The author of Excuse Me, Sir! Memoir of a Butch shares her story of love…
By Shaley Howard
I knew I was different when I hit puberty at the age of 13. All my friends were suddenly infatuated with the opposite sex, while I, on the other hand, had suddenly developed crushes on my female teachers. Well my female teachers and Wonder Woman. Although, in hindsight, I’m not sure if I wanted to be with Wonder Woman or actually be Wonder Woman.
Years passed filled with loneliness and long nights, silently crying as I ached for someone to love me in a romantic way. Being the late 1970s and early ’80s, no one was out of the closet – at least no one I knew. And the world around me was overflowing with homophobia, so the probability of me announcing I was a big lesbian was slim to none. I spent years concealing my sexual orientation and keeping up my straight girl facade. Until I went back to college at the age of 26.
When most people reflect on their college dorm life, they usually don’t have overly enthusiastic memories. For me, however, my college dorm was where I met Amy, who just happened to be in the room at the end of my hall. She was this scrawny, sarcastic Southerner with big opinions and a presence that made me blush. She was perfect. Both of us being closeted, however, made things a little challenging. Not knowing how to communicate that I was head-over-heels, I resorted to my oh-so successful adolescent flirtatious behaviour. I found myself trying to woo her by following her around and insulting her.
“What on Earth is this crap?” I demanded as I made myself at home, sitting cross-legged in the middle of her dorm room bed. “‘Nothing Compares 2 U,’ by Sinéad O’Connor,” she calmly replied, handing me the CD case. I looked down at an image of a woman with piercing blue eyes and a shaved head, trying to hide my astonishment. Immediately my heart started racing. I’d never known any women with shaved heads, let alone ones that looked like, well, beautiful lesbians. A woman with a shaved head? She must be gay. Duh.
The tiny dorm room suddenly felt smaller and 10 degrees warmer as my face began to burn. Staying true to my adolescent form, when feeling uncomfortable I proceeded to get louder, more disrespectful, and insufferable. “Ugh, what’s wrong with her? Why doesn’t she have hair?” I snapped, in a desperate (and, I’m sure, obvious) attempt to hide my embarrassment. Ignoring my snide comment, she casually replied, “I think she’s hot.” Hearing that, my body froze, as if any movement might threaten to expose my crushing vulnerability. Every hair on my neck stood straight up and a thin sheen of sweat broke out all over, like I was a 50-year-old perimenopausal woman.
Cue my immediate exit. I rushed out, hearing the Sinéad O’Connor CD clunk on the floor and Amy saying something inaudible. I think it was, “Um, okay, see you later?” I couldn’t hear a thing over the blood pounding in my eardrums. When all else fails, run away. Amy was probably so confused, as I was always bursting in without an invitation, informing her that her music and dorm decorations sucked, then abruptly departing. Of course, what she didn’t know was that each time after my bombardment of insults, I’d run away internally screaming, “I love you!”
Even with all my young adult years of running around intoxicated on alcohol and hormones, my attempts at “flirting” were never out in the open. In fact, not once in my life was I afforded the opportunity to practise the awkward teenage dance of flirting. I had serious arrested development in the art of romance – not fair. Straight kids had opportunities to attempt the cringe-worthy, prepubescent wooing of their crushes. When you’re young and foolish, you’re allowed a grace period to fall on your face. As an adult, though, I was clearly a bit stunted in my wooing abilities.
My unsophisticated and juvenile interactions with Amy went on for a while. Strangely, she allowed me to continue with my exasperating badgering as I followed her around like a deranged lost puppy. In hindsight? Duh, of course she did. I may have been a bumbling, obnoxious jerk, but I’m sure that on some level she also realized I liked her. But I was scared to death of dropping my tough sarcastic facade and confessing my true feelings. Certain that if I did, she would recoil with disgust and my life would be over.
Then it happened. One night, we were watching Fried Green Tomatoes, a favourite lesbian movie of the 1990s. We had both scrunched up next to each other on my rather uncomfortable twin bed, and then, we kissed! Amy had simply rolled over and kissed me! I was shocked. Then, with my face beaming bright red, first from ecstasy followed quickly by trepidation, I realized I had absolutely no idea what to do. Obviously, I had not been given a “Birds and the Bees: Lesbian Edition” talk. But there was no way in hell I was going to stop.
After years of watching everyone around me find love and experience the euphoria of someone you’re aching for desire you, it was finally happening to me. This gorgeous woman was kissing me! I kept thinking, She wants me! Holy fuck! She wants me! I might have actually been saying that out loud, I’m not really sure. I was fairly blissed out.
At some point, I chuckled quietly through a grin plastering my face. “What?” she asked, noticing the weird, abrupt interruption to our kissing. Nervous to share, I shyly said, “I just thought of my first crush, Mrs. Aguirre. I always wrote ‘A+S’ heart doodles on my Pee-Chee’s when she was my teacher. Your name is Amy, so,” I paused, “there’s the ‘A.’” Her smile at that implication made my heart melt, and she began to softly kiss me again. Yes, after a lifetime of my love and desires always being one-sided, someone else was finally drawing “A + S” heart doodles.
SHALEY HOWARD is an award-winning LGBTQ+ activist, small business owner and author of the new memoir, Excuse Me, Sir! Memoir of a Butch. She lives in Portland, Oregon, and loves hiking the Pacific Northwest with her adorable dog, Dingo. Visit shaleyhoward.com for more information.