Monday, November 14, 2005

I've Learned the Most From Cruel People

By Maddy Van Horn
Cato-Meridian High School

I approached my locker cautiously, as I do everyday. The hall was crowded with its usual cliques - a few girls giggling about the new boy and what to wear to impress him, some guys tossing a football around, a couple making out a few lockers down from me. The boy next to me moved out of my way as I drew near and smiled at me weakly before he walked away. I could hear snickers and felt eyes on the back of my neck as I opened my locker.

“Just be strong, be better than them,” I muttered to myself. I saw the words scrawled across the locker's metal door. They've been there for nearly a month, but no one's said anything. It's sort of a rule of thumb - if no one says anything, it doesn't exist.

I told myself to be strong, but it was not easy to be strong when every day I faced those scribbled words, like “dyke” and “dirty lesbian.” These are words that people walk by and see every day, but no one ever says anything.

I know that I have to take it and go on with my life as if it's all OK. When people say “be strong in the face of your adversaries,” what it really means at school is to ignore it, let it go.

This is especially true if you're a queer teen in central New York. Queer teens like me everywhere know that in order to be safe from the slurs, they have to pretend the words don't exist - or matter.

Things have changed over the years. So many spiteful words targeting certain minorities are “banned” in our school systems. African-Americans and people of the Jewish faith don't have to take those words in school (at least not like they used to).

But queer kids still do.

It's just the way things are.

So I took out some tape, a piece of paper and a few markers, script out a ballad by my favorite poet, S. Bear Bergman, and posted it on my locker, covering the degrading words and speaking proudly. It's a poem about liberation and death, one that celebrates those who have survived hatred and mourns those killed for being gay, people like Brandon Teena and Matthew Shepard.

My classmates might be able to deface my locker, but how can they spit in the face of the victims of such hateful crimes?

I returned to my locker several times throughout the day with my head held high. I still felt the eyes on the back of my neck, but no longer was I ashamed of it. I smiled at the boy at the locker next to mine, and I saw him smile in return. A small smile, subtle, but it told me that he approved of my newfound pride.

The next morning, as I headed toward my locker, I noticed a slight bustle down the hallway where my locker is located. I watched warily as I approached, knowing that something was going on. Although I was nervous to see what it was, I was not at all surprised.

The word “DYKE” was scrawled out across the poem I posted. People were watching, seeing if I would react. I looked over them carefully, wondering if the culprit was still around to admire his or her work. I fumbled with my combination, shoved my coat in my locker and walked away.

I left the poem up for several days. I suppose I didn't want people to know that it bothered me, so like everyone else, I ignored it. The boy at the locker next to me smiled at me, again with a slight shake of his head. I know this meant “forget about it,” but I couldn't.

So I took out my markers again, but not my creativity. On my poem, underneath the filthy word, I wrote in big bold letters, “and proud!” As simple as that, I put the cap on my marker and walked away.

By the end of the day the poem was gone and I was called down to the office. An administrator said the poster was inappropriate and that I would be getting a new locker.

I agreed, and mentioned that my gym locker had the same words on it. He said he would do something about it, and continued to say that if I didn't want people to write these things, I shouldn't hang posters “advertising” my sexuality.

In other words, if I don't want people to bother me, I should pretend I'm something I'm not. I told him that the only thing I was advertising by hanging up this poem was the ignorance that some people have.

My gym locker still has the defamatory words scribbled across in permanent marker. My new locker has not been defaced. I've avoided using my locker at all in hopes that people would not notice that I've moved. I don't hang posters of poems or rainbows, and I tend to carry around what I need in my back pack or leave it in my car. I still hear the words, but mostly the culprits have stayed undercover.

But I haven't.

I've learned a lot since I came out in seventh grade, and I learned the most from the people who have been cruel to me. I can't make them stop taunting me, I can't make them like me, and I can't make their words stop hurting. But maybe, if I work at it, some gay teen after me won't have to deal with the words. Maybe he or she will be able to bring a date to the prom with no problem, and be looked at as a regular student instead of some queer freak.

Just be strong, if not for myself, for someone after me.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Slow Motion Breakup

By K Pearson Brown
Washington Post

For two years, my ex Michelle lived with her ex Karen before moving on. They dated other women, but each night they went home to each other where they made house, grocery shopped, did yard work and even hosted parties together.

To outsiders, they were a couple. A couple of what you ask? A couple of typical lesbians who wallow in the agonizing slow burn of a breakup instead of ending it quickly like straight folk.

Many of us are guilty of it. We fan that dying ember of a relationship because it gives us just a little warmth and comfort, usually until one of us finds a new flame.

In an interview after her separation from Julie Cypher, Melissa Etheridge revealed that her love affairs always overlapped so she never had to fully deal with heartache. That’s always nice, for one side.

The emotional dynamics between women lovers are different than between hetero partners, and we don’t have a “Lesbians are from Jupiter” how-to manual to help us understand our mates.

Our relationships begin quickly and intensely. We meld emotionally and nest together immediately. Often our body cycles even get in synch. So when things go south, it’s hard to pull apart.

MY LAST RELATIONSHIP was so comfortable that we talked about splitting up for a year and half. We’d talk about it over dinner and then in bed. The romance was gone, but neither of us wanted to leave. We didn’t want to lose our best friend.

Perhaps one of the best things that lesbians would gain by winning the freedom to marry — besides equal rights under the law — would be the imposition of a proper divorce.

No more dragging on dead-end relationships for months and even years. Sign some papers, divide the stuff, stay away from each other for a prescribed period of time, and it’s done.

But I wonder if we would miss the dyke drama that has become such a rite of passage for lesbians. Often we have to have that last knock-down-drag-out screaming match, throwing things and slamming doors, to signal that it’s finally over.

