Humans are resilient. Throughout history we’ve shown we can endure and survive torture, death camps, bullying, shame, feeling othered. We have been beaten, arrested and killed for who we are, yet we endure.
We have proven that we will fight for who we are, regardless of what it costs.
I had language for loving women at age 15. John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire gave it to me. Susie the Bear’s head between Franny’s thighs was the light bulb that sent an electric hot pull from my heart to my belly and down between my legs. While I had sought out pleasure before, mostly from the bathtub facet, I had never known what resonant lust felt like until that moment.
From that single paragraph on, I was on a quest. To be Franny. Or Susie the Bear. More likely, to love Franny just like Susie the Bear. Unrequited. Frustrated. Without my mask on.
Amy Burwell was my first Franny. My first object of young girl desire. I fantasized about her. I dreamt about what it would be like to touch her. Boldly I told her I had to have her. She wasn’t interested. Thankfully she was kind about it. Maybe she liked my attentions. She simply preferred boy. It’s how she’s made. Something she never felt an ounce of shame about it.
Pam Jacobs was my next Franny. She lured me in, daring me to want her. Which I did, with deep obsessive lust. At seventeen she was my first girl kiss. We made out on her twin bed to Barbra Streisand’s A Star Is Born. The black, black widow is sittin’ in the middle of the web, it’s the flies she seeks. You maybe her lover but you never will recover, she ain’t had a bite for weeks. Pam Jacobs, the black widow who spun me into a shame of my same sex desire. She lured me in and burned the heat of homophobia into my soul. While I sought out more lip smacking, she spread, like wildfire, my desires to every high school senior we knew.
I became gossip. Every party I walked into a scene, a parting of the red sea. Stand back people. The leper has arrived. Looks and whispers surrounded me. Dyke. Lesbian. Gay. Words I heard more often than my own name.
I became reckless. Drinking. Drugging. Driving. Going to Gay bars alone. Going home with strangers. Swingers. Straight couples looking for a night of thrills. I was underage. Underdeveloped. Uncomfortable. Trying on everything that approached me, looking for something to fit.
Over the next eight years I fell in love and in bed with each of my best girl friends. They were curious. I was persuasive. We drank a lot. They always hated me the next day. Or days. Sometimes weeks and months would pass before they wanted to hang out again. Before they trusted me to be cool with them.
From their disdain grew my knowing of love. Love is hurtful. Love happens behind closed doors. You have to beg, chase and manipulate to be loved. Love sometimes happens in the shower of your co-ed dorm. Love will happen in a threesome. Love happens if you drink enough tequila. Love is not something everybody deserves.
I spent years in this mindset.
At twenty-five I came kicking, screaming and fighting out of the closet. I showered the disdain I carried from all those years of shame upon my Gay girlfriend, the woman who brought me out, who loved me, the one who showed me how yummy same love could be.
I vacillated between loving and loathing. She who I knew no sleep with, staying awake into the wee hours of the morning with just to touch and be touched. The one I wrote poetry about. The woman I learned to I cook for. Bathed with. Rode bikes all over New York City with.
I loved her with every ounce of my genetic makeup. My body electric for her touch. My lungs swallowed her breath. I hated her for loving me. For confirming the label of me. For making my parents stop talking to me. For proving I was different and would never be like the straight girls I grew up with, the ones now married who I Frannied all those years ago.
I danced in and out of the closet, changing my orientation like runway models change their clothes. One minute I was Gay and reveling in uniqueness. RuPaul’s Wigstock in Tompkins Square Park was my new playground and so much more fulfilling than the straight-girl mandated time at the mall. MAC makeup sponsored the event forever owning a burgeoning demographic. Their presence a small yet victorious validation of Trans, of Gay, of me. I became an advocate fighting for the lives of all those with HIV and AIDS. My graduate school thesis an installation of stories of Gay men and women, drug addicts, and kids infected by tainted blood. I raised money. I raised awareness. I raised my freak flag high in the air shouting “love me or leave me.”
In New York City I lived out, as a Gay woman holding hands walking down the street, dancing and fucking in The Sound Factory, at Grey Gardens, until mid to late morning the next day. I was free. Free to be me. Free to love. Free to be touched and actually like how it felt.
Free until I crawled back in. The closet kept calling. I closeted myself for parents, for strangers on airplanes, for friends I knew my entire childhood. One moment I was a liberated Gay woman activist and the next I was shoveling dirt over my body, covering myself in grave of shame.
As bold as I tried to be I just wanted my parents to love me. I wanted them to be proud of me. I wanted to be able to give them a son-in-law and grandchildren the way they believed it should be.
I had so many girlfriends. Twenty plus years of one – two year relationships. With non-existent stakes, I made no vows. My commitment was based on self-love and self-loathing. On days where my pride flew high, I loved her, whichever her I was with. When streams of straight wedding invites, never with a plus one on the envelope, littered the floor, I was straight. I loved cock, cum and my pussy longed for a big rugged man. In one day out the next. The only constant the chipping, actually chiseling, of shame on my sense of place in the world.
It’s amazing what you can get used to. The damage you internalize while fighting for your rights. Nobody comes out unscathed.
I woke early on Friday June 26, 2015 in anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling. I grabbed my phone and wept as I read the headlines. Rubbing up to my wife sleeping beside me, I whispered in her ear, “it passed.” I had no idea how that ruling would change everything. How thirty-two years of shame would be stripped away in Justice Kennedy’s final paragraph. I’d grown so familiar with being less than, marked in pride and shame, I never could have guessed that becoming ordinary would feel so extraordinary.