Tag Archives: college

Finding your tribe

I woke up early this morning with a nervous stomach, which shook loose this memory:

I’m in college.

I’m wearing a black sweater and a pair of black and hunter green checked pants that have one of those funny hook and button things like men’s dress slacks.

I’m sporting a pair of black penny loafers, a shiny penny looking out from the center of each like cooper eyes.

The campus is cold and dark and still at this time of the morning. A group of us are boarding a small yellow school bus that will take us to our student teaching assignments.

I don’t want to be a student teacher, but my parents are pushing for it. Besides, what else do you do with a degree in English?

I feel sick in my stomach those weeks that I teach. Sure, part of it is plain old nerves. But there’s something else. That feeling of not belonging that I can’t seem to shake.

This weekend, I’m attending a creative nonfiction conference. This weekend, I’m speaking at a creative nonfiction conference.

Along with the founder of my writing group, I’ll be presenting How to Find Your Tribe or How a Writing Group Saved My Life.

A little dramatic, I know. But we’re writers, folks.

So, that’s where the nervous stomach is coming from.


Me and my magical mullet circa 1985. You know you want to run your fingers through it, ladies.

But I know I’ll be okay. Talking about my writing group is a passion of mine. And I’m no longer that 20-some-year-old mullet-headed kid in the penny loafers. Did I not mention that magical mullet of mine? Must have slipped my mind.

I’ve got a tribe. A tribe of writer friends who make me feel like a cross between Dorothy Allison and Alison Bechdel.

A tribe of blogging buddies who make me feel like a flannel-covered rock star. A little bit of Melissa Etheridge and a little bit of Joan Jett and a little bit of Xena Warrior Princess because she is a bad ass, too, and this is my blog so I can write what I want. And anyway, she could play a helluva lute, at least when she was inspired.

On my last post, my catsup-versus-mayo-on-fries post, Family Values Lesbian replied that “mayo on fries is as butch as glitter.”

downloadI laughed out loud then smiled real big on the inside, sorta like the Grinch when the corners of his smile almost touch the sky and his heart grows three sizes that day.

“What?” W asked.

“My peeps,” I said. “They get me.”

And that’s my hope for everyone–the writers I’ll be speaking to on Saturday at the conference, all the LGBTQ folks out there who might not have built-in support systems and the rest of the world, too. People who get you. A personal cheering section. Folks who support you like a really good bra and tell you to keep going, you got this, you can do it. Even if the road ahead is paved with glitter. Or whatever it is that’s your kryptonite.

Thanks, guys, for always being a part of my tribe.


More better butch blues

So, yeah, summer.  Bummer.

I wrote about my summertime slump a post or two ago.  You can read about it here.

Or just skip to the recap: Kids are home from school in the summer, which wreaks havoc on my weekly routine and daily domination of home and hearth.  So, I get grumpy.  And don’t get me started on the fact that it’s hot, which means people generally wear less clothing.  This is not good for butches with body issues.  Isn’t this all of us?

But is something else going on?

I looked back at my posts from June 2013 and saw some depressing posts about baggage.

Could there be something more, something cyclical that rears its sunburnt head when summer rolls around?


I heart you, Olivia.

As a kid, I certainly welcomed summer vacation.  It’s all a blur of Brady Bunch reruns, baseball cards and whiffle ball games that lasted double-digit innings and ran from one day into the next.  Grease is a fine summer memory (even though I didn’t realize that my obsession with the film was really about my crush on Olivia Newton-John).

As I got older, I spent most of the summer working closing shift at the local McDonalds.  We blasted Madonna and Prince on our boom boxes after hours as we got the place ready for breakfast the next morning.  The bulk of my paycheck went toward sneakers (I specifically remember a pair of gray Converse high tops) and cassette tapes (Joan Jett, you will always rock my world).

After I left for college, I never really wanted to go home for the summer.  I was glad for the break from classes, but didn’t want to leave my friends.  The school had become my home, and my friends had become my family.  We had our roles and our routine.  Looking back, I think I felt safe living in an all-female space, even though I didn’t identify as a lesbian at the time.

