Jeanne Cordova

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Passing (an excerpt, 1990)

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“Girls will be boys, and boys will be girls,
It’s just a mixed up, crazy world ...”
- The Kinks’ Lola

All of my life I have been passing as someone else in the attempt to define my authentic self. People who know me will be surprised by this statement because I’m a dyke with a rep of being an original. But if  we as sexual outlaws stop to admit how delicate the male-female supposed dichotomy really is, how fluid the identity called gender, who can accurately answer the question,  “Who  am I?” We are all products of the culture of our peers, all defined by the politics of passing.

Passing As Femme: 1969.
(Tommy’s, a lesbian bar in Baldwin Park, Hicksville Southern California, cactus and orange trees).

I fell in love with Judy the moment I laid eyes on her frosted gold flecked hair and wing-tipped studly boots. She was the short-stop on my Pico Rivera softball team -- that had been six months ago, a lifetime when you’re nineteen.  I was sitting in a booth next to her with friends one night, my mind drifting over the bar’s scene, when I noticed something was very wrong with this picture. I watched a girl at the bar counter lean over and light her date’s cigarette. I noticed who had whose arm slung over whose shoulder, and who was leading on the dance floor. As Judy leaned over to light my cigarette, a light bulb went off in my head. I saw butch femme. The women in Tommy’s bar were behaving differently -- half were femme, half were butch.
I looked at Judy again for the first time. Judy with her duck-tail hair.  Judy would be “the butch.” Where did that leave me? I broke up with her that night, giving some lame excuse about going to UCLA now and leaving the ball team.
The truth was I blamed her for miss-defining me.  I was angry and confused because she had never told me about butch femme. If she had I would have learned that in the gay girl’s bar scene of the late sixties, which was the only ‘scene’ in those years, I had three choices. I could be butch, I could be femme, or I could be “kiki.” “Kiki” meant you were condemned to a limbo of no respect.
Kiki meant you were a social menace to your friends, because “kiki” meant you couldn’t make up your mind if you were butch or femme, so no one wanted you around.  Femme, I later learned, meant doing and being everything I hated in high school. Naturally, I went with my only real choice, and make no mistake, you had to choose.
I decided I must be butch.
The next day, I had my butch initiation at Sears & Roebuck. I was a little frightened because my mother had never even permitted me to go in the direction of the men’s department. But Judy said she shopped there, so I reasoned that they must let girls in. The colors of the clothes amazed me. Here were real colors I thought, not just washed out girlie pastels. There were bright reds and chocolate browns. And the styles! These were the simple, tailored clothes I’d been looking for all my life. I’d always hated shopping and the clothes my mother bought me, so when the cash register rang up $150.00, my pay check for the entire week, and I was still smiling ... I knew, I must be butch.
I spent the next three years ‘blissed to the max’ in my new found identity of baby butch, sleeping with any woman who called herself femme, and a few at UCLA  who called themselves straight. I’d even spent four months with Charlene, a straight actress who left me for her male director. I spent some months wondering if Charlene left me because I wasn’t a guy, or because I wasn’t a Hollywood director. But the real lesson my straight lover taught me was that I didn’t like making love to a woman who treated me like a man, both in bed and out. She took me to the edge of my male identity and taught me that I liked being a girl who looked like a boy and felt like a woman.

 

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