Friday, February 19, 2010

Friends and Lovers

Don't tell my mother, but I'm going to see my lover tonight. The fact that I have taken a lover is probably pretty high on the long list of things I'm sure she doesn't want to know about her oldest child. She doesn't know that the way I tell her I have a new lover is to call him my boyfriend, even though he isn't. I haven't had a boyfriend, a real boyfriend, in the two years I've lived in Chicago. It's easier this way, really - much in the same way no child wants to know about their parents' sex lives, I'm pretty certain my mother doesn't want to know that I get laid about as often as I can. Even though she told me the facts of life when I was twelve or thirteen, we just don't talk about sex. I've never told her about the night I lost my virginity, and she's never asked. Part of me is grateful for this, because well, no parent wants to know about their child's sex life. But like a lot of milestones in my life my mother missed out on (I didn't even tell her the first time I kissed a boy, let alone the first time I kissed a girl), this is one I wished she knew about. I wish I could tell her that that it was one of the most amazing, most romantic nights of my life, or that even though I am no longer with that man, the man I thought I would marry, I know I chose well. I think if we were ever to talk about it, she would have been proud to know that I waited for love. She never told me about the importance of waiting for someone I loved and someone who I knew loved me back. If I ever have a little girl someday, I'm going to tell her about that night, and ask that she waits not for marriage, but for love. I've had more than enough lovers to know that it's always better that way. When I moved in with my last serious boyfriend, I didn't even have the heart to tell her that mattress shopping was completely unnecessary, because our second bedroom would be used as an office.

The west-bound Brown Line train almost vibrates beneath my feet as it rumbles passed the old, faded brick buildings. Of all the things I love about Chicago, riding the train is my favorite. The train is mostly empty at this hour of night as I glance around my car at the bored, tired faces of my fellow city-dwellers. I can't help but feel a little naughty as my thoughts drift to my lover. I had gone away the last several weeks for something of a mental vacation, and this will be the first time I've seen him since my return. I let my thoughts wander between wondering what he will want to do together tonight and giggling a little, feeling deliciously naughty. Oh, if they only knew what I was doing, where I was going, and what I wanted him to do to me when I got there. I don't really have much chance to have lunch or drinks with my close friends in whom I confide such things, so I usually keep my naughty stories to myself unless such an occasion arises. I've been told that I have one of the most interesting and shall we say inventive sex lives of pretty much everyone I know. Looking back on some of the most deliciously naughty stories I could tell just from the last three months I've been seeing my most recent lover, the lover I am going to see tonight, I would almost have to agree.

Oh, how my mother would die if she only knew anything about the things I have done or would very much like to do. What would she say if, say, she knew of the threesomes (the most recent of which happened last week), the one-night stands, why my last serious boyfriend and I had scarves tied to our bed, or what he and I did together behind the orange trees in their backyard just before we moved in together, and I can only imagine what she would say if she knew what I was going to do with my lover tonight. Well, I don't really know what I'm doing with him tonight, either. Since we've been seeing each other for a little while, I've become much more vocal about what I want and what I like to do, and I had told him earlier in the day that I wanted him to think about what he wanted to do, anything at all within my limits, and not to tell me what it was until it was time to go to bed.

These thoughts consume my imagination as the train roars to a deafening stop. People stumble forward. I almost skip out of the car and down the stairs. He isn't here yet. He's on another train, headed here to meet me. We've agreed to meet at the El station, and I have arrived before him. He's the only reason I have to come to this neighborhood, so I'm vaguely unfamiliar by my surroundings. Because this is Chicago, there is a bar across the street from the station, where I ordered a drink. No, I'm not in the mood to nurse my usual beer. I'll have a Maker's Mark neat with a splash of water, please. I wait in the window of the bar, watching for him. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see my lover stepping out into the unseasonably warm November night, patting his pockets for his cell phone. He is looking for me. My heart beats faster as I dial his number. I can see you, I smile seductively around my words, as he crosses the street to meet me. I take a last swallow of bourbon, which sends a smooth, pleasant burn searing down my throat, calming the butterflies in my stomach, before I step out into the night.

He has arrived. He is as handsome as ever. We embrace. We kiss. He holds my hand. For a moment, I feel like the luckiest woman in the city. We go home. We have a drink together as he prepares to settle in for the evening. We kiss. His mouth tastes of good Scotch. I smile, still unaware of what he has in store for me, but looking forward to it all the same. We fall back on the bed in each other's arms as the dance begins. He roots around in the canvas bag on the door by the bed. I sigh with pleasure. When he's finished, we make love, the kind of which I have rarely experienced. I hate that phrase, love-making. Sex is sex, love is love. It's not that I don't love him - part of me does. I'm not in love with him, though God knows the phrase has escaped my lips in the throws of passion. I love you, sweetheart. I whispered under my breath as he holds me, after. I am exhausted. I am content, truly content for the first time in weeks. We sleep, tangled up in one another.

It's the next morning. I am the first to rise. I watch him sleep for a moment before I kiss his shoulder and lay there with my limbs entangled in his. We kiss as he smiles into my eyes. It happens again. No, not like last night. He has to work today, and there is little time. I step into the shower with him. The hot water soothes my tired bones as he washes my hair. A sigh of pleasure escapes me. I love it when he washes my hair. He makes a light breakfast of hot tea and bagels.

I cannot help but remember that this was once my life. That once, I had a man I loved, a man who loved me. My lover doesn't know that I live for mornings like this, mornings when I can allow myself to remember what it was like to be in love, to share these kinds of mornings with him every morning, to share those kinds of nights like last night every night. To pretend for a moment that we're more than lovers, if only for a few fleeing moments. It seems so long ago, and yet it was only two years. An eternity. Sometimes I catch my lover's eye and wonder if I am alone with these thoughts. The wound of loosing someone is much more fresh for him than it is for me. I cannot tell him how I empathize with his loneliness, how deeply he hurts, how he loves her, how he misses her in the smallest, most absurd ways. He hasn't told me any of this, but he doesn't have to. I can see it in his eyes and in the way he looks at me. I wish I could take it all away for him, just as I once wished it could be done for me, but I know I cannot. This kind of hurt can only be endured alone with friends and perhaps the occasional lover. I know he will endure. He must. He will. And so will I.

