Thursday, July 10, 2014

Black And White Makes Grey: What If You're Biased Against Yourself?

When I was in my late teens and early 20's, I didn't know how to figure out whether I was gay or not.  The only sex I knew about (straight sex) sounded to me like pretty much the most awful thing two people could do together.  I knew girls were supposed to like boys... my cousin Samantha was basically boy-crazy, so I watched her and tried to make myself feel the way it looked like she felt about boys.

It didn't work, but I didn't know it wasn't working.  I kept trying, and I aimed squarely at "doing what I was supposed to do."  I had this white-picket-fence vision of where I was supposed to be in my life.  I don't know where it came from - TV, my grandmother, talk at school... I was definitely one of those perfectionist kids who equated doing well with the path to receiving love.

Shortly after high school and not wanting to fall behind in life's schedule, I lost my virginity to a guy I was dating named Dave.  I don't know what it was like for him, but for me it was uncomfortable... painful at worst and boring at best.  A day or two later, after a conversation about whether he would promise to put the toilet seat down when he finished peeing (something I knew nothing about, other than it seemed an important thing to establish, since it had been a source of tension on many TV sit coms), I set to work convincing Dave that we should move in together.  I was 18.  He was 23 or 24, divorced, and a Corporal in the 761st Chemical Company, stationed at Fort Ord, California.

Portrait of an Army dude with a teenager...
We rented an apartment together in a grey, cookie-cutter townhouse-style apartment building in Marina, California.  We bought a huge sectional sofa, a gaudy brass floor lamp, a Sega Genesis, and cable TV.  If I had to guess, I'd say we had been together for about 3 months at that point.  Did you ever hear the one about what a lesbian brings to the second date?  A U-Haul!  Normally, however, the lesbian in the joke knows she's a lesbian... but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

I went through the motions of being in a relationship with Dave for a few months, and while I felt love for him as a person, I certainly never felt anything even close to a crush or romantic love for him.  But, at the time, I didn't know the difference.

I did, however, love to hang out with my friend Stacy.  We were both working on SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE at Monterey Peninsula College.  She was doing props, if I remember correctly, and I was on the fly rail and run crew.  She was funny in her own right, flirty, sharp, charming... but together, we were absolutely hysterical.  We were a dynamic duo and fast friends.

Stacy and Lory, such as they were then.
I admired Stacy's confidence.  She was bold and talented, tortured and unafraid.  I drove her home one night after the show, and while waiting for two men to finish crossing in the crosswalk so that I could turn left, with an air of bravado, I made a joke.  I said something to the effect of, "Move it, faggots!"

Stacy didn't laugh.  She didn't cheer me on.  She said, "Oh, no, Lory.  Don't say things like that.  It makes me sad to hear you say things like that."

I was confused.  Flashes of feelings and questions raced through my mind: fags were like monsters, right?  Or like the devil?  There was nothing good about them, so hating them was fair game, wasn't it?  Good versus Evil.  Wasn't seeing a fag just an opportunity for a decent person to flex their muscles and show their strength a little bit.  The gays deserved it... right?

Embarrassed and perplexed, I back-pedaled, I did my best to underplay my failed attempt to impress, and I moved on.

Over the next couple of days, Stacy became distant.  I begged her to tell me what was wrong.  She was certain I wouldn't want to be her friend anymore if she told me.  After the show one night, we drove to Carmel and talked.  It took a lot of convincing, but finally, in the car headed back North over Highway 1, as we came over the crest of the hill between Carmel and Monterey, Stacy told me that she was gay and that her friend Nina, whom she had spoken about many times but who was studying abroad for the year, was actually her girlfriend.

My legs went numb.

First, is it possible to say that my legs went numb and not have you worry that I crashed the car?  I didn't.

Then, is it possible to tell you so that you understand: when Stacy came out to me and my legs went numb, I awoke to the Truth that people - people worth loving - can be gay.

And that,

Changed

Everything.

I don't know what the biological explanation might be for my numb legs.  It could have been shock.  It could also be that my body knew I was gay in that moment - even when my mind was still clinging to the ridiculous hope that I could carry on my straight-lived charade and have a "normal" life.

