How Anne Frank's Sexuality Helped Me Accept My Own: Books We Love for #PrideMonth
In this series, we honor #PrideMonth with a series of personal essays about books with LGBT+ themes and/or characters that change readers' lives. What better way to start than with Anne Frank's classic diary, viewed from a perspective that history tends to ignore?
How Anne Frank's Sexuality Helped Me Accept My Own
by Ana Freeman
A girl in my 8th-grade English class accidentally flashed me. She was seated facing me, her back against the wall, talking to me and some other kids sitting nearby. She was wearing loose shorts, and I saw London, France, and a whole world of desire before me. I looked away immediately, but it was too late. I was embarrassed, and I was embarrassed that I was embarrassed, and I don’t think I ever spoke a word to her again.
It was 2007. 54% of Americans still opposed gay marriage. A few months earlier, in the same class, a group of kids had stuck a Post-It bearing a bunch of little hearts and the declaration “I love men!” on the back of a boy who had committed the crime of wearing a pink shirt. The cool kids in the class giggled. They giggled even harder when our teacher earnestly reminded us that statistically, a tenth of our class was gay. I looked around as if to say, “Who amongst us? Surely not I!”
You know how in cheesy teen rom-coms, the main character is always reading something in school that conveniently touches on the issue they’re dealing with? That’s how that class turned out to be for me. When our teacher announced that we were reading The Diary of Anne Frank, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to sleep. As a sensitive soul and the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, I thought that reading a true firsthand account of a Jew in hiding during WWII might be too much for me to bear. What I wasn’t anticipating was being awake all night due to something else entirely: excitement.
As I devoured the diary’s pages ahead of the given reading schedule, I was immediately struck by how much I had in common with Anne. To start with, we were both 13-year-old Jewish girls with the initials “A.F.” There was more: we were the constant object of criticism in our families. We had no one to confide in. We had terrible relationships with our mothers and lived in the shadow of seemingly perfect older sisters (both of whose names started with “M!”). We both loved reading and hated algebra, engaged in constant self-analysis, and wanted to be writers someday. We both were unsure of our feelings towards boys.
Then there was this passage:
I remember that once when I slept with Jacque I had a strong desire to kiss her, and that I did do so. I could not help being terribly inquisitive over her body, for she had always kept it hidden from me. I asked her whether, as a proof of our friendship, we should feel one another’s breasts, but she refused. I go into ecstasies every time I see the naked figure of a woman, such as Venus in my art history book, for example. It strikes me as so wonderful and exquisite that I have difficulty in stopping the tears rolling down my cheeks. If only I had a girlfriend!
I could practically have written it myself. I got funny feelings at sleepovers when my best friend and I took our shirts off and gave each other backrubs…and I’d once stolen a book titled Erotic Art of the Masters from my parents’ bookshelf and been unable to tear my eyes away from the female nudes until I heard their car in the driveway and hastily stuffed it back on the shelf, noticeably out of place.
As a deeply closeted baby queer just beginning to come out to myself, I had been convinced that I was completely alone in these kinds of experiences. Lesbians, as far as I was aware, were lumbering, butch creatures of a different species from me or anyone I’d ever met. Bisexual women were sluts who kissed at parties for the sole purpose of attracting male attention. I didn’t believe that the gay feelings that made me so unhappy were shared by other girls my age—let alone by well-loved and deeply relatable historical figures. No one had ever mentioned this when they talked about Anne Frank!
I felt seen, relieved, brimming with possibility. I also felt…more of those same funny feelings I’d been trying to squish down since I was 11—but for the first time, I allowed myself to enjoy them. If Anne Frank could have such an appreciation for the female form and still be a nice, normal girl, why couldn’t I?
I brought up the scandalous passage to everyone at school. “Ohmygod, did you see that Anne Frank was like, totally a lesbian? Weird, right?” To my surprise, the responses were (mostly) more along the lines of “Huh," than “Ew.”
It was the beginning of my long journey towards accepting myself. Anne Frank posthumously brought herself out of hiding by leaving her words for the world to see; though my circumstances were thankfully much less grim, her words brought me out of hiding, too. She never lived long enough to get a chance to define her sexual orientation, but I’ve had the profound privilege of putting my adolescence behind me, and today I’m proud to say that I’m a queer woman.