Today’s post is a passage from my third novel-in-progress Fait Accompli, in which Claudia describes how she fits in (read: she doesn’t) with her age group. She was born into the Broken Generation, which is only 12% female. Most of the women who comprise this 12% call themselves BG bitches. Extras are straight guys who, surprising no one, can’t get laid. HALs (Husbands and Lovers) are straight guys who have female partners. The context here is that Claudia just had a conversation with her brother Alex (which I have not posted on this blog) in which he points out that at least he’s in the game, implying that Claudia isn’t even trying to have a love life. This earlier snippet provides some helpful background information about the Broken Generation and the Bowen family. This even earlier passage gives us a closer look at Claudia’s attitude toward other parts of the country. (She lives in an affluent neighborhood in Washington, DC.)
When he implied that I wasn’t “in the game,” he wasn’t really correct. I couldn’t have a transparent sex life like Alex, but I was not living like a nun to quite the extent he thought.
It was an article of faith in America that women like me didn’t exist in the Broken Generation. The idea of a woman who was literally surrounded by available, eager men on all sides and chose instead to seek intimacy with other women, was so unfathomable it didn’t come up in discussion. Older generations used that odd, sticky word to describe a small percentage of their women: lesbian. From the way people around my age talked, they seemed to think that those older women only “decided” to “go dyke” because a similar number of men had already chosen to “go gay” and thus remove themselves from the dating pool. BG bitches may be hard to kill, but we couldn’t possibly want to make lives for ourselves without men.
On the rare occasions that anyone brought up the possibility that lesbians might exist in the Broken Generation, the response was so hostile that I started to think maybe I should move to a different country. I heard guys whom I formerly trusted say that if a woman thought she didn’t want a man, she just needed to get fucked good and hard until she learned to like it. Some went so far as to say such a woman should have the dyke beaten out of her. If the subject was brought up among women, they tended to regard the hypothetical lesbian as the worst kind of cheater. The way they saw it, any woman who refused to sleep with men was just creating more Extras and forcing the rest of the BG bitches to shoulder even more responsibility for keeping men placated to a manageable level. The phrase “misery loves company” often popped into my head during such conversations. Some of my peers also regarded older lesbians as irredeemably selfish, like if they had any decency, they’d take some of the Extras off our hands.
If I’d been open to fucking men, I’d have been able to have sex a lot more often, but since I expected sex to be a pleasurable experience, that idea was a non-starter.
Regardless of our fellow BGs’ hostility, women like me do exist in our cohort, and there are places where we can meet up and share a bit of clandestine pleasure. The nearest one I was able to find was the cheekily named Home Despot in West Virginia, and only after scouring the deepest rabbit holes of the Internet did I learn of its existence. Please note that when I say West Virginia, I don’t mean Shepherdstown or Harper’s Ferry or any other charming little municipality that looks nice on a postcard, I mean the kind of rural removal where decent people do not think to tread. This means driving two miles after a near-undetectable turn off a narrow mountain road. The nearest sign of civilization is a Qwik-E-Mart five miles away. I didn’t like driving over four hours each way, but that was what it took to find other women who knew how it felt to be told we couldn’t possibly exist. That was what it took to experience a little bit of time of being reminded that I was not mistaken about who I was.
It would be nice to say the Home Despot was the kind of place where a thirty-two-year-old American lesbian could feel like she wasn’t doing anything wrong for refusing to perform heterosexuality, but it was tricky to go in there and feel like there was nothing to be ashamed of. You’d drive all the way out there, park in a gravel lot behind the building, and slink into a bar with dim, grungy lighting and suffused with the smell of cigarette smoke, cheap beer, diesel fuel and simmering rage. I would go up there about once every two months, drink a pint of something tasteless, and let some big-boned, farmer-tanned woman in motor-oil-stained jeans pull me onto the dance floor. Not that I have anything against big-boned, farmer-tanned or jeans that are seasoned with motor oil; it’s just that after all those hours stuck in my car through the vast expanse of strip-mined Appalachia, I couldn’t muster up the energy to choose anyone else, while the big-boned and farmer-tanned were the type that chose me.
After a few tracks of badly formatted MP3s of old k.d. lang songs, my dance partner would ask if I felt like cutting through the bullshit, and we’d slip off to one of the stalls in the back. These are like fitting rooms in a department store; a narrow space behind a lockable door with a bench and a mirror. It felt like taking a deep breath after a long swim underwater, to get my naked or nearly-naked body into the ready hands of one of those strapping, hardened women who’d never had a choice in the matter about working harder than I ever would, but I could never forget that normal people did not live like that. I would have liked to have sex on a bed, and with a bathroom all to ourselves. I would have liked to go down on my partner without worrying if this would be one of those nights when a handful of unoccupied Extras from the nearest town over would catch wind of the place and come storming in, and I would be forced to run out half-naked and beat some pissed-off males to unconsciousness. It would have been nice to have my partner join me for breakfast the next morning. I would have liked to do it with the same person at least twice in a row.
In all those years of pretending that I simply couldn’t find the time to meet anyone, I often wondered what my neighbors, or my friends at the dojo, or my co-workers, with their endless tales of domestic tediousness with their doting, grateful HALs, would think if they knew that there were actually places where women did such things with each other. I pictured them telling me that I must have been confused about my gender identity, because that wasn’t the behavior of women, that was the behavior of gay men in the decades when homosexuality was defined as a mental illness. They seemed to think that now that women were in such high demand, we could expect our men to bend over backwards to meet our needs, and up to that point, it was true. Our HALs went to a lot of trouble to keep their women happy, but my peers’ mistake was in assuming that women never wanted more than what was put in front of us. They could not imagine that there were some women among them who pursued and enjoyed sex in ways that had nothing to do with meeting men’s needs, and that we would go to staggering lengths to scratch our itch.