Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Interview Game: Question 2 Finally Bites the Dust

Background, if you just tuned in: I'm in the process of completing the Interview Game, which involves answering five assigned questions. It's taking a while, which should be no surprise to those who know me.

Links to previous posts:
Interview Game Introduction and Question 1
Question 2, part 1
Question 2, part 2
Question 2, Part 3
A post with a little at the end that's sort of Question 2, part 3.5 (skippable)

Question 2. When did you realize you were a lesbian? Part 4

So, I'm in college. Funny thing, that I'd choose a women's college known for its bluestocking past and feminist present. Me being so normal and teenage-y and with the boyfriends and all, and so, so over that murky period in early adolescence when I had all those feelings about girls that I'm not thinking about any more.

Though there haven't been any boyfriends for the past year or so. Just haven't been interested. Senior slump, maybe.

And what do you know, who's the first upperclasswoman I meet, before Freshman [sic] Week is even over? A lesbian! A weird, nerdy, fantasy-reading, somewhat troubled lesbian, at that. I fall in with a Weird Crowd. Followed by a more wholesome but even dykier crowd (Hi Angela!) my sophomore year. Lots of female bonding, Wyyyymyyn's Music, "Death to the Patriarchy"-type rhetoric, and more fun, along with several crushes and flirtations.

And yet, I persist in not labeling myself. It doesn't feel right. I've gotten so used to the emotional limbo I've been in since hitting puberty, I'm not sure how to get out of it. I mean, what does it take to call yourself a lesbian? Being in love with another female person? Well, I've done that, but if I wasn't a lesbian then, how can it make me one now? Do I have to wait until I have a girlfriend? But isn't that putting a lot of pressure on some potential relationship? Anyway, I don't seem to be on the fast track to girlfriendhood, being as how I keep falling for unattainable or unsuitable (either attached or Too Weird To Consider, with Red Flags Flying All Over) people.

I become somewhat fond of the word "nebulous." My pseudonym in my dorm's Back5m0ker Diary (a sort of proto-group-blog, housed in a common room and written in a composition book) is "Ruby Tuesday" (as in, "Who could hang a name on me?"). It all starts to feel kind of precious.

By junior year, I'm a bit frayed. I've just finished a rough summer temping in a nearby city. I'm in a dorm I thought I'd like, but where I have hardly any friends and feel alienated and lonely. For some ungodly reason, I've decided to fulfil a distribution requirement with an advanced math class that's way out of my league, and for the first time ever, I'm failing.

And I still haven't worked out the sexual identity thing; it doesn't seem so cute to be nebulous any more, now I'm closer to the end of college than the beginning. On the other hand, my crowd looks down on bisexuals and "four-year lesbians." While coming out is no longer the imponderable it was in junior high, it now feels like a Very Serious Business, not to be embarked upon lightly lest I be accused of dilettantism.

In short (or not so short), the whole thing has become so loaded that feels like my whole life, not just some arbitrary sexual label, is on hold, and has been for years.

One afternoon I'm hanging out alone in the tiny Campus Women's Center, procrastinating on some paper or other, browsing through the bookcase that serves as the center's library. Out of the random mix of feminist theory, old issues of "off our backs" and "Calyx," and Naiad Press potboilers, I pull out a book that looks intriguing: The Law of Return, by Alice Bloch.

I start flipping through it. Okay, it looks like the story of some girl's awakening to her sexuality through a Zionist pilgrimage to Israel right after college. Blah, blah, sex with charismatic but annoyingly macho Israeli boyfriend, blah blah boring boring flip flip... wait, what? I flip back to the page I'd just skimmed, and discover that our heroine, several chapters later, is now back in the States, at a meeting at the Gay and Lesbian Center. Because she's fallen for another girl.

Oh, hey, this book, it's not so boring after all! I sit down to read in earnest.

