When I was 17, I started working at Broadway Video in Fulton, Missouri. (“Thank you for calling Broadway Video where the hits are here, now, guaranteed, this is Christina, how may I help you?”) I had to ask my parents first, since it was 30 miles from home and the closing time was around 11:00 p.m. It was 1996, so everything was still on VHS. I spent hours putting tapes into the rewinder and charging people a fee because they couldn’t do it their damn selves. I worked with Kristin, one of my best friends, so we spent our time gossiping and choosing movies to put into the VCR when no one was in the store. She memorized the Men in Black dance and loved to do it when no one was around. When she wasn’t there, I challenged myself to close my eyes and picture where every single film belonged. Sometimes I’d just spin move my head back and forth, try to orient myself, and open my eyes to see if I knew exactly where I was looking. It was usually Lost Highway or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. To the left of the check out counter were the new hits, mixed in with newer indie films. Of course, being from Portland, I had no idea what an indie film was, but Kenny, another guy who worked there was starting to show me.
One of the first ones on the shelf was All Over Me. I was allowed to check out movies for free, and really, the boss said, I could just take them and bring them back without putting them into the computer.
I chose this title one night, after a long day of rewinding because it looked like one of those indie films I’d heard about. I took it home and popped it into the VCR around midnight. I sat in the living room and watched as some girl with pink hair played guitar. And, at one point, she kissed another girl. In another mind blowing scene, I watched as one licked the other’s stomach. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I mean, I’d seen two girls kiss just a year before in this film:
Which a friend had recorded from HBO and given to me to watch. I didn’t know why she did. But I came to understand as we aged. (If you’ve seen this film, you know there is some violent sex, rape, and very awful situations, but my focus remained on the girls kissing in the pool)
But this pink haired girl had me very confused. I stayed up all night, rewinding the kiss, the tongue to stomach action, worried that my parents would wake up and find me watching it. I didn’t quite know why it was wrong. I mean, there was no sex in the movie All Over Me, just some kissing and stomach licking. But it seemed dirty. Like I wasn’t supposed to see it. So I watched it in darkness that night and probably 20 more nights as I’d return the movie to the store and sneak it out again, sometimes in a different case.
Not long after that I met a girl. My world started spinning uncontrollably and, to make it worse and more confusing, this movie was on HBO that whole summer:
I watched it, disgusted. Confused. In silence. I cried. I prayed. I wished I could be someone else. And you know what happened after that.
Tonight when I was with some of my rugby friends we started talking about lesbian films. There aren’t that many, so it’s common for lesbians of any age to know most of them. We were in mixed company, though. There were 4 girls who date boys and 3 girls who date girls sitting at the table. The girls who date boys had never heard of any of these films. Meanwhile, we laughed and joked about all that we’d seen. How it seems that any movie with a lesbian lead means she’ll a) kill someone b) kill herself c) turn straight at the end. It’s hard to find films about lesbians that have happy endings.
The straight girls wondered how they missed seeing all these films since the rest of us had seen them. But. I tried to explain, we had to seek them out. To find ourselves mirrored somehow in society. I remember discussing titles with my worldly co-workers in Houston, trying to memorize all that they’d said so I could find and watch all of them. I felt like I was in a secret club.
One of my teammates, who is at least 10 years younger than I, said she used YouTube to watch most of her movies, clip by clip.
I shared that I was lucky to be exposed to a video store and then moved to Houston, met liberal people, worked next to a video store, and had movies like
come out in the art house theatres. So it was from there that I learned about
and I also saw
in the theatre.
I wanted to explain to my everyone at the table how important it was for me to see myself on a television, to see two girls kiss in some larger narrative (instead of at the gay bar). In my day, there was barely an internet and Ellen was still newly gay. No one even talked about gay marriage. I know some of you must know how this feels– to want to see yourself on a screen. Ultimately, though, I think most people have never yearned for it because it was never missing from their lives. They see themselves in every movie, terrible sit-com, and perfume ad. Every single day.
I, however, see myself (or people meant to represent me) in very few films. One commercial with Abby Wambach. Ellen is on every day now. I still can’t believe how many straight women love her show.
I see misrepresentations of myself everywhere, though. I see people like me being denied marriage licenses, being denied cakes, jobs, and a pot to piss in. I am reminded daily by advertising and movie previews that I am not like everyone else. I have watched for half of my life as politicians and other people make decisions about what I can and cannot do.
And I’ve grown so used to it that I forget to talk about it with others who might feel the same way.
Tonight’s conversation felt so good.
At the end of the table were two teammates quietly mocking us, “So, when did you realize you were straight? Do you think your parents made you that way?” I don’t think they meant it in a mean way, but what I took away was this: they felt left out of the conversation.
That must feel awful.