Life: the Teen Years

This is not a complete biography. It is a brief account of some of the sexual orientation, gender and feminism-related events in my life. I don’t mean to hit every event in my life, not even every significant event. It is just a starting point.

Age 11.

My period is finally here. It arrives on a summer morning in Amsterdam, where my mother and I have gone for a weekend to get away from her own parents. My mom hurries out to a pharmacy to buy me some pads and we return to her parents’ home in Germany.

My grandfather is dying there of lung cancer, except no one will tell him he has lung cancer. He’s kept doped up on morphine. On our last day there, I play him a song on the violin and he calls me over for a hug.

“My darling, you came here a girl, and now you leave here a woman,” he said, and I blush awkwardly. “Now, we  have to get you on the pill.”

Even at 11, I know it’s the drugs talking, and I know that it comes from a protective and grandfatherly love. I never see or talk to him again. He dies a month later.

Later, at the dinner table, we talk about the ERA amendment, which has failed. I shock my parents by saying I’m against it. My reason? I don’t want to be drafted. I don’t understand enough to know that it means so much more than that.

Age 13.

I am in love. Her name is Theresa. I know it’s forbidden, and I know she doesn’t quite return my feelings. I know in my gut that if my parents find out, I’m toast. So I tell no one. Not that people can’t read me, anyway. My mom starts a campaign to keep me apart from Theresa as much as possible.

When the furnace in Theresa’s house starts kicking out carbon monoxide, my parents relent and let her stay at our place a night. Despite being strictly told I cannot be in the same room as her, I sneak out of my bed and down the hall to the guest room in the dead of night. We lay side by side a while, doing nothing more racy than holding hands, but I go back to my bed before morning.

Theresa and her mom move. It’s only about 10 miles away, but when you’re 13 and there’s no public bus to take you there, it might as well be the other side of the world. My heart breaks.

In other ways, my parents are still progressive. When I want to buy a shirt and tie as part of my back-to-school wardrobe, they make no objection. My dad even teaches me how to tie it.

Age 15.

The day I fall in love with Aaron, I am so relieved. After two years of agonizing over am-I-or-aren’t-I, I decide I can declare myself straight. It’s like an immense weight is taken from my shoulders. I don’t even pause to think how this affects Alice, who has spent hundreds of hours agonizing with me over the question of our gayness over the past two years.

Actually, she didn’t agonize. She knows. She wants me to know, too. I think she is lonely. But I don’t care and throw myself headfirst into heterosexuality.

The thing with Aaron never pans out, but that’s OK. Because soon enough, I meet Bob. And I love Bob, and Bob loves me. And for two years, we learn a lot about living and loving together.

To this day, I am grateful that Bob came along when he did. We were both innocent together, in every possible sense of the word. And we both learned about heartbreak and loss together, too. But how lucky is someone who can learn all that with another person who genuinely cares for them, too?

Age 17.

College is freedom. I become involved with a number of political groups as soon as I can, and wind up being on the steering committee for an abortion rights group that escorts women trying to access abortion clinics. For the first time, I am around people who discuss things like different strands of feminism, socialism and communism, privilege and racism. I love it.

My freedom expands sexually, too, though it is limited to contact with men. I don’t say no because I enjoy saying yes. I usually yearn for the one-night-stands to develop into relationships, but they never do.

Age 19.

He kicks me down a flight of stairs. When I reach the bottom the lower floor tenant opens her door and stares at me angrily, like I had done something wrong. I crawl, actually crawl, out of the house and drag myself to the sidewalk, where I hold myself and cry.

But we work together, too, and at work he is just as bad. In return for loaning him $20, I ask him if he could be more respectful to me. In retaliation for making such an outrageous request, he draws a crude caricature of me and circulates it among our coworkers. A supervisor intercepts it and lets me know. When I confront him outside on our break, he shoves me to the ground.

And that’s when I know. I call my parents, and they are there later that night. Two weeks later, I am home and safe again, trying to figure out how to put my life back together.

For the first time since in years, I remember that I can be attracted to women, too. I have no interest in men.



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