Thursday, May 04, 2006

Mind the Gap



"Sometimes I just find myself more turned on by girl-on-girl porn than the regular kind."

"Me too." She lowered her voice so that her husband couldn't hear her in the next room.

Then she added, "Sometimes you can catch some quality lesbian adventures in the 'Letters to Penthouse'. They really do the trick."

Six years older than I, Kay had served as a surrogate mother through most of my formidable years. More than a mother figure, Kay was the pinnacle of moral behavior that I attempted to model myself after when times were especially bad. She navigated her way through life with the kind of certainty that accompanies people with integrity.

When I was ten, I spilled a bottle of my mothers red nail polish on the rug of her bathroom. Kay found me on the floor of the bathroom, smearing the polish deeper into the lime green carpet. Without saying anything, she got down on the floor next to me with some nail polish remover and we worked together for the next hour removing the red stain. When we were done, she got up and brushed her hands against her brown corduroy pants.

"So are you going to tell Mom about this or would you like me to?"

"But it's clean now." I pleaded with her.

"But it's the right thing to do."

Without judging me, without shaming me, she simply let me know the difference between right and wrong. And she never let me believe that the actions that seemed instinctual to me meant that I was a bad person.

Because of this, I always equated Kay with a world I didn't live in. The kind of world where you always told the truth and did the right thing. If Kay was the family symbol of morality, I was the pin-up girl for the wrong side of the tracks. So imagine my shock when I discovered her becoming wise in areas where I thought we could never relate.

Me: "I cheated on my boyfriend and the guilt is killing me."

Kay: "Does he know? You don't have to tell him things that are going to hurt him. If you aren't going to do it again and he doesn't know then it's your problem. Don't make it his."

Me: "I flirted with my best friend's boyfriend."

Kay: "Don't say you're sorry. Just don't do it anymore. Show up different. That's how you demonstrate your remorse."

Me: "I think he knows. He read my e-mail."

Kay: "Don't lie about it. Tell him. But you don't have to tell him the details. Those will only hurt him more."

Somewhere in the years that passed between us, we were becoming more alike. I was cleaning up and Kay was branching out. We were evolving closer to one another.

So two years ago, when she told me about a woman in her class she had befriended, I sort of knew what was coming.

"I've made a new friend." She told me one night over the phone.

I was thrilled because my sister needed good friends. For ten years she had been married to a man that shared none of her interests. She likes to hike; He likes to watch television. He smokes; She doesn't even drink. She likes romance, flowers and erotic massages; He flinches if you stand too close. She wanted a baby; they got a cat.

For years my sister had shrugged off her situation, saying "Your partner is not meant to meet all your needs. That is what friends are for."

It was a template for which to build all my future relationships.

But slowly I saw less and less of Kay's husband Tracy. She took vacations alone, spent her weekends hiking alone, went to movies alone, ate at restaurants alone and held parties he never attended. So I was thrilled with Kay's new friend. Even if I knew from the start where it was headed.

"She's a lesbian and I think she has a little crush on me, but I absolutely love hanging out with her and have never met anyone with whom I have so much in common."

"That's cool." And I waited.

A year ago my sister phoned to say that she had left her husband and was exploring an open relationship with her new girlfriend, Jade.

Recently, she came to visit me in New York.

When she arrived, the first thing I noticed was the hair. Kay had always had romance novel long hair. When we were kids, she would get me and my sister Francine to brush it while we sat in front of the TV watching 'Love Boat' re-runs.

"Jesus Lord. What happened to you hair?"

"You like it? I love it. All that hair was holding me back. Now, I can just jump right out of the shower and go. I don't have to walk around all morning with that long, wet, messy hair flapping against my back."

Kay had always been a bit of a tomboy. She hated skirts and dresses and preferred kayaking and hiking in the rainforest to shopping at the mall. Kay owned three pairs of Birkenstocks, eight polar fleece jackets, and two pairs of breathable camping pants that you could zip the legs off to make into shorts.

"So I was thinking we could go to dinner and catch an artsy film tonight."

I made the suggestion because New York fell short in the area of outdoor activities.

"Sounds good. But actually, I passed by a bar on my walk today and I thought we could check that out too."

My sister didn't drink, and preferred a game of charades to social scenes that involved relating to strangers in alcohol induced environment. In fact, I had never known her to go to a bar in all my life.

"Uh, okay. What bar?"

"It's called Heaven. It's a gay bar."

"Uh, okay."

