2:00 AM, February 14
. . .And then. on top of all that, this is the week we are talking about “homosexuality” in ethics class.
Yesterday morning I showed the film Word Is Out. The afternoon class had already seen it, had laughed a lot, had picked up on what the gay people said. But the morning class. . .just sat there. “Well,” I thought, “at least I know it’s not just me having a hard time moving them, getting through to them.”
(Once, Seaweed Sapphofire told me how she’d camped for a whole summer on women’s land. Her home was out in the open, under an oak tree high on a hill. From one branch she hung a banner made from a skirt she used to wear when she was a college professor.)
I came home between classes — to touch in with this place, and the play of light inside, while outside the bushes peacefully follow the light through the day. “Look,” I tell myself, “your life is so much more than this current dilemma.”
Yet there is the current dilemma to be faced. Now. I still do not know whether to come out in class the next hour. The morning class feels impossible; but this is sometimes a kind and caring group. And, much furthermore, there are three lesbians in the class, all of whom plan to say so in the discussion. So for the first time I know I will not be alone.
And a part of me wants so much to do it. I feel such schizophrenia maintaining the personality I need to deal with college reality, keeping my mind within reach of my students.
The pain it creates, trying to find my way back to the self that knows everything that I, with my unique life, do know. It really is a kind of split personality; some of my selves know things that others of my selves don’t know at all. . . .If only I didn’t get lost in those selves, but I do. It takes days to thread my way back through “college professor” to “mommy” to “economic self” to “friend” to anyone who can write. Or pray.
. . .So on the one hand I really wanted to come out, just for the healing it might promise, to be able to speak who I am and what I know. . . .But I felt so weak and uncentered; would I be able to know what I know? . . .And even if I tell them I’m a lesbian, I still can’t come out as Pearl Time’sChild, lesbian erotic writer. Even though that has everything to do with all this.
. . .In the class, someone said, “About the film. Well, it’s all fine to say ‘They’re just people like the rest of us’ and all that. But you have to think about the parts the movie doesn’t show. You have to think about what they actually do with each other.”
. . .I remember first learning about “intercourse.” I was fourteen, sitting on the high school lawn under a tree in the spring sunshine, in a pin and white checkered dress, reading a borrowed book, Evelyn Mills Duval’s The Facts of Life and Love for Teenagers.
I knew vaguely about intercourse, about what went where; but many of the details were new to me; how the penis gets full of blood and stands up stiff. . . .I wish I had the book now; it said something like “Intercourse is completed by an in-and-out motion of the penis. This continues until. . .” followed by some description of ejaculation.
It sounded ghastly. I closed my eyes. “Deborah Kerr does that.” I made myself think. . . .My mother does that!” That night I wrote, “I feel as if a veil has come between ma and all married women.”
Now my point in telling you this is that I did get beyond my initial shock at what people actually did, as described so baldly, because I had the whole force of society and culture helping me. My imagination was fed not only by that meager description: Every time a man and woman kissed on the screen, humbled themselves, opened themselves to one another, to trembling strains of music, I knew that this, too, was part of it, of sexual love. And there was so much more. . . .My mother, it could not be denied, had engaged in intercourse, and my grandmothers, too.
And there were those fierce new longings to be filled that I was feeling. And in the untouchableness of teenager hood, the simple longing just to touch. All these, I knew, were part of it, too. All these I had to go on, to know that some man and I, too, could create around that in-and-out act something complex, loving, rewarding. And we did.
. . .Though in way, a part of me still sees “intercourse” as a little ridiculous and undignified. For one thing, it does look pretty funny, I’ve got to admit. But I know too, now, that that’s all part of the fun. To be that vulnerable. To share those funny, raw, red, hairy parts of ourselves. To trust that much. . .
To return to the point. The culture imagined heterosexuality for me, to me, as something attractive and inevitable. I saw Deborah Kerr sparkle before Cary Grant, with fire and challenge and sexuality. And I saw her give herself in kindliest compassion to John Kerr, who loved her so hopelessly. I was never shown a woman loving a woman.
“. . .But you’ve got to remember what it is they actually do with each other.” And I know his images of “what we actually do” are on the level of Evelyn Mills Duval.
. . .Can I begin to tell him what it is we actually do? Can I even know it, here?
Could they imagine what it’s like to live in this culture as a lesbian or a gay man? To walk down the street where only others can touch. Where the movie romances are always man-and-woman. Where the question “But why don’t those two men. . .?” or “Why don’t the women notice each other?” will never even be raised. Never to see anything like your life in a play or a book.
. . .I did hear if a new movie about gays. A lurid gay underground, to be exact, and a series of gory close-up murders, very violent murders of gay people.
. . .Dissolve: to a young woman in class: “I knew a man who was murdered, just because he was gay, just because he loved another man.” She passes on the orange, and cradles her head on her desk.
. . .Dissolve: to San Francisco: It is Harvey Milk’s birthday. Meg Christian and Holly Near and thousands of people are singing, “We are a gentle angry people. And we are singing, singing for our lives.”
. . .Sometimes I imagine things getting worse as backlash flourishes. I imagine the weathering boards of my house spray-painted in purple, LEZZIE, and my father finding out that way. I imagine the carefully loved interior of this house vandalized. . . .I try not to imagine these things. And yet, how do I know who I’m talking to in class? And what they’ll hear? And whether it is safe to say these things? I feel so exposed up there before them.
. . .