Monday, November 28, 2005

Light the corners of my miiind, cont'd

Somewhere around my thirteenth or fourteenth year, yes, I began to
have Those Feelings. I can't exactly pin down when I connected the
name to the feelings, but it was fairly early on, I know. Anyway, by
the time my well-meaning liberal parents had taken me to go see "Desert
" with some friends of theirs (an only child, I often was
included in their adult social life), I was dismally aware of just what
the transaction there was and what it all meant, even before the
infamous scene toward the end.

These days, I sometimes think about the frisson that scene had for me
at a hormonal fourteen with a strange sort of wistfulness,
understandably disturbing as the whole thing was at the time; I don't
think any erotic scene on film since has ever come close to having the
same charge (including a subsequent viewing of "Desert Hearts" in the
privacy of my own living room at age twentysomething, as well as far
more explicit material). For that matter, I never would have guessed
that someday I would wish to have back the intensity of that whole
period: the blushing fits at school, the pounding heart, the uneasy
fascination I'd suddenly developed for leggy blonde girls with mauve
lipstick, girls I'd never even spoken to and had no justifiable reason
for doing so, girls I didn't even *like.* At the time, of course, all
I wanted was for it all to GO AWAY.

To that end, as it turned out, I had some help. That same year, my
grades started to plummet, I was crying all the time, and my favorite
thing to do was sit in the recliner (a leftover from the 70’s, it was
the color and texture of American cheese left too long out of the
wrapper), and mope. Sometimes I would read, or pretend to read,
usually the same thing over and over and over. (Robert Silverberg's
"Lord Valentine's Castle" lasted me a good while. Then it was on to
Stephen King's "It," as I recall). But more often I would just sit
and stare into space. Thinking my thoughts, all 8,000,000,000 billion
per second of them. Bottom line, in retrospect: I was, no doubt,
depressed, and why not? I'd just started yet another new school,
always difficult for me, all the more so because a) this was high
school, a big jump under any circumstances and b) I entered in the
middle of the school year after having accompanied my mother on what
was supposed to have been a six month sabbatical in Barcelona. And I
did not do well with new situations, or school, in the best of

(We came home a month and a half into it, around late October, I
think. There were a lot of factors contributing to my mother’s
decision to bail; I only mention it here because I now remember that
among those factors was an “illness” I had that in fact hadn’t started
as an illness at all. Rather, I had had one of my patented
girl-inspired blushing fits in class, one that drew me enough attention
that I ended up chalking it up to a mysterious sickness I felt coming
on, throwing in some plausible-sounding if exotic symptoms that bought
me an early dismissal from school as well as a trip to a dubious
doctor. I still suspect that the antibiotics the guy prescribed me
were what brought on the *real* symptoms that eventually led my mother
to throw in the towel).

And then to top it all off, of course, I had raging hormones, new
thoughts and feelings that left me feeling more like an alien than ever
before, and no one to talk to about it, not really.

I don’t remember whose idea it first was for me to see a counselor,
ultimately. I know that the subject had been floated before, once,
when I was ten and approaching anorexia. This time, whoever first
brought it up, I *wanted* to go, I do know that. I don’t know what I
expected a counselor to do for me, exactly; or whether my parents knew,
either; or whether we had, in fact, the same ideas at all about what
exactly about me needed to be fixed. All my folks probably knew was
that I was desperately unhappy, and seemed to be getting worse. The
sexuality thing, well...perhaps that was something that should be
talked about, too, sure, with someone who knew about these things. An

So we found someone, I don’t remember how, or what her actual
credentials were. A garrulous, grandmotherly-looking woman. She had a
cozy little office in a converted house on a tree-lined street, like
many professionals in my quiet hometown. And she had her opinions.
Quite firm ones. Some of them were helpful and some of them were
probably less so. The one that had the most lasting effect, though,
was the one I’d really come in about, whether or not my parents knew
this was the main thing on my mind (I thought they did, but there has
been a certain amount of forgetting and revisionist history on several
sides)--anyway, and to wit: no, she didn’t think I was gay, not really.
In fact, she seemed sure of it. Certainly she was surer than I was.
But then, she was older, and wiser, and--more important--louder. Most
important, she told me what I thought I wanted to hear.

In other words, I wasn't really feeling what I thought I was feeling.
(which seemed sort of okay, since nothing I was feeling was resulting
in anything good). I was "confused,” as adolescents are wont to be, I
was "obsessing," and, perchance, spending too much time on my own.
Which, in hindsight, well, DUH; but, also DUH, these things are not
mutually exclusive with sapphic inclinations. According to her,
though, said inclinations were something apart, something one really
wanted to consider every other plausible explanation for before
accepting the possibility that they might just mean what they seemed to
mean. Oh, she didn't say this, of course. Not *exactly.* But, for
instance, she just really didn't see me living "that lifestyle." (I
wish now I’d asked her what that lifestyle consisted of; it might have
given me some ideas...) What did I know? I believed her. ...And, of
course, I didn't believe her. Not really. But even conditional
reassurance that I was okay was better than nothing, I guess. At least
till the last round of soothing noises wore off. So I kept getting
more and more tearful and despondent. And obsessive, yes. Cognitive
will do that to you.

