Scene 1: Any family gathering between 1993 and 2000
Everyone is here. My uncles and aunts, cousins, friends and family. We eat, we laugh, we play little games about our lives. But I have a secret. Perhaps some others here have secrets, and I sit and wonder, hoping I'm not alone, but knowing that I am. You cannot know how this feels.
"So, who's your new boyfriend, Lisa?" someone will ask. Not that I've mentioned one, it's merely a device, a clever method to bring up a new subject. An old subject, by the time I'd turned eighteen.
"Mmmm, no boyfriend yet." I shrug and smile, pretending that I'm lying. There must be a boy, after all, because I'm so young and pretty and smart.
"I remember when you were five and I asked you if you were going to get a boyfriend in school. Remember that?" This from my Aunt Susan, the closest thing I've had to a mother for many years.
I smile politely, having heard the story countless times. It isn't a very good one, but she enjoys the memory and tells it every time.
"You told me, 'No!' and you were so serious!" Aunt Susan laughs, drinking more wine. "I asked you why not?"
"Why not, Lisa?" my twin sister, Rachael, teases me from across the table. She knows why, but I know all of her secrets too.
"I remember," I nod, looking down and feeling a little embarrassed to be at the center of a conversation. Even such a small and meaningless one.
"And you said, 'Because, I want a girlfriend!'" And Aunt Susan laughs, clapping her hands as if that's the funniest thing in the world. Everyone else just smiles, because they know that story too well.
What they don't know is that it's true. I've always known I'm gay, before I even knew there was a word for it. Before I knew the real differences between boys and girls. Afterwards, when I realized I was different without knowing how or why, I led a double life. Keeping the secret safe. I went out, sneaking into lesbian bars, underage and frightened, meeting people. Meeting ... women. Looking for what I'd only imagined in my heart - a girlfriend.
Scene 2: In the basement with Rachael. September 1994
My sister and I had our first menstruation barely a month apart. Rachael suffered some embarrassment, coming unexpected and without experience like it did. The episode seemed only mildly frightening to me, and slightly humorous as our father had no idea how to deal with it. He called his sister, Susan, and she came over to help.
When mine came, we were ready, but I didn't like it. I didn't even expect it, not really, but my denial was foolish and I'd never imagined myself a boy; I just didn't want to be a girl. I shouldn't have been having a period. That was the worst, the way my body betrayed me like that, proving with painful finality that I was in fact a girl.
I sat in the darkened basement, crying, hitting my stomach with tiny balled fists. I hated my body. I hated myself. I didn't understand why I'd been born this way. I didn't ask for it, I hadn't begged God to make me a girl, or give me feelings that didn't belong in this body.
"Are you okay?" Rachael sat nearby, not touching me, just hugging her knees and watching. "Lisa?" she whispered in a soft and frightened voice. We were alone, our father gone to work.
"Leave me alone," I told her, staring down at my hands. I felt hot and headachy, grown fat with little cramps and wet with tears. Lots of tears.
"It's okay." She didn't really know what to say. "It's just your first time. It's okay."
"I don't want it!" I screamed at her.
"Nobody does." She left me and that made it worse.
She didn't really understand me then. It wasn't the menses I hated so much, it was what it represented. The thing behind the thing, I chiefly hated. We were 12 years old.
Scene 3: November 1st 1995 in our bedroom
Rachael won't get out of bed. She came home this morning, before the sun came up. Our dad thought she'd stayed over with a friend, but she hadn't. She'd gone to a party with her boyfriend. We're only 13 and already she has a boyfriend. I don't. All I have is a crush on one of my teachers, Mrs. Gable, and I dream she will love me too. That one day she will find me alone after school and tell me she understands. That she loves me. That she wants to kiss me. My heart won't let me imagine more; it isn't necessary.
But Rachael. Her boyfriend is eighteen already and he took her to a party. I don't know what happened, only that she won't talk to me. She won't get up. She won't even look at me. She's so tired, I know, and I climb into her bed. Just to be close, feeling frightened for her. She pulls away, turns over so she faces the other way.
