Today is an important day, friends–for today is the day I break my silence on The Lesbian Closet Incident. While its image has remained vividly in my mind for the last 20 years, I have spoken of its existence to no one. Interestingly, though, the LCI (as it shall henceforth be called) was not witnessed by me alone: in fact, it was clearly staged–yes, staged–for no less than 5-7 other girls…who, I can only assume, likewise told no one, or moved in rather different circles than I, such that I never again heard it discussed.
Before coming to this, however, let me prolong the mystery awhile and return to Sharon’s story. What was so fascinating to me about it (besides the fact that it spoke to the all-encompassing disciplinary rules of our elementary school experience) is how clearly I remember it. As Sharon describes it–running down the corridor and into the stall, hearing the sound of the approaching 5th-graders, jumping onto the toilet in complete terror, emerging later only to be shamed semi-publicly–I have the sense that this is too real, too first-hand-feeling for the experience of reading. I have the sense that I was there, or in some situation nearly identical; I have the bizarre sense that this is my memory.
I could not tell you what happened for sure. It might be that it was me in the stall with Sharon and not Alex; it might be that I am conflating this narrative with another experience I recall that involved being similarly shamed by an older girl for smacking one of my girlfriends on the rear end. Or it might be that, as with so many of our more striking memories, Sharon’s detailed reiterations of the story over the years of our friendship have created for me stories that seem to be mine, but which have become so only through the proxy of narrative. In any case, I find this story to be oddly (queerly?) close to me, even though I would not have been able to articulate it without Sharon’s written memories.
The part of her story that brings the entire thing full-circle for me, though, is the seemingly-innocuous detail about the girls who taunted her (me? us?) being 5th-graders. I believe that one of them–the one, in fact, who questioned her presence in the stall with another girl–was a girl named Chrissy*, and she figures prominently in (you guessed it!) The Lesbian Closet Incident.
I had a friend in fourth grade named Joy, who was over a year older than me as a result of having been held back a grade. She was a sweet person and lived in the neighborhood behind my family’s main-road house, so when I wasn’t spending time at Sharon’s, I would ride my bike to see her. There were moments I can recall in which our age difference struck me as significant–she used to beat the crap out of me at basketball, and seemed much more knowledgeable about the ways of the world than I was, as the youngest kid in our class. For the most part, though, she was just a nice person, and never made me feel weird about wanting to spend time with her.
I was invited to her birthday party…either that year, or in fifth grade, when I’d left the Unnamed Private Christian School for the unknown world of Public School. The party was a slumber party, full of older girls, and it was Popple-themed. I spent most of the evening quietly turning a purple Popple inside and out again, trying to be cool, attempting to disguise the fact that I was intimidated by these (probably) 5th graders.
At some point in the evening, Chrissy suggested that we play a game. I don’t recall now what the game actually was, but it seems that it must have incorporated elements of truth-or-dare and putting on a play, because when she decided that she would take her turn first, Chrissy informed us that she would need to practice with a partner, and would be ready very soon. She and another girl–I’ll call her Rachel, since I don’t remember her name–then disappeared into the closet, from which the rest of us, confused, heard nothing but giggling for the next 5 minutes.
When they emerged, it was apparently for the purpose of demonstrating their completed work: a slightly unorthodox, and rather abbreviated version of that classic work, Romeo and Juliet.
Standing on a chair, Rachel gushed: “Oh Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?!”
Coming from behind the closet door, Chrissy-as-Romeo appeared, leaped atop the chair, and took Rachel somewhat awkwardly in her arms. She then, in front of a room of at least 6 conservative Christian girls, kissed Rachel. With lots of tongue. Then, unsatisfied that this performance had been adequately carried out–I believe because it failed to elicit the proper audience reaction, which, weirdly, was supposed to be laughter–they repeated it, closet-entrance and all, no less than three times. Eventually, Chrissy suggested that it wasn’t working because a different Juliet was needed…though, perhaps sadly for her, this was met with a declaration by several of the girls that they didn’t think this was funny, and that we should play another game entirely.
Now, I know that all manner of so-called “adult” videos portray slumber parties as breeding grounds for exactly this sort of sexually transgressive behavior, but this is hardly the case. Every other slumber party I’ve ever been to has been dominated almost entirely by cookies, dancing, fart jokes and (later in high school, when we got really cool) Trivial Pursuit. How ironic, then, that the Lesbian Closet Incident should come out of one–and that this should happen just as our blog’s hit-count soars, in no small part because viewers in search of just such material come across our (undoubtedly disappointing!) sex- and bra-related tags! It’s interesting, of course, to tell the story here and now: as a discrete incident, with a hindsight view, as a person whose academic work is interested (among other things) in sexual transgression. Even labeling the LCI as I have makes it something other than what it was then…and “what it was,” is, as with Sharon’s bathroom stall memory, unclear to me. I doubt that I knew what a “Lesbian” was then, and I had only vaguely begun to understand myself as having “crushes.” All I knew was that I felt weird, that I didn’t want anyone to know that I did, and that some of the older girls had begun to act like something was terribly wrong.
From my perspective now, though, I wonder what’s happened to Chrissy. I hope that she’s ok, and that somewhere along the way she learned to stop overcompensating.
Sometimes, so it is said, a closet–or a stall–is just what it is, and nothing more. But today, if you asked me (or, perhaps Chrissy), I’d say that “what it is” is a little more than you might think.
*After some thought about the smallness of the Internet world and the relative uncommonness of her real name, I’ve decided to refer to her by a pseudonym.