Within moments, as I clung to the white-picket-fence image I had in my mind of my life with Dave, I felt a fierce loyalty and desire to protect Stacy and Nina from anyone who might want to hurt them.  I fancied myself a Defender of The Gays.  I would be the ambassador of Gay Is Okay to the straights!

In the weeks that followed, Stacy and I became closer than ever.  She was living with Nina's family even though Nina was away, and I guess to get a break from them or so we could hang out longer, Stacy occasionally slept over at Dave's and my apartment.  One such morning, we got in my car and headed to Monterey.  I was taking Stacy to work and myself to school.

At the time, I was driving a hand-me-down from my Great Grandmother: a turquoise blue 1954 Ford Ranch Wagon.  I still own it.  Although it doesn't run now, my Aunt Trish in Phoenix keeps it for me.

"Elizabeth" - The 1954 Ford Ranch Wagon
I still remember the exact moment - the sun was crisp and low on the horizon to the East, and we were headed South, with the shining expanse of Monterey Bay to our right, and quiet Sand City to our left.  The hills of the Monterey Peninsula were waiting ahead of us.   I don't remember who said it first, but we pulled off the highway, Stacy called in sick to work (at a pay phone, see?), and we got back on the road - headed in the opposite direction.  We were playing hooky.  We were headed for San Francisco!

I've spent time in San Francisco with Stacy since that day, and now, 20+ years later, it's hard to be sure which memories go with which day.  I'm pretty sure we started on Haight Street with my first falafel sandwich (a tradition I still keep), we visited Chinatown, The Castro District, and I remember driving my tank-of-a-car (which had no power steering) down Lombard Street, which was hair-raising.
We talked and laughed and stumbled around the city together.  It was so much fun, I was high on that day for weeks afterwards.

Although I still couldn't imagine that I myself was gay, my relationship with Dave quickly fell apart, we broke up, and he moved out.  I had seen deep, primal joy on that stolen day in San Francisco.  On some level, I knew I wasn't going to see that kind of joy again if I spent my life with Dave.  But I was too ignorant about life and love, and I was still in hot pursuit of doing "the right thing."

I casually looked for another boyfriend.  The trouble was, I had no idea what a crush was, so I had no feelings of my own to go on.  I got in the habit of relying on other people to like me first in order to know whom to date.  And, when I was 20, a girl I had worked with on a production of WEST SIDE STORY gave me a mix tape, and after listening to it for days, it slowly dawned on me that all the songs were edgy, sexy... romantic.  I slipped into a 2-year relationship with that talented, hilarious, and fierce woman who is a dear friend to this day (also, I suppose, in stereotypical lesbians-stay-friends fashion).

It took me 7 years and a couple more girl friends before I finally found the confidence and self-assurance to know with certainty that I was unreservedly gay.  For those intervening years, it was as if I was a butterfly - flitting around labels like "gay," "queer," "dyke," and especially the oh-so clinical and stigmatized "lesbian" - trying to find a safe place to land.

My heart and my body knew who I was.  But all the rules I thought I was supposed to follow just confused me.  So many of the symbols surrounding "gay pride" were hyper-sexualized and, frankly, tacky.  I've never been interested in putting up phallic art, or driving around topless with leather chaps on a motorcycle, or getting in someone's face and shouting "Get used to it!"  In my naivety, I thought that in order to be gay, I had to identify with all of those symbols.  And while they've definitely helped break down barriers and give people a source of strength (even me, occasionally), it took me a long time to figure out that I don't have to go to parades.  I can be gay and quiet.  I can be gay and introverted.  I can be gay and stay home and garden on Pride Day.

I used to think there were a lot more rules than I now know there are.  Some people have some very strict rules against homosexuality.  The way I see it, those rules are like trying to outlaw the sky on a rainy day - people don't have to like it, but all their shouting and carrying-on can't make the rain stop being wet, so they might as well get used to it after all.

On The Occasion of Gay Pride Day NYC - 2014

1 comment:

  1. This is beautiful. I never knew this story and reading it is like a gift.

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