“Where are your books?” she’d asked, as she entered my living room for the first time, taking a look at the books in my bookcase.
“My books? They’re right there,” I answered.
“No, I mean your books-on being gay, on how to be a lesbian,” she answered.
“What?” She didn’t understand why I’d laughed.
“There aren’t any.”
“There aren’t any books? On being a lesbian?”
“Do you mean like “So You Think You’re a Lesbian?”
“Well, okay, yeah.”
“There aren’t any.”
“No. Well, the only thing I ever read growing up was ‘Rubyfruit Jungle,’ but that was years ago, and I really didn’t think it was very good.” In fact, I remember thinking that I could be a writer if that book could be published. That I could tell a better story. The reality was, I didn’t ‘get it’ then, as a teenager, how truly important that book had been, in that day and time, that its merely being published was an achievement in itself.
The thing is, I never really looked for an outside source to answer any questions I had about loving women. None of my friends did, either. Mostly because we didn’t have any questions. What was there to ask, really? As a teenager, I had crushes, had dates to dinner, movies, followed by hot make-out sessions, like every other teenager in the world, I just had them with girls who were ‘like’ me, or weren’t, but wanted to kiss a girl, to discover what they needed to know about themselves. What we did amounted to ‘field research,’ studying what worked, and what didn’t, ‘out there’ for ourselves.
I don’t remember questioning anything about being ‘gay’ or ‘queer’ or a ‘dyke,’ which I was, so totally and completely that I got ‘sir’d, a lot (and although it was uncomfortable, for a few short minutes, for the person who’d said it, and for me, I secretly appreciated it). I didn’t question myself because ‘introspection’ was not a word used much, if at all, by anyone, back then.
So, I had no books on being a lesbian. Years later, I still didn’t think that there were any.
She wanted to check for herself.
We went to one of the major retail bookstores, found the ‘lgbt’ section, which amounted to maybe three shelves between the Social Sciences and Psychology sections. Most of the books were gay-male related, or were porn, books of hot fucks written to titillate, but none of them were designed to answer her questions.
Oh, for god sake.
“Then, how am I supposed to…how do I…”
“What. What do you need to know about?”
“I want to know ‘why.’ Why I’m attracted to you. Why I would even consider having a relationship with you. I don’t…I’ve never had crushes, not any on women, at least, not before now, I like men, I don’t ‘not like’ them, what does that make me, besides confused?”
“Look, I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. I don’t know why you’re attracted to me. You wanted to know my ‘story,’ and I told it to you, and, ever since then, you’ve, I don’t know, been even more interested in me, and I don’t know why. My story isn’t any different than anyone else’s, I’ve had relationships, some died of neglect, some exploded because of cheating, one was based solely on my lover’s narcissistic personality. The only difference is that they all involved women. You could substitute men in the telling of it, and then my story would be just like, well, any of yours.”
“But, when you were ‘young,’ (I shot her a look) “okay, ‘younger,’ didn’t you wonder? About why you were, about why you liked…like women?”
“What I remember, mostly, was that when I kissed a woman, I felt like it was the most natural thing in the world, that I was right where I was supposed to be. After that, there was nothing to question. And while I know that people thought that my loving girls was wrong, what I didn’t know was that people also thought I was ‘mentally ill,’ and should be hospitalized, put in an institution, based only on the fact that I loved girls, I didn’t know that I could not be hired for a job, or not be allowed to live somewhere, in an apartment or someone’s rental house, also based on my loving girls. I didn’t know that.
“And, maybe that was good, though. I mean, if I had known all of that, would it have made me afraid? To even try to do the things I’ve done? I think it would have only made me mad, frankly, and I already had enough things that made me mad. Like, I was only supposed to want to be a secretary, or a nurse, or a teacher, that those were my only options for a career, for a life. I didn’t think about my loving women as even being an issue, that ship had sailed, I really never thought about it, compared to what I was going to ‘be’ in my life. I had more ‘important’ things to think about.”
When I was seventeen, my best friend had introduced me to an older friend of hers, ‘Charlotte,’ and, apparently seeing something in me that I did not acknowledge, at that time, she did her best to educate me about ‘all things lesbian,’ things that she wanted me to know about. To take an interest in. Talking about the Daughters of Bilitis, showing me her issues of ‘The Ladder,’ sent to her from San Francisco. This was in the mid-1970s, and that was the only ‘print’ information I had ever seen about lesbians, all that I would see for a very long time. Sadly, though, I was really ‘just a kid,’ with minimal ‘real life’ experience, and I couldn’t relate to the things that she was telling me.
In a side note: Charlotte, I wish I’d been a better student. A better listener. Had asked more questions. Had appreciated what you were trying to share with me, by introducing me to and trying to encourage my ‘political interest’ in being a lesbian. I didn’t realize the ‘history’ of all of that at the time, that you were trying to tell me what the hell was really going on in the world, that we were considered ‘degenerates,’ ‘perverts,’ ‘sexual deviants,’ that the material you were showing me was ‘contraband,’ in a way that the pot we’d smoked was, and was not. I understand it now, and I have for some time. So, thank you. I’m sorry for not ‘getting it’ then.
So, she found a few, though not exactly choice, books, and she left them at my house, to read when she could, trying to educate herself as to why she was attracted to me. I looked at them, thumbed through them, read some of the anecdotes written by women who’d suddenly, unexpectantly, found themselves drawn to a ‘lesbian,’ a ‘butch,’ a ‘dyke,’ but none of them seemed to know why, either. The stories just detailed how they’d met, what they’d gone through to be together, some relationships not surviving, for various reasons, but none of the stories were actually ‘educational’ to her in the sense that she could pinpoint just why she was attracted to me.
Those books would come years later, after we’d moved on from each other, when people were less guarded, less private, about their lives and the ‘sex researchers’ could perform studies, then publish their findings on ‘human sexuality’ without losing their funding or their positions in universities or medical schools due to the ‘immorality’ of the research they were conducting.
Today is so much better than when I was growing up. There are books for lesbians, and for many others on the sexuality scale, how-to-‘s, so-you’re-a-‘s, and so on, along with websites that offer far more information on an amazing multitude of topics. Surprisingly, though, or maybe not, in this age of lightning-fast information access, some lesbians, and others, expect more, searching for books that speak to them, to their own ‘blend’ of who they are, their personal demographics. They don’t understand why “there aren’t any.”
The point is, just three or four decades ago, there weren’t any books at all, for any of us. That may seem like ‘ages,’ in this day and time, but it’s not, not really, when the printed word has been around for only about five hundred years.
So, if a lesbian, or anyone else on the spectrum, wants a book that speaks specifically to her own personal ‘take’ on the world, and “there aren’t any,” well, she’s going to have to wait until it’s written.
Or, she could write it for herself. For the next girl like her.