The Art of Loneliness

The Art of Loneliness

Life before the Internet: How to find your local Lesbian and Gay Center

“The Center? What Center?” I asked.

“The Lesbian and Gay Center,” said Polly.

It was the mid 80’s and I had grown up gay in a void, under the roof of an extremely homophobic family. I knew no other lesbians and only had marginal acquaintance with a couple of gay guys. Polly was a woman I found from the Women-Seeking-Women personal ads in the back of Westword, Denver’s weekly arts and culture paper.

Having recently started college, I was disappointed in the lack of closeted lesbians I had hoped to find and join in closeted sisterhood. And even though Lesbian/Gay Alliances had started to form at colleges and universities across the U.S., no such organization had formed at the small Liberal Arts college I had barely gained entrance to.

So the best and most titillating resource I could find was reading the Women-Seeking-Women personal ads in the only newspaper in town radical enough to have such a category.

Each week, there were usually two ads. And even though they were often from different people, they more or less expressed this: “Professional in late 30’s looking to expand my circle of friends and find a special woman. I have an active mind, good heart, sense of humor and my interests are eclectic.”

Every seven days my heart would race as I picked up the latest copy of Westword and sat in my car in an empty parking lot reading the two ads. Answering the ads required an exchange of letters. The answerer would have to send a letter to a P.O. Box. And if you wanted a response, you would have to expose your home address, P.O. Box and/or phone number.

It took months for me to make a move to answer one of these ads. Since cell phones had not been invented, the only number someone could reach me at was at my parents house. Afraid to give out that number, I secured a secret P.O. Box, so the Women-Seeking-Women woman could write back

I penned what was surely the lamest letter in the history of queer literature to: Dear Recipient of P.O. Box #6345.

A couple of weeks went by wherein I checked my P.O. Box daily to find it empty. But lo, one day I opened it up and there was a letter inside!

It was from Polly, who sounded very nice and she told me a little bit about herself. She worked as a nurse and played on a softball team. She said she would be happy to speak on the phone to me and gave her telephone number! I WAS FUCKING BESIDE MYSELF!!! Immediately fantasies of banging the living daylights out of what I imagined Polly to look like flooded my mind. We would meet! We would hang out and have fun! And we would have sex, a lot, in her bed!

And, I had gotten exactly what I wanted: her phone number without giving my phone number. I wrote Polly a short note back that I would love to talk to her and looked forward to calling her the following week.

Then one evening, I decided this would be the big night. Even though I was excited, I was sick to my stomach with the idea I would be calling a real lesbian, from my parents house, in the basement. And part of the challenge would be to do it at a time when I thought no one in the house was going to be inclined to pick up the receiver on another floor in the house to make a call – lest they listen in on the conversation and discover the perversion taking place. With sweat pouring off my brow, I dialed her number as quietly as possible on the basement rotary phone.

“Hello?” said a voice on the other end of the line.

“Hi. This is Lisa and I am calling for Polly.”

“This is Polly. Lisa…?”

“Lisa from Westword,” I said.

“Oh! Hi! Thanks for calling.”

“So, what’s up…ha, ha, ha…” I asked in a nervous whisper. I SO did not want my parents to hear me.

Polly was very nice and asked if I had a sore throat. I think she was picking up my odd vibe and finally said, “Say, you didn’t mention your age in your letter. How old are you?”

“Twenty-one,” lied the actual nineteen old person I was.

“So where do you work? Where do you live?” She asked.

“I’m actually still in college. I’m staying with my parents right now.”

“Do your parents know you are gay?”

“Not at this time.”

I heard Polly take a breath like she might be irritated with me. So I jumped in, “How old are you? Where do you live?”

“I’m thirty-eight. I have an apartment.” This was followed by an awkward silence. Then she said with compassion, “Have you been to the Center?”

“The Center? What Center?” I asked.

“The Lesbian and Gay Center,” said Polly.

There was a Lesbian and Gay Center? My mind raced trying to figure out what this was…I could barely say the word “Lesbian” and hadn’t ever heard anyone even say that word aloud. And now there was actually a place called the LESBIAN and Gay Center?

“Uh, no…I haven’t had a chance to go there…I’ve been really busy with school…can you remind me where it’s located?”

“In downtown Denver. On Colfax. I don’t remember the address, but you can look it up in the phone book,” she said.

“Oh, yeah, I will do that for sure. I’d love to go sometime soon.”

“Yes, I really recommend you do. Lisa, there is a lot of great stuff at the Center. Really nice people are there and there are a lot of support groups. Like there’s a coming out support group for lesbians.”

I could feel my face heating up and turning red with embarrassment. I knew, and Polly knew, she was dealing with an armature.

“Lisa, it’s been really nice talking to you. I hope you go to the Center. Good luck.

“Ok, thanks.”

“Goodbye.”

“Bye.”

A tear streamed down my face. I had totally fucked this up. The ONE lesbian I came SORT OF close to knowing sounded like she didn’t want to talk to me again.

On the verge of freaking out, I ran up from the basement and into the kitchen and pulled the telephone book out of a wall cabinet. The phone book was always in the kitchen, because that is where it belonged since the kitchen doubled as the home office. I whipped it out onto the kitchen table with a frantic fury and of course my mother was right there looking over my shoulder wanting to know WHAT I was looking for. My mom was the household’s office manager who almost never left anyone alone in the Kitchen/Office.

“Nothing, nothing, I’m not looking for anything.” I practically screamed to get her to back off. She could tell I was upset, which made her even more persistent to find out what on earth I needed to find in the phone book.

“I’M JUST LOOKING. IS THERE ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT?” Completely suspicious and disgusted with my tone of voice she went to the sink and rattled some dishes. Once her back was to me I opened the business section of the phone book and went straight to the L’s. L…e… L…e…s. Lesbian and…Lesbian and Gay Community Center.

There it was. Right there. In the phone book. In the Denver Metro Yellow and White Pages. My hand was shaking and I kept looking back at my mom to make sure she was STILL PRETENDING to do the dishes even though I knew she we trying to mentally burn a hole in the back of her head for her eyeballs to look out of so she could see what I was reading in the phone book.

I snatched a pen off the table and ripped off a piece of envelope from the mail pile. I scribbled on the tiny scrap of paper the phone number and address of The Lesbian & Gay Community Center. I palmed the piece of paper, slammed the phone book shut and put it back in the cabinet next to the crock-pot.

“What were you looking for?” My mom asked again.

“Nothing JUST NOTHING.”

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