At least we do it with flare. What could be worse — and more boring — than a straight friend’s recent breakup with her boyfriend in which he simply quit calling?

Of course lesbians don’t have the corner on dramatic endings. Think Jean Harris and Herman Tarnower, Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafuco, David Gest and Liza Minnelli, Brad and Jennifer.

And certainly the gay boys aren’t immune from those excruciating off-and-on again liaisons. Who doesn’t feel a twinge in the heart when Jake Gyllenhaal says to Heath Leger in the trailer to “ Brokeback Mountain”: “I wish I knew how to quit you.”

WHEN YOU THINK about the devastation of ending a relationship, it’s a wonder we ever regain the courage to love again. But even after a “Titanic” breakup, “the heart does go on,” as Celine Dion promises. Poor Kate Winslet. Come here, I’ll make you feel better.

A therapist once told me it takes three months for every year you were with a lover to get over the relationship. For the average two-and-a-half-year lesbian relationship, that means seven and a half months of recovery.

The same therapist also told me that a good indicator of a person’s ability to have a healthy relationship is how that person ended past relationships and how friendly that person is with exes.

So, now that I have nearly two years behind me since my last romantic relationship, and my ex and I continue to be best of friends, it stands to reason that I am excellent dating material.

I only have one question: Does this mean my ex has to move out?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Cute One

By Kristina Campbell
DC Metro Weekly

It has been years since I've answered an ad in the Women Seeking Women section of anything. It's been years since I've needed to; my partner and I celebrated a decade together in May.

But let's face it: Sometimes a woman has needs, and there are times when the partner just doesn't have that special something, that missing piece, that je ne sais quoi. Except I do sais quoi. In my case, it came down to four words: Paul McCartney concert ticket.

I love Paul McCartney. I have been deeply, madly, irrationally in love with Paul McCartney since not long after the morning of Dec. 9, 1980, when I woke up and learned that John Lennon had died the night before. ''Who's John Lennon?'' I asked my older, wiser, smugger brother, who had come out of his bedroom to deliver the news.

''Only a member of the greatest rock 'n' roll band ever,'' he told me, incredulous at my stupidity.

We were both used to him being smarter than me -- this was the guy who'd patiently explained the Civil War to me when I was having an ''I'm not ready for this!'' meltdown before entering fifth grade.

So I asked my older, wiser, smugger brother, ''What band is that?''

He was no stranger to sisterly beatings, but this time he administered punishment with his eyes and tone of voice. ''The Beatles,'' he told me. He made absolutely no effort to disguise his disgust at my complete lack of cultural savvy.

John Lennon's death triggered a wave of Beatlemania in my household, beginning with my brother, whose sudden obsession was contagious. I would look at the album covers and listen to the songs and it became clear that Paul was the Beatle for me. He was so cute. He sang lead on many of the band's best songs. He was goofy and sweet and cute. Did I mention cute? As it happened, Paul also had a prolific post-Beatles discography by that time -- fortunately, I wasn't drawn to Ringo.

In the wake of John's murder, there was no lack of information about the Beatles. I had no difficulty finding photos of the boys in their suits, smiling at me from 1964. I was able to watch them age and sprout facial hair before my eyes, as easily as I flipped the pages of a special edition, in-memoriam issue of any given magazine.

So, Paul and I fell in deep, mad, irrational, unrequited love. Naturally this leads to me answering a Women Seeking Women personal ad. Is the path not clear as day? As plain as the nose on Ringo's face?

I last beheld Paul in concert in 1990 at a football stadium in Ames, Iowa. My father was in the supercool habit of buying a couple of extra tickets for his kids when big-name rock shows passed through town. So the first time I saw Paul live, it cost me the price of gas to drive to my dad's house.

In 2002, Paul came to Washington and it crossed my mind to try to go to the show. Ticket prices were, I thought, out of control, so I let the opportunity pass. I'm not sure what I was thinking, but the fates brought him back to town at a point in my life when I had more disposable income and less sanity.

I missed the Ticketmaster frenzy to acquire face-value entry to his concert, and my conviction that he would add another date in D.C. proved naïve. So I put the event mostly out of my mind until approximately five days before the concert, at which point I became obsessed. I scoured Craigslist, which is where I found a post in the Women Seeking Women section -- some unlucky-in-love soul who had an extra floor ticket to see McCartney and was looking for an attractive female companion for the event.

This was a step up from the ''casual encounters'' post from a man who had an extra ticket and was willing to share it in exchange for hot sex after the concert. My partner was not that supportive of my McCartney jones, not even when I explained that I could potentially get both free admission to McCartney and a free baby out of the deal.

So I e-mailed the WSW and told her I am not single and thus unavailable for anything more than a fun night at a concert. But, I said, I'd pay for the ticket.

She wrote back with a most flattering reply, simply copying the last several paragraphs of my most recent Metro Weekly column. A fan! A fan of my column was holding a spare McCartney floor ticket! I was tickled and convinced that I was a shoo-in.

She turned out to be a guy named Dave who'd just googled me off the name on my e-mail. Dave wanted a photo of me, adding, ''perhaps even a photo of you and your significant other.'' Major creepsville. I declined. After some heartache over unsuccessful eBay bids, I found a nice man who was attending the concert with his family; he had a spare ticket in section 224, and I made the best offer.

I paid more money than I've ever paid for a concert, and more than I ever will again, I imagine, but I did not risk my relationship or my dignity. Paul rocked the house and performed for nearly three hours, making him a bargain compared to what I pay my therapist. And I knew with all of my heart that when he sang ''Maybe I'm Amazed,'' he sang it just for me.