Friday, July 14, 2006

I would have wanted to sleep with you by now...

“I would have wanted to sleep with you by now, other than for the fact that you’re fat.”

It was the spring of 1980 and I was at the tail end of my 26th year and in the first flush of coming out as a lesbian. Ah, the 1980’s. The Second Wave of feminism was in full force, nary a weekend went past when some exciting demonstration, gathering, conference or meeting wasn’t taking place. And in 1978 I learned about it all through “Spare Rib,” the British Women’s Liberation mouthpiece, published monthly and devoured from cover to cover by feminists, neophyte and jaded alike. It was my foolish husband who introduced me to these holy pages – embarrassed, as I imagined then, by his non-University wife who was home raising his small baby girl, he brought the magazine home to educate me. He wasn’t to know how hungry I was for the information, and how the planets had aligned in my sexuality Zodiac at exactly the moment he said, “Here, read this if you want.”

I was a long-time women’s “libber” and words can’t describe how much I loathe and detest that diminishing epithet. Used by men and women alike to disparage and minimize a struggle for civil rights and equality, it stung to admit that I was one. I was a feisty gal from adolescence and was known for giving men a hard time, which in retrospect I believe to mean that I was a woman who had strong opinions and was not easily pushed around. I oozed out of my family by the skin of my teeth, surviving with some of my self-respect and self-love intact, but definitely bearing the scars of 18 years in a house with my father, arch misogynist. With no sexuality to speak of other than that dictated by years of reading Penthouse, Playboy and White House, I was hardened against the idea of sex, the notion of feeling sexual and sick to death of the idea that anybody else was having sex. The only piece missing was my inability to say no to sex, which I didn’t know was my goddess-given right.

So now, here it is, years later and I’m married to my childhood sweetheart. Well, leastways number 4 of the over 100 men I had had sex with, and decided to sustain a relationship with. Inequality bristled between my bones like demented fascia, and I was ripe for plucking. Soft Cell sang of “Tainted Love,” the Yorkshire Ripper was claiming victim after victim with no end in sight, I hadn’t had sex in years, was too smart for my own good and lived with a man who was an emotional illiterate. So when I peeled back those pages and saw photos of honest-to-goodness real live lesbians, holding placards and marching in Gay Rights demos, my heart skipped a beat and I felt a throb in a clitoris I’d never realized I had up till then. I ran right out and joined a newly-formed Consciousness Raising Group. Those were exciting times. I read everything I could about feminism. I cried and raged my way through Susan Brownmiller’s books, devoured Andrea Dworkin’s books on Pornography and read anything on lesbians and relationships between women that I could get my hands on. I hadn’t realized just how furious I was with men until then. Anything male was a nail, and I was the hammer.

Six months later I had had my first relationship with a woman I wasn’t in love with, but loved me and desired my round, soft body in a way that I’d never been loved before. I only wish the feelings were reciprocated, but she left me cold. But the revolution marched on! I left my husband, and took off with my child to begin the life of a single lesbian. I am woman hear me whore!

I met M. at the Rape Crisis Center where I worked, a hotbed of lesbian feminist activism. She was small, dark haired, dark eyed and intense. It is she I credit with introducing me to the joy of smoking roll-up cigarettes, and I felt my DQ (Dyke Quotient) rising each time I rolled my own. She also introduced me to Adrienne Rich, Marge Piercy, lesbian collective households, home-made whole wheat bread that took the tartar of your teeth, political vegetarianism and her own particular brand of fierce and fighting lesbian separatism. We were friends, friends who spent a lot of time together as collaborators in the struggle against male domination, giving talks to Young Conservative groups about rape and sexual assault, sitting next to each in meetings giggling like the bad girls in the back of the class and sharing a pint and a smoke at the bar around the corner from the Crisis Center. I invited her to my flat for dinner. The anticipation of seeing her jangled every nerve end in my body. I had butterflies in my stomach, felt agitated and aroused and if I could have figured out how, would have crawled out of my skin and hidden in my sock drawer. I met M. at the door, and she was grinning as widely as I was. She was entranced by my politically-correct dark-skinned daughter, salivated over admired and devoured my fabulous gourmet vegetarian meal, and plunked herself down on the tapestry-covered couch to roll a spliff. She got high, very high. The mild buzz I felt from the weed only served to intensify my overall feeling of well-being. Ah, but it was grand to be a lesbian. Gone were the days of having to dress right, wearing make-up to be considered desirable, or worry about the number on the scales. The Revolution was coming and all women were equal.