But not for long. Because the proverbial lightbulb has just gone off over my head. Actually it's more like getting conked on the head by a big rock. I have to put the book down to absorb the impact.

I work it out very slowly and carefully: girl having sex with boy=boring book. Girl in love with girl=suddenly fascinating book. And, in retrospect, this is a reading pattern and preference that has persisted least eight years, now that I think of it.

Yeah, when I think of it that way, it's probably pretty safe to say I'm a lesbian. Hey, wow! I'm a lesbian! (And if that changes someday, so what? I'm a lesbian now. What are the lesbians going to do if I change my mind? Sue me?)

I run gleefully out of the Women's Center, almost late for English class, looking for someone to tell out loud.

It's almost too librarianish to be true, but it is true: I didn't come out with a person; I came out with a book.

The next week, I had a sort of mini-anxiety attack and retreated to the Infirmary for a night. (My college let you do that for one night in your four years if you weren't sick but just needed to get away from everything. It was a pretty intense place.) When I got out the next day, I started making decisions left and right: I dropped my math class, arranged to move into an off-campus shared house with friends, and began research into summer programs in England, where I'd always wanted to go.

It felt like I could finally move forward. The way I couldn't sign Mermaid Girl up for after-school programs for next year until I actually knew which school she'd be going to, or the way I can't start a Teacher's Certificate program until I know if we're moving to Vancouver or not. It was just something that had to be taken care of.

Sometimes I get embarrassed and defensive about a mere label being so important to me. Why couldn't I just be who I was? Why was it so crucial that I identify myself with a particular group that I couldn't even make summer plans, much less figure out what I wanted to do with my life, until I'd done it?

I don't really know. Theoretically, I don't believe labels matter. But I think this particular one became so important to me because it felt not just forbidden but unthinkable for so many critical years. That was just me, the way I dealt with it. I didn't get suicidal, my grades (except for that college math class) never dropped, I didn't do drugs or run away or have dangerous sex or break windows; I just looked and listened and observed and read and decided that what I felt most deeply didn't, fundamentally, count.

And because I am who I am, and not someone else, it took a while to get over that. But I did (mostly). I even got to have torrid sex, eventually.

So it's a happy ending.

And that's the answer to Question 2.


Blogger That Girl said...

Thanks for answering the question! I guess I can extricate myself from the tenterhooks now.

6:01 AM  
Blogger PPB said...

Well, I now know that if I ever ask you a question, I'll get a full and complete response.

It really is a fascinating story. I had a colleague once---a school counselor---who advocated "bibliotherapy". She had this awesome collection of books that she'd lend out. Not self help books, but mostly biographies. She said it was easier to get conversations going when you started with a story. Your story here is proof positive.

11:54 AM  
Blogger Mopsie said...

What a great story. Really! Well worth the wait. And I love the kicker at the end about torrid sex. Made me laugh out loud. :o)

6:00 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

hooray els, hooray happy endings! You book nerd you. (:

1:44 PM  
Anonymous badgerbag said...

How the patriarchy scars us! from the moment we are born! everyone's a victim! in the hands of men!!!!

(lyrics from some alix dobkin song...)

She's a Lesbian! she's a woman to woman, thru and thru and someday, maybe I'll woo her!!!! (extended yodel)

hahahah.... I wish I had a copy of that song on my computer right now!

10:56 PM  
Blogger Andygrrl said...

Dude. I came out with books too! And I had the exact same reaction. For me it was Rubyfruit Jungle and Tipping the Velvet that did it.

6:39 AM  
Blogger WordsRock said...

Ah els, you squeezed that question for all it was worth. :)

Well done!

Now, where are the answers to 3-5? hmm?


7:02 PM  
Anonymous badgerbag said...

Why are there no alix dobkin lyrics anywhere? I just searched for this song and go my own comment. Dammit!!!!!!!

5:22 PM  
Blogger elswhere said...

Lesbian, lesbian, any woman can be a lesbian...

7:19 PM  

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