From 1975 to 1993, I identified as a lesbian. The story of my desire to be with women, my decision to declare myself a lesbian, my years in the Berkeley and San Francisco lesbian-feminist community of the 1970s and 80s, my decision to go back to men, and why that journey took 18 years, is the subject of my second, upcoming memoir, My Lesbian Years, or, Who Wouldn’t Want to be a Lesbian? Here is an excerpt.
Excerpt: Published in Noyo River Review, Vol. 8, February 2020
The First Time
1975 Berkeley, California
I’d been trying for a year to have an orgasm. I hadn’t even known they existed before I’d moved to Berkeley two years before at age twenty-two. But after volunteering at the Berkeley Women’s Health Collective, taking vaginal self-exploration classes, and reading feminist tracts on the myth of the vaginal orgasm and the glory of the clitoral orgasm, I was well aware that I had a clitoris and that it should be giving me ecstatic feelings. I suspected that I wasn’t even having the inferior vaginal orgasms, even though I enjoyed intercourse.
I’d put my boyfriend David on the project. He’d been happy to spend long hours rubbing my clitoris in various ways to elicit the hoped-for response, but victory eluded him.
Then lesbians started calling to me, and I lost interest in David. When I first met the handsome, confident lesbians who were half the staff of the Health Collective, I’d thought, Wow, it would be nice to make love to both men AND women. Too bad I’m only attracted to men. But one evening, a new lesbian friend, Cathy, was over for dinner at my six-person coed vegetarian household. I was leaning back in my chair, happy to have a guest, letting my housemate Wendy entertain us with her camping stories. Cathy laughed at something Wendy said, and a lock of her brown hair fell across her cheek. Suddenly, that cheek seemed exquisite, and I felt a rush of longing for her.
Oh my god, I thought.
I was sufficiently freaked out as well as excited to not make any sudden moves. I wasn’t even sure how much I liked Cathy, so I kept the revelation to myself. But I couldn’t wait to tell my friend Kim, a lesbian who worked at the Health Collective.
“I’m attracted to women!” I said to Kim over her kitchen table later that week. Kim had a boyishly handsome face under her short-cropped hair that I found adorable.
“Well, would you like to try sleeping with one?” Kim said.
“Yes,” I said. “But who?”
“I’ll sleep with you one night,” she said, “to show you what it’s like.”
A friend favor. I knew Kim was longing for Ann, a willowy long-haired lesbian. But Kim’s confident smile as she made this offer melted me.
We took showers and snuggled naked on her single sleeping pad on the floor of a dining-room-turned-bedroom in herwood-paneled Berkeley Craftsman house.
“Ooooh!” I said, as my arms reached around her and my skin dissolved into curves that padded the bones I usually felt with men. “This feels like holding a man, only softer!”
The next day, standing in the line at the Great Western Bank in downtown Berkeley, I wanted to shout out to the whole bank, I just slept with a woman!!!!