There’s something about belonging to a group of women that I find comforting.  Maybe it’s all of the estrogen in the air or the hairspray fumes.  I don’t know.

If we are attending some kind of event that is to be attended by people from my past, W always asks if any of my women will be there.  “Now which one is that?” she’ll ask.  “There’s so many of them,” she’ll exclaim.

I like that I have women.  My grade-school women.  The women, the college years.  My support group women.

I wonder if my summer blues are not about the start of something new but about ending something old, comfortable, familiar.  I wonder if it’s not about the kids ending the school year but me ending school … 30 years ago.

Triggers are weird.  Life is weird.

The best we can do is be aware and carry on.

And wait for fall.


Happy Birthday, Janet Jackson!


My friend, Janet Jackson (not really my friend)

Last week was my friend Janet Jackson’s birthday. Her name is not really Janet Jackson, but she used to dance in the streets of our college town like Janet Jackson — Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty — did in those videos from her hit album Control. What did you expect? It was the 80s after all.

Typically, Janet Jackson and I mail birthday gifts back and forth. Usually, the gift is emblazoned with the logo of our college alma mater.

That’s where we met. College. Janet Jackson and I lived on the same floor in the same dorm. Bigler Hall, Clarion House, 1985. We lived at opposite ends of the floor, which is symbolic of how we live at opposite ends of the state of Pennsylvania.

Initially, Janet Jackson thought I was weird. Can you imagine that? Closeted college-age butch weird?  (Three things that are really weird about Janet Jackson: 1) She has abnormally short fingers.  2) She gets all blotchy when she drinks beer.  3) She thinks the Liberty Bell is in London.)

At first, Janet Jackson wasn’t charmed by yours truly. In addition to finding me strange (the outrage!), Janet Jackson thought I was annoying. There were many weekends when she banned me from attending parties after-hours collegiate activities with her and her gang of co-eds. (Not only was real Janet Jackson’s blockbuster album called Control, but pretend Janet Jackson had control issues.  Oh, the irony, said the English major.)

But then something happened, and Janet Jackson and I became co-horts, friends even.

We had such adventures.

There was the time that we attended a kegger on top of a mountain. You can read about that here.  Or the time that at the bar when we encouraged people to chug a beer from our friend’s shoe. It was a brown flat, if you must know. Who can forget the time that we organized the “You’re Flying Higher Than a Kite” bar tour or carried buckets of grain punch out the windows of Janet Jackson’s dorm room as the resident assistant busted our party?

But it was always more than just beer and parties and hangovers and crazy stories the following the day that always started with the words “it was really late, and we were really drunk.”

Permed hair = the 80s

Permed hair = the 80s

We had contests concerning whose permed hair was taller (again, it was the 80s) and gave each other silly nicknames. We spoke in running jokes. A word or short phrase — “the cranberries” — would cause us to laugh hysterically.

When we left school, we kept in touch. We both got married and had kids. But we always made time to get together. Janet Jackson and I returned to our alma mater for football games. We took road trips. We saw The Lion King on Broadway, visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, went to a Steelers game.

And then I came out.

I waited for my world to change. I thought my friends would be ok with it all, with me, but I wasn’t sure. How could I have been?

But they were ok. And I was ok. We were ok.

I often wonder about the science of friends. Sometimes we grow apart, sometimes we outgrow them.


Friends are like this.

And sometimes we grow together like different branches on the same giant oak.  We take our own paths, twisting and turning this way and that way as we aim for the bursts of sunlight that shine through the leaves. But at the end of the day, we share common roots.

Dorm meetings and frat parties, painted faces and football games, Sunday brunch at the dining hall, late nights at Roy Rogers … those are our roots.  The roots that Janet Jackson and I share.

Keeping with tradition, I did get Janet Jackson a birthday gift. It will mail out tomorrow — nine days after the fact. Janet Jackson won’t sweat the delay, because we’re those kind of friends.

