the simple story of a lesbian girlhood
by Andrea Dworkin
All rights reserved.
[This is a work of fiction and any resemblance between the characters in this book and real persons living or dead is coincidental.]
it began quite possibly with Nancy Drew.
there she was.
her father Carson was a lawyer and her boyfriend Ned always wore a suit.
she solved mysteries.
in particular I remember The Secret in the Old Attic. there she was, her hands tied behind her back, her feet tied together, thrown on the floor of a deserted attic in the middle of the night. that was because she had singlehandedly and against all odds discovered the murderous villain who had committed unspeakable crimes. I cant remember what they were but Nancy never underestimated or overestimated. he wanted to kill her so (it seemed absolutely logical then) he locked her in a pitch black attic with a black widow spider. there she was, on the floor, struggling and twisting, at any moment, any wrong move, she would be bitten by the black widow spider and die a slow, lingering, agonizing death. she wasnt even afraid.
me, I was terrified. I had learned to be terrified in the 2nd grade, Mrs. (as we said then) Jones class, when we did a science project—the boys did theirs on spiders, we did ours on seashells. every time the boys discovered a new poisonous or even a very ugly non-poisonous spider they made creepy sounds. for about 8 years I always felt at the foot of my bed for spiders and wore socks. naturally I was relieved when, on the last page, Carson and Ned flung open the door to the attic, turned on the light, and stomped on the black widow spider which was just inches from her brave, abused body. she never even screamed or cried.
there were also, of course, Cherry Ames Student Nurse and Ginny Gordon Detective and Flossie of the Bobbsey Twins and Nan who was I think another Bobbsey Twin (there were 2 sets). they always had adventures and went out at night and had boyfriends and were rescued just in the nick of time. they werent much as heroes go but they were all I had.
sometime about the 6th grade I got into the heavy stuff. Scarlett O'Hara and Marjorie Morningstar. I read Gone with the Wind at least 22 times. I had total visual recall of every page. I could open it up at will to any episode and begin crying immediately. I would sit in my room, door locked, and cry—tears streaming down my cheeks, body racked in agony. but quietly so my mother wouldnt hear and take the book away. when Rhett carried her up those stairs. "My dear, I don't give a damn," he said when finally, at last, she begged. when Ashley almost died. when Tara was burned to the ground. how Scarlett suffered and how I suffered. we were the same really. both women of greatness. I saw my grand white house in rubble, myself in ashes and sackcloth, destitute, humiliated. my slaves loved me (here I quivered, knowing even then I was a jerk) and were forced to leave. Rhett. Rhett. I was her, and I was him, and I was her being cruel to him, and him being cruel to her, and all of us, suffering, heroic, driven. by History no less. Melanie, or Melody, or whatever her name was, pale, dull, and well behaved under every circumstance, appalled me. I skipped all the parts she was in.
Marjorie. the thrill of eating bacon for the 1st time. of course I had eaten bacon all my life. I just hadnt ever before known how dangerous it really was. Noel Airman. An Actor. soon he would be balding, thats how old and evil he was. danger. sex. I could feel his creepy decadence. I looked for it everywhere. I couldnt find it in the grammar school I went to. he would corrupt her. he would corrupt me. somewhere in the world there was a Noel Airman waiting to do some dirty thing to me—IT they called it—that would degrade me. I would never be able to be with decent people again. I might even go to Hell. I would be an artist. I would be able to feel. I would know everything. I ignored the 2nd part of the book where she married that jerk. none of that for me. keeping kosher indeed.
also that same year. A.F. fell in love with me. he gave me a wooden snake. I was supposed to scream in horror so I did even though I quite liked it and later named it Herman. he wouldnt let me play with the other boys. he grabbed my arms and pulled me out of all the games. also Joel Christian and Agnes. he was at least 19. they necked all the time. everywhere. during recess. they expelled him but she got pregnant anyway.
the next year I went to camp.
with my best friend S.
we were one year too young to be counselors-in-training. it was humiliating. we were above going on hikes and making beaded purses.
Barry Greenberg was a counselor-in-training. he was tall and thin and had a crew cut that stood up. he wore a bright red shirt that said SAM'S MEAT MARKET. he worked there after school in the winter.
we tried to follow him everywhere.
finally we even went bowling to see him. he always hit the pins but we didnt dare. we always missed and giggled. we wore tight sweaters. he was pretty bored and above it all.
then we went back to school. desperate for Barry Greenberg. in love. suffering. Rhett. Noel. Barry Greenberg.
a few months later I slept at her house or she slept at mine. we put on our pajamas and giggled for hours. we talked about Barry Greenberg.
then I said, Ill be Barry Greenberg and I climbed on top of her and I was Barry Greenberg. then she said, Ill be Barry Greenberg and she climbed on top of me and she was Barry Greenberg. then I was Barry Greenberg. then she was Barry Greenberg. then I was Barry Greenberg. then she was Barry Greenberg. I might have been twice in a row when she got tired. then the light broke and we lay together drenched in sweat and love of Barry Greenberg. then we went to school and danced together during recess to "Chantilly Lace" and invented a new step where I swung her over me and she swung me over her and we both turned around.
then we met Mary and everything changed.
