Happy 18th birthday! You came to class with a bouquet of cookie roses from your girlfriend, picked out all the chocolate chips, and left the rest. Tomorrow I will lecture you about crumbs and bugs (last week, I found a cockroach the size of my palm behind a beat-to-hell stack of Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth) but today I offer only congratulations. In seven months, you’ll slip the surly bonds of Gila Javelina High School and begin your grown-up lesbian life.
Here are my top dozen tips:
1. Keep being as out as you are now, e.g. out like whoa. Don’t start agonizing over who to come out to, or where or when — even if there’s a scholarship or a job at stake. Fuck ’em. There are other scholarships and jobs, ones that don’t come at the price of your integrity. People’s Exhibit A: Teachers who dither, “My private life is private” when you ask if they’re married. Trust me, they’re full of shit. If they were heterosexual, they’d tell you about their husband or wife as easily as they’d tell you where they went to college. Symptoms of Internalized Homophobia include ulcers, loneliness, and an ongoing sense of nameless dread, so let my generation be the last to suffer. Leave coming-out anxiety as safely in history as 8-track tape players — everyone but the occasional eBay nutcase has moved on.
2. Know your GLBT history. Butches really did used to get arrested for wearing fewer than three items of women’s clothing, and doctors really did used to give queers electroshock “conversion therapy.” That’s out of fashion now, but be wary of “ex-gay” groups or any other religious organization that tries to court you during your first year of college. At the very least, rent “Stonewall Uprising.”
3. …and “Desert Hearts.” Old, but a magical date movie, as is “Imagine Me and You.” Put one of those in the DVD, make a bowl of free-trade organic popcorn sprinkled with olive oil and sea salt, and prepare for the Getting Your Love On Regional Semifinals. Have a CD mix ready for when you pause the movie; otherwise the sudden make-out silence is too weird. I recommend Ani DiFranco’s Up Up Up Up Up Up (skip the tracks “Come Away From It” and “Angry Anymore”: The former is about heroin — bummer! and the second is too boisterous. It’ll wreck the mood).
4. Curvepersonals.com is fun, but try to meet women in real life. This is why I keep pushing you to apply to Smith and Wellesley — you have the grades, and you don’t know how disheartening it is to try and find a partner anyplace that’s got less than 3 million people. It’s a numbers game, and you will lose in a small town (unless you decide to become a land dyke, in which case, learn to re-wire the electricity in an RV or whatever the fuck those women are always doing out in the middle of Ohio). Lesbians comprise 2% of the population, and of that 2%, at least half are too old/too young/too nuts/in a relationship/ hung up on their exes/chemically dependent/struggling to leave the Mormon Church. All these women seem amazing on Curve, but KNOW THAT ANYONE CAN WRITE A WITTY PERSONAL PROFILE. Eva Braun could have done it, if she’d had the technology. Bottom line: Move to a city, or near a city, and give yourself some geographical options. I hear Madison is great. Iowa City. Austin. I don’t recommend Phoenix. That’s where I met the ex-Mormon. Her cats had middle names.
5. Be careful in bars, especially mixed ones. All-women’s bars are rare, even in big cities, so be aware that it’s a boys’ scene. Even a handful of men in a women’s bar change the dynamic dramatically. Watch your drink at all times; if it leaves your line of sight for even a moment, throw it away and order a new one. If you’re in a strange city and don’t know where the gay bar is, rest assured it’s in either (a) the rough part of town; or (b) in the cute, Disney-fied gay neighborhood all big cities have, the one lesbians can’t afford. Just gay men and their strange little dogs.
6. When you fall in love, remember this: Love is irrelevant if you can’t get your needs met. Does your beloved care about the things that interest you? If you have different interests, does she at least ask about the things you like, and listen when you talk? Does she make you laugh? Is she a considerate lover? Do you trust and enjoy her RIGHT NOW, EXACTLY AS SHE IS, or is this a fixer-upper situation? Beware of falling in love with her “potential.” Lots of people have potential. Eva Braun had potential. Fuck potential. See what’s really there.
