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During our senior year in high school my best friend Nina started getting antsy about losing her virginity and decided, in her true A-student fashion, that the best way to reach this goal would be to set a deadline. Along with our friend David, we decided that Nina had until the day after Independence Day 1984 to ditch her maidenhead. For the next six months, David and I cheered Nina on daily with these words: “Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, Nina’s gotta lose it by the fifth of July!” Sadly, Nina missed this deadline by some two years, but nonetheless, the worthiness of her task still stands in my mind as a prime example of the indomitable will to change and grow, to struggle ever onward against the tide to, yes, get laid. And so it was that nearly fifteen years later, driven by a similar urge to aim ever higher, I vowed to lose my heterosexual virginity, and to do it by the year 2000.
Yes, I am one of that rare breed known as the five-star lesbian. Never gone there with a guy. And although the passage from old year to new always means many different things to different people, I thought it was the perfect time to enter the world of heterosexuality. O heterosexuality! Like the divine, it surrounds us, it is everywhere and yet, to me, at least, it has always been elusive. In the early days of December, I found myself perusing the New York Times weddings announcements, trying to make sense of the joined lives,
accomplishments and portfolios swimming before my eyes in an inky ambrosia of self-satisfaction: Phi Beta Kappa daughter of Merrill Lynch securities asset manager marries son of senior partner Bear Stearns international brokerage firm, finance and holdings, Inc.
I thought of the perks of straight life that awaited me: pashmina shawls, contraceptives, blow-drying, delicious gripe sessions over brunch about those maddening men . . . And did I mention semen? What if my father was right would my life be easier if I were straight? Imagine if someone told you that if you were to tweak one habit, change just one factor (oh, just your sexual orientation), and everything work, romance, friendships, errands would be just a little bit easier. Just as androstenedione lifted Mark McGwire from the ranks of good baseball players into the realm of home run kings, could heterosexuality be just what I needed to make the rough places smooth and the crooked ones straight? Besides, I had an anthropological interest: not trying hetero sex would be like going through life without ever trying milk.
I decided that, instead of going whole hog hetero, I would climb aboard the bisexuality bandwagon and do it sleep with a man, at least one, by gum by January 1, 2000. But this was my Bi2K problem: How the hell was I going find a guy I wanted to sleep with before the millennium? I wasn’t interested in any of the groovies my straight girl friends and femme dyke friends thought were the best candidates. I didn’t really want to boink some spindly, dirty art boy with “funky” glasses. Hell, no. I knew that if I was going to pork or get porked, I suppose by a man, it would be a man’s man. I was thinking a firefighter/construction workertype: beefy, burly, you know, manly basically someone who could pass for a member of the Village People, only not gay. In short, a butch straight guy who, for some weird reason, is up for having sex with me, a dyke who bears less resemblance to the big-haired, well-thonged women who populate lezzie porn films than to a young Parker Stevenson (think Hardy Boys) or James van der Beek from Dawson’s Creek. As New Year’s Eve drew near, my goal remained elusive. A straight girlfriend offered to set me up with a fellow she’d dated, someone who sounded almost right
(tall, buff and semi-literate) but I just couldn’t quite take the step of calling his number. Or, actually, even getting the number from my friend.
Suddenly it all seemed so serious. Was I really expected to go on a date with a guy? Couldn’t we just start out in bed, somehow, somewhere, cut out the tiresome conversation part? Normally, the guys who notice me are (a) shaking cups and asking for change, (b) foreign, and therefore unfamiliar with American sapphic signifiers, (c) nearsighted fags or (d) taxi drivers, who, as everyone knows, want to screw anything trapped in their back seat. So when a guy named Rob started chatting with me at a Christmas party, I took him to be (c), but he kept right on chatting, even after he’d figured out I was a girl. It didn’t take long for him to reveal himself as (e) a straight guy who dates lesbians. Rob had allegedly gone out with four dykes (one at a time), and when I told him about the Bi2k plan, he expressed interest in being there for me. He was funny, charming, self-effacing, kind of adorable. On the other hand no offense Rob, but it must be said he was pasty, tubby and, in addition to his nutty glasses, was wearing a rayon print shirt. My heterosexual virtue remained intact. On New Year’s Eve I strolled down to the local firehouse to ogle the talent. Maybe I’d find a hunky, civic-minded specimen interested in doing some outreach to the lesbian community. Firemen are cute. Who can say no to firemen? Here’s what I learned about firemen: They’re better from afar. Those bulkifying get-ups, the harnesses that give them Tom of Finland-sized packages great. But the members of New York’s Bravest smoking cigarettes (isn’t that illegal?) outside my local hook-and-ladder were icky: bad haircuts, bad skin, a little jowly, a little beady-eyed. Definitely not gods.
