But first, before I embark on this meme of epically-gay proportions, I must point out that this is post number six-hundred-sixty-six. That's 666, people. Satan's blog post. So here you go. A meme about gayness:
1.) Which of the names in the LGBTQQ rainbow best describes your own orientation?
For years I've preferred queer, b/c I thought of it as an umbrella term that encompassed all the many ways I wasn't mainstream. I also liked it because it was gender neutral and gave me a certain freedom. As time passes, though, I notice that I think of myself more as a lesbian now, a more narrow word that isn't inherently gender neutral. This shift is to do with settling more into womanness and leaving behind something that was more ambiguous. I could write a whole book on gender stuff, though. So I'll stop now.
2.) What is your first recollection of gayness in any form?
When I was 9, we lived in a newly built housing development in Durham, NC. These two men bought the house at the end of the street and immediately put up a privacy fence. They seemed nice enough -- we would often see them out taking walks around the neighborhood together or in the grocery store. They wore a lot of pastel, but it was the 80's... Anyway, mom called them "the gay guys" and, besides mom speculating on which one was "the woman" I never heard anyone say anything bad about them. It was just a fact of life that these two men lived together in the house at the end of the street: the gay guys. Looking back, I think the fact that not even the kids seemed to care about it... that's pretty extraordinary.
3.) Who is the first gay person you ever met?
Not countign the gay guys... I was at college orientation. I was 18. I watched Scott, one of the orientation volunteers, a sophomore and a real flamer, argue with one of the orienteers who had just made some dumb jock, half-assed, gaybashing comment. We'd all spent a lot of time together and we all really liked Scott, including the dumb jock. When Scott told the jock he was gay, the jock just kept saying "no man, no way" -- then Scott rummaged around in his bag and pulled out a set of pride rings. He held them up like a magical talisman, like his gay i.d. card, to prove to the jock that he really, truly was gay. I remember looking at those rings with envy. "Oooooooh, gay accoutrements! I want some!"
The first actual lesbian I ever knew (besides myself) I met at the beanstalk coffeeshop, a few weeks after the thing at orientation. Her name was Elizabeth and when we walked into the crowded upstairs of the just-off-campus coffeeshop, she was sitting on a stool in a corner, under a spotlight, with her intent little face focused on a poem she was reading to the room. She was wearing pride rings. I practically swooned. My first actual lesbian! And a poet! That night began a crush that lasted YEARS and was never, somehow, requieted...
4.) When and how did you realize you were LGBTQ or Q?
We used to take road trips when I when I was young, to see family. I vividly remember seeing female truck drivers on the road, looking butch and wearing flannel shirts (did I add that detail later??) -- and I remember, probably between 10 and 12, thinking "Oh, those must be lesbians," (a word I probably heard first on Oprah...). I tried to picture myself kissing them. With an air of resignation, I thought, "Well, I'll probably have to check that out someday," even though the concept was completely vague and I had no idea what I expected it to lead to.
Later, in high school, I returned to those thoughts about the truck-driving lesbians. I expanded my imagination and decided there was probably a link between those early images of the flanneled truck drivers and the debilitating crushes I was developing on girls at school. It was almost as though the truck drivers (representing something sexual) were in one room and the girl-crushes (representing something innocent and platonic) were in another room, separated by a wall. I thought about it awhile and finally said, "Ok, what happens if I let these two ideas mix?" I knocked out the wall between the two rooms and suddenly I recognized the crushes as actual, romantic crushes and not just something friendly and chaste. That changed everything.
5.) Coming out?
On my 18th birthday, I told my guy friend Donor that I thought I was bi. This was 1992. I didn't think I could say I was "gay" yet because I hadn't tried it. "Bi" was my gateway word. Donor was my dorky, REM-guy friend. We went to French movies at the art museum in Raleigh together, that kind of thing. He thought it was cool that I was bi. We were on our way to see a band called Mary's Danish play that night and I remember feeling excited that I might get to see cute girls and I was with my friend who supported me.
I started college the next fall, in '93, and somehow just flopped out completely without much planning. I got hit on by this guy during the first weekend, a big doofus who thought of himself as a ladies man, and I learned quickly that it never helps your cause to use "sorry, I'm gay" to deflect the advances of a smarmy bastard. The inevitable follow-up is "cool, do you have a friend you can bring along?" That story got out, but at first people believed I'd only told him that to get him off me. Pretty soon, a chick down the hall came to my room and asked if it was true. I said yes. She acted goofy and within a week we were a couple. Yay for me!
6.) How's the family feel about it all?
Oh the family.
I came out to my mom first, and by default, also to my brother Dave. Summer of 1994, the only summer I lived at home during college. I wrote her a letter and left it for her to find while I spent the weekend in Charlotte at the pride parade. We spent the rest of the summer fighting about it. She insisted that she didn't have a problem with the gays, she just took issue with the *way* I was being gay. Like going to parades and wearing pride rings and reading gay books. "If it's just love, then why do you have to read *gay* books? Why can't you read normal books??" Thanks mom, I see you really understand the issue. Your compassion warms me like a cozy blanket.
