Title (as given to the record by the creator): Perverts
Date(s) of creation: FG 6: August 1996
Creator / author / publisher: Judith Black, FaT GiRL, Sondra Solo
Physical description:
Four zine pages with two columns of text, and one illustration.
Reference #: FG6-044-047-Perverts
 [ PDF ]


by Judith Black

I was twenty-one the weekend I discovered that butches I were off-limits. I was in a bar called the Brave Bull in Modesto, California. Modesto is a sprawling town in the central valley. Rustic. Farm land. The place was strange to me. Although I’d been in the bar a time or two, I’d been there with my x-lover, Karen. This time, I was alone. 

It was the weekend of my twenty-first birthday, and the friends I was planning to camp with were sick with the flu. I considered staying home, or joining other friends on a trip they had planned. Without putting a lot of thought into it, I packed up my car and headed off in the direction we had originally planned. On my own. 

I camped along the San Joaquin river. I had a large tent, good food, good music, a battery-operated vibrator, and the company of my dog. I spent my days wandering, reading, and hiking, my nights listening to a quiet that was strange to me. I’m a city girl. 

I’d grown up in a town that had been like Modesto, but had become industrialized, over-populated. When we’d moved to Fremont in 1969, we lived among tomato fields and vast farm lands. In 1977, when we moved away, we lived in the midst of housing tracts. The farm lands were totally gone and forgotten, replaced by mini-malls and poorly manicured, overly landscaped parks. 

I had been fifteen when it got to really showing. We lived in Hayward then. Typical Haywardian, I wore a suede cowboy hat, boots, jeans, a thick belt, and a plaid, flannel shirt. I was tough and angry and completely oblivious to any sort of clues folks might have that I was different than any other kid in town. 

And, if you were looking at the boys, I suppose, I could see why I thought that. Except for my forty-two inch waist, I’d say I measured up to the boys commonly referred to as Aggies. Agriculture. Farm boys. Now, I already told you that there weren’t any farms left, but there were still Aggies. A dying breed. Lost to embarrassment, replaced by Chicanos and modern-day Greasers. We didn’t call ourselves that. They were most likely things we called one another. 

But, people like my mom and dad weren’t looking at the boys and, even if they had been, they certainly weren’t looking at the Aggie boys. They were looking at the girls. And, they weren’t too happy. They were looking at a population that wore too much make-up and slicked-back, feathered hair, carried purses, and had long nails. Not only was I not one of them, I wasn’t even looking at them. 

In some sort of last-ditch effort, my mom even tried to send me to Christian school. Like, God was going to save me from turning into a boy or a queer or something. Alas, I was Saved. Not like she had in mind, though: they wouldn’t take me because of my “behavior problems.” 

If I had believed in any such mythology, I would have thanked God for truancy. 

Mom and I were figuring things out at a similar pace by the time I was fifteen and with my first girlfriend. While I can’t say my folks were thrilled necessarily, they got over it, more or less, and moved on. At the very least, they figured out I wasn’t going to get zapped by some sort of fairy-princess and turn into a Number One Femme if they did the ever evasive “right thing.” They were okay. Once we got names and identities clear, all there was for them to do was accept it, and they did mostly. 

So, my first girlfriend … The weekend I met her, I had schemed and planned with my best friend, Ellen, another butch high school student, who was out -ahead of me by at least a year. We had arranged to spend the weekend together, meet some of her friends, and party. We were sitting on her front porch, waiting for one of her buds to come pick us up, and she started warning me about Lin. “Watch out for Lin,” she said to me. “She likes young girls with big tits.” 

My introduction to my first lover. Oh, yeah. 

Lin was butch. She sized me up only against herself and other butches. It was a thing that made sense to me, certainly more than measuring me up against girls or-even-Aggie boys. I liked how like me she was. We fucked sometimes. We fucked others sometimes. She introduced me around. I found a place where I felt like I belonged. It was good. 

There were butches in my bed here and there in the years that followed. Karen, the girlfriend I had gone to the Brave Bull with was, in fact, butch. I’m not sure if it was a Hayward/Fremont thing, or if it was the time, or both, or what, but it wasn’t a big deal. Maybe it’s because we were so young, we were invisible anyway. It didn’t matter who we hung with, went to bed with, whatever. Chicken. Not like people. 

So, I hadn’t learned the “proper” prejudices. This is my point. When I arrived at the Brave Bull by myself the night of my twenty-first birthday, I hadn’t learned that butches were off-limits if you happened to be one. I am, however, a quick study – once the lesson has been adequately explained to me. 

I’d driven through the unlit back roads from my camp to town. I’d found the bar, parked my car, walked my dog. My shirt was sticking to my back. I was a fat dyke in a strange bar. There were not others like me. I had spent the morning hanging at the river. I had the blisters to prove it; I had fallen asleep in the mid-day sun. I was scorched. 

I nervous and sweating and wishing I wasn’t alone. I felt just as out of place as I had in high school, living among the Aggie boys. 

I was in a bar. I wasn’t going to get thrown out as soon as anyone noticed me. I was legal. I was twenty-one. Besides, no one noticed me. I hung on the edge of the dance floor. 

