I have been having not such a good day, and writing on this blog makes me feel better, so for a special treat you’re going to get 2 posts in 1 day! And, after reading Erin’s spectacular work on the kiss-boys-on-the-butt incident, and having her tease us with the lesbian closet incident, I figured it was only fair that I cough up the other alluded-to lesbian incident. So here goes:
You already have some idea, no doubt, that the setting for this incident is the Unnamed Religious Private School . I’m sure I have awkward stories about sex and sexuality from middle and high school too, but right now they don’t seem NEARLY as interesting to me as the lesbian incident and the vague fog I wandered through in the elementary grades.
As we’ve mentioned before, we were goody-two-shoes rather than bad-dy bats. For the most part our friends followed the same pattern. We hung out with people who mostly stayed clear of trouble and did as they were told (within reason), so moments when we suspected we might possibly get in TROUBLE were a very big deal. One such incident occurred in (again!) the 4th grade when our friend Alexandra (Alex) and I had wandered into the bathroom at the end of recess and were late getting back to class. Not surprisingly, the memories of that we-might-get-in-trouble feeling are much stronger than the memories of why, precisely, we were about to get in trouble. I sense that this particular incident had something to do with not tucking in our uniform shirts. We were on the playground when a group of kids nearby got seriously harangued for their un-tucked shirts. Ours must have been disheveled too, and we ran to the bathroom to either (1) escape notice and remain untucked or (2) tuck in our shirts ourselves before we got chewed out too. This seems ridiculous, but I’m almost positive it’s true.
So Alex and I were hiding out in the bathroom, waiting out the bell signalling us to return to our rooms, when we heard someone coming down the outdoor corridor leading up to the women’s restroom. “Quick!” said Alex. “Someone’s coming! It might be Ms. Ditch. Hide!” We turned to hide and, without really formulating a plan, ran into the same bathroom stall. As soon as we shut and latched the door, the sound of some older girls (5th graders, no doubt) echoed off the tiles. The noise hadn’t been Ms. Ditch after all, and we weren’t in trouble for our shirttails. But now we faced a very different menace: the specter of homosexuality.
“Stand on the toilet!” Alex hissed to me. I was confused about why I might do this. What was wrong with being in the same bathroom stall? But whether or not I understood didn’t really matter; the girls saw our feet before I had time to act.
“Are there two girls in that bathroom?” one asked.
“Who’s in there?” another called.
We didn’t know exactly why we were being taunted, but we knew for sure that we couldn’t show our faces now.
“Come on out!” they shouted. “We won’t tell!” Tell what? What could they possibly do to get us in trouble? Were they going to tell Ms. Ditch about our shirts? About our generally unkempt appearances?
Whatever the possibilities, we knew that saying “we won’t tell” meant that they most certainly would tell someone something, even if we didn’t see what that something was. Alex signalled to me that we would remain incased in our fortress until the girls were gone. We were late for class, but this was the price we had to pay in order to avoid being in trouble for something worse – something unidentified.
The 5th graders were pretty determined. And we were still extremely naive. When we thought they had finally left, they were merely outside the door, waiting around the corner for us to emerge. When we finally did come out we were met with a chorus of taunts. I don’t really remember what they said, specifically. But I knew the general idea – that they thought we had been kissing in the bathroom stall.
As you learned from Erin’s previous post, kissing in general was not at all allowed, and kissing another girl was clearly outside the realm of possibility. I am certain that the word “lesbian” was brought up directly that day. And the day after that. It was a week or two before Alex and I would live down the accusations whispered on the playground. I distinctly remember one moment in particular, when an older girl – a cool girl I knew only by sight – summoned me over to the tennis court fence and whispered to me, “Is it true you and that tall girl are lesbians?”
I don’t know what rudimentary understanding I had of homosexuality at that time. But whatever that sense was, it could not possibly have been helped along by the hisses and jeers of the other students, taunting us for being something we’d never even heard of before. As with Scott’s PG-porn-for-kiddies scheme, we came away from this incident with the idea that something about us was shameful. We were dirty, and we should have gotten in trouble. We were just lucky the older girls hadn’t elected to tell Ms. Ditch or one of her other cohort.
This strange incident in my life was followed by several moments of childhood worry that my relationships with others might be taken out of context. When I went to the movies with my recently widowed grandmother, I worried that other people would think we were lesbians. Whatever that meant. I worried that she would be seen as the one responsible for this, and that she would get in trouble. Looking back at this story now, I also realize that Alex must have known at least a bit more about the topic than I did. She clearly understood that we had a situation on our hands as soon as I ran into the stall with her. I had no idea that this was a bad choice until long after the girls had begun their taunting. But what I don’t understand to this day is where this topic injected itself into the culture of the Unnamed Religious School. After all, this was the late 80’s and the early 90’s in the deep South. While gay culture was developing a newfound voice outside of our walls, battling the AIDS epidemic and fighting for civil rights, very little in mainstream popular culture existed to bring this voice to kids like us. Where did my 5th grade tormentors learn their lingo? I had no idea what a lesbian was. So how did they?
Alex and I eventually became yesterday’s news, and the 5th grade girls found new kids to tease. But the incident left a tiny little bump in my experience. I had always been a kid who was close to my friends. I was affectionate and – for lack of a better word – cuddly. So was Erin. This is how we operated. We followed each other pretty much everywhere, and I’m even pretty sure we bathed together once or twice when we were still pretty young. But my week in the queer spotlight lead to a new understanding of intimacy – even spatial intimacy, like sharing a bathroom stall – as yet another object of shame.
I’m sure that, had Melissa been there, she would have told me that Cindy Crawford never went into bathroom stalls with other women. And I’m pretty sure she would’ve been wrong.