7. Be good to your girlfriend. Invest heavily; talk and play together all you can. Laugh. Find common goals and go after them together. Your relationship should be your own small universe (not like Heavenly Creatures, though!) with its own culture and customs; language and topography. Put her first. Give her your best. And if you grow apart, take what you’ve learned and apply it again. And again. Until the timing and location and personalities finally line up, and you run off to wherever they’re letting us get married in the year 2035.
8. Women don’t catch HIV from each other; if they did, we’d all be deader than smelts. I think there might have been one case — one partner was menstruating and they didn’t wash the toy they were using — but even that may be apocryphal. However, there’s still herpes, HPV, chlamydia, and other non-fatal creepy crawlies. If you can’t stand latex gloves, at least douse your hands with hand sanitizer before sex. Note the places it stings — broken cuticles, etc. — and avoid vaginal contact with those areas. Another way to avoid sitting in a large vat of penicillin for the rest of your life is to lose your embarrassment and ASK: “Do you have any sexually-transmitted infections that you know of?” “Which STI’s have you been tested for, and how long ago?” ASK. The one time I didn’t ask was the one time I should have. Also, if you decide to snort any drug through a rolled-up bill, don’t share the bill. You can get Hepatitis C that way. If you do use someone else’s bill, turn it around and use the end that wasn’t up their nose. And please, see your gynecologist once a year.
9. In every lesbian community, no matter how small, there’s always at least one whackjob who cheats and lies and scatters the area with Bad Juju Spores. Figure out who that whackjob is and stay away from her.
10. Don’t be the whackjob. Behave yourself. You do not want to have to skulk through the aisles of Whole Foods, hoping not to run into someone you’ve treated badly, so be gallant in love and generous in friendship. Feed and water the women in your life with potlucks and picnics and Solstice Caroling parties. This will bear fruit no matter what: If you stay in one place for awhile, you’ll build a lovely family of friends. If you move around, you’ll never really be alone — even if you land in a big city and don’t know anyone. Your assorted beloveds will call, e-mail, Skype, Facebook, send passenger pigeons.
11. Don’t date women with girlfriends or boyfriends or wives or husbands. It’s masochistic. Please see #6 (“Potential”).
12. Be courageous. If something feels wrong, react accordingly. Don’t second guess yourself. Same thing if something feels right (UNLESS it involves the nutjob from #9.) If someone makes you feel small, or infringes on your space, speak up. “No” is a complete sentence. So is “Yes.”
And it’s still not too late to apply to Smith. The undergrad deadline is Jan. 15.
- “Butch up, Sally!” (to a football player whining about a 1-page creative writing assignment).
- “What’s Purgatory? It’s God’s waiting room, like the Department of Motor Vehicles. Not heaven, not hell. You just have to wait there, bored, ’til they call your number.”
It’s like doing theatre: I have to get their attention, which is fully absorbed by iPhones and Blackberries; status updates and tweets; Jersey Shore and thumb-summoned pornography.* They’re too young to know how much trouble they’re in if they don’t finish high school, so part of my job is to know it for them. To require them to do things that make no sense to them; that they truly believe are useless. I am a modern-day scholastic Cassandra, whose curse is to speak the truth and be thought insane.
In semi-unrelated news:
- I asked the GSA kids to count how many times they heard “That’s so gay,” “You homo,” “He’s such a fag,” etc., in the halls from last Monday to this. The number? 178. And that’s because a bunch of them forgot to keep a tally.
- I’ve fallen in love with ‘Friday Night Lights.” At first, I thought it was a dude’s show — the women seemed to have nothing but supporting roles — but I was wrong. More on this later, even though I’m a way-late adopter.