The interesting thing, for me, in retrospect, was the relative
subtlety of the process, and how, in a way, it might've been worse than
if she’d flat out said something along the lines of "Gay people do
not have blood in their veins like yours and mine, but a sticky black
ichor..." My family was never religious and always socially liberal;
my mother had a couple of gay (male, much older, and probably not
really approachable even if I'd been so inclined) acquaintances even
back then. Insecure as I was, I probably would've recognized
out-and-out homophobia, especially with an overtly religious message
attached, as the pernicious bullshit that it was. Maybe, *maybe*, I
would've gone from there to figuring, "hey, if she's wrong about
*that*, then maybe she's wrong about me, too. Maybe I should put my
trust in myself instead of this person." Maybe.

Instead, what I got was a barrage of outdated "tests"--draw a tree,
for instance--and being told that most genuinely "sexually confused"
people draw a split trunk, whereas my trunk was straight! And being
subjected to lots of stories from this more-or-less kindly,
grandmotherly-looking person about her own youth (she wasn't real big
on actual listening, this particular counselor, I suspect). And having
special sessions with a *male* counselor, on account of (I think this
was probably the theory) I didn't trust/like men sufficiently, or get
enough strokes from them or something, and needed a proper model. This
wanna-be SNAG doofus told me about his childhood weight issues, and
how he still struggled with them sometimes, and how I really must go
out and see "The Princess Bride," because "you *are* a princess, you

That was the year--first and only--that I and my family ended up
attending synagogue--first a local Reform one, then a Conservative one
whose rabbi was a bit friendlier. My nice humanist heathenish parents
were probably convinced by the therapist that I needed more
after-school activities and more socialization, which was probably
true, in and of itself. I can't recall the temple stuff having any
long-lasting impact on me one way or the other; both synagogues were
fairly laid-back, they *did* get me out of the house, with other people
my age, and away from my endless ruminations, which, again, in and of
itself, was undoubtedly a good thing. Interesting, though; it didn't
hit me until much, much later that the counselor had specifically
recommended that there be a *religious* aspect to my structured
activity. I remember--just--asking her "why?" and her answering
something evasive, yet firm.

Another suggestion of hers led to my attending one of John Robert
Powers’ eight-week modelling workshops, along with my supposed best
friend at the time, who knew nothing about the subtext of all this (and
who had said a number of actively homophobic things in my presence. i
don't think we ever really liked each other). Workshops of this ilk
were not new to me, of course. I'd taken dance and acting and suchlike
all through my youth, at my own request. Once again, in hindsight, it's
pretty clear that this was meant to be some sort of getting me in
touch with my feminine self-esteem, or some such, which is hilarious,
because I was ridiculously femmey as a child--hated sports, loved
makeup, had two-inch nails in various art-deco colors, room as pink as
I wanted it to be. So I enjoyed the modelling lessons without much
thought as to their purpose. I *was* distracted by the female
modelling teacher, not in any straightforward way by this time; I
remember staring at her nose in some anxiety and thinking "wow, her
nose is really straight. I wish my nose were like that." (This was
another of counselor's tenets, one I'm sure is familiar to others:
essentially, "you're looking at women because you want to BE them, not
DO them.")

Oh, yes, there was the session where the modelling teacher asked all
us girls how many of us wanted to get married. Everyone raised their
hands but me. Oddly enough, I felt totally comfortable in not
necessarily wanting to be married, as my mother had gone out of her way
to emphasize that career and my own happiness (ha) was at least as
important as getting The Ring. Meanwhile, I was turning beet red in
English class whenever the teacher mentioned the word "gay," even out
of context, sure that EVERYONE knew and was looking at me. ("John Gay
was an author...") Part of this is standard adolescence angst, of course;
and yet, today I think: was this trip really necessary?

Really, in many ways I think these counselors' beliefs and techniques
were not all that different from the so-called ex-gay groups, except
that they didn't push an overtly Christian agenda. (My parents
would've pulled me out the door in a hot minute if they'd tried).
Years later, in grad school, I was fascinated by the ex-gay stuff
coming over the news and worked it into a play. Despite the fact that
the character in question was a hyper-anxious adolescent who saw a very
familiar sort of secular counselor before putting herself at the
mercies of the fundie Christian Beverly LaHaye type character, I never quite made the degree of the connection until--well, now, more or less.

and of course, I still find these people morbidly fascinating:

1 comment:

Adam said...

Good luck to you! I hope you are fine now..just be proud of who you are! let's be happy <3