Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Door Opens

I’m in the Skidmore College library, where I’ve spent a lot of time over the last months, and in my Freshman year as well. I’ve lurked about the HQ section, where the books on homosexuality are shelved. I’ve been looking for validation, and it’s been slow in coming. In 1973, homosexuality is still something you can lose your job for, your family, your friends (and I already have lost friends). In a small town, like the one I just left to attend Skidmore, you can lose your mind from the isolation it enforces.

One day a couple of months earlier, I had picked up the Village Voice. Miraculously, there’s a column, a whole page, by a woman named Jill Johnston, who writes openly and even humorously about being a lesbian in New York City. She writes in a stream-of-consciousness style. In all lower case. Which even then I know is fatuous post-beat bullshit. But she writes.

From that day forward, she has been my lifeline, my once-a-week hit of the closest thing I can find to real life.

Skidmore has been a great disappointment. I spend a lot of time calculating how much of the student body has to be lesbian. But where are they?

By this time, I’m getting the picture. It’s a school for the rich, and the rich don’t organize. Or rather, the rich are already organized to enrich themselves. They aren’t going to start any counter-cultural organizations to make lesbians happier and more visible. Skiddies learned in prep school that lesbianism is best kept discreet. They can buy privacy.

It’s the working and middle classes who think organizing is fun and useful.

I had a lover in the last weeks of my Freshman year. We had been constant companions all year. A couple of weeks before finals, we succumbed to loneliness and hormones. After we parted for summer vacation, she sent a letter and broke it off. I was not surprised.

So there I am in the Skidmore College Library. I read the Voice. On my way out, I see a glass display case and in it, Jill Johnston’s book. Lesbian Nation. Jill Johnston is appearing at Skidmore in a month to discuss her book, this book with the word lesbian in the title. I’m floored. I circle, so as not to appear too obviously enthralled by the display case. I go to the card catalog. Is the book on the shelves?

No, there’s only one copy, and it’s in the locked display case. I circle several more times, caring less each time whether anyone notices. In fact, I have a persistent suspicion that no one at this school has ever noticed me doing anything. I sit down at a study carrel. I get up and pace. I look out the window at the snowy campus, and watch bundled-up students in hiking boots and goose down parkas trudge along snow-covered paths to class.

Finally I go to the counter and ask a librarian if there’s another copy of the book. The librarian looks it up and of course discovers there isn’t. I ask if, since the author will be visiting the college soon, could I possibly read the book? The librarian thinks it would be sensible to get the book out of the case and just leave the cover in there. She checks the book out to me. I walk out of the library with the green cloth covered book in my hands.

A door—a barn door—an aircraft hangar-sized door has just opened for me.

1 comment:

GeekPornGirl said...

Hey, thanks for including my fiction site,, in your blogroll.

I've enjoyed reading your posts.

Especially poignant was this one about being in the library at Skidmore. In reading this passage, it was hard not to compare it to my own experience at Mills College (class of '83):

Skidmore has been a great disappointment. I spend a lot of time calculating how much of the student body has to be lesbian. But where are they?

Ironically, at Mills, I knew where the lesbians were, but didn't think I was one of them. (Many of my friends have found this hysterically funny.) I guess more irony came in the the decades after when some visible campus lesbians settled into heterosexual lives, and others of us, "waiting in the wings," so to speak, came out.