SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2005        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Annette Lee

“The Unexpected Question”

     Riding down the street in Savannah Georgia, my cousin Beatrice and I were leaving band practice in the summer of 1985.  The time of day was about 3:00 in the afternoon and all I could think about was getting cooled off in the ocean water to relieve the humid hot sun that beat across my skin so hard most of the morning. Previously Beatrice had always driven her Toyota car home while I sat in the passenger seat with no guilt or consciousness of what could be paid for the unselfish lift home.  Without warning, Beatrice, who I called Bitty in these days, posed a question that evoked some thinking on my part.  “Annette, how do you tell somebody that you like them?”  My response was of no surprise.  “Well Bitty, you just tell them.  There is nothing wrong with a woman telling a man that she likes him.  After all, it’s o.k. for a man to ask a woman out, why not for a woman to ask a man?”  To my surprise, Bitty re-asked her question with stronger emphasis.  “Annette how do you tell somebody you like them?”  My response did not change, however I did put more emphasis on my response as well.  “Well Bitty you just tell them.  There is nothing wrong with a woman telling a man that she likes him.  After all, if it’s o.k. for a man why not a woman?"  By the time we reached home from band practice, there was total silence in the car.

    Moments later, Beatrice turned the car off and it was so quiet I could easily hear the sound of rattlesnakes slithering through the near-by field.  The mosquitoes consistently bit into my skin harder than usual and the taste of salt weighed heavily on my tongue as I tried to analyze what Bitty was trying to ask me.  Beatrice had stared in my face with an unusual look that was quite different from past times.  At this moment, although the spoken words were far in between, I had automatically assumed that Beatrice was talking about a boy named Brad.  Brad was very skinny with red hair and freckles on his face.  Bitty had chased him for a while so I figured this was who she meant.  There was no possible way she could have been talking about me.  Yet she was.  This sad moment did not sink into my intelligence until a few days after she asked the question.

   Although several days had past and had I dismissed the incident for the time being, my oldest sister Adrienne conveniently informed me of an unprovoked conversation she held with Beatrice, while eating lunch in the school cafeteria. The whole picture really blossomed into full colors when my older sister dished out the conversation that Beatrice had had with her.

 “I have been waiting for the chance to really express how I feel about Annette; however my cover would have been blown if I asked her to get involved with me any sooner.  Riding home from band practice, I worked up the nerve to pop the important question for the both of us.  Annette gave me a response that left the door open for some possibility, however it was not wide enough for me to walk right into a relationship.  I had concealed my lesbian lifestyle for a while but I was hoping with Annette things would change.  I repeated my question again with stronger emphasis of letting Annette know that I really want her and no one else.  To my dismay, Annette gave the same response and now I am really disappointed.  The desiring look in my eyes really told Annette just how I really felt but she just got out of the car with a smile.  I know that I chased Brad for a while but I was hoping this didn’t give Annette any thought that would change her mind about me. 

    Adrienne, I leave your family’s house totally embarrassed that my sexuality has been truly revealed and perhaps it may already be the latest gossip around school.  Nevertheless I don’t have to show my face in the hallways of school, nor do I have to participate with the band.  I would rather take off without anyone knowing, leaving not even a trace of my whereabouts.  Before I decide to take off I have to see Annette one more time.  Oh my God, her belly is occupied, she is pregnant! Who did this?!  I have to know.  Now I can leave without a trace.

    Previously, I had given the homosexual lifestyle no thought. Two men and two women together?  All through my life I had just thought it had to be men and women.  I did not even think people were actually practicing such a manner of life and this may have proved how ignorant of life I was.  The situation between Beatrice (Bitty) and me evolves in my memory because in our African American community this kind of relationship was not an open, public and practiced lifestyle at the time.  This episode gave me another way to think about how I wanted to live my life in the future.  The thought crossed my mind for the very first time.  “Wow, people live like this?! How could another woman want to make love with other women”?  How in the world could she ever get any pleasure from another woman’s touch”?  The question just kept rolling through my mind.  Then I finally took my questions a little further.  Do men live this lifestyle?  What is it like for them?  If I choose this style of living, what would my family say?  Will I be rejected in the future?  Only time could tell.

    This situation helped me to determine that my sexual taste buds were directed toward the opposite sex and there was no way that I could or would develop a desire to be with the same sex.  I made a strong point about my sexual desire by having sex with the opposite sex and getting pregnant.  Getting pregnant was not on purpose but the sex was.  This situation helped me to understand what I see now.  As the world grows older with years, I find that sexuality is practiced in a variety of ways and the questions that I had in the past only multiplied to new and complex questions for the future.  These questions can only be answered by the individuals who themselves engage within this lifestyle.

    In conclusion to this episode of my short experience, I have learned that gay men and women live a life that is not so easily accepted.  Beatrice may have had to deal with facing challenges of some uncomfortable stereotyping that may have ostracized her from family, her friends and community.  The “coming out” age was trying to rise to the surface and Beatrice was going to be the first to live publicly within our community.  The harsh labels such as queer and butch were not words that people in our community consistently used during this period and gay bashing was hardly heard of.   Taking a closer look at the case of Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in 1998 in Laramie, Wyoming, simply for being gay, allows the world to see that although one makes a choice to live as a homosexual, it does not give authority to anyone to brutally commit a crime against that person.  The church has been looked at as an institution that radically speaks out and denounces individuals who partake in the gay community.  In defense of the church, its entire membership does not sentence the gay community to a non-redeemable end.  The real purpose of the church is to preach, evangelize and teach repentance.  Repentance and the acceptance of Jesus Christ is the primary focused of the church.  Once repentance has taken place, there is a turning away from old ways and walking into new.  The world does not have a right to decide this, only the individual who is engaged in their sins.  There are other offences that will cause a separation between the Creator and man or woman, but it is all summed up into one, “SIN.” Homosexuality is no greater sin then lying, stealing or cheating.  One can only make this change for oneself, the rest of the world just needs to pray. 

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