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September 8, 2006
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Volume 34
Issue 36
 
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Saturday, Dec 05, 2020

 

 



 
Not Thinking Straight by Madelyn Arnold
Du Temps Perdu
Proust was sent backward by cookies called madeleines. That's not what recently captured me.

Saturday last my 80-year-old mother mentioned the grandchild of an old friend - a tennis pro now, attached to a team in Southern California. She's in her thirties or forties, never married etc. "Maybe," I said, "she's like me."

"You mean gay...? I suppose she could be gay. I never really thought about it." My mother said this pleasantly, and went on.

Something about this shook me up, and after I put down the receiver I traced the feeling back almost exactly four decades to November of '66, and the last days I was considered a wunderkind, even by me.

BRIGHT BRATS

The summer of '66, I fell in love with a lithe and lovely mathematician who ran me down with a bicycle on the first day of school. Ah well, first love beats falling off a house, but only by inches... Good things happened and bad things happened, just like for everybody else; but among the bad things were being read and being queer-bashed. (I lost teeth, but it gave my girlfriend time to run away.)

And at these last things we were, well, amazed. We had been so wrapped up in each other that we hadn't noticed anybody learning to hate us. It'd probably come along gradually; we knew that Lover's roommate heartily disliked us, but that it started with her finding Lover's Prayer Book: ordinary anti-semitism. We figured every nasty thing she did was due to that.

But after my teeth left, life sloped upward remarkably. I met a lively bisexual kid [15], the only child of the Art Department chair. For good reason. He was intensely closeted, of course, but the girl and some unrecorded angel made him take an interest in us, and he reached out.

LIFE GETS BETTER

Daughter was what was popularly called a fag hag (a woman who hangs around gay men and generally hates dykes), but she was sympathetic to us, and when she filled Dad in on the merry times First Lover and I had been enjoying, he wanted to see me - and some of my free hand drawings.

He liked them; he really liked them. I'm no artist - more of an artisan - but I had a talent for illustration, and he was able to swing two scholarships on merit: the next quarter I would be able to say I had a double major in Science and Medical Illustration. It was like being suddenly loved by the school [Ball State University - check it out].

I wouldn't have to work three jobs anymore; Lover's roommate (who had caused so much trouble) had moved out, and my scholarships could cover room and board: maybe I could... move in with Lover? Not that I wanted to be in a dormitory, but it was an experience I hadn't had (and it was winter, and I was living in my car). Lover was going to be working fewer hours...

Life was sweeter than even my first day at school, when I had met her.

Then on a November Saturday I happened to be home when Mother opened a letter from the school, explaining that we had to attend a meeting scheduled two days later.

PREPARING FOR GLORY

Only imagine. A matter of weeks before, we had been in despair: we had been unable to use her room, chased (and caught), frightened to light anyplace; screamed at, jeered at - except, thankfully, in our classrooms. Or my classroom at least. And now another scholarship. Perhaps my broken nose, etc., had been reported by the Health Center. We hadn't told them what had happened, but perhaps they'd guessed? Maybe the school was afraid we'd sue: I was 16, and the school had not protected me. Or something. Finally, being a sub-adult might help.

Next business today I found my mother and me at a long table, in the presence of a dozen black suits, who began as we entered and lectured smartly to one another until my mother stood up like Elizabeth Reign, saying, "that is, gentlemen, she can't come back to school." My jaw dropped. I had no idea that's what they had been saying; I exclaimed, "but why!" - receiving the same attention as a chair... (I'd get used to this reaction in the asylum).

I wasn't working up to capacity (just let me take swimming over!) And they had frozen my records to block me from attending any other school. Period. Lover faced felonies because of me (being 21), but her barracuda lawyer of a brother later skewered them somehow. It was not that he loved her, just that he loved his family name.

NOT PROPERLY DONE

At my parents' home, I grew clumsy, hitting the floor, banging into walls, as I was asked, What was it I had done? Or, as they grasped things more and more clearly, what was it that Lover and I were doing to cause all this? Did we, did I, was I? Finally, I said yes, yes, yes. Mother replied, "I would rather you had been a murderess." "Ma, there's still time," I retorted.

Their reaction was milder than many; but my youngest sister, then small, once told me how furious she had been. How dare they hurt me like that. She did not realize I had become demonic. After that I ran away and was recaptured, and then consigned to asylum to be cured. I was. I wrote a book about it once.

DENOUEMENT

Over the years, Mother (and Father) came to grips with the problem that was me; one crazy day my medical school sister rang me up laughing: "It's about your condition," she said. "What condition," I asked. "Your hormone condition," she replied. Then she ran off, laughing like crazy. Now, my mother found other fruit on our family tree, and agrees my "condition" is probably genetic and a far cry from murder.

We get along fine. But can I forget, in her obvious (fatigued) benevolence about a spinster tennis player, what my life once meant to my family. But I mustn't forget what it still represents to some of my neighbors, everywhere...

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