The Huddle: The first queer women we knew

The musical Fun Home has a song called “Ring of Keys,” where young Alison first encounters a butch lesbian and it’s a huge moment for her. In this week’s Huddle, we’re asking who was the first out queer woman you ever met or knew about?

Erin Wilson: I lived a very sheltered life growing up and was never in the presence of anyone who was queer, at least to my knowledge. It was not talked about or discussed, unless it was our preacher telling everyone that homosexuality was a sin. It wasn’t until I got to college that I would begin to meet openly gay women and start to put two and two together about myself. And believe it or not, one of the first gay women I had ever met, is now my wife. It was eight years after we met before we would begin a romantic relationship but she was one of the only girls on campus that was out and I remember feeling so envious of her life! Plus I remember feeling like I wanted to make out with her. Basically all my dreams came true. 

Valerie Anne: I’m sure this wasn’t the first queer woman I encountered, but since I was raised in a small Catholic community, it’s not exactly like they were celebrated, but this instance sticks out to me pretty vividly. (And actually, rethinking it now, it’s possible it wasn’t even an encounter with a real queer person and was just my dad stereotyping her, but it was my perception that matters in this story.) 

When I was about 12, my dad and I went to one of those dinky parking lot carnivals, where he let me play all the games I wanted. At the last game we played—one of those impossible-to-win dart games or something—after failing miserably, the teenage girl let me have another go for free. She had short hair and was more “butch” than I was used to seeing girls that were so close to my age. When I once again failed to pop enough balloons to win a prize, the girl gave me a stuffed animal anyway. I was still at the age where it’s entirely possible she was just being sweet to a kid with lousy aim, but on our way out of the carnival, my dad punched me in the arm and teased me, saying the girl was flirting with me. I responded with the appropriate amount of disgust for a good little Catholic school girl, but inside I remember being flattered and secretly hoping he was right. 

Lucy Hallowell: I can’t remember the first gay lady I ever met/saw, but I do remember essentially dodging the lesbian who was one of our dorm parents in high school. I figured with her gaydar she would have me pegged in a second (hey, dumbass anyone with eyes had you pegged). So, I used to endure the bizarre dance of being fascinated by her and wanting to talk to her and being utterly terrified that if I did she would be like “So, lezzer pants, do you have a girlfriend or what?”

Chelsea Steiner: I remember being a little kid and meeting a friend of my parents named Dusty, who was a flannel-wearing, buzzcut-rocking, hardcore old school butch. I had never seen a woman look that way, and asked my mom about it, and she explained what lesbians were. The more you know! 

Kim Hoffman: See, the thing is, I can collect a few people from my childhood who MUST have been queer, but there was zero conversation about it. They were the artistic, sensitive and interesting parents of my friends whose lives seemed so private and layered, or my first summer camp counselor, a babysitter, or our next door neighbors—a pair of 65+ year old ladies who perhaps made the neighborhood believe they were simply golden girl “roommates”—but I knew there was something different about them. They came to my dad’s ’50s-themed 50th birthday wearing what my adult mind now believes were obvious radical lesbian ’60s clothes—one with a pillow stuffed under her blouse to create the look of a pregnant belly, flowers in their hair. One was wearing a dress, the other in pants. In photos, they look bad ass among a bunch of squares acting hip in poodle skirts. They went around saying the “baby” on the way was their love child, making everyone giggle. Like, all I wanna do is shout to my nine year old self, “That’s dyke power.”

I remember asking my mom about them years later, like, “Mom, tell me those ladies who lived in the mauve house were gay, and together.” And she was like, “Oh, they definitely were. Which is sad, because they had to hide it—different generation.” Makes my wheels turn when I think about Florida in the early ’90s, two older dykes at a totally heterosexual birthday party, where they provide a big hoot with their costumes, but the costume isn’t even their actual costume, you know what I mean? Anyway, I hope wherever they are, they’re at peace and in paradise. 


Grace Chu: In sixth grade, I was part of a trio of friends. We didn’t know why we gravitated towards one another. We would have sleepovers and awkwardly tell each other about the guys we had crushes on, like all the other girls. I just picked the prettiest boy in our grade and decided that I had a crush on him. I figured that was what everyone else was doing, so why not? Years later, long after sixth grade, the three of us eventually came out. And indeed, the other two were fabricating crushes as well, but outside the three of us, none of the other girls were. I wonder if we were drawn towards one another, because subconsciously, we knew we were not like the others. So I guess I met my first queer gals in sixth grade, although I didn’t know it.

Lindsay Hicks: I didn’t meet a person who identified as a lesbian until my first year in college. There were TWO of them and they were friends and my mind was blown. They spoke openly of their attraction to women, they borderline objectified them, they waxed poetic about what they would to do them given the chance and my cup was overflowing. I still didn’t even understand that lesbians truly existed until meeting these women. I became fascinated with these new acquaintances to a point of obsession, following them around at parties, asking an absurd amount of questions, begging one of them to tell me the story of the time she masturbated with a Corona bottle again and again. I like to think that wherever they are, they’re proud of the big ol’ lesbo I’ve become. 