It is time to leave. We walk the short distance to the train. He's quiet this morning. I hold his hand as we watch the faded brick buildings whiz outside the window of the train. One day, I sigh, as I settle back into the uncomfortable seat on the train as it weaves through sky scrapers and old brick buildings in a long, rectangular loop that gave this part of the city its name. Round and round I go, watching passengers get on and off the train. I have nowhere to go, nowhere to be, and I am content to simply enjoy the ride through the city, taking him to work. Someday, I will be ready. One day, he will be ready. I do not fool myself into thinking we will be ready at the same time. I am two long years into that journey and his is only just beginning. I content myself with days like this, dring the train with him to work. One day, I promise myself, I will share the kind of love I once shared with the man I loved two years ago, the man I still love, if I were to be truly honest with myself. One day, I will have someone to come home to. Someone I won't fear is thinking of one of their other boyfriends or girlfriends, because I will be the only one they want. Some day, I, too, will have trouble remembering what this kind of loneliness is like. Someday, someone will look at me the way my best friend and her boyfriend have looked eat each other for the last five years. Someday, I will have the kind of love I have been waiting for all my life, the kind of love that for two years, I had a brief taste of. Someday, I will be ready to love again. Someday, someone will love me back.

He has reached his stop, and it is time for him to fade into the swarm of commuters, until I can no longer see him. We kiss. The illusion is broken. See you next week? Yes, he smiles. Yes.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Her Song

I wish in advance for a certain someone to forgive me for telling this story.

I don't like to tell this story, because every time I do, it's all I can think about for a good twenty minutes. It's the story of one of the happiest nights of my life. The story of a love that remains these five years later. The memory of a night I will never forget, a night I encapsulated into a song that will forever transport me to that night, no matter where I am or what I'm doing or who I'm with, that song will never, could never, belong to anyone else.

Once upon a time, in the winter of 2003, I met a beautiful and brilliant English teacher. Over the course of about two weeks, we spoke every night, exchanged daily e-mails, and finally, one night, she came to visit me.

We went to karaoke with my friends that night, our first date shared with thirty people, almost none of whom knew what was going on. They didn't know I was bisexual, let alone the fact that the beautiful woman I had invited to join us that night was my girlfriend. Now, usually when I do karaoke, I sing the same five or six songs in heavy rotation. I sing a couple Billy Joel songs, maybe some Norah Jones, and some lady always asks me to sing something awful, usually by Celine Dion. I don't know what possessed me to choose THAT song that night. I'd never sung it karaoke before, but it had always been one of my all-time favorites. It was a big decision. After all, the girl of my dreams was going to hear me. Whatever I chose had to be a good one. It had to be hers. This would normally be something I'd think about weeks in advance, but I didn't have that kind of time. I didn't know she was going to be there until about two hours before she arrived.

Our friends were seated in the back of the bar, I was on stage, and there was just a dance floor between me and this beautiful woman. I had been singing all week and my voice was cracking in places it never should have. But I sang anyway. I sang for her. And as I sung, I looked into those eyes, those beautiful slate blue eyes, beaming at me, the world faded away. I didn't care who noticed that I was singing to a girl. All I cared about was that this woman, this beautiful woman I cared so much about, she was looking at me-me!-the way she was. As far as I was concerned, no one else existed and nothing else mattered.

We danced for a while, not caring we were two girls in a redneck bar, subtly affectionate with one another. Not caring most of my friends were completely in the dark about our relationship. I whispered that I wanted to kiss her, and so I took her hand and we walked to the beach.

We walked for a while, just holding hands and talking about nothing. To this day, if I hear that song, I can close my eyes and see the reflection of the moonlight shining in her eyes, in her hair, on her skin. I can feel her body, soft and lithe, beneath my hands as I encircled her waist, holding her, dancing in the moonlight. I can smell the ocean. I can smell her hair, her perfume, her breath as I smiled and I kissed her. She was my first real kiss. The first person I ever kissed that I genuinely cared about. The first person I ever kissed that I loved in some fashion. I still love her. I always will.

Several weeks later, I went to visit her. We popped in Moulin Rouge (which I had brought for the express purpose that the song, her song, was in it) and proceeded to make out for approximately seven hours. I stopped for about three minutes, so I could hold her in my arms, stroking her beautiful face, kissing her neck, looking into those eyes, and sang to her.

Okay, so I'm a giant cheeseball, but that's just how it was.

Our relationship ended shortly thereafter, due to distance and many other factors, but we remain good friends. We turn to each other for advice, we've even seen each other once in a while, and when I get married, she's going to be one of my bridesmaids.

I told you that story to tell you this story.

There have always been three artists for whom I would do anything to see in concert. Those three artists are Billy Joel, Elton John, and Paul McCartney. In the summer of 2005, my mother, her husband, my brother, and I went to Las Vegas. I spent four days and three nights sitting at the nickel slots, having three or four drinks, and wandering around the city in what I would later term my Happy Place. (The Happy Place has been defined as the stage between tipsy and drunk when you're just happy to be there.)

Unbeknown to me, my mother's husband had purchased tickets for she and I to see Elton John's show at Caesar's Palace, The Red Piano.

He was incredible.

He played Daniel, which had my mother beaming. He played The Bitch is Back, during which I tried to sing along and make sure she didn't hear me cursing, because I don't curse in front of my mother. He played I'm Still Standing, and I tried in vain to control myself as all kinds of phallic objects popping up around the stage. When he announced he was going to play his last song, and I couldn't help but be disappointed, if only because he didn't play The Song. Her Song. He talks about how he's been coming to the states for thirty-five years, that his career really began here. He says how much the love and loyalty we the fans have shown through those thirty-five years has meant to him, and he's never forgotten it.

And then he said it. "The word LOVE is spelled out on stage and I want to wish all of you lots of love in all your lives, and this song is for you."

I tried to contain myself. I tried to sing. I couldn't even mouth the lyrics beyond the second line, I was rendered speechless as he played that song, her song, with such passion, I just wept tears of joy as I relived that night over and over again. There are countless layers to why this was so meaningful to me.

