it was purely physical and mainly for the attraction or amusement of men. The moment I started to feel something deeper, I needed to be certain that I disappeared.
As I return to and dissect these narratives it becomes increasingly clear where this mentality came from, and significantly less shocking that it took so much time for me to see my identity and sexuality as something that was valid.
I saw myself in the characters, and while I hate the way they were treated and resent that their sole purpose was to boost ratings, they still hold a strong place in my heart.
I am unsure whether this is an homage or exposure. Perhaps by archiving these women and highlighting them on an endless loop i am attempting to undo their temporality and erasure. Perhaps I am trying to remind myself and others that they existed, that they were important, and that we are not just a plot twist.