I’ll never forget the first time I heard the glorious, gorgeous term “angry lesbian.”
I was in the eighth grade and had recently gotten super into the music of Ani Difranco. Through her prolific prose, I discovered feminism, queerness, social justice, abortion rights — the works. After having spent most of my life trying not to fall asleep in the bleak suburbs, these progressive concepts were brand, sparkly new to me, and I was obsessed with deep diving into each and every one of them. A natural liberal, overnight I transformed from Juicy-Couture-wearing “popular girl” to wild feminist eager to feverishly debate the horrors of the death penalty in social studies class. I fought and won against any and every adolescent willing to challenge my stance on a woman’s right to choose. I traded in my Steve Madden wedges for Dr. Marten boots. I swapped out my Kate Spade mini backpack for a dickies messenger bag adorned with political buttons. I went from giggling at the boys who snapped my bra in the hallways to roaring at them. I felt like I was waking up. I was shocked and appalled by the other middle schoolers who didn’t even know what “reproductive rights” were, let alone the glaring truth that a man (who stole the election) was waging a war against them. I was passionate, full of acne, and pissed — at the system, at the patriarchy, at our capitalistic society (but mainly, at George Bush).
This particular day, I was sitting in math class — my least favorite subject. I was dutifully utilizing the 45 minutes of learning about geometry to draw pictures of girls with long eyelashes and claws in lieu of hands. Our teacher was an elderly, rough ’round the edges New Yorker who detested the privileged, soft suburban brats he was wholly underpaid to teach, so he tended to tune us out which left us free to bully one another without consequence. A cocky little fuckboy that I had once been friends with but had recently denounced due to my newfound feministic values was whispering to a freckle-faced boy in the back of the classroom. He made a jab about gay men. I whipped my head around.
“You are so homophobic,” I spat. I envisioned squashing him with my new Dr. Marten boots. Compared to the Steve Madden platforms, they were so heavy on my feet that I felt like they had the power to take out a small city with the slightest kick!
“Aww, Zara. Don’t be upset. It’s okay to be an angry lesbian.”
He expected to get a rise out of me. Being referred to as gay, regardless of your gender, was one of the lowest blows in the American middle schools of the early aughts. But I was becoming increasingly fascinated with the world outside of Bedford Middle School in Westport, CT and knew that Ani Difranco identified as bisexual. If Ani was associated with the LGBTQ+ underworld, could it really be that bad?
“Just like it’s okay that you wet the bed,” I said loudly. I watched, fascinated, as the color of the boy’s cheeks switched from a soft, pink-beige to a bright, emotionally-loaded, fire-engine red in under a second. Rumors had been swirling that this little preppy smart-ass rich boy chump had wet the bed at a recent sleepover party. Truthfully, I had felt sorry for him when the whisperings of the alleged event began to circulate in the girl’s locker-room, but I was 13 and savage. Pre-teens know how to bite back, and the fact that his cheeks had completely confirmed to the whole class that rumors were indeed true felt like justice to me.
That night, I went on the dial-up internet to research the term “angry lesbian.” The boy who had called me an “angry lesbian” wasn’t that bright, and there was no way in hell he had invented the term himself — that much I knew. After about twenty minutes of waiting for google to load, I was directed to an online forum where proud angry lesbians around the world connected with one another. Their profile pictures all bore grainy images of badass girls with shaved heads and tattoos. I felt turned on. I didn’t realize that a huge chunk of what was so titillating to me was the fact that I was sexually attracted to these women. I thought the tingling between my thighs and the racing of my heart was solely due to the fact that these “angry lesbians” were badass bitches that rejected the tired, sexist standards of magazine beauty and didn’t give a shit about what suburban pubescent fuckboys thought of them.
“That little dickwad is right! I am an angry lesbian!” I thought to myself, excited to latch on to a new identity. I didn’t even think about the fact that “lesbian” meant gay woman. I liked the way the word “lesbian” rolled off my tongue and “angry” described exactly how I felt. In the words of my idol Ani Difranco: “If you’re not angry, you’re just stupid you don’t care.” I wasn’t stupid and I cared. Therefore I was fucking angry. An angry lesbian!
A couple of years later, I had my first ever out gay male friend. He lived in New York City and wore gold name-plates and exclusively wore vintage (he’s now a famous stylist frequently featured in Vogue Magazine). I would take the train into the city to hang out with him. He would straighten my wild hair with a flat-iron and give me smokey eyes as he schooled me on the nuances of gay boy culture.
“The clubs in Chelsea don’t card me. Oh, and in case you didn’t know all the gay guys live in Chelsea,” he would say. I didn’t know. But now I did and was already dreaming of casually dropping that golden nugget of sophisticated truth and culture into conversation with my boring small-town friends.
“Can I put on some music?” I asked, pulling my binder of CDs out of my messenger bag. I never went anywhere without my binder of CDs.
“Oh, honey. You and your angry lesbian music. Go ahead,” he said, throwing his delicate hands up in the air. Each finger was adorned with an ornate ring bought off the street on St. Mark’s place. That was another thing we did together: buy cheap street jewelry downtown.
I laughed. “I am an angry lesbian,” I said proudly.
“Oh, girl. I know.”
On the train ride back to the confines of suburbia, I reflected once again on my angry lesbian identity. I was less interested in the angry part and more intrigued by what it meant to be a lesbian this time around. The only gay friend I’d ever claimed didn’t even flinch when I said I was an angry lesbian. In fact, he said he already knew that about me. Was I a lesbian? Was I attracted to women? Was that why I became mute around the only out lesbian teen I’d ever met at an arts camp the summer prior? Was I intimidated by her because I was sexually titillated by her dyke-y swag? Was my tendency to be mean and bossy to my boyfriends connected to the fact that I was a lesbian and resented making out with them?
I wasn’t sure. So many years ago, I had owned and connected to the term “angry lesbian” without really thinking about what it meant to be a real-life lesbian. Identifying as an angry lesbian felt much more intense now that I was starting to think that I might actually be a surefire dyke.
Less than a decade later, I was full blast identifying as an out and proud lesbian. In less than ten years I learned to connect the dots and fill in the empty spaces peppered across my teenage brain regarding my sexuality. Was I mean to my boyfriends because I was a bitch or because I was gay? Maybe a bit of both, I concluded toward the end of high school. Did I watch the movie “Bound” every single weekend because it was a great work of art or because I was a little baby gay? A lot of both, I decided my first week of college. Was I fiercely protective over that one girl I had a whirlwind friendship with senior year because I was a diehard incredible best friend or because I was stupidly in love with her? Definitely a whole world full of the latter; I realized six months later, right after I dropped out of college.
I liked the term lesbian. I like the term lesbian.
But you know what term I like even better than lesbian? Angry lesbian: the first identity that rang true to me. In fact, I believe that “angry” and “lesbian” are two of the most winning attributes that I possess. Angry is not an unattractive word. Angry is the sexiest word on the planet! It means you’re full of feeling and empathy and passion and thirst for justice. It means you are awake. And lesbian? That’s another word that boggles my mind when I hear people say (in particular other gay women) doesn’t sound “sexy.”
“It sounds like something I’d remove from my teeth at the dentist!” I overhear other lesbians complain all the time. I don’t think it sounds like that at all. And if it does, I wouldn’t want it removed from my mouth. I would want to keep that in my mouth forever, even if other people thought it was ugly. After all, part of being an “angry lesbian” is not giving a flying fuck about what other people think, right? That part of being an angry lesbian I’ve always had down.