First of all, it's fucking Elton John. He could sing me the phonebook as long as the tune is pretty.

It's one of my all-time favorite songs, and now one of my most meaningful songs.

And now that song, our song, her song, belongs to her. It belongs to us.

But Elton John, the musician, the man, the gay man, understood. He had had first, forbidden love he kept hidden from almost everyone he cared about until much later. He got it. And that's what I took from the song. And I think, on a subconscious level, that's why I knew it was the right song to give to her.

I often wonder if she remembers that night, if she thinks of me, when she hears it.

I hope so.

If she should read this, she has my profound apology for more than likely embarrassing her in front of the whole interwebs. She should know that she is so much of the woman I have always aspired to be. She should also know that I treasure her friendship, and she has the best taste in music of anyone I've ever met. She should always, always remember she's beautiful, and she's still the best kisser I've ever had. :)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Out and Running

The more I think about it, the more I realize that in addition to the all out war someone's little nasties have waged upon my immune system in the last few days (one of those buggers in which one wishes to drill a hole in the side of their head as to allow the fluid to drain out), I've been hit by a heavy wave of nostalgia. You know how it goes. You hear the song that reminds you of your first real love and dig out old photographs and play the song over again and smile fondly, maybe shed a few tears. You're making out with your new lover, and you're suddenly transported back to a place and time where you're anticipating your First Real Kiss. You're driving around town and you see the movie theatere you went on your very first date, and smile, anticipating his return, because you know when he does he will take you, as he always does, to that same movie theatere. Maybe I'm the only one who thinks of her first real love in this way. Whenever you pass your alma mater, those memories come back in one bittersweet moment, and you remember homecoming dances, the prom, and those first, scary kisses. I've been thinking about my high school years a lot lately, even before I caught wind of this questioning of the definition of marriage thing going on in Massachusetts and the weddings in San Francisco. A dear friend e-mailed me a link to pictures from those three days that made me cry. They made me feel proud. Most of all, they made me think about high school, and the kids I knew.

I attended high school in a small town in which I've become convinced virtually everyone knows each other through no more than five people. Before the classes under me came along no one was out, but I did kept hearing rumors about a girl in choir. I didn't know what she was, and no one said the word that I recall, but I knew Julie was different. I remember being intrigued by this difference, wondering exactly what set her apart from the rest of us. Looking back, she always seemed to be in her own little world, but there had to be something else. It wasn't until the day she and another girl publicly announced they were much more than friends, I began to wonder who else among my friends could possibly be one of them.

Years later, this list of suspected queers would come in handy, as one by one nearly all of them came out, including a few I never suspected. Of course, not everyone will publicly announce themselves. Some people never come out. My friend Steve is one of these people. While everyone knows he dates boys, he never made a public service announcement to the rest of us. Didn't get an e-mail, didn't get a fax, no press release was issued on the 5 o'clock news. No one really seemed to care. Then there are the people who never come out.

My memories of high school are infused with my memories of sophomore year, the year during which I learned very difficult lessons about myself and other people. Sophomore year completely and utterly changed me forever. It was the year I would learn what friendship isn't, and would prepare me for my junior year, which taught me what it was. It was the year I got my first kiss, though I wouldn't get my first real kiss until literally the last hours of my third semester of college. Without enduring the trials of sophomore year, I would simply not be the person I've become. It was the year the arguably most notorious boy in our school became my friend. It was the year he asked me to save him a dance at homecoming, and because of that boy, my world has never been the same. When I remember high school, I most vividly and painfully remember sophomore year, which makes me think of Rich, and that's when waves of nostalgia really hit me the hardest, and the tears begin to fall.

Rich was one of those people everyone knew, but no one really did. One of those guys you either wanted to be him or do him, and usually it was both. Rich was the perfect balance-he was tall with rugged good looks and a million dollar smile, slightly built with big, beautiful hands which looked as if their sole purpose was coaxing music from a piano or giving back massages to girls in our biology class. At the same time, he was charming beyond belief, understanding, and enjoyed intellectual pursuits. Rich gave the best advice, told the best stories, and you always wanted him in your group for a project, if only for those reasons. At the same time, he had an air of mystery that had a lot of us asking questions that no one seemed to be able to answer. I was curious about him. I had never known anyone like him, and all I wanted was a chance to get to know him, if only to see if he lived up to his reputation.

I was overjoyed when I learned he would be joining us in not one but three of my classes sophomore year of high school. For three periods a day, English, Biology, and History, I took that chance to get to know Rich for myself, though not nearly as well as I would have liked. He made you feel as though you were the only person alive when he smiled at you, but you could still walk away and feel like you don't know him at all.

Rich had a profound effect on my life. He was the first person in my life who really understood me. When a mutual friend of ours died at the end of the year, Rich was the one who understood why I came to history class in tears the next day after choir, and gave me extra hugs when I was ready for them. I remember the day I gave him a big white notebook, filled with at best mediocre but earnest 10th grade poetry. Rich was the first person to really read my writing, understood what I was trying to say, and urged me to keep at it. After much finagling, Rich gave me my notebook intact, he told me I shouldn't ever stop. I haven't shut up since. While I'm the first person to volunteer to read at the circle I attend religiously every month, I would never, have ever done that before or since. Rich was the first person I could really trust with that side of me I didn't like others seeing. Handing your soul in the pages of a notebook (and in the form of very bad poetry) to another human being is scary business, but I knew I could trust him with my little secrets. I would learn in the years to come that Rich had a number of secrets of his own.

I attended the homecoming dance alone, but found friends with whom I could ogle the cute boys. I'm something of a wallflower, but I was delighted to turn around at one point and find Rich standing there. We made our usual small talk before he said he had to go back to a woman friend he was escorting. Before giving me his customary goodbye hug, Rich asked me to save him a dance. Five years later, I'm still saving him one.