But here’s another gift from me to Janet Jackson:

Dear Janet Jackson, I hope in 100 years we’ll still be growing together, our knotted, gnarled limbs reaching upward as we sway and creak in the wind.

Oh, and one more thing.

The cranberries.

Don’t try this at home or how I fell down a mountain and lost a shoe

“Tell us about something you’ve done that you would advise a friend never to do,” today’s Daily Post commands.

This thought came to me immediately: Never attend a keg party held on the top of a mountain.

Sure, the bus ride to the foot of the mountain is a lot of fun.  Everyone is in a good mood, chatting busily about the excitement and good time that is certain to follow.

Did you know that you get drunk quicker at a higher elevation?  Those on the bus are discussing the finer points of alcohol consumption and altitude.  Because we are college students, and this is science, people.

Regardless, everyone will get crazy drunk tonight because the idea already has been planted in their brains.

You begin the trek up the mountain with great gusto and enthusiasm.  Now this is what college is all about, you tell yourself.  School spirit, camaraderie and beer.

About half way up, you wonder why you chose to subject yourself to such torture.  It’s a fucking mountain, for crying out loud.  When you fall behind the guys carrying the kegs, you know that you are in trouble.

This is the actual mountain that we hiked up.

Initially, they shout words of encouragement in a show of collegiate brotherhood.  Then they consider carrying you and your friend up the mountain.

“I should stop smoking,” you say out loud so that they think  your lungs are working at 30 percent capacity and not that you are woefully out of shape.

Then they start sizing you up.  It’s college, so I’m about a buck 25 or 30.  Ok, a buck 45 when you add the freshman 15.

Somehow, you make it up the mountain.  Taking many, many breaks and cursing yourself for signing up for this stupidity and torture.


At the top of the mountain, you are rewarded with beer.  And hot dogs roasted over an open fire.  You are happy.  There is beer.  And food.

You party on into the night.  Songs are sung.  Kegs are kicked.  You venture into the woods to relieve your screaming bladder.  It’s rustic fun.

People dance precariously close to the fire pit.  Just like a participant at a Tony Robbins seminar, they don’t seem to mind the hot coals.  You take a time out to put out your friend.  You remember “stop” and “drop” but what was that last part?  You end up just beating her legs with your fists.

At some point, it’s time to head back down.

You learn a very important life lesson: It is difficult and dangerous to walk down a mountain in the middle of the night when you are drunk and don’t have a flashlight.

You wonder why you never thought to bring a flashlight for the trip down.

You are not walking but stumbling.  And falling.  Down a mountain.  In the pitch dark of the night.

The shoe looked like this.

You lose your left shoe and it falls down the mountain.  A brand new Nike low-top tennis shoe with a baby blue swoosh.

“I’ve lost my shoe!” you yell out to your friends.  “I’ve lost my shoe!”

One of them tells you that she has it.

You continue falling down the mountain, now on one foot.

Somehow you arrive at the bottom and climb aboard the waiting bus.

You find your friend, and she tells you that she was just kidding.  She doesn’t have your missing shoe.

When you and your friends get together, you still tell the story about the mountaintop keg party, especially the part about the missing shoe.

When you ask your friends if they brought you anything like, say, a cup of coffee or a newspaper, they tell you no, it must be on the mountain.

It’s a running joke with no end in sight.

It’s been nearly three decades, and you still haven’t gotten over that lost Nike.  You probably never will.

My life in buckets

As I mentioned in my post Of College and closets, me and W and the kids had an overnighter last Saturday at a resort in the Pocono Mountains.  A college chum was throwing a big birthday bash for her hubby’s 50th.  Five-oh.  How did we ever get to be as old as our parents?

Anyway, college pal paid for the whole thing — rooms, food and activities — for 100 of her closest friends and family members.

My friend has done rather well for herself.  Turns out that she was just promoted to Chief Technology Officer for a Fortune 500 company.  Cool fact: She now has access to the company jet, which means she’s practically Wonder Woman.  Sweet.

This is all hard to process because among our peers my friend is most famous for drinking beer out of shoes.  Who knew this would lead to promotions, enormous wealth and jets?

