'Baby dyke' is just another stage of life, isn't it? It's just a question of how long it takes to get there, right?
What comes to mind, strangely enough, is spending time with old women in North Africa, especially after they'd been widowed. These were women who had never had a choice of whether or not to marry — let alone who to marry. The happiest women in the older set that I knew in the 1970s were those women in polygynous marriages. They were just fine, thank you, sharing (the burden) of one husband. Grateful as could be at not being stuck with him (and his mother) alone. The freedom felt by widows was not just palpable, it's visible even in photographs.
And the younger women (we're talking rural sector here) complained that polygyny had been outlawed. And therefore, they'd be stuck with some old geezer doing all the labor for him and his brood. They were not at all grateful for the 'liberation' from polygyny.
Not exactly baby-dykes, I agree. And I know that women are also sorrowful at the loss of a lifetime mate. But what I witnessed were women relieved from the burden of serving men. Content to be an elder themselves, served by their younger generation. And the unhappiest old woman I knew was being forced back into a marriage by her son. Long story. Hishma!
But in our country, and in urban life, surely it shouldn't take until widowhood to discover one's own gynephilia. But sometimes the signs are there and we just plain missed it.
Upon reflection, I think I've had five little moments of awakenings that I just clear somehow missed at the time. Not including obvious baby dyke moments like crushes. Or that feeling when getting strapped into a black leather corset for the very first time.
No, these moments were a bit more nuanced. Just a bit.
In chronological order:
the sonny-boy incident: Fifth or sixth grade. I was running back home after getting a 'pixie' haircut (that's what it was called at the time). Ran across the street without looking. And this man (who almost hit me with his car) hollered out his window, "Watch out, sonny!" And I was mortified. It downright scared the butch right outta me. Oh well. Think of all the years that coulda been different if I had risen to that occasion.
the Electra moment: The Greek film Electra came out in 1962. I was fourteen. My mom took me to UC Berkeley's Wheeler Auditorium to see it. And my jaw dropped. It was the moment that Irene Pappas, in an act of defiance and grief, finds a private corner and cuts off her long tresses, and is shorn, ready for mourning. A truly orgasmic moment in film making. But my own butch moment had already passed (see above), and instead I spent years trying to personify Pappas' Greek anguish. Mostly I practiced the intensity of her eyes. Failing miserably, of course. But I fell in love for the first time without even noticing.
the kd lang/cindy crawford Vanity Fair photo shoot: I was up skiing with family and friends. Staying back one afternoon to grade (yet another) set of exams. I had the whole condo to myself. Took a break in the middle of a set, and picked up some magazine lying around. Flipped it open. And almost fell to the floor. kd lang! I believe the correct contemporary expression would be OMG!
There's more, of course, but why go any further than kd lang?
My point is that there are these moments when we can choose to know ourselves, or choose to not read the signs. Or, I suppose, we can read the signs, and choose to change or not to change. Or we find ourselves waiting for the life cycle to come round and hand us a form of liberation (as older women do in North Africa). Or we never discover who we are or what we want.
And in some cultures or communities it is just plain too dangerous to display this kind of awakening. Too life-threatening. And so we hide. Or suppress. Or repress (which might be be the best option to live with under some circumstances).
And in other cultures or communities it's not too dangerous to awaken. And we find ourselves wide awake, with another new world to explore.
And why think about all this now?
It was a chance email from North Africa that sent my mind back so many decades ago. Thinking about what happened to the girl who dared wear pants, ride a bike, carry money — in a village where these acts were considered aberrant if not obscene for a teenage girl. It was downright cross-dressing. A form of transvestism there. The boys threw rocks at her. Shouted at her terrible insults of gender confusion ... But her father indulged her. She was one of the girls decidedly in favor of polygyny — so as not to be stuck entirely at a man's whim. And then her father did something no other father in the village had done.
He taught her a trade. And got her out of there.
And with this email, I thought of her. And these moments when we discover ourselves. These moments when we choose either to be or not be what it is we really are. And I thought of the courage it takes to not compromise. And I thought of Irene Pappas' defiant, smoldering eyes. And kd lang.
And I still think it's a life cycle thing. To declare ourselves (or not). And it just takes some of us a whole lot longer to get there.