In addition to the goings on with Rich, sophomore year also reminds me of two other souls who each had very different effects on me. I spent a lot of that year completely within the vise of a girl who was once my closest friend, became one of my greatest teachers without knowing it, and reminds me to this day of everything I don't want to be. I became inexplicably depressed that year, and writing with Rich's encouragement was the only way I got out of the year at least somewhat sane. I didn't even know I was depressed until one day in May, five days after my sixteenth birthday, I got what I call The Big Wakeup Call, which occurred on the day a friend of mine died suddenly of Reyes Syndrome. I remember the moment clearly: when a very close friend hugged me when her memorial service was over, something inside me snapped. For the first time in my life I was consciously aware of what I was doing. I was able to see the former friend for who she really was, and the person to which she had changed me, and I didn't like any of what I saw. I knew at that moment that something had to change. And change I did. I vowed to rid my life of her and everything that reminded me of her. I vowed to join activities in which she was not involved, namely the drama club, something I had always wanted to do because I had always loved theatere, particularly musical theatere. I did. And through another friend I would meet three months later, I would rediscover parts of myself I had never known existed.

In the next year or so, I saw Rich rather sparingly, much less often than I wished. I had heard all the rumors that one by one, he was having fallings out with his closer circles. I saw him at our junior prom and he told me once again how much my writing had meant to him, that I should never stop. (I had considered stopping, because the girl from whom I had successfully distanced myself was the one who started me going, and my mission had been to eradicate everything in my life that reminded me of her, and that included writing. I didn't stop. And its all Rich's fault.) I playfully reminded him he still owed me a dance, he said he would collect later that night. I'm still waiting for him.

The last time I saw Rich, it was late in my senior year. I was having dinner with a group of friends from choir, when I noticed a very familiar male human having dinner with one of his girl friends. We talked for a while over Sex on the Beach (his) and cherry cokes (mine), when the night was winding down and I was preparing to go home, he again brought up my writing, telling me that I should go into journalism. When it came time to say goodbye, I thought little of it, naively thinking that since the area we live is such that we were bound to run into each other again. He gave me a funny look and asked me how I wasn't just as sure our paths would never cross again. At that suggestion, I could only hold him, kiss his cheek, and send him off into the night.

Something curious happened between the last time I saw Rich and my first semester of college. Seemingly overnight, our school went from having exactly two people who were out (both of whom had graduated by this time) to where everyone I had ever suspected (and more than a few surprises) who had gone to college was out (with the exception of two), and everyone I knew who had told me he or she wasn't entirely straight, it was more or less common knowledge. One of my close friends still trapped in high school purgatory (who isn't completely out to everyone quite yet) told me that even though more people are open about it now, high school is still a very scary place for people who are different, regardless of their sexual proclivities, and it made me realize why so many people with whom I went to school waited to come out in college. Which brings me back to Rich.

Over the next year or so, I heard rumors from old mutual friends how he had moved to Miami, briefly came back, and promptly left again. I also heard numerous speculations as to why he had left, but I didn't want to believe any of them. Why would Rich, arguably the most notorious kids in our school, with friends coming out of his ass, just pack up and leave for good because of a falling out with his roommate. Something about this smelled rather fish-like, and it wasn't until my first semester of college when I reconnected with an old mutual friend of ours. The same day she announced she was a lesbian (Which threw me for a loop, let me tell you, I must have the World's Worst Gaydar.) she told me the reason Rich left town was that he announced he was gay and didn't want to deal with the repercussions. It struck me as both absurd that he would think his friends, which he had many, would simultaneously abandon him because he was who he was, and understandable, because although I haven't lost friends because of my sexuality, I know the reality of loosing friends for stupid reasons and being afraid of it.

Rich was right. I haven't seen him since that night we last said goodbye, and I'm not likely to see him again. By chance I ever do, I will tell him I love him, I've always admired him, and with a deep breath, I will tell him that he wasn't the only queer in our history class. I will tell him he's the reason I'm still writing, and that my first collection of writing is his. I will tell him just how knowing him changed my life. I will tell him the truth about myself. And I will remind him that over five years later, I haven't forgotten he still owes me that dance.

When Mary Kissed Me

"How did you know?"

"When did you know?"

"Who was your first crush?"

"Who was your first same-sex kiss?"

"Who was the first person you told (on purpose)?"

We've all heard some or all of these questions before, and I confess to thoroughly enjoy discussing them with others who have gone through the process of coming out. For me, it went something like this. I never knew, and at the same time I had always known. It was never an issue. It never scared me. It was an understanding I had made with myself when I came home one day in the fifth grade and without any real knowledge of what constituted a crush, I was pretty sure I had one. We were in every class together for two years, spent time together after school, the best of pals. But there was more to it than that, I knew. The fact that this particular crush was on a girl didn't even enter my mind, and why should it? I didn't know what it meant to have crushes on girls, I had no idea this could possibly mean. Despite attending parochial school, the idea that "Little girls weren't supposed to h! ave crushes on other little girls" somehow never got drilled into my head.

The only thing I knew was that another human being made me smile awkwardly (at the top bunk of my bunk beds, with the lights off, of course.) and my eyes light up, tucking a little piece of hair behind my ears at the mere thought of her name. I was head-over-ass in elementary school love. I had fantasies about this girl for years. In the grand tradition of having a crush on someone in elementary school, I would hold my tongue until I would tell the world. I never told anyone about her, it has taken me a long time to admit even to myself I had a crush on her in the first place. And now, twelve years later, I'm ready to tell the world about Lucy and in the process, about myself.

Back in those days, her parents owned a house in Georgia, and one weekend she invited me to go with them, to Georgia, ride the ATVs, and have a grand ol' time in the woods with her and her parents, both of whom I loved. Then there was spending the weekend with the girl of my eight year old dreams. I went to Georgia, rode on the ATVs clutching her middle, singing songs from choir, and looking at beautiful scenery. It was like a really bad Lifetime movie. I was the happiest little girl alive that weekend.

It was all over for me, after that weekend in Georgia with Lucy. I knew for sure I had a crush on someone, I understood that someone was a girl, and I found it was no different in liking boys. It was no great surprise for me. There was no great revelation, I didn't fast for a week in hopes of unveiling some great mystery about myself. I wasn't afraid of what I was. I didn't even know what I was. The word queer wouldn't enter my vocabulary until years later. I barely acknowledged it. It was just another thread in the tapestry of the girl I was, and the woman I would eventually become. It wasn't special, just another quality I possessed. Some people could play sports, some people could draw, and some little girls liked other little girls.