The weekend was a blast.  We told old stories and drank.  And drank and told old stories.  I had a hang-over that lasted into today, so you know it was a good time.

I’ve known my college friends for nearly three decades now.  That’s most of my life.  We met at that crucial time when we were all trying to figure out who we were and where we were going.  Our bonds are forged in steel.  Steel made moist and slick with beer, grain alcohol and something sticky like Ouzo or maybe peppermint schnapps.

With that said, W is relatively new to my life.  We’ve been together for about six years now and are still weaving our history.  Each day is a new stitch.

Last weekend seemed to raise some issues for her.  Before you start thinking that I’m super-intuitive, I should probably tell you that she tipped me off.

“This weekend raised some issues for me,” she said.

W only knows the me that I’ve been presenting to the world in recent years.  Short hair.  Clothes purchased in the young men’s section of department stores.  Dr. Martens.  Tattoos.  Chivalry.

She doesn’t know college butch, who wasn’t a butch at all.  I think the stories about picking up guys threw her.  Again, she told me as much.

“Those stories about picking up guys threw me,” she said.

W never met the me with long hair and painted nails who had one-night stands.  With men.

If I had a do-over button, I’d push it without hesitation.  Multiple times just like I was waiting for a slow-to-arrive elevator.  One of my regrets in life is that I’m not a gold-star lesbian.  Potential.  Totally wasted.

I never liked having sex with guys.  Never.  Not once.

I was trying to fit in.  To be boy crazy like my friends.  Isn’t that what I was supposed to be doing?  Who I was supposed to be?

But it was more than that.

I was looking for comfort and closeness and love.  That was my heart’s desire.  I thought that if I could just find the right guy …

Maybe even the wrong guy would do.  I tested that theory on numerous occasions.

I didn’t know it back then, but the closeness that I so craved would never be found in the arms of a man.  I’m not built that way.  Good one, God.

When W cuddles close to me, I have everything that I want — that I have ever wanted — within my arms’ reach.  It’s the woman-to-woman physical closeness intertwined with intimacy that makes me feel complete.

Those other snippets from decades past are just that — random parts and pieces that never added up to me.  The long blood-red nails.  The long hair.  The men.  I’ve shed these appendages like a too-tight snakeskin.

When I think of all of these former selves, I visualize a row of buckets.  Actually, a closet full, but that’s way too easy.  The buckets allow me to keep track of all of my transformations.  Plus, the ergonomic handles are convenient for toting them around year after year.

It’s like some demented version of Fantasia but with the role of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice being played by this butch lesbian instead of Mickey Mouse. Seriously, folks, this is how my brain works.  Good one, God.

For example, there’s school-age me, and crazy college me and married-to-a-man me.  That’s my bucket list.

Personally, I’d like to bury the buckets, but their contents scream too much at night and what would the neighbors think?

I have stuffed those past versions of me into plastic pails because I’m mostly embarrassed by them.  The little girl who randomly picked out boy classmates to like.  The college co-ed who snuck guys into her dorm room.  The young woman who committed to a man “til death do us part.”

They were weak and scared and vulnerable.  I still feel weak and scared and vulnerable now and again, but if you ask me what’s going on I’ll tell you “nothing” and then threaten to put you in a submission hold like a Boston Crab or Crossface Chicken Wing.

There were glimpses of what was to come, and I talk about those things more freely.  Like the tomboy me who could launch a kickball farther than any guy in the fourth grade or the newlywed me who used to “borrow” her husband’s hidden porn stash.

I guess the trick now is to work on loving all of those parts of me.  Because you really can’t just lop them off with a straightedge and put them in a bucket.  That’s really gross.  And very unsanitary.

And straight out of Hoarders or Silence of the Lambs.

So cliché.

Just like long red fingernails.

Of college and closets

This weekend, I’m heading to the Pocono Mountains for a birthday party being thrown by one of my friends from college.

