DNA: Dyke Now and Always
There are certain memories that glow unexpectedly brighter than the other million moments cataloged in my mind. Their significance demands attention, and for good reason. The accumulation of those quick seconds is the DNA that creates who I am. DNA being the acronym for Dyke Now and Always.
My first memory: I’m two. My father home from work in Manhattan with his newspaper, listening to a radio show while, hidden from view (I thought) by his newspaper, I danced and danced to Nat King Cole, Julie London, Benny Goodman. Thirteen years later, to Little Anthony and the Imperials, Sarah Vaughan, The Fleetwoods, I danced and danced in the hidden back rooms of gay bars.
As a queer child I played on the back lawn with neighbor kids. I was quick and smart, but never chosen for games. Instead I was taunted at any little hint of difference. I still hear the singsong voices shaming me to tears, chasing me across the green grass away from a game of Red Rover. Forty years later, on a hot night in another state, different kids—now adults—crowded in front of a courthouse to taunt grown queers, to shame our rights away from us.
In January, 1960, hidden in the bedroom of her parent’s first floor apartment, amazed, I kissed my first girlfriend, a girl group playing on the radio. Fifty years later, in October, 2010, in the flagrant autumn outdoors, awed, I married my last girlfriend ever, Vivaldi on the boom box.
Huddled in a rattling, rocking, wicker-seated subway car, clasped hands out of sight under winter jackets, smoking cigarettes, so proud, so scared, still girls. Fifty years on, standing high on a mountain over the Pacific Ocean, inhaling the wind between my sweetheart’s kisses, journeying to maturity. So powerful, so fulfilled.
New Haven, Connecticut, Dunkin’ Donuts downtown at the break of day, hot black tea. Buses on the Green puffing exhaust at dirty snow. Hungover after a late night at the Parkway Bar up Chapel Street. Ten years later, San Francisco Sober Fair, a hall filled with people once confined to gay bars. Freedom on the steep hills, passing through fog to sunshine, gathering healthy in broad daylight.
Macy’s escalator, 34th Street, ascending, excited to shop for for college clothes, buying a wardrobe out of an Ann Bannon book. Dyke fashion before it was a fashion. A buffoon in the dorm. The queer one. A photo fifteen years later: shock of recognition. That’s me? That good-looking dyke?
New Hampshire in the spring, climbing rocks over a river a long way down. Suddenly afraid of heights. A few years later, a university in the midwest, my first novel out, on a panel with Jewelle Gomez and other lesbian luminaries. Sick as a dog, shaking like a leaf, scared out of my wits. Suddenly afraid of heights.
A corner spa in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Buying lottery scratch-offs and laughing at losses with my wife-to-be, triumphant at a $2.00 win. Walking the West Coast beaches together, finding a magnificently formed, palm-sized blue agate, the most spectacular prize since cereal box toys.
The gloom of my mother’s church and her faith. The women’s land circles where I felt like a throbbing sore thumb. The sun patterns on a brook that took my breath away. The vastness of Oregon’s Kalmiopsis Wilderness that took my breath away. The books that took my breath away. The first sight of my sweetheart that took my heart away. The masses of deep red flowers on an Azalea bush so abundant I could have melted right into its glory and called it heaven—my nameless spirituality.
The narrow bedroom in my parent’s apartment, the polished mahogany desk, the paper, the pen, where I learned to labor over words. The tiny unfinished pine desk in the corner of our post-college bedroom where I wrote for “The Ladder,” so young, both myself and modern lesbian literature.
They all come together, these brightly burning memories. A main street railroad crossing in a small Western or New England town that evokes all of America for me, both the good and the bad, the bullies and the gays, the heat and the cold, the belonging and the exile.
How to make a dyke. Feed her Cracker Jacks, let her dance, give her some tools to work with. Let her love.