A Story kindly submitted to Nonchalant Magazine by Esther Mollica of New York, USA.
The year was 1997, and I was a student at a Baptist Christian High School in California. The girls and I were sitting in the cafeteria, talking about everybody’s favorite subject: cute boys in 90’s boy bands. Around this time, I first laid eyes upon Mel B in the Spice Girls’ oft-played “Wannabe” video on MTV, and I’d begun to feel something different than when I’d glance upon other pop stars. The fascination and giddiness that I felt, I chalked up to admiration. Clearly, she was a more highly evolved, twenty-something woman with a developed and chiseled body. Unafraid to express her wants and needs, or don a tongue piercing when I feared even getting a navel piercing at Claire’s. She was biracial, just like me, but from a different set of backgrounds. These were all the reasons I used to rationalize this budding attraction.
Other girls tried to explain the hows and whys of boy bands to me. Which ones were cute, which ones weren’t. I didn’t find anyone appealing at all. It wasn’t as if I wanted to vomit all over the sidewalk whenever I looked at men. It’s just that there wasn’t anything there for me. Every time someone got excited about another boy band coming out with a new music video, it felt like I had just mistakenly received something I never wanted or needed from Amazon in the mail, and it came in a variety pack of five.
The girls frequently shared their odd teenage fantasies. NSYNC’S Justin
Timberlake getting off of work at the S’barro in the food court at the mall, asking someone out to prom and claiming their virginity. “Oh Scary”, I thought. “If only tonight could be the night where 2 become 1 (please take me out to a nicer place than the neighborhood Sizzler’s.)”.
When someone asked me, “Who’s your favorite Backstreet Boy?” I felt I was in a life-or-death quiz determining my legitimate heterosexuality. “AJ”, I said, robotically. “He is so hot”. In truth, I panicked and believed AJ as the resident “bad-boy” to be the closest equivalent I had to Scary. Before I could stop to consider the weight of the words escaping my lips, I rested my chin into my palm, leaned over the cafeteria table and sighed, “Scary Spice is just so dreamy”. I don’t know what came over me, and I blame the popular (yet short-lived) 90’s soda, ‘Josta’ with its light infusion of reputed aphrodisiacs for the blunder. If only I’d grabbed a ‘Fruitopia’ instead.
“What do you mean, dreamy?” my friend asked, a bit alarmed. Same-sex
sexuality was not as broadly spoken about among American teen girls in the 90s. Representation was scarce (remember Xena and Gabrielle?). We had Ellen, and we had Ellen. Rosie O’Donnell herself was still hurling Koosh balls at the TV and cooing over Tom Cruise.
“I meant that Scary Spice is admirable! Very admirable!” I said, overcorrecting. It was too late to backpedal, as a football player overheard my declaration.
From then on, I was relentlessly harassed. Dubbed a militant, man-hating lesbian by the jocks. Even called, “Gay Spice” every time I reached into my locker to get my books between classes and a picture of Mel B with that tongue piercing popped out. My best friend next to me kept compulsively putting up David Duchovny photos in her locker. I found out years later that she was really crushing on Gillian Anderson. In a drastic teenage PR move, I took down my pictures of Scary. Every time I noticed that empty spot on my locker door, void of her fierce gaze and inviting smile, I just felt empty.
I waited for my ride home in the parking lot that day, absently fiddling with a Tamagotchi. I wondered to myself if there could ever be a day I would get to worship at the altar of Mel B without fear of being mocked or bullied. That day came a week ago when I traveled alone to London to see the Spice Girls perform their last show on their reunion tour. It was a moment that sixteen-year-old me never thought possible, and it meant so much to settle that score with the part of me that was bullied into not coming out over twenty years ago. I journeyed into the depths of Spiceworld without my wife, who wasn’t able to get time off of work. It was my way to answer those questions that echoed and bubbled within my adolescent soul.
And so, I waited intently, near the stage for three hours in the rain. My patience was rewarded; Mel B herself danced in her platform heels and glittery catsuit a mere three feet away from me. My eyes grew wide, my breath caught, as she briefly winked during her routine of, “Spice Up Your Life,” and I wished for nothing more than to never again close my eyelids, that this single image might burn into my retinas for all time. At one point, she strutted past in a skin-tight, leopard-print catsuit and I breathlessly recounted it to my friend: “It was like reverse conversion therapy. I saw Mel B’s ass and became five times gayer than ever before.”
There, alone in London, I reclaimed my inner vigor both as a woman and as a girl, admiring four heroines in their forties who proved that anything could still be achievable even as all of us grew into adulthood: that it is possible to have children, get married, and still revive your career. Not compete with other women but lift them up. Trust in yourself and your sex appeal. Even get/maintain genuine abs after thirty-five years of age.
Sixteen-year-old me never thought I would be able to come out, become less shy, marry a woman, or travel so far on my own and get so close to beholding Scary Spice outside of a few torn pages out of Seventeen magazine.
Something magical happened as I watched the concert: I believed in Girl Power once more.
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