by Guinevere Turner
You can't imagine what I felt like when I recognized Kat. The feeling raced up my legs and hit the top of my skull. The embrace I threw around her was one of the few truly spontaneous embraces I have given in my adult life. It took a few moments for me to remember that I was a lesbian and she probably was not - we were two girls of ten. My knees were muddy, and her hair was in braids. She was in trouble, and her twin sister was not. She was washing and I was standing on a chair putting the dishes away. I was watching her be paddled in front of all the other kids for leaving her clothes in the fields, laughing to myself because, just like me, she had on ten pairs of underwear. She was screaming at the leech on my leg.
A friend of mine says "Guin, there's someone here who says she grew up with you." I laugh. No one grew up with me. I grew up on another planet and I'm the only one who's not still on that planet. She leads me to Kat. Kat says "Guinevere?" I stare blankly. "It's Kat. It's me. Katherine."
"Katie?" And I leaped on her. Kat and I grew up in a Family of 150 people - "The Family." We didn't go to public school, and we didn't listen to radio. The only television shows we saw were old movies that we were required to watch. At night we all sat around and sang while the adults played instruments. It was a highly intolerant, manipulative, and frightening place to grow up, but we didn't know that. It was our lives for as long as we could remember, and we were taught to believe that we were being protected from the World. And from World People. We were taught to work on our souls, to believe in Mel Lyman, whose photograph was everywhere on our walls, to learn about his life, and above all to work and try to understand. The Earth was school, and we were lucky children to be in the Family that was going to be saved from it. Someday, someday, we would all be taken to Venus. We traveled across the country in a school bus that said "Venus or Bust" on the side and believed that until each one of us was perfect, no one was going. For the first time in fifteen years, I'm standing in front of someone who doesn't find that the slightest bit funny.
I am gripped with the idea suddenly that it is imperative for her to know I'm queer. "So you're called Guin now?" she says. "No one calls you Jenny?"
I say, "And you're Kat?" We laugh a knowing laugh together, and I picture us standing in line at Ellis Island. Then I'm terrified. I can't tell her. She'll close off. She'll shrink away. I couldn't bear that. I want to devour this woman, to trade guts.
We're in a bar in the East Village, and she is the bartender. She walks away and I watch her pour a beer for someone and my joy is overwhelming. Look at how she passes, see her pretend. You'd never know in a million years. Just like me. You'd never know.
I entertain a fantasy that she's also queer - that she's just nervous about telling me because we were both taught that man is great, that woman was created to help him to greatness, that homosexuality is akin to uselessness, and above all, that if you're homosexual you have no soul. If you have no soul there's no way to love Mel Lyman. She's as worried about how much of this I believe as I am. If only she was. Oh, how much of my life I could project onto her and read through her.
She returns, and we just keep smiling at each other. The music is loud. She says, "I heard you made a movie of something." I say, "Yeah, I did" I am suddenly aware of all the dykes I came in with, and I hate them because I feel exposed by them. And yet I want to take Kat's hand and jump up on the bar and say, "We grew up in a commune! A cult! A big fucking crazy Family!" and just say "we" over and over again because it feels so much better than "I."
I plunged. "Do you know what my movie's about?"
"Gay people or something?"
I look her in the eye and say, "Yes. It is." Then I chicken out and look at the performers onstage. Then I peek back at her.
"Are you gay?" She asks innocently, as if the idea occurred to her in that second, and I believe it did.
"Yes I am."
"Cool." She draws out the word a little, bobbing her head.
I am frantic trying to read this one word. I am frantic in trying not to appear frantic, and trying to feel as rock-solid in my identity as I did when I walked into this bar. In that moment I am a traitor to all queerness - I want desperately for her to fall in love with me the way that I have with her, and I would trade queerness and probably a limb to have her accept me, and to be able to touch her again without the word "gay" or "cool" hanging in the air.
We belong in the Family. We belong together with the hordes of other children we grew up with. We are out here because we are lost souls. We found each other because the Family has that power, because in the end we all belong together. My sexuality seems identical to this monumentous truth, and in a flash I wonder if it was just an attempt to regain the Family that I lost. A decision I made so I could feel huge arms around me that say, "Within these boundaries you are safe." The feeling I get when I see a dyke in the street and our eyes meet knowingly is the same feelilng I get when I look into Kat's eyes. We know. The desperation for acknowledgment is the same. The strength it gives is immeasurable.
There's no more to this story. She told me rave culture saved her life when she first got out, and we danced, just the two of us, until four o'clock in the morning. We didn't talk much because there was too much to say. Someone asked her where she was from, and I said, "Yeah, Kat, where are you from?" and we laughed like little girls.
Did I imagine that she danced for me? Did she feel my eyes on her and all of that confused desire?
One thing is this: neither of us put the barrier there. It's there the minute you say what you are, and it doesn't matter how the other person actually feels or what she does. The torture is waiting for you. Does she think I want her? Can I say this without scaring her? Is she repulsed by me? Intrigued? I wanted to hold her hand all night and maybe sneak and see how she smelled, but of course I didn't.
Later I thought if I wasn't a lesbian I would have known what to do, how to spill it all out to her and tell her that this evening had changed my life forever. How to ask her never to leave me. But there was all that madness in the way.
I cried all the way home.