Hormonal Teenagers

I think about this incident every so often and cringe at how clueless I was – about how friendships worked outside of the frum community, about my own sexuality, about a lot of things. And it makes me reflect on my adolescence, too – so here’s the incident and some afterthoughts:

I was a sophomore in college. Since I had declared my major fairly early and had started taking upper-level literature classes as soon as I could, I had met a number of serious English majors who were in a number of classes with me.

I saw myself as on the fringe of their group. I only found out later that they had met me the same time they met each other, and that I was as much a part of the group as anyone else.

But of course, with my mother’s words ringing in my ears – “make sure they know you’re friends with them in school but not outside of school” – I maintained a sense of separateness despite the fun we had together in and out of class. I didn’t join them on their trips out for lunch or dinner, though, so I did wind up on the fringe after a while, as they got closer to each other and I stayed at a distance.

One day after class, we stood around in the hall chatting. We got a bit silly, and we were all laughing and enjoying ourselves. After a while, one girl had to leave to get to her next class. She said goodbye, with some more big smiles and laughs, and as she turned the corner, I turned to the others and, still smiling from her last joke, said, “oh, I love her.”

The others’ expressions kind of froze. And then they ignored what I had said and went on chatting. I knew immediately that I had said something weird.

What I had meant at the time, what was going through my head, was “her energy is amazing and she’s so cool and I love hanging out with her.”

What I realized later, what it must have sounded like to my friends because that’s what my subconscious meant, was that I liked her.

But even at that point, I had so little framework to know what attraction to a girl felt or looked like. So when I got a silly grin when I thought about her, or when I got a good feeling inside when I was near her and listening to her laugh – I just thought I admired her.

The realization of what had actually been happening, once I had the framework of queer attraction with which to think about the incident, made me think back to high school, to the girls I had acted weird around, whose attention I had wanted.

I thought about how I once commented to a classmate I was close to about how graceful she was and how beautifully she moved, and how she got a little uncomfortable with that.

Often, people from outside the frum community scoff at my claims that many Bais Yaakov girls don’t know what sex is until they’re engaged, that they don’t know what attraction is. They say “but you were all teenagers, you must have had hormones and all that stuff going on, it’s normal and natural and you all must have experimented at least a little bit.”

Looking back, I know that I did feel many of those hormonal things as a teenager. But when you don’t have the framework or the schema within which to understand those feelings and urges, and when you would have to go search for the opportunity to explore and experiment with desire – no, you don’t know what it is.

But in a weird way, it comforts me to recognize that I did feel all that as a teenager, and that I did make a fool of myself because of those feelings – even as a college student who should have known better by then…

3 thoughts on “Hormonal Teenagers

  1. > They say “but you were all teenagers, you must have had hormones and all that stuff going on, it’s normal and natural and you all must have experimented at least a little bit.”

    Experimented how? With whom? I never so much as spoke to a girl my own age in high school. Obviously, there were no girls in yeshiva. When we went to families in the community for Shabbos, the girls in family had to go eat by friends (because we were going to make out at the table in front of their parents?). I have one sister who is eight years younger than me, so her friends weren’t “girls,” they were little kids. And I also was too good a kid to go looking for opportunities. Not when we were told over and over that talking to a girl was the worst aveirah.

    It’s interesting that even though you had the opportunity, it never occurred to you to act on it because you didn’t even know enough to know what you were feeling.

    1. All of this, yes. And ha, I forgot about the “boys weeks” and “girls weeks” – especially families who host yeshiva bochurim and seminary girls on alternating weeks in Israel.

      Apparently, I’m finding out now that there are pockets of lesbian activity in almost every BY, and I’m just here going “why didn’t you all find meeee!!!!” Lol. Nah, but having no schema for it meant I didn’t even know what I wanted, and yeah, it’s confusing – then and still now, sometimes.

      I knew what I wanted from guys, because I had read enough by then to at least be able to recognize what I was feeling when I looked at a guy and thought “hm…” There were girls in high school who did go find boys, of course. But the “good girls” wouldn’t have known where to start – and I was, unfortunately, a “good girl.”

  2. Feelings and hormones without context and/or understanding are just… confusing. Have you noticed that, it seems, every single teenager walks around with a permanently startled look on his or her face? As if every new day, the world is throwing stuff at them and they have no idea what do with the stuff. Look at teens, really look at them next time… perhaps, while they are interacting with each other at the park or riding the train. The healthy ones, the ones that are being allowed to grow up naturally, often act like curious little animals–competing, speaking precious nonsense (that makes many of us non-teens grin because we *now you, too* can remember when we did the same stuff). Some of us were very lucky–we were allowed to explore the nonsense that makes so much sense now, were able to share with others and find out we were not alone living in bodies that seemed to feel and react in whatever way they wanted, no explanation given to us.

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