This essay is part of a series that explores my personal history of queerness through the songs of the Indigo Girls, Amy Ray and Emily Sailers. For details on the project and links to all of the essays, check out this introduction: “My Queer History: Me and the Indigo Girls.”
I didn’t intend to hide for her. I wasn’t aware of my queerness; I couldn’t know that loving another woman was weightier than a simple college romance. I couldn’t know myself, which was in itself a risk. I didn’t flee or fight; I froze, hiding myself between the pages of number theory textbooks and under the covers of the twin bed we shared. This was a thrilling, secret affair. Certain we had fooled everyone, we spent our blind solitude sorting through the symbols and signs of who we were, absent all maps and guides. We didn’t notice the isolation. We had each other. We were all we needed.
Hiding stunts growth, and to survive, we morphed our selves into one another, creating a third being greater than the two parts. “Hide yourself in me,”* we said without words. In this significant period of personal development, as we let go of our parents, our childhoods, we moved toward one another, but instead of grasping hands and turning our faces to the rest of the world, instead of pronouncing our love with the promise of affirmation and care, we curled around one another, our backs to the outside, our soft bellies protected. We shielded ourselves from the inevitable dangers of being seen. She could not openly love me and be an Army officer; I could not openly love her and be a high school teacher.
We didn’t meet other lesbians — or use that word to describe ourselves — until our senior year, when Sharon** told us that to maintain our charade, we should put sheets on our top bunk and separate our laundry. We learned code words, like family. I stopped communicating with high school friends when a rumor in my hometown revealed my secret self. They guessed who I was, and I vowed to give them no more fuel. This was a different kind of hiding, a recoiling from straight people, in favor of a smaller world with those whom we thought could understand. We replaced Cat Stevens and Bruce Springsteen with the Indigo Girls and Olivia Records. And even in this profound but simple step, we practiced the art of ambiguity and the mental translation of pronouns for “other.”
We continued to hide after graduation: her from the Army and her parents, and me from the school where I taught geometry. We cut people from our lives, and we lied to those we needed to keep. As we learned to spot other lesbians by their haircuts and hips, we fashioned a community of softball players and soldiers, women who would drink and dance with us at Stella’s Street. We lied to others and to ourselves, and this was the genesis of a bright light of pain, the burden that kept us dependent, still curled around each other, still with our backs to the world. “Such a treacherous gain.”*
*Lyrics from Amy Ray’s “Fugitive” (Swamp Ophelia, 1994)
*Sharon was the first lesbian we ever met. She boldly befriended us, seeing past our “best friend” pretense and invited herself to our room. She and her partner, Tori, taught us how to play spades and about lesbian culture.
More from this series: