The Interview Game, Part 2.1: Are You There, God? It's Me, elswhere
Wow, that was fun. Okay, moving right along to Question 2:
2. When did you realize you were a lesbian?
Ah, another seemingly simple question with no simple answer. There are at least three possible responses. This is Answer #1:
When I was twelve, I got a huge, huge, intense crush on my 7th grade French teacher, Mlle. Aaronson. (No, of course that's not her real name, and anyway she got married a few years later and became Mme. Something-Else. (Wow-- just realized that was... let's see... 25 years ago. She's probably in her fifties now. That is a trip.))
This was in the late '70's, and I was an omnivorous and advanced reader with my very own copy of "The Teenage Body Book" and babysitting clients with their very own copy of "Our Bodies, Ourselves," so there was none of that, "Oh, gee, what are these strange feelings, I must be the only one in the world" business. Well, there was some of it, but I knew very well what those strange feelings were called if they persisted into adulthood.
The problem was, all those advice books for adolescents-- the ones with questions supposedly from Real Teens about things like menstruation and pubic hair and Will I Go Blind If I M4sturbate, etc.--included a question from some poor soul along the lines of, "I think I have a crush on my best friend, s/he's a girl/boy and so am I, does this mean I'm gay?" To which the answer was always something like, "Now, there's absolutely nothing wrong with being gay. But don't worry [emphases mine] about your crush on your friend; it's perfectly normal for heterosexual teens to have feelings like this..." and blah blah blah. It was supposed to be reassuring but was actually confusing: if there was nothing wrong with being gay, what was to worry about, with the crushes on friends? Why the need for reassurance? What gave with the emphasis on normalcy? Anyone would smell a rat.
So I kept quiet about my feelings for (and dreams about, etc.) Miss A. Got very good grades in French. Wrote in my journal (or my Notebook, as I insisted on calling it, having been strongly influenced by Harriet the Spy [whose author was gay, did you know? It's true. (And a very odd woman, apparently.)]). (Something about this topic is making me break out in multiple parentheses. Strange.)
I did tell my best friend, who did keep the secret, and didn't freak out, much to her credit. And I wrote to someone I thought might be able to help me sort this out. A writer who discussed controversial issues and (gasp!) sex. Someone with a reputation for being straightforward, honest, and unshockable.
Yes: I wrote to Judy Blume.
And I waited, and waited, and waited. And you know what? All she sent me was a little preprinted autobiographical pamphlet! With a short note on it saying that if I was worried I should find an adult I trusted to talk to. Thanks, Judy. But if I knew an adult I could talk to about such a terrifying thing, would I be writing to a total stranger?
She meant well. And in retrospect, what else could she say? It's not like she could've directed me to the local Gay-Straight Alliance. But I never really felt the same about her afterwards.
Actually, I think I was hoping she would be inspired to write a book about a kid-- a nice, smart kid, maybe a little bookish, with glasses and curly brown hair and divorced parents and a little brother-- who gets a crush on her French teacher, accepts herself, and lives happily ever after in some way or other. (I couldn't quite picture how. I figured Judy could take care of that part. She was a writer, wasn't she?)
If you want to read the letter, it's included in her book Letters to Judy: What Your Kids Wish They Could Tell You. (They changed my name to Margo and said I was 13, not 12. But I recognized it anyway.) I'd quote it here, but I never bought the book when it came out, being still bitter about the whole preprinted-pamphlet thing. Also, if I remember right it's a pretty cloying and disingenuous document; I didn't really want to look at it again, after finding it in the bookstore copy.
Mlle. Aaronson, perhaps recognizing the depth of my feelings or at least appreciating the care I took with my verb conjugations, took me out for lunch on the last day of school. My first date! I managed not to embarrass myself too much, though the whole episode was kind of strange: of course I longed for her to notice me, but what was I supposed to do with the attention? I couldn't exactly declare my love. I didn't even want to! (What did I want? Not sure. Not to be twelve, I think.)
Did all this count as "realizing I was a lesbian"? Not quite. For one thing, I took to heart all that drivel about not taking adolescent crushes seriously and waiting until I was older to... to what? Decide? Declare? Worry? It was all so confusing; after all, I didn't have any other sexual feelings to measure these against. And were these feelings even sexual? They seemed to be, but really I viewed Miss Aaronson as too exalted a being to be sullied with such base thoughts. Maybe I would feel the same about boys, soon? Though I couldn't imagine feeling the same way about a boy, any boy; that would've been really weird.
After 7th grade French, I tried to put the whole issue out of my mind. But that didn't last long. Which is why my answer to Question #2 will be... continued.