I don’t really know
How to put on a cool show
As boring as they come
Just tell me where to go
If only I could be as cool as you
As cool as you
As cool as you
As cool as you
Silverchair, Freak (Newcastle, 1997)
Why Silverchair? They are my home town band! We grew up in Newcastle in the nineties and their music encapsulates the sound of my teens. It is a working class (mining) and university town on the east coast of Australia. It’s about 2 hours drive north of Sydney. Newcastle was a bit of everything, it had an alternative scene, an intellectual scene, and a beach scene; but it was mainly a very suburban working class town. In the nineties it was docs and grunge and a bit of goth. Now it’s coffee and hipsters.
So, we are in Newcastle in the nineties and I’m a teenager at an academically selective high school. VERY different culture to other schools, we were all super smart and we all knew it!!! It had some advantages, both academically and culturally, but I won’t focus on that now. Let’s just say that we were all insufferable little intellectual snobs.
I was the type of young teen who really wanted to fit in but never could. I spent holidays with my older cousin, I was about 12-13 at the time and she was 15-16. In my mind, she was the coolest of the cool. When I was 21 and she was 24 we came out to each other 🙂 but back when we were teens trying to be straight. She pretended to be boy crazy and I wanted to be just like her. In the early to mid nineties, pretending meant overcompensating with faux obsessions with male cultural icons. To the onlooker we were boy crazy, to ourselves, well, we tried to fit in, but lets just say that the interest we took in boys was always related to a girl crush. Eg. My Superman posters always had Lois Lane in them. It was a cover. We laugh about it now.
By the time I was 15 I’d stopped kidding myself. I knew I REALLY liked girls, but hadn’t given up (for lack of a better term) on maybe finding a boy I could like because I didn’t want to close the door on what I saw at the time as a normal life. A friend said to me recently that “heterosexuality is dysphoric as fuck”. I didn’t experience what is now termed “gender dysphoria”, I was fine with my body, I loved my curves, I loved going through puberty, I enjoyed watching my breast grow. I wanted to be a grown up woman so badly, I wanted to be the women I was, in hindsight, crushing on. Anyway, back to the story, I only knew heterosexuals and heterosexual life and heterosexual culture. There was ONE lesbian adult I had met, a friend of a friend of my parent’s. I’d describe her now as a dyke with mental health problems, including dysphoria. A few years ago I heard the heartbreaking news that she had transitioned. Took me a while to really figure why and what it meant. It was an eye opener.
Okay, back to 15yr old me in 1997. Part of me actually liked being a lesbian because nineties alternative culture mean that it was sorta cool to be different. However I didn’t know how to envision my future. I told a few people that I thought “I might be bi”, a sort of soft coming out, testing the waters, knowing it was a lie but not being ready for the L word. Not then. At that time boys started to take interest in me and I was flattered. If there had have been a girl taking the same interest in me I would have fallen, hard!!! But I was alone, none of the girls in my year at high school were lesbians. At 16/17 I tried and failed at dating a boy. I knew I didn’t want to have sex with him, I pictured Xena when I kissed him (he had long hair and was Greek), and it was just not working. I felt like I was play acting, pretending to be someone I wasn’t, everything felt wrong and there were alarm bells in my head the whole time. I wanted to want him so badly because I was so lonely, but I didn’t, I couldn’t. I broke up with him after only a few weeks and then felt sick with guilt for months for hurting his feelings. I used him to try to feel normal, he tried, but failed, to use me for sex.
High School graduates in Australia have a thing called “schoolies’ in which grads from all over the country gather on The Gold Coast to go clubbing. A giant piss-up basically. We can legally drink at 18 and it was our first taste of adult night life. Of course it was really really straight!!! I went with a group of friends. I was closeted, but openly obsessed with Xena, Amelie Mauresmo, Bad Girls, and my Irish lesbian pen friend. They MUST have know something was up!!! Anyway, that was back in the days before smart phones and laptops, so to keep in contact with my pen-friend, the only lesbian I knew in the whole world, I’d go to an internet cafe every day to email her. I’d also sit on the balcony by myself, looking out at the water, drinking beer and listening to Melissa Etheridge albums. Then at night I’d go clubbing with my friends, drink heavily enough to be able to talk myself into trying to like boys (ew), but hoping that there might be a “girl like me” there. There wasn’t. So, I was kissing but not fucking boys (ewwww!!) of an evening, waking up feeling gross, then spending the day listening to lesbian music and emailing my one lesbian friend. Fucked up hey! Schoolies was the last time I kissed a boy. I give up trying to be straight or bi or anything other than who I am. Think I was one of the only people who came home from schoolies still a virgin, lol.
Okay, so, first year uni. I was an 18yr old lesbian, never kissed a girl, rocking up to orientation week looking for the what I assumed would be called the “gay and lesbian society” or something to that effect. I found the “queer collective” and was told that lesbians and gay men are also known as “queer”. The term wasn’t unknown to me, but I’d never really thought of myself as being “queer”. However I accepted it without question and started calling myself “queer” more than “lesbian”, just because it’s what my new friends were calling themselves. I wore t-shirts with queer slogans and got to know the “queer” scene. Looking back I am really proud of myself for joining the group, and thank christ I did because it’s where I met my soulmate (but that story is for another post).
University opened up a world of lesbians. In class, in the halls, in the union, everywhere I started to pick out the dykes and I crushed, hard, on all of them!!! Mainly dykes. Like I said, I didn’t know any lesbians and it was the short spiky haired dykes who were most visible. No butches, I didn’t even know the difference then anyway, I didn’t know anything about other lesbians. I remember that feeling of sitting in a lecture theatre and three rows over there’s be a dyke and I could feel her energy. I don’t have the words to describe it, it’s like gaydar but with an undercurrent. Anyway, they never noticed me. I’d try to make eye contact, but they looked right through me. I’ve since come to learn that dykes won’t see me, but a butch will. On the street or on a train I like to try to make eye contact with other lesbians, not to flirt, well, back then it was to flirt, but now it’s just more of wanting to be acknowledged, wanting her to see me for who I really am, craving a connection when I’m out in the world by myself, usually feeling very much alone. We move through the world like aliens on a foreign planet, looking for signs of other aliens. Anyway, after a few weeks of pining for lesbians from afar I joined the collective, met some of those dykes I’d been eyeing up in lectures; but, more importantly, I also met a gorgeous, sweet, and very shy butch.
We fell in love, left the “queer” collective, and we only keep in contact with one lesbian from those days. We are older and wiser now and have rejected the term “queer” and so-called “queer community” and have embraced our own name.