I was different. I was a mute, in elementary school and much throughout middle school. I was the girl who dared to smile when our music teacher put on the old symphony records. I wanted to sing, even though my closest friend didn't make the choir (she was there, which made it all the better for me). I wanted to be a concert pianist and refused to take lessons (Which I now regret, just like my grandmother said I would.). I was the bookworm. (I'll never forget the day a boy in our class was making fun of me for carrying the Great Illustrated Classics edition of The Prince and the Pauper with me to lunch) I just understood things, things I knew my classmates didn't, especially those who were prone to torment anyone who was different, and I was most definitely the oddball.

I wanted to go to France and see what Charles Dickens did when he wrote A Tale of Two Cities. (This was long before I read Les Miserablés.) I wanted to write like Laura Ingalls Wilder. I wanted to play the piano like Beethoven. wanted to sing like our choir director's daughter, upon whom I also harbored a crush. I understood things like truth and inner beauty and justice. I was different. I was, admittedly, weird. This being said, I was the kid who was picked on. A lot. My attitude towards sex was total non-issue, and ran something to the effect of, "So what, maybe I swing both ways. I know this, I understand this, I'm bound to figure out what this means, now pass me the macaroni and cheese." I was very honest with myself in those days, but at the same time, I never told a soul about Lucy, the choir director's daughter, or any of the other girls I was crushing on in those days, although I was quick to tell anyone who would listen about the boys. I wish I had kept a diary.

Two pivotal events occurred in eighth grade, my last year (thank god) of middle school hell. The first was a girl who was, I learned, the most popular girl in our grade. I've never had a desire to be popular (Because lets face it, I'm a big dork, I've always been a big dork, and I gave up wanting to be popular before I even started school.), I most definitely never had a desire to be friends with her OR her posse of females, and I never crushed on her. And nevertheless, one weekend she decided she was going to have a "Lets make-over Jen" slumber party. Me, I was quite happy the way I was. I was a bookworm, I considered myself to be intelligent, and I knew who I was. Why I agreed to attend, I still have no idea. It most assuredly wasn't for the eye-candy. (As not one of those women appealed to me, although her boyfriend was rather attractive)

I knew there had to be a reason for her desire to do this to me. Maybe I wasn't "a-typical female" enough for her. Maybe she thought something had happened to me, I had had some sort of freak accident (which probably stemmed from a combination of watching The History Channel, going to parochial school, reading too many books, and over dosing on macaroni and cheese). I didn't wear dresses, I refused to shave my legs (Save for swimming outings, which only happened in the summer), and my hair was too long. I hung out with boys , who I believed to be much more sensible than the girls, who I was convinced spent all their time primping themselves for some sort of high-glossed high-healed mini-skirt parade for Cosmo that I wanted ! no part of. That wasn't me, I had no desire to be the Ultra-Femme. All I wanted to do was to talk about TV and football and World War II with my boys. This, to me was sensible. And this, according to her, had to be fixed.

I was supposed to be a girl, after all, and therefore I had to behave like a girl. I was supposed to wear pounds of makeup, actually shave my legs, only read Cosmo, wear thirty dollar jeans I couldn't afford and wear shirts that constricted my breathing and showed off my lack of cleavage. Yeah. Like girls aren't supposed to know about football (Ironically it turned out that she was an obsessive fan), question why we should shave our legs, read 19th century literature, or know anything that wasn't in Cosmo.

I've never been a girly-girl, and I never want to be a girly-girl. I hate wearing makeup. I love football season. I used to play soccer. I wanted to read my books and go talk to the boys. Makeovers, in my mind, meant you weren't good enough the way you were, other people had to "fix" you. One of the most vivid memories is of the horror as I paid thirty bucks for a pair of jeans. I'm a Wal-Mart shopper, and I'm not afraid to admit this. There are two things I'm willing to pay top-dollar for, one is underwear, the other is shoes. Clothing is most definitely not on that list. When they had put me in my thirty dollar jeans, a shirt so tight it was constricting my breathing, and about a pound of makeup (Which I had never worn before an! d have rarely worn since) I was twirled in the mirror and I looked long and hard at myself. This wasn't me. I wasn't a high maintenance girly-girl. I soon got the idea they saw I was unworthy of their company and of their friendship unless I was another lemming, and I wasn't having that. I returned the clothes, I threw away the makeup, I was me again and this time I wasn't afraid of who I was. I was a frumpy-dumpy Wal-Mart shopping bare-faced hairy-legged book worm with big dreams. I liked me and no one was changing that. Monica, incidentally, dropped me when she found out I wasn't going to be her puppet. Her loss, I suppose.

There was one other major "thing" that happened in eighth grade, and this was that I had, in fact, met a girl. Brenda was different, in the way I knew I was different, but I hadn't quite placed what it was yet. She was beautiful, she was tall, she had these big brown eyes, and I just adored her. I had maybe three real friends in middle school. Brenda was one of them. Brenda was highly opinionated (Like myself, although she was a thousand times more assertive than I was in those days.), intelligent, preferred the company of boys, and beautiful. My god was she beautiful. I had it bad for her. Other than the obvious, I felt as though we bonded on a level I never quite placed. Then one day sometime in high school we reconnected in the auditorium when we were watching a movie with three or four other classes. A mutual friend had said something about National Coming Out Day, and Brenda had just thrown up her hands and said, "I'm out!" That was our connection. She liked girls, I liked girls. We were both...queers. Well, half-queers.

The first time I remember hearing my mother mention homosexuality was sometime in my freshman or sophomore year of high school. She had a friend over and she had asked me if there was anyone in school who was gay. I instantly thought of Jessica, the cute hippie who wore combat boots, who's smile made my universe shine a thousand times brighter, but I said nothing. Much like the twisted love triangles going on between a few of my Barbies (Yes, I still played with Barbies when I was fourteen, quite an embarrassing emission, I might add.), Jessica was my secret and I wasn't saying a word. I don't remember if what my mother said was positive or negative about it, but a few years later she and I were talking about it and looked at me in the e! ye and said she wouldn't love me any less if either me or my brother were into the same sex. I love my mother for that, because I know others who aren't so lucky. Just tonight driving in the car, mother asked me, "Where does Bryan's boyfriend go to school?" Hearing those words out of her mouth was music to my ears.