Miranda Meyer: I had a great-aunt growing up who had been living with her partner in Florida for longer than I’d been alive (in fact, while sadly they have both passed away, their relationship still lasted longer than my entire lifetime so far). There was none of this “Oh, they’re just really good friends” business; everyone knew and it was fine with all of us. (My grandmother, her sister-in-law, had loads of gay male friends back in the ’50s, so I think this branch of my family is just historically pretty queer-friendly. Not that my great-grandmother didn’t give my great-aunt huge amounts of shit growing up for being tomboyish, etc.) But given that they were in FL and I grew up in MA, the first queer girls to really be a major part of my life were a few of my friends in middle school and high school. Two of them dated for a while; it was THE HEIGHT OF DRAMA. (They’re good friends now, though. Everything is cool.) One of them at one point took a decidedly non-platonic interest in me and at the time I got Very Freaked Out. “Are you straight?” she asked me. “I…think so?” I squeaked in reply. In retrospect, this incident is hilarious. 
Bridget McManus: There was a girl in high school that was a senior when I was a freshman and she made a big stink about bringing a girl to the prom. I remember thinking, “Oh my God, that’s an option?!” 
Trish Bendix: The first woman I knew was a true lesbian was a closeted teacher of mine who everyone loved. I switched high schools my sophomore year so a lot of my friends already knew her from taking her freshman class, and had established a relationship with her. She lived with her “roommate” whose family she was very much a part of, and she would tell us about the horrible fights they would get into that sometimes ended with one of them throwing the other’s stuff on the lawn. It turned out that she, rather creepily, ended up driving to one of my female classmate’s dorms in college because she thought there was something between them. I remember feeling kind of strange about her, like there was something about her I was curious about but that it was a little odd how she was with the girls in my class. It’s bizarre because I am the only one from that group that is a lesbian, so you’d think we’d have had some kind of obvious connection.
Anna Pulley: My high school teacher was the first queer person I knew on any kind of personal basis. She didn’t officially come out to me until after I graduated (conservative school, no Gay Straight Alliance, or anything approximating it). She took me to IHOP and over “harvest grain” pancakes and four kinds of syrup, we played an accidental game of 20 questions that went something like this:

Her: I have something to tell you.
Me: Yeah, I think I know what it is.
Her: Oh? What do you think it is?
Me: No way! If I’m wrong that would be really embarrassing.
When she finally got it out that she was a lesbian, I proceeded to ask her a lot of personal, and frankly inappropriate, questions about whether she’d ever given a blow job, what lesbian sex “was,” and where all the lesbians “were hiding.” I was straight at the time. Obvs.
She told me there was an underground newsletter that all the queer gals got and I didn’t realize until like 10 years later that she was joking/making fun of me. A few years later, when I came out, she was a huge help to me and resource and shoulder to cry on. 
Elaine Atwell: I wish this were a happier story. When I was a kid we had a housekeeper (actually a string of housekeepers, because we were briefly well-off) but this one was named Lexi. And Lexi was queer, in a very late 90s graduate student type way. I had no idea until I met her significant other, who was doing something with gender that I had no idea how to conceptualize then and am not going to try to label now. But even though I was mystified and a little awestruck by their relationship, they were nice and took me to see Austin Powers and were patient with my intense but frightened curiosity. The sad part of this story came when Lexi got fired, mostly because she did break a lot of things, bless her. But I remember hearing my dad mention her relationship as being an inappropriate thing for us to be exposed to, and his relief that it would no longer be in our lives. He was always a bit nervous we’d turn into lesbians. Rightly so, as it turns out. But Lexi, if you’re out there, thanks.
Jenna Lykes: In high school, there was a girl a grade below me who was very out about her sexuality. I remember being so jealous because she was younger than me and just so unapologetically queer, while I was closeted and depressed. We used to sing songs from RENT during study hall, and I listened way too hard when she talked about girls. When I finally went to college and (slowly) started to come out to people from home, she was one of the first people I told. Unsurprisingly, her response was basically, “Yeah, duh. I know.”
Emily McGaughy: In my early 20s, I met my dear friend Kim (affectionately known as “Butch Kim” or “BK”). We met at a birthday dinner of a mutual friend and sat next to each other by chance. We clicked instantly and have been like family ever since. A couple of years after we met, I was finally ready to begin the coming out process and my BK was the first person I told. I wasn’t quite ready to share the news with the world, so she and I would sneak away to this divey lesbian bar,  just the two of us. We knew it was the only place that we wouldn’t risk running into familiar faces. A few years later, I was beginning a difficult break up and needed a place to crash. Kim offered me a free room at her place while I got my life back together. Kim was and is one of those unabashedly butch women that has a level of confidence we should all aspire to and a heart full of nothing but love for her family and friends. My life is better because she’s in it. 
Dana Piccoli: The summer between eighth grade and freshman year, I started getting really serious about theatre and my first acting coaches were a queer couple. I really learned a lot from them, and the younger one—let’s call her Susan—was really intense and intimidating but cool. Later that year they broke up, and I remember this one day, Susan and I were on our way to rehearsal or something, and she started talking about a guy she liked. I was so confused but it was the first time I realized what bisexuality was. I only really liked girls, and would come out the next year, but it was a revelatory moment for me.
Who was the first queer woman you ever met? What do you remember?