I smoked cigarettes, cruised the door. I felt young and scared and vulnerable, and I knew just how tough I looked. I was alright. 

Eons passed. Days and nights. Seasons changed. I leaned along the dance floor. There was a group that had come in an hour or so after me. They were butch and femme. They looked like the kind of dykes I grew up with; like Lin and Ellen and the gang. There was one in particular I liked. She seemed to be among friends, not with anyone in par­ticular. 

An olive-complected girl like me, maybe she was Portuguese. Or Italian. She danced with several of the gang she was with. A tailored button-down shirt and bolo t­tie. Slicked-back short, dark hair and smoldering eyes. She was bigger than anyone else in the bar, besides me. She had a tattoo on her forearm. Her jeans were gray and worn. Her boots were clean and polished. She looked tough. 

Another cigarette. Another bottle of water. I probably should head back to camp. My twenty-first birthday. What the fuck! I should at least dance one damned dance! I should ask her. All she could do was say no, right? I could handle that. Damn. I wished I wasn’t there alone. 

So, I asked her. She was at the bar. I leaned against the bar next to her. The bartender nodded at me-she’d get to me as soon as she was done with the tray she was setting up for this woman. “How’s it going?”, I asked her. 

“All right,” she said. “How you doing?” 

I told her it was weird to be alone in a bar. I wished my friends had made it. She smiled warmly, asked me where I was from. We chatted idly. She invited me to join her and her friends at their table, nodding her head in their general direction. I maintained my cool, what was left of it. I would never ask her to dance in front of her friends. As she paid the bartender, I did it. “Would you dance with me later?” I asked. I smiled coolly. 

Her face clouded over. The warmth that was there cooled so quickly, it took my breath. She was angry. “Fuck no,” she snarled. “Would I dance with you? Why don’t you dance with a girl?” 

The bartender served me quietly, without sympathy. I returned to my corner. I stayed just long enough, I thought, to look like I was leaving on my own steam ­not because of her hostile rejection. I had been watching them. They now watched me. “Look cool. Look cool. Look cool. No matter what.” 

If I’d had any idea this incident was not over, I would have gotten in my car and driven away, ending it. But, I didn’t. 

When I looked up from my thoughts to check on my dog, I was surprised to find myself face-to-face with the gang from the bar. Butches in front, femmes at the flank. Seven of them. In the odd light of the parking lot, they looked immense. Her hostility was a shared thing. I was in trouble. 

A few unkind words were passed. I’d tell them if I remembered them, but I couldn’t even recreate them the following day. I wanted to forget more than anything. Nearly a decade has passed. I had gotten the point. There was a code of ethics I had smashed by asking a butch to dance. I was too queer for the queer girls. I shouldn’t come back to the Brave Bull. She hit me once, her fist against my fleshy stomach. A touch. Not what I had in mind. It could have been much worse. They snarled at me en masse, and I fled. They let me go. 

Into the night, I drove. Confused. Onto the unlit back roads. Into the woods between the Brave Bull and camp. I drove for hours. The more I drove, the less I understood. My back hurt. My head hurt. My heart hurt. I drove in silence not exactly crying. My dog licked my hand. We got desperately lost. 

The forty minute drive ended a couple of hours later. Back at camp. I crawled into bed, now numb. I closed my eyes, and I saw her face. Then theirs. All of them. Circling me. I clutched my vibrator, sobbing and coming, tears streaking my twenty-one-year-old face. I was lost in sleep and peculiar dreams. 

In the night, the wind picked up. The silence left. I was so clearly the other. I was far from home. I was alone. 

I broke camp after breakfast. I headed home a day early. My blistered back was breaking open. My head ached. My heart felt numb and cold. As I picked burrs out of my sleeping bag, I considered for the first time: it was me. 

I was wrong. I packed the car quietly and drove myself home. 

Once home, I began the first of a decade-long series  of relationships with femmes. Not that this was particularly difficult or anything. I mean, I like femmes. I get attracted to femmes. The rules are a little different, but by no means unreasonable. I knew enough to get by. I lived, in part, to avoid the agony I had felt that night in the Brave Bull’s parking lot. I told no one of my experience there. Any change in me went unnoticed. 

I was lovers with a woman – femme – with hair down to her waist. I got by. I had no complaints. I found a comfortable groove in the community I lived in. Time passed. Lovers came and went. I drifted further and further from the roots of my youth, my coming out. 

I grew cynical and sarcastic. Just another fat leather dyke in the city of San Francisco. No shit taken. No feelings spared. Not a bad life; just a life. I danced in the clubs, given half a chance. I became friend to a lot of women. I worked for a living. It was no big deal. My dog got old and died. It took me a while to get past that. Somehow, I survived. I thrived. 

I looked back from time to time, and at one such point, I was looking at a woman I had been lovers with when I was very young. Karen, the woman I had gone to the Brave Bull with when we were lovers. She’d been twenty; I’d been nineteen. We had split up eight years earlier, and had never spoken again. 

I looked her up. 

