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by Leslie Robinson
I met Elizabeth about five years ago at a mostly gay party. She was a graduate nursing student, who looked every inch the straight girl. It took hours and alcohol for her to confess that she was involved with a woman for the first time in her life.
Over the next years, Elizabeth and I walked regularly around Green Lake in Seattle, parsing her lesbian adolescence. That adolescence is complete, but we still walk the lake. Last night she told me about her cousin who’s now coming out, and filling Elizabeth in on every wobbly step. The rookie lesbian has become the coach.
Elizabeth couldn’t have imagined herself being able to advise anyone on dykedom during our early strolls. At that time her new experiences were thrilling, confusing, terrifying, exasperating and liberating. All before lunch.
Having been only with men, Elizabeth found herself going through a second adolescence 15 years after her first. So we had a lot of ground to cover, ranging from the evolving reactions of her family to her yearning for her girlfriend in California to the hot guest lecturer in class.
We peered backwards at the hints sprinkled throughout Elizabeth’s life that she might be gay; the hints now looked like neon billboards. We dealt with her coming out to roommates and nursing professors and strangers. Her naivete flared when she had trouble believing that lesbians with partners and kids could behave as wolfishly as any guy; and she scared herself when she realized she enjoyed the attention from one big bad wolf.
Although she developed crushes at the drop of a tongue depressor, she never acted on them. Her heart lay with Ann in San Diego. One sure way to get a rise out of Elizabeth was to mention how first lesbian relationships rarely last. “I know!” she’d yelp. “I wish people would stop telling me that!”
Maintaining a long-distance relationship is difficult at any time, let alone when you’re in your lesbian adolescence and anyone with a Sapphic sensibility looks lip-smackin’ good. It’s a testament to Elizabeth and Ann that they both avoided distractions and honed in on what was most important to them, namely each other.
I should note that Elizabeth found a vicarious way of getting her ya-yas out: setting me up. When she would begin our walk by announcing, “I found your wife today!” I knew I was headed for another misadventure in lesbian dating. Back then she hadn’t grasped that pairing two lesbians on the basis that they’re both breathing does not a sizzling Sapphic romance make.
Now Elizabeth’s cousin Claire, at age 40, is being bombarded by emotions and discoveries, which she shares with Elizabeth via the phone. The other evening Elizabeth delayed a dinner meeting so Claire, who’s just gotten involved, could read aloud a note from her new love–six times.
Elizabeth pulled from her shelves books she’d bought in her early days, and sent a sort of lesbian care package to Claire. The stories of first lesbian loves particularly resonate with this family member who’s gleefully gathering material for her own story.
Elizabeth is elated that her cousin is so happy. But now that Elizabeth is the coach and not the rookie, she says to me, “I can’t believe how much crap you listened to!”
She didn’t want me to include those words here, fearing they could hurt Claire. But I bet that soon enough Claire will get it, and say of her own lesbian adolescence, “I was a mess. And it was wonderful.”
When she reaches that point, Claire will be in coaching shape. Then she too, in the immortal words of Will and Grace’s Jack McFarland, might “gay it forward.”