How do you be something which you have never seen? This is me in high school, trying to be a proper straight date to the boys who asked me to Homecoming ’91 and Senior Prom ’92. These were the only two instances in my life where I got asked to a dance by a boy. Each of the boys called me up on the phone and asked me if I would go with him, and in each case I immediately said no, and then kept the guy on the phone for about 10 minutes while I slowly talked myself into agreeing to be his date.
I wonder, if someone doesn’t know me personally, whether or not they can see the way that I am subtly transforming each pose into a method of pushing the boy away from my body? On the left, at Homecoming, if you look closely at my fingers you can see that they are bending over to pry the boy’s hands off of my waist, and my teeth are gritted in to a strident sort of smile that says, “KINDLY REMOVE YOUR HANDS FROM MY BODY.” On the right, at Senior Prom, my smile is a little bit less desperate. Maybe I was just a few degrees closer to knowing what I was (not a good date for a boy). At this point, my hand is poised on his chest in order to get the leverage to shove him in the opposite direction. The demeanor of the gesture is something more like, “NO THANKS!!!!”
At that point, I had never seen a gay person with my own eyes. I am pretty sure I had never even seen a representation of a lesbian on television or in a movie. It didn’t exist in my world. A goth girl from my school once wore a t-shirt that said THIS IS WHAT A LESBIAN LOOKS LIKE, and I was certain that she was wearing it simply to get attention. There was no way in my mind that she could be gay, and I guess that if I could have been convinced that she actually was, I wouldn’t have been very excited about having her appearance be a definition of lesbian. I was personally terrified of the possibility that I liked girls, and I spent a good deal of energy throughout high school suppressing the thought, and just trying to fit in with the mainstream. This repression offers some excuse for how clueless I was about myself. There is, however, no excuse for the outfit that I am wearing in the Homecoming photo. Where could that possibly have even come from? In flailing about desperately for an identity, how was it that I managed to land on the style of Senior Bank Manager? Is this what I thought a lesbian should look like? Maybe I was subjecting myself to some kind of unconscious punishment. Who would have ever bought me those ill fitting pleated pants and that shoulder-padded blouse? I have a memory of shopping for that dance with my mom at Nordstrom. I believe that I may have been going for a kind of classic American Ralph Lauren look. I kind of remember putting the outfit together, and having some awareness that it wasn’t really working, but thinking to myself, “Well, I guess this is just going to have to do.”
—Khaela Maricich is a performing artist and pop musician. She lives in New York City, and writes about herself and other things at www.khaelamaricich.com.