I am not in and never was. As a kid, I was too much of the wrong things: brainy, anxious, ethnic, uncoordinated, shy, and desperate to belong. I was a smart kid, but never got it right. I tried really hard for many years, and my efforts resulted in some spectacular failures.
Sixth grade was a particular challenge. This was back in the day, the early 1980s, before the term “tween” was coined. I was eleven years old, a pre-pre-teen, still playing with Star Wars action figures and Transformers, and wondering why my Bonne-Belle-lip-gloss-and-GoldDigger-jeans wearing classmates teased me. They had a knowledge that made them “in”, but they wouldn’t talk to me. All I could do was observe to try to understand what kept me outside.
All the grades spent 20 minutes after lunch in the school yard when the weather allowed. I often spent the time standing by the fence, waiting for any invitation until the bell signaled our return into the building. One day a group of eighth grade girls stood within two feet of me. They were so close I edged into a gap in their circle until my shoes lined up with those of the girls on either side of me. They didn’t acknowledge me, but I was in! I didn’t dare meet their eyes or look around to see if everyone in the school yard saw that I was in. Even I knew to play it cool. I made certain to laugh only when they did.
The talk turned to music and a band I knew: the Go-Gos. I wondered what I could contribute, something that could make us all laugh together. Then one of the girls made a shocking statement.
“Do you know what I heard?” she asked.
We all leaned closer. She glanced around to make sure no nuns were near.
“I heard one of the Go-Gos is a lesbian.”
We all stood back and gasped. A lesbian! I had to express my disbelief and shock.
“You mean she’s from Lebanon?” I asked.
I felt miles away from the eyes that turned toward and acknowledged me for the first time. They all laughed and somehow I knew not to join them. I waited by the fence again for the bell to ring.
I went straight to my room when I returned home that day, upset, ashamed, and confused. I was undeniably out though I had been in briefly – and I had no idea how either had happened. Where was the answer to be found? I turned to the dictionary, looked up lesbian, and my foolishness became clear.
Lesbians were not from Lebanon. They were from Lesbos.