#TBT: That Time I Discovered ’90s Lesbian Erotica And It Changed My Life Forever

For me, it was a bible. The holy book of lesbian sex.

Zara as a baby lesbian 2004 Photo by Owen Gould

It’s a painfully HOT, sticky, August in the summer of 2002 and I am 16-years old. I’ve somehow landed in Provincetown, Massachusetts at my friend Lacey’s* summer house, and I’m quickly losing my teenage mind. There are lesbians. Everywhere.

Hot butch lesbians saunter down the main street, with shaved-heads and barbed-wire tattoos that wrap around their sleeveless forearms. They move as if their hips are leading the way, and it’s very sexual. It’s rebellious and feminist. Like they’re so proud of their fierce vaginas, they want it to enter the room before they do.

I want them.

Lipstick lesbians strut down the main street, wearing both high heels and unapologetic lipstick smack in the middle of the day and they possess this tough, reclaimed feminity that I’ve never seen before. Like they’re completely owning their sexiness, without feeling the need to dumb it down out of fear of being judged by society.

I want to be them.

Classic New England lesbian couples, wrapped up in sludgy green polar fleeces and pale blue “Cape Cod” sweatshirts, clutch hands as they push baby strollers down the sidewalk. I’ve never seen two women, together, who are so amazingly heteronormative (I don’t know what that word means yet, but I inherently understand the concept). It makes me think; woah. Being gay doesn’t mean you have to live “on the fringe” (although I’m very much enticed by living on the fringe) and you can totally be out and proud and still live a conservative, cookie-cutter lifestyle complete with a child and a summer house by the beach.

I don’t want them, nor do I want to be them, but I’m completely comforted by their presence.

I want them to take me in. A wild, acne-ridden, skinny 16-year old desperately in need of answers.

(I didn’t know the answer was about to come to me, in the form of lesbian erotica, but the story hadn’t unfolded just yet.)

The need to stare at the lesbians feels primitive, as I’ve just hooked up with a girl (not a woman, a girl—the distinction is important) for the first time, ever. It had happened a few weeks prior, at camp. Snuggling in the bunk had quickly spiraled into oral sex. It had been both a mind-blowing experience and a confusing experience at once. When we kissed I felt so nervous, like my heart was going to leap out of my chest and hide out in the dining hall. But within seconds the “what the fuck are we doing?” anxiety melted away and I was completely out of my head. Knocked out of my intellect and connected to my libido. It was the most present I had ever been in my life. I didn’t know if I was totally gay, but I knew I wanted it to happen again. I knew I couldn’t keep her out of my mind. I knew the smell of her sugar breath made me higher than drugs and more fumbly than liquor.

Randomly getting this invite to my friend’s summer home in super gay P-Town (which I didn’t know was gay at all until I stepped onto the ferry and was suddenly riding in a sea of bearded leather boys making out, for it was “bear week”) felt like a gift from the cosmos. The universe sending me a Very Important Message: “There are more of you out there.”

On this particular day on beautiful Cape Cod, my friend decides to see a Tarot Card reader. As she waits to get her cards read, I tell her I’m going to go for a walk alone. “Cool,” She says. “Come back in thirty minutes and have your cards read, too.”

She smiles as if she knows I need to venture into the gay abyss alone and figure out my life. She knows about my romp at camp and thinks she might even be bisexual, because she has fantasies about Angelina Jolie sometimes. We are best friends and I trust her with my life. No friendship is stronger than the friendships you cultivate when you’re a teenager, navigating the firestorm of high school hell, side by side. You go to battle together. (I miss those friendships.)

I walk down the street, tormented by all the questions running through my head.

How do lesbians have sex? Is oral sex, lesbian sex? How do you hit on a woman? How can you tell if you’re her type? What does lesbian sex culture even look like? Feel like? 

I’m not dumb. Even though I’m clueless and young and uncultured, I know lesbian sex is nothing like it is the porn movies I devour incessantly. But the only experience I’ve ever had with lesbian sex was with another clueless girl, one time, in a twin bunk bed at 2am.

Damn, I wish I wasn’t so young. I wish I was old enough to go to one of these bars and talk to all these dykes and ask them about their sex lives. 

My head feels heavy from the weight of my thoughts, so I walk with it held down. It’s too exhausting to hold it up when so many feelings are swirling through it.

I don’t know how, but somehow I’ve ended up in a bookstore. The bookstore is called “Womencrafts” and it has a magical, female-dominated energy. I didn’t even know female energy could feel dominant! I’m used to female energy being synonymous with gentleness and subtly and apology. This energy feels strong, like a woman bearing a child. I want to live inside of it.

I see a book called “Faster Pussycats: Live Girls Afterhours” tucked into one of the shelves. The tough girls on the cover wildly juxtapose against the sweet pale pink background. It’s almost like they’ve reclaimed the color pink, made it mean something different. I skim through the pages and blush. I’m a bratty, lip-ringed 16-year old. I don’t blush. Ever.

I can tell it’s a collection of lesbian sex stories. I can tell I need this book in my life. I thank my higher power Ani Difranco that I have cash in my wallet (I know, I know this should’ve been a tell-tale sign that I was a baby dyke, but I told you I was clueless). I buy the book and the lady who rings me up gazes at me in such a loving way it melts my insides. I meet her warm eyes. I can sense that she’s seeing a reflection of her younger self in me. I feel so fucking seen, it’s overwhelming. I want to cry. I want to laugh.

Instead, I smile, authentically.

I fly down the street feeling ten pounds lighter. Just purchasing the book has freed up the looming questions clogging up my weary mind and brain. I know that this book will teach me the truth about lesbian sex (teenagers have a nose for the truth, you can’t fool a teen). Not through a straight, male pornographers’ lens but through a real lesbian lens. I meet my friend at the Tarot Card place which is right next to a sex shop.

“You want to get your cards read?” She asks me.

“Sure,” I chirp.

The tarot card lady has a shaved head and lots of nose piercings and is wearing a loose hippy dress. Birkenstocks are strapped to her feet. I sense she makes a great stew and imagine her living in a house full of plants and dream-catchers and vibrators and vibes.

“Will I end up with men or women?” I ask her, already knowing the answer.

“Women.” She says gently, studying the cards.

I clutch my pink copy of “Faster Pussycats.” It’s resting against my bare thighs underneath the table.

I stay up until 4am consuming each page of “Faster Pussycats” drinking in every word, soaking up every scene. I learn that lesbian sex is multi-faceted. That some girls like to be dominant and others like to be submissive and some girls like to switch it up. I learn about strap-ons and role play and fetishes and all girl sex parties. I learn about drag kings and sex workers. I learn about love and sex and how they sometimes intertwine and sometimes can be separate. I love how colorful it is. I love how because there is no man involved, there are no preconceived ideas of how a woman should behave during sex.

There also seems to be a sex positivity I’ve never seen in real life. The women aren’t afraid to be hyper-sexual because they aren’t afraid of being judged for loving sex. They aren’t afraid of being deemed “loose” or “slutty” or “not the marrying type.” There is an inherent respect and trust that exists between two women, so you’re free to be your most authentic sexual self and explore all the weird sexual things you want to explore, with a fabulous, reckless abandon.

This is me. 

I go out into the world differently after reading that book. I feel the most important feeling a teenager can feeling, the feeling of validation. Affirmation. Of “not being alone.” Of being “understood.”

I still have the book in my childhood bedroom in my mother’s house. I will never, ever, ever get rid of it. For me, it was a bible. The holy book of lesbian sex. And I’m forever grateful to its epic teachings.