Anyway, she's still a stark, raving lunatic, but she's mellowed a lot on the issue. We haven't fought much about it since then. And she's always been genuinely warm and welcoming to any girlfriends I've introduced to her. She's a people person and really enjoys people -- it's politics and stuff that baffle her. She can't be bothered to try and understand any of it. But, anyway, I could do worse. And, of course, she forbids me to come out to any of her family because "I'm the one who lives down here with them," she says, "I'll be the one who'll have hear about it later." Thanks again, mom. I appreciate the way you stand up for me.
As for my dad's side of the family, we've been locked in an epic don't-ask-don't-tell for about 14 years now. God bless my awesome grandmother who finally snapped in 1998 and asked. She was surprisingly sweet and philosophical about the whole thing, considering she's just a little old lady who's spent her whole life in the mountains of North Georgia. I have had a weird and strained relationship with my dad and stepmother all my life and, early on, evolved the defense mechanism of keeping all things precious to me well hidden. It doesn't help, also, that they're fundamentalist Christians. Things have been loosening up between us all over the past few years, and I feel it won't be long before I finally confirm what they all already know. Until recently, it just seemed like more intimacy with them than I could handle. Now... we'll see.
7.) Do you have any stories about homophobia you've experienced?
Besides my family...? When I was younger, I had people yell "DYKE!!" out of car windows at me. That was fun. However, most of the stuff I've experienced was more to do with my gender expression than my gayness. I used to look much more androgynous and spent a lot of time: a.) being called "sir" and b.) worrying that I'd end up in a Brandon Teena type situation when it was discovered that I was not a sir. I took a lot of road trips and lived in fear of public restrooms, especially in the South. Sometimes I would just pretend to be a guy. I wouldn't correct people who called me "sir" and I would specifically accentuate my more masculine features just to feel safer. I'd sometimes use the men's room.
The scariest thing that ever happened to me happened on campus during undergrad. I had a class that let out at 10pm and I was walking alone to my car in a dark, secluded part of campus. The kind of thing everybody's always telling you never to do. Anyway, this carload of ballcap-wearing assholes drove by really slowly and once they were about twenty feet ahead of me, somebody yelled out "fucking faggot!" I was puzzled and worried and I just kept walking. Then they yelled out "You got anything to say about it, faggot?" And I really wanted to say, "hey dumbass, I'm a dyke not a faggot, what's wrong with you?" But instead, I said "No." And then they yelled, "I didn't think so, faggot!" And then they drove off. I just kept walking to my car, worrying that they would make the quick loop and come back to beat the shit out of me. But they didn't. Fortunately.
Another notable instance of homophobia came when the free-expression tunnels were defaced. At the time, I was co-prez of the queer group on campus and we had painted the tunnels for National Coming Out Day with all sorts of relatively tame, pro-gay statements. In 24 hours they had been defaced with lots of nastiness, including over 100 death threats and threats of violence. It was pretty fucked up. I remember standing in the tunnels, just looking at everything, and hearing this woman I knew start to sob. I was feeling pissed about it, and as I listened to her sobs echoing through the tunnel, I thought "Right: I'm pissed because I'm hurt. We're all hurt." It was pretty sad.
8.) Any proud gay moments?
When I was in undergrad, I used to volunteer to be on these panels to talk about gayness. Classes (like, for example, abnormal psychology) were always trying to get panels together to speak on certain issues. I volunteered for every panel I could. I have no idea what compelled me, I have no strong pull to public speaking and the panels were often humiliating. Students would turn in questions to their professors on index cards beforehand in case people were too shy to ask questions in class. Because of the anonymity, we got lots of questions like: "How does it feel to know you're going to burn in hell for being a homo?" And, "What do you do to each other sexually?" And, "Doesn't it gross you out?" I have no idea if our panels actually helped, but at the time, I felt it was a life or death thing: to speak to these people and put a face on the idea of gayness. And, you know, it was easier to talk to a room full of strangers than my homophobic family. I guess it helped me balance something out that felt ashamed that I didn't have the courage to come out to the homophobes in my own lfe.
9.) Favorite thing about gayness?
I used to really enjoy the accoutrements. I liked feeling like I was part of a special club, with special, identifying accessories. I liked knowing that I could go to an Indigo Girls or Melissa Etheridge show and it would be like going to a family reunion. I liked the specialness of it.
Now I feel like things are changing. Things are probably still the same in smaller, more rural areas. But here in the big city of Portland (ha) gender and sexuality seem much more fluid than they used to be and I don't really feel like I'm in a club anymore. If anything, I'm in a club of people who remember what it felt like to feel like we were in a club... does that make sense?
So, now I'd have to say, my favorite thing about gayness is the gayness. I love women and I get to be with them. That's the best part.
I tag all the homos who read this blog. What are your stories?
UPDATE: I take it all back! The Indigo Girls are on Talk of the Nation on NPR and I lied! I'm still in a club! I'm giddy with excitement about these two dykes on the radio and right now I am prepared to say that this feeling is my favorite thing about gayness... whatever this feeling is. It's awesome!