One of the worst times to have a cat catch your tongue is when you wish to put it to wicked use. Yet even when you've been shaken to the core by insult and humiliation, and all that's necessary is a scathing comeback remark, words seem to escape you entirely until it's far too late to respond. At least, this always seems to be the case with me, particularly when being confronted about something extremely personal.
I had been out to my family for a while when it happened. My sister, of course, was the first to know, then my brothers, my mother, and finally my father. They had all taken it surprisingly well and I felt blessed to know I had such a supportive family. It was only a few weeks before we were to go on vacation to Canyon Lake with my aunt's family that I found out that my mother had informed her sister of my orientation. I wasn't in the least surprised. Like me and my own sister, my mother was just as close to hers and likewise told her everything. I was equally unsurprised to find that my aunt had informed her husband and children of this, knowing her to be the type that doesn't keep a secret very long.
At first I was a little afraid that the reunion would be awkward with this new revelation out in the open, but when we all arrived at the cabins, all was the same as it had always been. I was still the same girl in their eyes and I was happy to see my family again after a long time away in England. My brothers had even started treating me like an equal now that I was eighteen and invited me to go with them and my cousin across the lake to party with their old college buddies. Knowing that I would be going to college myself in a few months, I thought it would be a good experience for me to see what a real college party was like.
Little did I know it would be so boring. For the majority of the time, no one would even talk to me and being so shy, I couldn't bring myself to talk to anybody either. All were getting drunk, swimming in the lake, and being obnoxiously loud whilst I sat alone on a bench staring at the campfire. But after everything had settled down, my cousin finally came and sat down next to me. He was one of those military types, a fairly conservative macho guy, complete with crew cut, a high tolerance for alcohol, and a notorious reputation for being popular with the ladies. He certainly had his fair share of experience and far more notches on his belt than I'd ever hoped to have, wearing them like a badge of masculine pride. When he approached me, he was already drunk and as I predicted would happen, he began to ask questions regarding my sexuality.
"Have you been with a man, Julia?" he asked (though using far more abrasive language which I will have to tone down for the sake of this essay)
I told him I hadn't, the extent of my experience with men only reaching first base.
"Have you even been with a woman yet?"
I wasn't quite sure how to answer this. I assumed that by "being with a woman" he was implying sexually, and though I did have a rather intense intimate experience with my girlfriend right before leaving England, all in all, it had been pretty chaste. So I again I replied in the negative.
"Then how can you commit to being a lesbian if you've never even had sex? Don't you know you could ruin your father's career?"
This reply baffled me. What did he mean, "commit to being a lesbian"? He was acting as I was enlisting in the army or something, as if I woke up one morning and decided to aspire to this lifestyle. But what I found especially boggling was his suggestion that I could ruin my father's career in the Air Force by simply having an unorthodox sexual orientation. Didn't Dick Cheney have a lesbian daughter? What did I have anything to do with my father's career?
But my cousin simply replied to my questions with, "How can your father be expected to command troops if he can't even convince his daughter to take a man?"
At this point, he wasn't even trying to keep it quiet, he was
speaking loud and boisterously, attracting the attention of all
brother's friends and a few even came over to sit with us. It was
humiliating, having so many people hovering around to debate my
sexuality when it was really none of their business, but then my
cousin dared to make the most insulting, condescending statement
of the night:
"You know, Julia, don't worry about it. You know what I think, I don't even think you're gay. You're probably straight and just haven't met the right guy."
He then proceeded to tell me that I simply thought I was a lesbian because I was an artist and surrounded myself with liberal friends for whom I adopted a lesbian identity to fit in better.
"Yeah, he's probably right," agreed my brother's friend, "I mean, you don't even look gay. Gay women are fat and butch. You're not attracted to that, are you?"
No, I wasn't attracted to that. In fact, it seemed to defy all logic that I would be attracted to that. After all, if I was looking for someone butch, wouldn't I just date a man? But more than that, I couldn't think of a more offensive thing to say. Neither my cousin nor my brother's friend knew me in the least. They didn't know my experiences, my thoughts, my feelings. They weren't there when I tried to reconcile my identity with my religion or when I was dating boys I didn't like and couldn't stand to kiss. They weren't even there when I was spending 30 pounds on a train ticket and standing for two hours in a crowed train compartment simply to spend a weekend with a girl I adored. How dare they imply that they know me better than I know myself.
However, somehow I couldn't bring myself to say this. The shock of their patronization had made articulating any of this completely impossible. They had simply dismissed an incredibly intimate aspect of my being, humiliating me in front of everyone. It was too much too digest, creating a storm of conflicting emotions within me that I simply could not process and was only released in tears when I returned to my cabin.
Looking back, I wish I had said something. Now every time I'm faced with my cousin, I feel a pall of unexpressed anger hanging over us. No matter how much I love him, I simply cannot enjoy his company completely, not with these significant words left unsaid. Perhaps someday I'll find the assertiveness in my nature to say my piece, but for now my only eloquence can be expressed on paper.