Before I am queer I am two or three years old with severe asthma. I have been captured and put into an oxygen tent. I am scared to death. The nurses are big and mean and they don’t like me because I do not cooperate. I try — and succeed — at escaping the giant frightening contraption that is suffocating me despite my inflamed lungs and shortness of breath. The hospital calls to demand my parents take me home because I am causing too much trouble.
Before I am queer I am eleven or twelve years old, in maybe the fifth state and eighth city we’ve lived in, and I’ve developed a bunch of tics and twitches I cannot control. They go on all day, these ugly, painful grimaces I make. Everyone thinks I’m a freak. Jimmy teases me on the school bus. My English teacher sends me to the nurse, then ridicules me to the class once I leave. No one in my family says anything. It will be seventeen more years before I am diagnosed with Tourette syndrome.
Before I am queer I am a too tall, too skinny geeky teenager with a crush on Sharon. Sharon is a junior high gymnast with amazing muscle tone and a friendly manner. I follow her around and talk about her constantly. My sister says, “Sharon this, Sharon that. It’s like you’re in love with her” and I freeze in my tracks.
Before I am queer, I am sixteen and have a palpable lust for Jackie. I ask my sister, “Do you think?” and she says, “Oh, she’d totally do you.” But I am too scared and retreat. I don’t say anything to Jackie. I get drunk instead, morning, noon and night, to blot out my feelings.
I am seventeen, close to high school graduation and freedom from the Midwestern village I grew up in. My friends and I are at Sue’s house watching Saturday Night Live. “Stephanie never dates guys,” says Sue’s bratty little brother. “I think she’s a dyke.” No one hears him except me. I immediately go out on my first and only date with a boy, to prove I’m not the dyke they might think I am.
Ron is a college guy with all-American good looks and a noted “total fox” reputation. I know him from the local ski club we both belong to. He asks me out publicly and I can’t say no to him because he’s the best-looking guy in Kenosha, WI.
For our date I wear a heavily padded bra I never wear and deliberately put on one of those newfangled sticky sanitary pads, even though I don’t have my period. We go back to his parents’ house after dinner at Long John Silver’s, go to his room and make out to Boz Scaggs. He feels me up. When he slides his hand between my legs and feels the Kotex he is very disappointed. I am extremely relieved.
I am eighteen years old and I am queer. I am studying fashion design but I really want to be a journalist. I never took the SATs because I was a delinquent high school student who barely graduated and college was for eggheads anyhow.
I’m living in a studio apartment my parents are paying for in the South Loop in Chicago. Right across the street is a very cool bookstore I frequent often. One day I blow all my monthly allowance on books. I need some more dough so I summon my parents to Chicago and come out to them. I ask them for money. They give me the cash and say they’ve known I’m queer, it’s no big deal and they love me.
Fast-forward twenty years: I am a 30-something living in New York City. I am co-habiting with a psychiatrist in Morningside Heights. She has a baby I’ve been co-parenting. I have lost my independence, my drive and my interest in life. The psychiatrist has been abusing me emotionally, psychically and psychologically. She’s a bitch and I hate her, but I cannot muster the energy or resources I need to leave. On a random weekend soon after my 37th birthday I swallow a bunch of pills, drink a quart of beer and lay down to die.
As soon as I leave the psychiatrist I meet a law student. We move into a fabulous loft in Tribeca. Within four months I go crazy and write all over our apartment walls with blue grease pencil. I am diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The law student withdraws and begins to stay out increasingly later and later. I sit home and cry. Later I find out the law student has been living an entirely secret life with another woman. I swallow more pills and lay down to die.
Again, I live.
Soon, I meet another woman, a Jersey Girl. We move to Jersey City. After a third suicide attempt I end up in the loony bin. Upon discharge from the loony bin, I am rejected for psychiatric treatment and psychotherapy because I am poor but not poor enough. I am 42 and my life thus far has been a living hell.
I move to Brooklyn and I reinvent myself entirely.