Something happened to me, freshman and sophomore year that changed me, internally. Mother had had me seeing a therapist on and off since about sixth grade because she thought I was depressed. This time I was going because I became sorely depressed to the point my mother thought I was suicidal. And I probably would have been suicidal, if not for choir. Music has saved my life a thousand times over. The worst of it all, I didn't know I was depressed until it happened. It was through the death of a friend that I gathered the strength to get out of a destructive friendship that was the source of a great majority of my fifteen year-old angst. I joined drama club. I found myself again, thread by thread. I decided that day that no matter what happened, for better or for worse, I would never again deny who I was. Which, I would rediscover a part of who I was the next year, a part of me that I knew had always been there, but I had almost forgotten.

In a lot of ways, "the Bitch was back". In other ways, she was just peeping through to see if it was okay to leave the crawl space beneath the stairs. Part of this breaking through process of discovering and in some ways, re-discovering who I was, is through the influence of Bryan. Through our conversations, I found God (Or rather, I came to the conclusion God was a myth), and more importantly, I found a label by which to define my feelings, however much I loathed labels, and still do. For me, I had always known, being attracted to a man is no different than being attracted to a woman. Through Bryan, I learned what 'gay' was. Yes, I had watched Ellen's coming out, I knew about Liberace, and had seen snippets of Gay Days on TV, but Bryan was the first person I knew who was close to me, that was gay. At least I thought he was the first. I would learn, in the years to come, about others I had known long before who had never told me.

I knew I wasn't gay. I had boyfriends (though mostly pitiful examples with one beautiful exception) but I knew I was attracted to women. I had always known I was attracted to women, I just never knew what it meant. I had never lost this mentality, over time it had just become more subconscious than overt. I knew, I accepted, I didn't care. But at the same time, I was discovering it all over again. I wasn't really in denial, I just forgot it was there. I had felt something was missing, and maybe it was that total honesty with myself, acknowledging who I was attracted to, and moving on with things. When Bryan came out my senior year, I decided I would stop arguing with myself, telling myself it was okay to look at the adorable guy's cute girlfriend. I was bisexual, I knew I was bisexual, and I moved on and then I started telling people.

So I got to college. A few weeks into the semester, I ran into an old friend, who I had gone to high school with. One minute we're talking about old times, the next she's telling me she's a lesbian. The only reason I was shocked was because looking at her, she's the totally un-stereotypical dyke. She rattled off a list of people we both had known. Half the people I liked in high school were on that list, and I had no idea.

By September of my freshman year of college, I was the secretary of the gay group on campus. In October, my friend Mary spent the night. We were watching the beautiful Drew Barrymore in Riding in Cars With Boys when she started getting real friendly, and when we moved the party to my bedroom, she kissed me and I felt like everything I had ever felt, for Lucy, for the choir director's daughter, for Brenda, and every other woman I had ever liked, it all finally made sense. It was like getting my first kiss all over again, and in a way, it was. By December all of my close friends knew (I never actually told them, they just knew.) and made a pact with myself I would tell one new person a week. It was a semester of discovery for me, piecing together everything I had missed. I found myself with these people, a self that wasn't going away. I was honest with myself, I was honest with the way I felt about other people, I knew who I was, and I wasn't hiding anymore. I was free.

So far, its been easy for me, way too easy. (Other than the bible-humping Southern Baptist I was dating for a while) My friends, none of them, thought twice about it. A good third of the people I hang out with on a quasi-regular basis have some degree of queer-ness. I haven't told any of my immediate or extended family, at least not on purpose. My brother is the only one with any sort of a clue, because he read my journal and has seen the "Always Forward, Never Straight' sticker on my desk. When I visit my family in the spring, and my father's girlfriend takes me to New York, I'll probably tell her. I worry my mother would think its just a phase, and my father wouldn't understand. I imagine we all have those worries, but I'm not quite ready to take the plunge just yet.

In June, my mother, her fiancé, and my brother went to New Jersey to visit my family, attend graduations, and all that rot for a week or so whilst I was in summer session. When she returned, my mother told me at the joint graduation party for everyone graduating (One from high school, two from middle school, one from pre-kindergarten) that another cousin, my age, had pulled her, my grandmother, and my uncle aside in turn and told them each that he was bisexual. Big deal, I thought, when my mother told me. He likes boys, he likes girls, tell him to join the club. I wanted to tell my mother, Big deal, virtually everyone is bisexual in college. But it was a big deal, because now I understand what it was to tell those first few people that I too swing both ways.

Getting down and dirty and honest with my sexuality has liberated me. I take it personally someone says the word faggot as an insult or without permission, and I literally jumped for joy when the supreme court struck down the archaic sodomy laws. And at the same time, its because of my sexuality that I've died a thousand deaths emotionally and spiritually. But like the phoenix, from the ashes of my former selves, I too have been reborn.

On God, Music, and Sex

DISCLAIMER: Any and all statements against German music and organized religion, all deserved pokes, jabs, or violent kicks in the crotch thereof is purely non-coincidental, so deal with it.

We had talked about it the night before for what seemed like the thousandth time, laying in each other's arms in a hotel room in Jacksonville, but this time it seemed different. Here was this guy, a man I had come to love, a man who had treated me unlike anyone, male or female, I had ever dated, and he was telling me we couldn't be together, the only reason we couldn't be together, was because of religious differences. I was too liberal, not feminine enough, pro-choice, aspiring career woman, I was too intellectual, and in his words, "Too much philosophy and not enough God." I comprehended his words, but I heard something different-"You aren't good enough because you're not a straight conservative who's only aspiration in life is to be a stay at home housewife." He had told me repeatedly throughout our relationship that I was enough for him, hell he even wrote a song about it, but I didn't feel it. Don't get me wrong, I knew he was genuine, but there were days I did, and days I didn't. I don't need to tell you, which of the two that moment was.

