A friend refers to me as her lesbian faery god mother because I knew she was gay long before her skin turned lavender and rainbows shot from her ear. Though we’d attended the same elementary and high school, it wasn’t until winter break, our freshman year of college that I knew. I was christmas shopping with friends at a tiny suburban mall when I saw her. In my memory she wears a soft black leather blazer, the type that had its mainstream moment in the nineties. Though only recently out myself, I was already learning how on one woman a thumb ring in combination with a direct gaze meant lesbian, while on another, a pair of rainbow suspenders meant only, “I have the fashion sense of a coke-addicted alien on a 1970’s tv show.”
On my old friend, the blazer, in combination with a short, choppy haircut sent up a new, gay flare. When she saw me she nodded, a nod passed down through generations of lesbians, a classic lesbian nod. I gathered each clue as she dropped it. In my hands, they became an unimpeachable guide.
Lesbian, I thought. I wondered if she knew.
Years later when we crossed paths and cemented our friendship, I reminded her of our meeting.
“That was right before I fell in love with my roommate and started taking these long, moody walks, The Indigo Girls blaring through my headphones,” she said. “It took me another six months though, to realize I was gay.”
I’m pretty proud of my lesbian foresight, but I got to thinking the other day, how many people were on the other side of this equation with me? How many knew who I was becoming before I knew myself? Here’s a possible list.
People Who Knew I was Gay Before I Did
My second grade teacher. I told her she smelled good one too many times.
Sam Belonkoff. When I put my arm around a female classmate he called me a “gaywad.” I think he’s on a commune in Denver now.
My father’s student who wore a thumb ring and shredded jeans and worked as a plumber for extra cash. When we’d pass in the hall, she’d say my name really slow.
Anyone who saw how I watched Bianca Tisman brush her hair.
My biology partner’s mother. Because of my leather motorcycle jacket with the lace-up sides.
My high school best friend. When she came out, she bought two sets of pride rings. She handed me one. “Hang onto these,” she said.
Kat in my Women’s Studies 101 class. She told me I was beautiful which no girl my own age had.
Not one single woman in my lesbian culture class.
Dana who let her girlfriend kiss me, just once. So I could see what it was like.
The dormmate with whom I started Ripple of Active Resistance (ROAR). Though straight and politically minded, she tolerated the fact that group had no discernible purpose other than attracting female members.
The leather daddy who auditioned for a play I wrote about a questioning 20-something and an older woman. She convinced me to kiss her just to demonstrate how I wanted the scene between she and her costar to play.
My first girlfriend. When we met, she glanced at my hands and said, “You’re definitely gay.”