- I’m trying to write about a traumatic relationship, but doing so has a re-traumatizing effect. I’m a Vietnam vet and she’s a helicopter. Any suggestions from my fellow writers?
Today a few students, after reading the inner monologue of several sociopathic Edgar Allan Poe narrators, wanted to discuss the problem of evil. Although they didn’t call it that. They wanted to know why people do “f****d-up s***”.
“People are born good, right?” asked Backwards-Hat Nick. “So how can they turn out bad?”
I said people are like cars: Some are better-made than others. Some are lemons. If something goes wrong at the factory (genes) and the car is bought by someone who doesn’t take good care of it (environment) and drives on dangerous roads (culture) disaster is more likely to occur.
For some reason, they extrapolated sociopathy into homosexuality:
Backwards-Hat Nick: “I don’t believe people are born gay.”
Me: “Well, as someone who believes she was…” (meaningful eyebrow raise).
Him: “Well, you would think so.”
I let it go — he’s a kid, and he’s from a country that hates gays more than the U.S. does — but after class it started to gnaw at me. Yes, Backwards-Hat Nick — I would think so, because I’m the one living in my body, mind, and spirit.
Straights love to tell us how we got this way. After all, they’re the ones who can see us objectively, right? How could we ourselves know the origin of our sexuality, laboring, as we do, under the illusion that we are who we’ve always been? Either we’re not facing up to our childhood trauma or we just haven’t met the right man or or or. Gay is caused by controllable factors, ones that can be explained if not remedied. Because if they aren’t controllable and explicable, gay could happen to anyone. And there’s nowhere to put the blame.
It’s more complex that this, anyway. Some women’s sexuality is more fluid than others; plus I’m starting to believe in political lesbianism more than I used to. Nothing I could explain today, though,
Who can recommend a good Women’s Studies Ph.D. program in the U.S. or Canada? And, just as importantly, who can suggest which to avoid?
Teaching is hard. Some days the only reason I don’t knock over a Brinks truck instead is, I can’t urinate in front of another person and I’m not femme enough to be some prison dyke’s “wife.”
Thanks for the links — amazing, what a vid of a hairless cat stalking a chicken does for my soul.
I’m trying to be less naive. Naivete is expensive.
I tend to believe what people tell me, and people are often full of shit. They don’t mean to be. They don’t want to be. And yet. When I think of the time I’ve wasted believing and acting on other people’s made-up stories, I feel sick.
Here’s a story I believed, because I loved the person who told it:
I’m a woman inside; I always have been. When I was a kid, I loved pink and baking cupcakes. Trans women are actually more female than non-trans women, because we’ve gone through so much in order to be called women. We’ve examined femininity in ways that non-trans women never do. Transwomen are women. Transwomen are women. Transwomen are women. I’m not like other transwomen, though — those crazy high heels! Those squeaky voices! I compete in a women’s boxing league and do my own drywall, so you can tell I’m secure in my womanhood. I’m the most successful transwoman you’ll ever meet; I work in a male-dominated field for a shit ton of money and no one knows I’m trans unless I tell them. Hey, how come you don’t know how to fix the broken showerhead? Why do you leave those kinds of things to me? I’m experiencing you as really heteronormative, and that makes me uncomfortable. You’re kind of needy, too. Why do you always want to spend time with my friends instead of making your own? I live my life at a Very. Fast. Pace. Why do you always want to talk about everything? It’s exhausting. And it’s weird how you’re more of a second waver at your age; most of those women are old and kind of racist. They’re the only ones who still call themselves “lesbians.” I prefer the word ‘queer,’ because it allows for the fact that some women have penises and some men have vaginas. I don’t need $20,000 sex-reassignment surgery to be a woman; I can totally be a woman with a penis! I’m a woman already! But I’m going to have the surgery so I can feel comfortable in the women’s locker room. It’s basically cosmetic surgery. Just a tweak. It won’t affect anything but my choice of bathing suit. Why are you crying?