I squirmed a little in my seat. Not that I had never been to a gay bar. I love gay men. But this is my sister.

"To be honest Jane. I have never been to a gay bar before."

"Uh, okay."

"But I thought if I was going to do it, you would be the best one to do it with. Because you're social. And you're comfortable in bars. And frankly, I don't even like straight bars. So will you go with me? Will you teach me how to act, in a bar."

We looked awkwardly at each other. I remembered her kneeling next to me on the floor of my mother's bathroom.

"Absolutely Kay."

She raised the side of her mouth in a lopsided grin and stuffed her hands into her fleece.

"But let's start with the clothes."

"What's wrong with what I'm wearing?"

"It's a bar. Not a camp-out. Do you own jeans? How about a wife beater?" That is what all the lesbians I knew wore.

"Well, I still want to look like myself."

"You can look like 'you' on the second date. Tonight, you have to get some attention."

"I can make these pants into shorts?"

"Yeah, that's not really going to work."

I went into my bedroom and started pulling my designer jeans off a rack in the back of my closet.

"I'm short, but I have a few pairs that I wear with four inch heels."

I dug down deep into the back of my closet until I found a pair of faded thinning Diesel jeans I had worn on my tour through Italy last year.

"Try these."

She held them up, pinched her eyebrows and rolled her eyes.

"They look old."

"They are supposed to look like that. I paid an extra $100 to get the vintage wash."

"They look tight."

"Try them on. "

And she did.

Twenty minutes later, my sister was sporting fashion forward jeans and a crimson Puma t-shirt that hugged the figure she had been hiding under baggy sweats and jackets ever since I could remember.

"You look great."

"I look like you."

"Please. I would never wear sneakers with jeans. You look funky and cool. It will work."

We set out into the night to explore Kay's first gay bar.

But Heaven was inappropriately named. It was a butch dike hang out for the underage bridge and tunnel crowd. We paid fifteen dollars to get in the door and observe the culture sipping $10 cokes from the corner of the room.

When a 6'3" Samoan woman sporting a thin dark moustache eyed my sister from across the room, Kay looked over at me with pained eyes. "This isn't exactly what I thought."

I tried to find the scene entertaining. We both tried to make our $15 cover worthwhile, but when neither of us could take it anymore we escaped back to the safety of the street. My sister shook her head, shrugged her shoulders and thrust her hands deeper into her pockets.

I simply couldn't allow my sister to think that this is what gay bars were all about. I turned back towards the bar and pulled the bouncer aside.

"Listen, where can I take my sister to find some lipstick lesbians with 401 k plans."

"Try the Cubbyhole. It's a few blocks away. You can walk."

My sister hung her head on the corner.

"Let's just go home. This was a stupid idea. I don't know what I was thinking."

"No way are we going home. This is New York. I owe it to the gay community to show you that Heaven is not representative of the diverse offerings of hopping metropolis gay activity. We are not going home until you see some foxy lesbos."

I pushed her into a cab, we drove three minutes and got out in front of The Cubbyhole.

The Cubbyhole looked like your average friendly neighborhood bar. I could feel my sister relax a little. The bar was teeming with smiling women. A trail of fairy lights along the wall lead your eyes upward to the mobile figures and paper mache hanging from the ceiling. The bar had a warm glow that painted the women inside in their best light. We made an entrance. I walked up to the bar and ordered us a few more cokes. Within minutes, a woman named Gus had struck up a conversation with me. I pulled my sister to my side and we all chatted easily.

Gus eyed my sister. "How long you been out?"

"I really don't consider myself 'out' or even a 'lesbian'. Really, I'm just a heterosexual woman who has discovered I could also be attracted to lesbians. So I'm just exploring the idea now that my flirting and dating could be open to both men and lesbians."

"Uh, Okay." And Gus left my sister and I at the bar to flirt with a long-haired woman named Doris wearing Birkenstocks.

My sister smiled a bit. It wasn't Marquee, but it was a start.

We left the bar at closing. My sister with her first lesbian bar experience behind her and I with three women's phone numbers stuffed into my very straight back pocket.

Kay: "I don't think bars are really my thing Jane. The whole experience reminds me that I don't really like women all that much."

Me: "Just wait before you judge, Kay. Be patient with this process. The first time you try something new it is always awkward. It will get easier. "

And just like that, the age gap that had separated us through adolescence closed. Kneeling beside her, I could help her pick up the pieces of her new life. And it felt good.

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posted by Pop Culture Casualty @ 5/04/2006 05:30:00 AM |

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