I was twenty-six and I was a dyke. All I had to do was find someone to love. Because that was the point, after all. All my life I had been loving women, but now—this was less a conscious thought than an operative assumption—I was going to do it for real. I was ready to dance the full-tilt boogie. I just had to find a partner.
My timing was good. It was the spring of 77, and everywhere you looked women were assembling in women-only places. Granted, not in the vicinity of Brown University where I was a grad student, unless you counted the women’s center. But weekends someone was always driving up to Boston to eat at Bread and Roses, the vegetarian women’s restaurant, dance at Somewhere, the women’s disco, or hang out at the Saints, the girls’ bar in the warehouse district with its big blond wooden booths and giant pool room. Olga Broumas had just won the Yale Younger Poets prize for Beginning with O, and a bunch of us drove down to New Haven for her reading. A Greek beauty, she closed her dark-lashed eyes, bard-like, when she read, and we all swooned in our seats and then gushed in the car the whole way back.
My course, Images of Women in Literature, had been accepted by the Modes of Thought Program and I began teaching it that spring. I wasn’t prepared for the number of women who showed up or the hungry way they gazed at me and hung on every word. How could I live up to such expectation? At the last minute I decided to tack on a lesbian section: Olga Broumas, Judy Grahn, Rita Mae Brown. There were two militant lesbians in the class; both sported crew cuts, or “sep cuts” as they were known at the time, and had impressive street smarts. They had already at their [End Page 141] young age—if you believed them—demonstrated against male violence, marched for lesbian and gay rights, worked in shelters, organized sit-ins on campus. Who was I to be teaching them about feminism? Or anything for that matter? Despite staying up most of the night before class preparing, I still couldn’t look their way without losing my train of thought. As I was introducing the lesbian section I was sure I saw them passing each other notes and rolling their eyes.
I had to get myself some experience. Soon after the semester ended I read about a women’s weekend to be held at a women’s camp in upstate New York at the end of June. A few weeks later on a Friday afternoon, I was following a switchback road up the side of a mountain where a clutch of cabins was set in deep woods beside a field. It was a hot day with a strong breeze, and out in the field a group of women was trying to spread out a huge canvas which flapped intractably in the wind. Cris Williamson’s voice issued loudly from a big speaker by the meadow. The movements of the canvas spreaders seemed to be synchronized to the words of “Tender Lady,” which struck me as ironic, since many of the heads were severely shaven and the faces looked pretty fierce. I made my way to the main cabin where the woman behind the registration table introduced herself as Buckwheat and asked another woman named Sage to show me to my cabin.
I was relieved when my bunkmate turned out to be a women’s studies instructor from Buffalo named Shelly. “How unorganic,” I said as she extended her hand. She laughed and we bonded instantly.
A bus was pulling up as I headed back down to the campgrounds. I watched the women step down one by one: wild hair, lots of it, jewelry, makeup, black leather. Women who squinted as they got out of the bus and felt around in their bags and pockets to make sure they weren’t about to run out of cigarettes or Tampax. It had to be the bus from the...