So lets set the stage, shall we? It's a typical weekend in Jacksonville Florida, where I had never been before. It's the morning after I first shared a bed with a boyfriend, even though we weren't you know, sleeping together. I'm awake at nine in the morning (when I usually consider myself lucky if I'm out of bed before eleven). Oh yeah, and I'm in a choir rehearsal. Now that's normal. I've been singing for thirteen years and if I wasn't, I don't think I could have gotten through middle school, let alone high school. Everyone has stuff they do. Some people are artists, teachers, writers, and all sorts of other things. For me, music is what I do.

So I'm up there on the top row singing first soprano (For those of you not yet into the musical lingo, those are the insane women who go freakishly high and have a tendency to shatter glass. Some of us even like to have contests to see if we can shatter glass.) and trying to concentrate on my music. As much as I love to sing, and believe me I do, its kinda hard to love German (which I believe is a vile language anyway) at 9am on a Saturday when you haven't had your coffee yet, you went to bed at 2am after making out with your boyfriend, and not to mention, all the alcohol you drank the night before. But I digress. However, the social drama du jour and the conversation I had had with my boyfriend the night before, insisted on replaying themselves in my head. A pleasant distraction from the German, yes, but still no coffee, a slight hangover, and you're stuck in a four hour choir rehearsal with a man who I decided was trying to make a sacrilege out of Robert Burns.

Which is what we were singing at the moment, by the way. A gorgeous piece set to Robert Burns' poem "O My Luve's Like a Red, Red Rose." Its one of my favorite love poems ever, set to a beautiful piece of music. How fitting for a column relating to Valentine's Day, eh? Oh, and the song is in English. Maybe I can handle English at 9am on a Saturday when I have a slight hangover and haven't had coffee yet. But I digress. So I'm trying not to make eyes with a cute girl in our choir (And it didn't help she was standing in close proximity to my boyfriend) and thinking about the night before, while singing this song set to this beautiful poem, doing what I love most in the world…and all I can think of is him and what he had said, or what I had heard when he said what he said. "You aren't good enough because you aren't a straight, conservative, Christian with ambitions and opinions of your own."

I really couldn't help the way I turned out- a free thinking bisexual, pro-choice, liberal, agnostic who is going to school for Music Education and English Literature. I want to have a career, and the choice not to play housekeeper to a husband and five children. My grandmother raised my mother that way (even though my grandmother did have five children, and played housewife until her first marriage ended and she learned the value of independence) and my mother, thank the big friendly smile in the sky, my mother raised me that way. That it was okay to question the person I was, to know that girl inside out and once I figured out what my convictions were, hold fast to them and never let them go for anything or anyone, boyfriend, girlfriend, lover, friend, husband, or wife. Both my mother and my grandmother taught me the value of choice- to marry or not to marry, to have five children, two children, or none at all.

When I picture the future, I don't see myself living in a three bedroom house in the suburbs, trouncing my five children off to soccer practice, piano lessons, karate, and whatever else, in addition to keeping up with the house hold and my husband. Oh, and how could I forget the icing on the cake, which is of course dressing up my pride and joy, my reason for living, my darling Joshua, Jonathan, Tobias, Julianne, and wee little Mary-Katherine (We're Irish Catholics I imagine, so I have to have at least one child named Mary) in their adorable little dresses, suits and ties, and herding everyone into the mini-van, scurrying all seven of us off to Mass. You get the idea.

In actuality, I see myself living in more a place like I don't know, San Francisco, doing my "day job"- making a respectable (though highly under-appreciated, believe me, I know.) living teaching the youth of America to love music during the week, writing my novel and doing activism work on weekends, and tending to my numerous cats, dogs, and goldfish in a modest two bedroom home as close to San Francisco Bay as possible without breaking the bank. I see myself with an occasional lover-male, female, it matters not. But that's it, really. No wife, no husband, no children are seen in the above picture, at least not at this present moment. Maybe I'll get back to you on that if my biological clock gives its two-minute warning. In short, we have starkly different ideas of the future, Johnny and I. And mind you, we weren't even talking about our future per say, just what we wanted out of life. I was okay with that, he wasn't. That's why we had our little talk the night before, after drinking not nearly enough alcohol and making out all night. Which brings us back to the rehearsal.

So the director, remember he's the same man who is making us learn that vile German (To which one kid said, and I quote, "I'm not learning German. I already know another language in addition to English." I was amused.), and making a sacrilege out of Robert Burns' poem "O My Luve's Like a Red, Red Rose". Are we all on the same page? Good! So this director, who is just more than slightly exasperated because he had lost the battle with that vile German song this particular morning (he won the war in the end, but we won't talk about that) turns to the women and says, "All right ladies, one more time and you can have a break. Start from the top of page eight, measure 50 where the sopranos come in with 'I will love…' "

I catch a quick glance at my boyfriend, talking to the cute brunette I had been eying, and I sigh. He isn't flirting with her, I know that much. After all, he considers himself "single but spoken for" (by me) and I had heard on the grapevine this morning my cute brunette was soon to be someone else's cute brunette, someone who wasn't my boyfriend. I didn't have to look at my music to know where he was starting. It was the climax of the entire piece, and my favorite line of the poem. And, so it seemed, exactly what Johnny and I had been talking about the night before. Ironic, isn't it.

For the longest time, I have had this theory we have an ability to catch the eye of someone across a room and with a smile, you can have an infinite conversation without saying a word. Its been proven true, because its happened to me several times. And it happened again that day, that moment, at that rehearsal, while singing those lines.

He told us to think about those lines, to sing them as if we meant it, as if we've been in that sort of pain before. I'll cry for you if you'd like, Mr. Insists-on-Making-a-Sacrilege-of-Robert-Burns-Who-Is-Making-Us-Learn-Evil-German. Hell, I'll probably cry anyway. And I did. I sang those lines, looking directly into the eyes of my boyfriend:

I will love thee still my dear
While the sands of life shall run
Though it were ten thousand mile…

Even though we were so apart by differences he felt we couldn't overcome, and I had to realize we couldn't overcome them if one believed we could and one believed we couldn't, we still loved each other. And at that moment, when I sang those words, gazing into the eyes of the man I loved, I knew those ten thousand miles wouldn't be crossed. And profusely so I cried, I had to leave the room for a good ten minutes.