She’s footing the bill for food and lodging at a fancy resort for 100 of her closest friends and family members.  Note: College chum majored in industrial engineering.  And here I am typing up this blog entry in my PJs.  Can you say liberal arts degree?

The upcoming weekend got me thinking about the good ol’ days.  You know, cheap beer, cheap dates and more cheap beer.

For some reason, I can never think about those days without recalling three incidents in which I was smacked in the face with my budding lesbianism.

ONE. The first incident took place in the dorms, so I was a freshman or sophomore.  My roommate, who became my best friend, played the Kate to my Allie.  Or, vice versa.  I’m not sure if the better softball player was Kate or Allie.

Anyway, I’m guessing this happened on a Sunday morning.  We had probably just come back from a Sunday morning dining hall brunch of reconstituted scrambled eggs, doughnuts and chocolate milk.  Chocolate milk is hangover antivenom, if you didn’t know.  I most likely played REM’s Superman a million times in a row.

You don’t really love that guy you make it with now do you?
I know you don’t love that guy ’cause I can see right through you.

At some point we laid on her bed and talked.  Boys.  Parents.  The party last night.  Classes.  The annoying girls next door.  Grades.  Religion.  God, we could talk for days.

I fell asleep.

And woke with a start.

It was one of those dreams that was so real.  Did we or didn’t we?  I looked down.  I had my clothes on.  But, we were just naked and going at it like, well, a couple of lustful co-eds.  Bare skin and curves and entwined limbs.  The taste of her mouth.  It was all so real.

I wasn’t sure what to say.  Where would we go from here?

“What happened?” I managed.

She was at her desk with a book in hand.

“Oh, you fell asleep,” she said.  “I’ve been studying.”

I tried to wrap my brain around the fact that it was all a dream.  It was just like that season-ending cliffhanger in Dallas.  But it really wasn’t because this was my life.

I felt a huge sense of relief.  I wasn’t ready for girl-on-girl anything.  Not even in my dreams.  I told myself that such a thing — a longing, a desire, one simple thought — could never happen again.

That was the last Sapphic dream that I had until I hit my 30s.  Talk about self-discipline.

TWO. The next incident took place in a back alley in town.  Calder Way.  This would have been my junior or senior year.  Technically, senior year number one or senior year the first as I was on the five-year plan.

It was a cool day.  Late fall or early winter.  A group of us were huddled outside a store.  I was laser-focused on a tight ass in a pair of Calvin Kleins across the street.

“Do you think you can stare at that girl’s ass any harder?” my friend asked.


“I was looking at that,” I said, pointing to lord knows what.  A store window, a stop sign, a rock, a piece of lint, any-fucking-thing besides that perfect ass.

“Uh huh.”

Shit.  Shit.  Shit.

That was all that was said.  The subject was dropped.  When I bring it up now, my friend says she doesn’t remember.

The memory is seared in my brain, though.  “It’s not safe to go there,” I told myself.  “Not safe, not safe, not safe.”  I didn’t even know where “there” was.  Or, how you got “there.”  Or, what you did when you were “there.”  The only thing I knew for sure was that I couldn’t let my guard down, not even for one second on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

THREE. I’ve graduated but have come back to visit a friend at college.  A bunch of us are getting together for a night of partying.

I had just lost a lot of weight.  I show up wearing a pair of brand new black button-fly Levi’s, black Nikes and a satin jacket emblazoned with our university’s name and logo.

“Are  you sure you’re not a lesbian?” my friend asks.

I protest way too much.

*  *  *

Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to be out at college.  To go to the gay bar and make out with girls.  Lots of girls.  A different one every night of the week.  To try them on like the Benetton sweaters that we loved so much back in the day.    

I know now that I wasn’t ready for any of that.  It’s not that my friends weren’t.  It’s that I wasn’t.

My 18-year-old head would have probably exploded.  And, that would have gotten me a big bag of nothing.

So, this weekend, we’ll all sit around and tell stories from the day.  “Good times,” we’ll say.

And, I’ll recall the ones that resonate so deeply with me and be thankful for the simple fact that I can finally be out amongst friends.