Mary wasnt like us. we were both brilliant. Mary wasnt. we were both in fact, according to ourselves, prodigies. Mary wasnt. we were both Jewish. Mary wasnt. we were both too smart to be popular. Mary wasnt.
we loved Mary immediately.
Mary was a conservative. that meant that she wore only beige and blue and certain shades of green and peter pan collars and a circle pin on the correct side (one side meant virgin, the other meant whore, typically I never could remember which was which). S. and I both wore sweaters and dark red neither of which was conservative.
we each wanted Mary to be our best friend.
so S. told Mary lies about me and Mary stopped speaking to me. I suffered. Rhett. Noel. Mary. then I told Mary lies about S. and Mary stopped speaking to her.
there was a confrontation. I won. I won Mary. it was strictly platonic and ethereal. S. had a nervous breakdown and her mother sent her to school in another city. when she was 15 she had an affair with a painter. he fucked her and she became a woman. then she became a Bunny in a Playboy Club. then she disappeared. Once S. left, Mary seemed kind of dull.
then my best friend was Rona. she was afraid of me because by then I was angry as well as smart. I wore only black by then. she had read in Dear Abby that if you had a close friend and she didnt pluck her eyebrows and they were hairy you should take her aside and tell her to pluck her eyebrows. Rona and I had never spoken but since she wanted me to be her friend she took me aside anyway and told me to pluck my eyebrows. I did. then she was my best friend.
because I wore black and we both emulated Holden Caulfield as much as possible we went to Ronas house every Wednesday night to drink her parents booze. they went bowling. Rona had a boyfriend who had a boyfriend. her boyfriend was tall, handsome, blond, broad shouldered, and had been in the Navy. she wasnt allowed to see him because her parents thought he was a creep and too mature for her. her boyfriends boyfriend was (as we said then) a fag. he said mean malicious things about everyone we knew and we thought he was very clever. Ronas boyfriend of course was not a fag since he was Ronas boyfriend, had been in the Navy, and was tall, handsome, blond, and broad shouldered. he had even, Rona whispered, made some girl pregnant and fucked a real whore.
the 4 of us would drink whatever we thought Ronas parents wouldnt miss (we drank mostly from heavily tinted bottles) and make lewd remarks to the best of our combined abilities and talk about the disgusting fact that Rona and I were virgins. it disgusted all of us but not equally. it particularly disgusted Ronas boyfriend and her boyfriends boyfriend. they after all did everything. whatever that was.
the next morning I would go to school wasted, superior, and dangerous, and shout in the hall: damn this damn school. an outlaw I was.
then we met Johnny. he was a real outlaw. he had 7 brothers and sisters and was Catholic and went to a Catholic school. he made his tuition turning tricks in bars in Philadelphia, and he smoked grass, and he used morphine. he was our hero.
he came to visit us in school. beer spilled out of his pockets and we hid him in the girls room and he drank his beer while we smoked the grass he had brought for us.
once he was in a car crash and went through the windshield and they took him to the hospital and shot him up with morphine and he loved it so much that he did it again.
he said that he turned tricks in the bars in Philadelphia to make his tuition so that he could go to Catholic school even though his family was poor. he said that in a Catholic school they couldnt touch his mind or fuck him up. he was our image of purity.
the night we graduated from high school Rona gave a party and one of our teachers fucked one of our friends and she had a nervous breakdown when he never called her again. until 2 years later when he called her. then it got worse because he made her suck his cock all the time and then would tell her that if she ever did it to anyone else she would be a disgusting slut.
he didnt call Rona until she got married.
he and I had an even stormier story. before graduation he threatened to turn me in to the FBI for smoking grass and to take me to a hospital to watch junkies scream and vomit and he made a list for me, he explained everything that would happen throughout life—
THERES ORAL INTERCOURSE THATS WHEN THE WOMAN SUCKS THE COCK OF THE MAN AND THERES ANAL INTERCOURSE THATS WHEN THE MAN FUCKS THE WOMAN IN THE ASS AND THEN THERES REGULAR INTERCOURSE THATS WHEN THE MAN FUCKS THE WOMAN IN THE VAGINA—thats what sex is, he said. thats what happens. he drew pictures to illustrate his points.
he taught me everything I know.
I never believed a word he said.
he was, according to our unspoken mutual understanding, going to be my first lover but he turned into such a jerk, traitor, and villainous turncoat that I had to look elsewhere.
S. of course hadnt been.
now the thing about this story is that, like life, it just goes on and on, or, like life as we know it, it did for about 8 years which was 250 or so men, women, and variations thereof later. then I thought it time to reassess and perhaps invent.
at some point S. was.
at some point, in Amsterdam, or on Crete, in London, or maybe on a boat somewhere S. was.
at some point whenever I lay on some floor or bed or the backseat of some car drenched in sweat, watching the light break, it wasnt Barry Greenberg, or Rhett, or Noel, or some rotten high school teacher. it was S. pure and simple. who had a nervous breakdown, got fucked by a painter, became a woman, then a Bunny, then disappeared. vanished into thin air, which is here, there, and everywhere.
"the simple story of a lesbian girlhood" copyright © 1977, 1980 by Andrea Dworkin. All rights reserved. First published in an earlier version in Christopher Street, Vol. 2, No. 5, November 1977, under the title "The Simple Story of a Lesbian Childhood.".