"What happened?" I whisper, but she won't say. Rachael and I stay like that a long while. I think I fell asleep, perhaps she did too, but now we are awake.
"What's it like?" Rachael whispers.
"What?" I whisper back, even though it's noon and we're alone in the bright room.
"Liking girls." She won't turn over.
"I don't know," I shrug. "It's not like anything."
Quiet. We're very quiet again.
"I had sex last night," Rachael says, and I think she's crying.
"Don't tell Dad." She is crying.
And then she tells me how it hurt and how it was more than once, with not just her boyfriend, but other guys too. She wanted to do it with her boyfriend, but not with his friends. He made her do it, Rachael told me. If she didn't do it, he wouldn't love her anymore. That's what he'd said.
"I wish I was like you." Rachael turns over finally, and I put my arms around her, as if I might protect her somehow. "I wish I liked girls."
"No you don't," I told her. But maybe I was wrong.
Scene 4: The Casa de Blanco 1998
There's a club, more of a bar really, called Casa de Blanco. I know about this place because of rumors. Everyone says it's a gay bar, a lesbian bar. The people who say that make funny noises, roll their eyes and laugh. I do the same, pretending to find such an idea equally revolting. I'm fifteen-years-old, nearly sixteen in a few months, and I'm so desperate it hurts.
I go to school and see girls that I know. I'm drawn to them sexually now, emotionally. I want to reach out and touch them, to confess my feelings. One girl in particular, several years older than I am, named Beth. I think I've never seen a girl so beautiful in my whole life. I write her poems, unsigned, and put them in her locker. I confess everything to her, except who I am. And what I am, I cannot bear to tell her, even anonymously, that I too am a girl.
But I need to feel something, someone. I have to have it, this thing I imagine love to be. And that's how I'm decided to go inside this place, this Casa de Blanco and find it. I've told Rachael what I'm doing. I even asked her to come with me, but she won't. I'm so afraid. My heart is pounding and I can barely breathe.
I've dressed to look older, I think. I hope. But I'm still barely 4'11 and 85lbs of teenage girl. My hair is long and black, loosely tied behind my back. I'm wearing a white blouse and a pair of jeans, so dark they're almost black. With one inch heels on my feet and probably too much makeup. I never wear makeup and Rachael helped me, but it feels like too much. Lipstick alone would feel like too much, though.
We're Amerasian, my sister and I, although our Filipina blood is more Spanish than oriental. We look more Mexican than anything else, and I'm hoping this will help me look older. That and the dim lights inside. It's a small place, but the music is loud. And I am so scared as I walk in, trying not to look around too much. Trying to look like I've been in bars lots of times. The place isn't very crowded, perhaps a dozen people are there, mostly women, but some men too. They're playing pool or sitting at the bar or talking around small booths against the wall.
"You have to be 21 to be in here." The bartender is a woman, old like my dad, I think. She sounds not angry, just deliberate as she kicks me out.
I look at her, unable to look into her eyes though, and nod. My throat feels so dry, if I tried to talk it would be a croaking sound. I don't move though, not right away, even though I want to run.
She gives me a barely there smile at least. "Do you have an ID, sweetie?" She knows I don't. "You can't stay."
"Okay," I try to say, but nothing comes out and I do turn away then. Feeling embarrassed, as if everyone is staring at me. Wanting to run and forcing myself to walk with a dignity I don't possess. I go home, feeling worse than I ever have before. I don't know what I'm supposed to do. There's no one I can ask, no one who has the answer. I can't tell any of my friends, any of the girls at school. I'm sure none of them are like me, they couldn't be. I'm more alone than ever.
"How did it go?" Rachael asks me. We're in her bedroom and I'm an inch away from losing it completely. Any second I'm going to cry again.
"It didn't." I wipe at my eyes. "I got carded."
"Duh!" Rachael laughs. "I could have told you that was gonna happen."
"Why didn't you?" I glare at her, transferring blame and she shrugs it off.
"What are you gonna do?" she asks and I don't have an answer. "Look, if all you want is a kiss with a girl ... just kiss me."
.... There is more of this story ...