When I finally came out of the dark, stifling closet, set my high-heel-clad feet onto that gay-bound train, and hopped off at station LGBTQ, I felt lost and scared for my life. I deeply, deeply, deeply longed for a tour-guide to greet me on the platform and show me around.
In my fantasy-life, there would be a friendly daddy dyke — about 45 to 65 years old, all short cropped dyed platinum blond hair and 90s dyke boots and no-nonsense cargo pants. Her face would bare a pair of twinkly-green eyes and a friendly smile. Her name would be Martha and she’d be holding a sign that read “Welcome To Lesbo Land, Zara!” in rainbow-colored marker. She would take me by my trembling hand and march me into the Cubbyhole bar and introduce me to all the cool lesbians I would be otherwise too afraid to talk to. Martha would sort of be like an AA style-sponsor. I’d check in with her daily. She would take me through the 12 steps of gayness (Step 1. ADMIT you’re a dyke. Step 2. Surrender to our higher power the Indigo Girls). Daddy Martha would help to soften the razor-sharp newness of the queer world.
I had no such mentor. At least not at first. I had to brave the lesbian bar alone about ten times until the wiser, cooler, lesbians took me under their wing. That’s the thing about us lesbians. We need to know you’re serious about your dyke-hood before we take you for a ride down our exclusive rainbow, you know?
One of the first lesbian mentors I ever had was named Eliza.* When I officially came out to the big bad world via Facebook, she simply answered my status “welcome, to the club, girl.” I hadn’t told her I was a lesbian before that, and truthfully didn’t know her all that well. She was just a couple years older than me but was already a seasoned dyke everyone on the scene knew. She had been playing in the gay game since her freshman year of high school. In real life, she might have been about my age, but in gay years she was most definitely my noble elder. And I respected the shit out of her.
She took me to lesbian night at the lesbian bar a couple of weeks after my haphazard facebook “I’M A DYKE” confession. She wore leather pants and lit my cigarettes for me and ordered me drinks in a totally non-flirtatious way, rather in a protective older brother way.
“What’s your type?” she asked me, blowing a perfect ring of gray smoke into the nighttime sky.
“Um, her…” I said, pointing to a girl with long cascading honey brown hair topped off with a black snap-back.
“Oh, honey. She’s a f*ckgirl. We stay away from f*ckgirls,” Eliza said, leaning back into her chair, her legs spread open wide. I had never seen a woman take up so much space. My legs were crossed, stiff and uncomfortable. I slowly uncrossed my legs and leaned back into my seat attempting to mimic Eliza’s swag.
I instantly relaxed. “How do you know she’s a f*ckgirl?” I asked cooly. I felt much more confident now that I was woman-spreading. No wonder men are so dramatically unafraid to ask for raises!
“See how she’s all over that girl?” She pointed to the snap-back girl. “She has a girlfriend. And she’s all over everyone. Plus, she just has f*ckgirl energy. Can’t you feel it? Close your eyes and just, like, tap into the energy.”
I did as told. When I opened my eyes they were as large as saucers. “You’re so right. She’s a f*ckgirl.”
“Just listen to your instincts, Zara. You’re among your people now. You will read them far better than you do straight people.” Eliza said, pronouncing each word carefully like she was teaching a class at University.
That was the greatest lesson Eliza could’ve ever given me as a baby gay. To listen to my instincts. For, I was safe here, in gay land. Now that I had come to terms with my sexual identity, the walls had come tumbling down and I was able to access the raw, intuitive part of myself I had neglected for so long. It was a beautiful epiphany for me.
Eliza wasn’t the only wise gay mentor I’ve had who took young little Zara in. Many noble dykes have gently guided me throughout the years. One taught me the importance of saving my receipts as a freelancer. Saved me thousands of dollars in taxes! Another took me to all the great off-Broadway shows in New York and opened my eyes up to the underground theatre world of Manhattan. Another let me cry in her living room after a brutal heartbreak. She didn’t tell to me to get over it, she just served me hot tea spiked with Whiskey and set me up with someone better. One even introduced me to my wife.
I would be nowhere without the wise lesbian mentors who have raised me as a gay adult woman. And almost every lez I know (at least the ones with their heads still screwed onto their shoulders) are thankful to a bevy of wonderful women who bestowed them with that amazing gritty gay wisdom. The unspoken gay mentorship is one of the most beautiful parts of our community.
So how do we pay it forward?
I asked one of my mentors this once, after she covered my ass at a bar that horrible night my credit card kept declining.
“How can I ever thank you for always being there for me?” I asked, tears welling up in my drunken eyes.
“You don’t have to thank me,” she said, sticking a Marlboro red into her mouth, chewing it for a moment like it was a straw of hay. “Just bail some other broke punk ass baby dyke out once you have the money, OK?” She lit her cigarette and flicked ash into the pavement. I understood what she meant.
So girls, if you appreciate the amazing gays who have looked out for us over the years — the women who have prevented us from making an ass out of ourselves in front of our crushes and taught us how to change the oil in our cars and held us after heartbreak — the best thing you can do is find yourself your own little baby dyke to help. All baby dykes need our help, babe. Don’t complain about the younger generation. Pour your energy into the younger generation. They need us. They hardly know how to make phone calls or send out letters in the mail! Their survival in the gay world and out of the gay world is dependent on us.
So let’s step it up. In honor of those who peeled our broken bodies off the floor when we were young and wild and clueless and confused.