In the end, I wish I could tell you Johnny and I made up, reconciled the religious issue, and we got back together. But we decided to be friends, I'm still a very contented agnostic, and we're not together anymore. I decided in the end it was better to be with a man (or a woman for that matter) who appreciated me for who I was, than someone who said he or she accepted me and then tried to change me. I don't call that acceptance.

This little tale of mine can be seen as a parable for a lot of different things. Be it race, religion, gender, sexual preference, or any other such silly bullshit that drives people apart. The moral of the story is simple. When you find your convictions, stick to them and don't let them go for anyone. I shall leave you all with a quote, because it seems rather fitting:

"I only decide about my own universe. My universe is my eyes and ears. All else is hearsay."
~ Douglas Adams

Belle Biju

Note: I almost didn't post this one because it's not an essay and because, well, poetry wasn't exactly my strong suit when I wrote it. It's the first poem I ever wrote about a woman, which is the entire reason why I'm posting it.
To hear your sweet melodious voice
Calling out my name from across the room
Would be to know of the violent screams
Vibrating within the walls of your heart
I would make the offender cry for bloody murder
If I never knew of her existence
I would be tearing my hair out in frustration
I would make each of them pay for their tarnishes
If only to hear your voice respond to mine.

To hold your hand proudly in mine
And claim you as the one I am unashamed to love
Would be to have a connection to your past
And to the possibility of our future.
I would risk the guilt, the sorrow,
The unspeakable pain
To know of the secret joys
Such a simply act can conjure
If only it were your hand I were holding.

To smell the sweet scent of you hair
And run my fingers through the soft tendrils
Would be to know of the foul odors
Of each who had ever occupied your heart
Regardless of how long she stayed.
I wish I could have a single opportunity
To mingle my bittersweetness with the rest
I would hope to erase the scars they
Knowingly or unknowingly left behind
If only I could comb my fingers through your hair.

To gaze longingly into your eyes
And see the true beauty of your being
Would be to know of the anguishes you have suffered
I can only guess, based on my own ill experiences
Of the true extent of your emotional scars.
I would take them unto myself
Counting them among my own
The windows to my soul are yours to open
If only they were your eyes.

To kiss your wide mouth
And taste your sweetness for the first time
Would be to know of each and every being
Who has had their own share of your exquisite beauty
Weather by choice or by force.
I wish I never knew of how she hurt you and I both
For I know it is she who has you so resistant.
I would forswear the shame and never look back
If only for a single kiss upon your lips.

To hear your voice calling my name
And hold your hand in mine
To run my fingers through your soft hair
And gaze longingly into your eyes
To kiss your mouth tasting your sweetness…

To have you here beside me tonight
And fall asleep in your comforting arms
Would be to dream of my ever elusive love
And to wake up to cold sheets beside me
I wish I had only moved sooner
To claim you as my own
Before another stole you from me
I would hold you forever as mine and forgive myself
If only I could allow you to know the truth about me.

Mr. Faggot Isn't Finished: A Review of Michael Thomas Ford's My Queer Life Series

Hey! I got one I bet you haven't heard yet- What do you get when you have a queer man in his early 30s who admittedly can't dress, runs screaming when Barbra is singing, does not enjoy musical theatere in large doses, went to Martha Stewart Anonymous (Yes, there is such a thing!), and has an unhealthy obsession with Alec Baldwin's chest?

I can already hear some of you muttering something to the effect of 'not much of a queer at all.' But I read the book, and I'm taking my responsibility of introducing him and his books. In case you're still confused, the queer is Michael Thomas Ford, and the series is called "My Queer Life".

Ford is a cranky, opinionated writer-who-hates-writing who is usually funny, sometimes insightful, and always has a snide comment or three about everything ranging from serious subjects (the marriage thing, human cloning, porn on the internet, etc.) to the frivolous (adult education, Martha Stewart, shopping, etc.) and everything in between.

There are four books (thus far, I hope) in the series "My Queer Life" ("Alec Baldwin Doesn't Love Me", "That's Mr. Faggot to You", "Its Not Mean if its True" and "The Little Book of Neuroses."). They are equally funny, and it is not essential to read them in order, but it would be my suggestion to do so, as in the later books, there are references to occurrences in first book. Besides... I can almost promise on Victor Hugo's grave that once you read one of the books, you'll have to rush out and buy the rest of the series. (Or, if you're a poor college student like myself, spend the precious few hours of free time you allotted for studying Statistics, sitting in one of those big comfortable chairs in Barnes & Nobles sipping tea and reading Ford's books.

You'll quickly be drawn into Ford's world, get to know his circle of friends, and I can guarantee you'll want to play with his much written about Black Lab, Roger. The real appeal of Ford's series, at least in my opinion, is that he's a regular guy, with neurotic fixations like the rest of us. His friends and their adventures seem oddly similar to an experience we might have. There was more than one occasion when I found myself thinking, "Holy shit, that is so something me and MY crack-head group of friends would do." Anyone who has ever been owned by an animal will see Roger's characteristics in not only your animals, but in yourself.

Ford also discloses the ugly truth about writers. You know, that when it comes down to it, a lot of us are lazy bitches who have no idea how books or columns get finished. I know my column is almost always late getting in. (I would like to pause in gratitude to Dena for this one;)

My friend Josh was the one who insisted I read the series. After weeks of procrastinating, and playing the "But Joshy, I'm a broke college student!" line quite well, I finally relented and I couldn't thank him enough. And now I'm spreading the word. So go forth, readers young and old, queer or straight or somewhere in between, and go to Barnes & Nobles, have some tea, and read Ford's books.

I shall conclude with a quote, something which I think sums up Ford's work quite nicely:

Theres no deep cosmic secret about being gay. Theres no arcane experience embedded deep within the hearts of our gay souls just waiting to be revealed to the rest of the world. What being gay means is that we have a way of looking at life that is different from the way other people who do not go through life as gay people look at life. And for many of us, that means recognizing that the most positive way to deal with everything the world throws at you is to laugh at it. Have you learned nothing from Harvey Fierstein?
~ Michael Thomas Ford, in "That's Mr. Faggot to You"

Thank you, and goodnight. I now have much neglected homework to attend to.