When I couldn’t find her, I left a message for her at her parent’s store. A few weeks later, I heard from her. She was living in Modesto, of all places. As much as she was surprised to hear from me, she also seemed pleased. We had a couple of conversations on the phone, then planned to get together. I found our connection to be comfortable. I felt like she had been gone from my life forever, and yet not at all. She came to San Francisco. 

She looked somehow different, and yet very much the same. She wore cowboy boots and a work shirt. Spurs. She had horses now. She swaggered. Her eyes were lit when she smiled, a mischievous smile that took me back through the years. Her slick hair was not as soft as the butch-do she had worn in our mutual youth. I was still attracted to her. And she was still butch. 

We spent the day together, then laughed well into the night. I fed her Hamburger Helper just before midnight as we caught up on the years that had passed. Carefully, we walked around the spark that still existed between us. We were in the house I shared with my lover, Liz. I invited her to spend the night; it was late, and she had a long drive home. She accepted. 

As I turned down Liz’s bed for her, explaining where the lights were and such, she suddenly changed her mind. Ungrounded by the sudden change, I handed her Diet Coke’s as she headed out the door. I stood in the cool air, my feet cold against the bricks of my front steps, and I watched her drive away. There was a warmth to the chill I felt as I headed back into the house. Liz would be back the next day. 

I washed dishes to distract myself from the change I felt in the air and in my body. 

Did she leave so suddenly out of guilt about her own lover or disappointment that I was not taking her to my own bed? Had I imagined that zap of energy? I certainly hadn’t imagined the ease of conversation and the frequency of laughter. Perhaps I was making too much out of things. I turned down the lights and went to bed. 

The first thing Liz asked me when she walked in the  door on Sunday: “So, did you sleep with her?” 

“No,” I said, somewhat astonished and clearly defensive. “We don’t sleep with other people here. We’re clear about that. She came here.” 

“Well … I was out of town,” she said. “That’s different.” 

“I don’t think it is.” 

She asked me if I’d wanted to. “Partly.” I said. I changed the subject quickly. We talked about her trip. She unpacked. I folded laundry. 

When I spoke to Karen, I repeated to her Liz’s blunt inquiry. Karen let me know the feeling was, indeed, mutual. “I don’t have sex with girlfriends,” I told her, “When they have agreements forbidding such things.” We didn’t talk about it again. 

We became friends. I really like Karen. She’s a good person. I visited her and made a point of befriending her lover. Chris was butch. Maybe more so than Karen or I. I liked her immediately. Karen succeeded for the second time in our history to get me astride a horse. I didn’t hate it half as much as I had the first time. But, my ass got just as sore. 

We got together from time to time. We talked on the phone more often. I went out to Modesto and hung out with them. They came into the city and hung out with me. Sometimes Karen came alone. Befriending Chris made it easy for me to back away from any remaining energy I had for Karen. 

It was never in the way. 

Eventually, I left Liz. Karen and Chris were sweet to me around the whole thing. Karen would shake her head at me: “You go through more women … “, she’d say. Not for a while, I planned. I needed some time off. I took it. No girls for a while. Karen and Chris faded quietly and comfort­ably into my collection of friends. Time passed. 

When I decided to venture out again, I found myself using them for a model. Karen and Chris, and maybe Karen and I, when we were ​​ten years younger and ten years more innocent. In the way of the city, I placed a personal ad in the gay paper. “Butch seeks same.” There must be others who felt like I did. Perhaps times had changed. 

Then again, perhaps they had not. I got few responses, and those I got were from femmes. I met a few women, then gave the whole thing up. Ad dates were more of a chore than a source of entertainment. I was over it. At a party that summer, I realized that nothing had changed at all. A butch dyke who had recently done a sexy (I thought) layout with another butch in a local magazine, made a point of publicly dismissing the whole thing as repulsive. She just did it for the perversity of the thing. Any other consideration was absurd. She had a wife. (Like, oh … clumsy me.) 

Maybe I wouldn’t get slugged in the stomach for asking a butch to dance these days, but, then again, I might never dance again if I didn’t dance with femmes. And, maybe I would still get slugged in the stomach-if I were still barely twenty-one and scared half to death and all. There’s no way to know. I hardly even care. Yeah, I like femme women. I get attracted to them. I have sex with them. I get into relationships with them. I fall in love with them. No problem. 

But, I also like butch women. I get attracted to them. I could easily have sex with them. I could fall in love with them. 

I fear I’m too queer for the queer girls. I’m not transsexual. I’m butch. I’m a butch who likes butch girls. A rare breed. An odd duck. I’m unable to return to the innocence about it I so enjoyed in my youth. The code of ethics of queer life in the city is painfully inflexible. 

Among butch dykes, it seems that butches are good enough to fuck. Good enough to play with. Play fag with. But, fall in love? Come on, Judith … that really is perverse. There are exceptions, I’m sure. Some of my friends among them. Karen, Chris, Nicki. Others. Few and far between. Perverts. 

[image description: a drawing of two fat butches, One sits on the ground in underwear and socks, one knee up, one down. The other stands naked behind her, one hand on her shoulder. The standing one has one mastectomy scar. Drawing by Sondra Solo.]