As an eight-year-old in suburban Michigan, I watched Lindsay Lohan creep across a dock in 'Parent Trap' and jump into a pond naked. At that moment, I had what I now recognize as an early sexual awakening. When her character Annie went skinny dipping after losing a bet, it scandalized me, awakening queer feelings I didn't quite understand at the time. I don't remember the exact moment I knew I wasn't straight, but I remember every single childhood character that made me question it.
Growing up in the late '90s and early '00s, I knew that none of the characters I harbored flustered crushes on were actually gay—in fiction or in real life. In fact, I don't remember a single representation of a queer woman in pop culture from my childhood, and I didn't meet an out lesbian in person until I was 18. This likely contributed to a lot of secret fanfiction I wrote, as well as several unnecessary years in the closet.
The average age children realize they are something other than straight is 12 years old, according to The Pew Research Center, and the average age they come out is now 16. This is an improvement from the 1980s, when the average age of coming out was 21. Today, children are more likely to have seen queer people on television, with gay relationships present in mainstream sitcoms like Modern Family and cartoons like Nickelodeon's Loud House.
According to the 2016-2017 report from GLAAD, 4.8% of series regular characters on broadcast scripted primetime programming in the coming year identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer—the largest percentage ever. Approval of the LGBTQ community is on the rise too: the percentage of people who support marriage equality was 30% in 2000, when I first developed my secret Lindsay Lohan crush. In 2017, it is at 62%.
So, yes, it gets better. But still, between the Babadook becoming a de facto queer icon during Pride this year and Disney's first "gay character" emerging in the form of of Gaston's sexually confused sidekick in Beauty and the Beast, it's clear we are all still grasping for queer representation in media. Here are some femme characters that I knew were absolutely queer (in my mind, at least) when I first became acquainted with them as a kid.
Pocahontas and Nakoma
My earliest and longest-lasting gay crush from childhood came from my first viewing of Disney's Pocahontas. My romantic feelings for Pocahontas didn't start when the Native American princess kissed John Smith, but when she took a dip off the waterfall with her hot friend Nakoma. In my fantasy version of the movie, they ship John Smith back to Europe and live happily ever after with their wise lesbian adviser Grandmother Willow.
Kim Possible and Shego
It is _im_-possible that Kim Possible and her nemesis Shego were not secretly hate-fucking. Throughout the show, the sexual tension between the teenage crime fighter and her main nemesis is palpable. Also, Shego got her powers after being hit by a RAINBOW COMET. Need I say more?
With her flannel, apathetic affect, and cargo pants Debbie is the original queer hipster. This dyke would definitely be spotted at your neighborhood lesbian bar drinking a PBR and rolling her eyes at "the queer scene" while still participating in it.
Macie's green hair and cube glasses make her pretty fucking queer. As an adult, Macie would become a baby gay who goes to Pratt for graphic design and would match with you on Tinder repeatedly but never actually hang out.
Need I say more?
I always had an inkling that Lacienega seemed a little bit not-straight. When I googled it to see if I'm the only one who got gay vibes, I came across an alarming amount of fan fiction and art portraying relations between Lacienega and Penny Proud that I will not link to here because they are 14 in that show—get it together, y'all! But I will say that my 9-year-old heart beat more quickly whenever she came on screen.
Adult Spinelli would get my number at a queer event and then never call me.
And lastly, there was Reggie Rocket: a badass skateboarder girl who looks eerily like one of my recent exes—proving that I haven't changed much since my childhood crushes.