I began the evening at a small cocktail party. According to all reports, before I walked in and outlined my mission, the conversation had been completely dignified: Yeltsin’s resignation, a good thing? But once I mentioned the Bi2K plan, all hell broke loose. Straight girls pelted me with advice. Two of the four straight men in attendance offered to do the honors on the spot. Chris, who is married, wiggled his eyebrows at me, put his hand on my knee and motioned toward the bedroom. Even though I knew he wasn’t serious, my stomach did a flip. Performance anxiety. “Ha, ha,” I said, as blood rushed to my face and little prickles of sweat formed on my back.
Two straight women wanted to know if a blowjob would count, which I deemed out of the question and not fulfilling the heterosexual definition of sex which is, duh, intercourse. I was told that my final destination, Brooklyn, would be hopeless.
“Nobody gets laid in Brooklyn,” said Annie, lighting a cigarette. The group one big raspy, Marlboro- and vodka-scented Greek chorus assented. Someone suggested I find a straight guy toying with the idea of being gay, who
might be willing, as a first step into the lifestyle, to do it with a girl who looks like a boy.
Then one of the girls, in a slinky, sleeveless pat-the-bunny tanktop, got a serious look on her face and told me that I was not tarted up enough. I wasn’t dressed like I was out to get laid.
“Deb,” she said, “you’re wearing jeans, hiking boots and a pullover. You need to be wearing something shiny.” The whole group agreed that if I were to have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting laid, I was going to have to wear a tight, shiny shirt. In a tight, shiny shirt I look like John Travolta. I left my kind advisors and dashed to my dinner party.
I should have listened to the sages who advised against Brooklyn: the dinner party consisted of five lesbians and one straight couple. But still, I could have a chance encounter en route the subway token clerk seemed nice.
At the eleventh hour, Sasha, the straight girl at the party, generously offered me the services of her boyfriend and presumptive husband, Dustin. Dustin handed me a Happy New Year’s card on which he had gallantly written, “Need help?” For a moment I thought, really, what is my twelve-year friendship with Sasha compared to my quest for the hetero lay? Dustin does, after all, ride a motorcycle, own a tool belt and know how to fix things. I started to get sweaty again. Once again, at the point where the fantasy threatened to gain mass and form and become real, I started to feel a bit hurlish. Dustin naked, me naked . . . together?
When it came down to the corporeal, to doing the deed instead of just yakking about it, I didn’t think I could cope with the reality of a male body (the smell, the feel, the absence of all of those female parts I so enjoy) . . . In short, it’s no doubt easier to lose your hetero virginity at 17 than it is at 33. I’ve taught both 10-year-olds and 40-year-olds how to swim, and 40-year-olds are largely much more fearful, perhaps because they’ve had time to build up such a complex relationship to water and an intense attachment to their identity as a landlubber. Unlike certain sissies in the Navy who seem to worry that sharing a submarine with a gay person would increase their likelihood of catching gay cooties, of getting gayed on, I wasn’t worried that having sex with a man would shatter my identity. But my entire adult life of sex and romance has involved girls only. When I think about love, I think about girls; when I think about sex the same. Some of my best friends are
guys, but that doesn’t mean I want to do it with them, for chrissake. That would be so as they say on the playground gay.
But before I got a chance to consider whether I should satisfy my abstract curiosity or flee from the hairy, sweaty reality, Dustin revealed that he was a big liar. He had already promised Sasha that at the stroke of midnight he would impregnate her.
They began to stroke and coo at one another, and the sight of this lovey-dovey-snooky-wooky display, coupled with the visuals I started imagining squiggly sperm swimming for all their worth toward a pulsating egg was enough to keep me off straight sex for the next 1,000 years. Did I mention semen? High or in my case, low minded goals are all well and good, but if the urge isn’t there, it’s just not going to happen.
We had another cocktail. We ate some chocolate cake. At midnight, we poured the champagne and kissed. I kissed my beautiful ex-girlfriend. I kissed my beautiful friends. We craned our necks out the windows to watch the fireworks bloom over the projects. On TV, a whole mess of goobers in tinsel wigs and funny hats screamed and waved balloons in Times Square as they were doused in confetti. We held our breath, waiting, but nobody released any sarin gas. There were no bombs. Out in Brooklyn, I wasn’t getting any. We all heaved a great sigh of relief.