Unfortunately, the weed made M paranoid.

And that’s when she said those words, which she introduced by saying, “I’m feeling very paranoid, and so I have to say something to get it out of the way so that it’s not in the room anymore. I would have wanted to sleep with you by now, other than for the fact that you’re fat and I don’t like your body.”

I think the revolution ground to a juddering halt right about then. And right behind it, the lesbian juggernaut slowed, skidded sideways with screaming breaks and slammed into my brain which has struggled ever since to integrate what M said to me into the framework of my life. I’m still working on it, but I know that the words are yet with me, and I cringe and get tears in my eyes if I let myself remember them.

The thoughts and ideas flowed freely until I put those words down on paper. And now I find myself wanting to stop writing, to be done. I realize that I had conceived of the impending revolution as a social and political evolution that was completely accepting of me in every way. M’s words drilled down into my consciousness, seeped into the fabric of my identity and puffed out the flickering flame of passion. For a while, I came to believe that there are no glory days. There is no walking into the sunlight with rosy cheeks, arm in arm with your lesbian lover, unencumbered by patriarchal prejudices and misogynistic mishegass.

So, dear reader, we did end up having sex. Yep, awful, emotionally painful sex that kept me hidden under the covers, hiding my body from M’s horrified gaze until our relationship ended 2 years later. For the first ten years after the break up, whenever I remembered and felt those words, I would find myself cringing and squinting, my shoulders would involuntarily squeeze up under my ears. I felt the pain of them as a physical assault. I felt no heartbeat. My head became a solid lump of metal, my torso leaden and heavy, my breathing would slow and threaten to stop. I would feel a choking sensation in my throat, as if I were slowly suffocating on my own saliva. Even now, as I write this, if I close my eyes, those physical sensations come back to me, distantly and softer, but still with bite, as if it were yesterday.


Blogger WordsRock said...

Did she know? Was she aware?
What a fucktard that woman was.

I am outraged for you despite being a stranger. That is the beauty of excellent writing. Nice.

7:18 PM  
Blogger Sapphique said...

Wordsrock, thank you for your empathy. I think she did know what a "fucktard" she was being, although it wasn't fast enough for her to rectify it. Thank you also for the writing compliment. (By the way, fucktard is a fabulous word. Is it a "wordsrock" original? I've never heard it before.

11:18 PM  
Blogger DaraQW said...

Just found your blog via Suburban Lesbian (via Time for Your Meds).

You know, it must have been something about the times. My first lover was someone with whom I had been friends with for several years. She was one of those butches who figured out early that she preferred women. It took me months to figure out I was falling in love with her. In the summer of 1980, about six months before we hooked up (using today's parliance), she said some words to nearly the same effect: "If you lost some weight, I would probably sleep with you." There was, even among 'out' feminist lesbians, a veil of internalized homophobia and a desire to play by mainstream "rules" about what made women attractive. Equally frustrating to me (as a femme) was that those of us who didn't swear off makeup, perfume, skirts and jewelry when we came out were ostracized for "trying to pass for straight."

BTW, I, too, was a chat host on AOhelL, back in the days of Womens Space.

11:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How awful. What an incredibly cruel thing to say.

This is one of the things--this pressure to look a certain way-- which makes me very reluctant to seek out queer women. On one hand, there's a magnet that powerfully draws me to queer spaces whenever I'm in a population centre which I know has them.
But I sit silently and don't try to talk to anyone. I'm middle aged, about 30 pounds overweight, and was married for a number of years. And, I had several kids, so I have quite a few stretch marks. I wonder: am I queer enough? Am I attractive enough? I don't look butch, but I'm not like the women on the L Word either.
So, I look around surreptitiously and try to hone my gaydar. But I don't seem to be setting off anyone else's.

11:49 PM  
Blogger jmc said...

Said it once and I'll say it again. Fuck M.

11:33 PM  

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