March is women’s history month (in the US)
I’m posting entries about women who’ve had an impact on me.
She was ‘zany’ and ‘crazy’ and ‘totally wild’. She leapt all over the stage and the whole country scene was ablaze with the wild and colourful clothes she wore. But more than anything else, her voice destroyed everyone else who was performing. They may has well have just packed up their instruments and gone home, because not a single person who performed that weekend even came close to her. I remember standing in the bleachers with my jaw hanging open and tears streaming down my face.
That was my introduction to kd lang.
She had everything, to fifteen year old me. She had style. She had attitude. She had panache. She had something else. Something I didn’t quite understand. She had sex appeal. I mean, she was really, really sexy. At fifteen, I’d had a couple of boyfriends. I was the sort of kid who was never shy about being interested in sex. I was the sort of kid who was interested in sex – and was very curious. I was curious about my friends’ experiences, but it felt too squicky to ask about them. I was terrified to have my own experiences, but I was driven – hard – by hormones to GET ON WITH IT ALREADY.
It didn’t seem weird to me to fantasize about sex, and it didn’t seem weird to me to include both genders in those fantasies. And truth be told, the majority of my fantasies were about girls. There was something about kd lang which I couldn’t articulate that tapped into that part of me like frat boys tap kegs. Once it was unleashed, it went ALL OVER THE PLACE.
Although it wasn’t fashionable at the time, I don’t think it was really any secret that kd lang is lesbian. But maybe it was – my memory of the way the rest of the world perceived things in the 80s is really rather skewed. I blame the dayglo colours. And boy bands. I know that being labelled as gay in my hometown was pretty much a death sentence – figuratively and literally. I remember telling people I liked kd lang and people would say, “she’s a lesbo. Are you a lesbo? She’s a muff-diving DYKE”.
It took a while for me to figure out they were saying those things in terms of them being *bad things*.
I loved the way that word felt. It was visceral, charged. It sent shivers down my spine. It was exciting and powerful. People spat that word out and it made me smile. I didn’t even try to hide it.
So I started wondering, am I lesbian? I certainly had the same sorts of feelings for girls that I did for boys. I had no concept, really, of what that meant. It wasn’t like the entire concept of homosexuality was foreign; it was more that I hadn’t a concrete idea of what it meant to be attracted to both genders. One of my mother’s best friends was gay, and she and her lover spent an awful lot of time with us; we were ‘safe’. They could hold hands when they were with us. They could caress one another. They could kiss. Because love is love, as my Nama would say.
But I was fifteen. I had the vague notion that I wasn’t *supposed* to have these sorts of feelings for women. I didn’t much care whether I was supposed to or not, I guess, but there was at least at some level the knowledge that I wasn’t to share my feelings with anyone. Not even my mother. Certainly not my best friends.
I was supposed to squeal and scream “NO!” and “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME” whenever my best friend M got drunk and tried to make out with me. But I didn’t want to. I didn’t.
But you couldn’t be a fan of kd lang without basically admitting you were a lesbo. So you had to say “I like that one song where she did with Roy Orbison, but everything else is shite.” But I didn’t want to. So I didn’t. The truth was I wasn’t a huge fan of country music unless it involved the classics. I could get away with liking kd lang as long as I took the Patsy Cline angle. Or if I was able to say that I appreciated her musically but just couldn’t get into her style. I guess that was the only lexicon I had for trying to explain my own sexuality.
Every time I heard her sing, it was as if she were singing just for me. kd lang showed me that you *could* be your own person and do your own thing and still get shit done. When people questioned her sexuality, she didn’t run from it. And she certainly didn’t suffer for it – in terms of her career, I mean. Well. That’s facetious. Of course she suffered for it. But she still got shit done, and done well.
I remember seeing her on Johnny Carson and having that same experience I’d had when I saw her at the Giant Country Music Jamboree. I sat on the edge of the couch, gripping the armrest, leaning as far forward as I could without falling…