Stone Wall: Autobiography of an American Lesbian

I was born, then, in 1864, the ninth and last of a flock. My brothers and sisters used to comfort me with the statement that our parents were so disgusted when they saw me, that they would not order any more. In later years I would retort that when they reached perfection they canceled all further orders.

When playtime years arrived my only companions were boys—one brother and three cousins who lived just across the road. My tastes ran naturally to boys’ sports and the out-of-doors life. To this fact I have always attributed my masculine tastes in dress and otherwise. I have always felt most at ease in tailored suits, low-heeled shoes, using large handkerchiefs, etc. I have felt that I must be physically comfortable to do my best work. I have simply ignored convention in dress; hence I believe I have done some good work. I have enjoyed smoking all my life. Before women smoked as openly as they do now, I excused my doing so by saying that I played with boys in my younger days and had to smoke in order to do so, as they were afraid I might “tell” on them otherwise.

Nothing could ever induce me to play with dolls. How I hated one that was given to me one Christmas when I so longed for a jack-knife! My disappointment was so keen that my father loaned me his bright copper-handled knife with instructions that I should sit in one place on the big roots of a huge elm tree and whittle a particular stick which he gave me. What joy! In less than five minutes the family was summoned by my shrieks! I had cut the first finger of my left hand right through the first join, and there it hung by the skin underneath. My oldest sister promptly broke the heads off a few matches from a card of the same, put the splint under the finger joint and bound it up with a strip of cotton cloth from the sick bag.” Today there is not even a scar, and I have had the use or a perfectly good finger with a normally movable joint all my life. Thinking of the great advance which has been made in first aid devices and the skill which has been acquired in surgery, makes me tremble to think of what might have been my loss if that accident had happened in recent years.

“Out with the boys” was my slogan and my joy. Sports! How I loved their games, and I might say “my games,” for my imagination was ever as alert as theirs and they were equally as keen about my suggestions as they were about their own. My brother, however, was looked upon as the real “boss” as he was the oldest of the group.

The old family homestead where my cousins lived, and the farm opposite—my home—were the scenes of real and celebrated Indian battles in the early days. We knew the stories of these bloody fights so well that we lived them over in our imagination and, barring the blood, they figured in all of our plays.

We had wonderful collections of Indian arrowheads, spears, mortars and pestles, and pottery, which we picked up here and there all over our farms. In the fall, we rejoiced in the wigwams made of stacked-up cornstalks, a bit more than did our forefathers, I fancy.

Of course I was made to sew and knit and do all the conventional things that a New England girl was supposed to do, but my stint was a nightmare and nearly always done while the boys waited impatiently outside of the window. The games were not complete without me, as I matched them in skill and surpassed them in some of the contests.

When they had work to do I was only too happy to pitch in and do my share. Their work always seemed so much more interesting than mine. There was some sense in pilin wood, splitting kindling, pulling weeds, and going for the cows, but to see my mother cut perfectly good pieces of calico up into tiny pieces and fix them for me to sew together again seemed so futile! Poor mothers of those days! Nowadays, work in that line is mostly done in schools, and made very enticing.

My joy was complete when I was allowed to wear boy’s clothes when out-of-doors at play. I fancy that this digression from the conventional was allowed by my mother as a labor saving device, as skirts and petticoats were often in a sad state after a bird’s nest hunt or other romping games.

I recall a rather amusing episode which I will relate to show that we were all boys together. We had large collections of birds’ eggs. We were taught to take but one egg from the nest and never to touch the others. We took turns climbing high in the trees to get a coveted egg. It was my turn to climb and the nest was in a very difficult place. I reached it in good form and placed the egg in my mouth on my return scramble. I was nearly on the ground when my foot slipped and the egg broke! Oh! Horrors! It was far too ripe to be palatable and I landed in great distress of mind and mouth. Nevertheless, I was pounced upon and given a big beating by the “other boys” who cared not for my discomfort. The loss of that one egg was long held up to me as a disgrace of major proportion.

 

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My disgust that I had not in the beginning been created a real boy, instead of having to wait for certain parts to develop, began at that time.

Mystery now connected itself with this difference, whereas formerly trousers and petticoats were the only marks of difference in sex. When I wore trousers, I had been a real boy, or so it seemed to all of us.

I could not have been over three of four years old at that time, while my brother and one cousin were two years older. I often hear people say that a child is too young at that age to understand any of the truths of life. I still maintain that the moment that a child begins to wonder is the time for reasonable explanations. A child is a rational human being the moment he is conscious of the difference between yes and no.

I know I would have understood why I was spanked on that momentous occasion if it had been explained to me, else why have that episode and the mental reactions it engendered remained in my mind all these years?

Secret sessions were now being held at intervals, first with my older cousin and with my brother. Their curiosity was much greater than mine. It was enough for me to have to bear the disgrace of being the alien. But from that time on I was forced to submit to these sessions under the threat of not being allowed to join in the sports I so dearly loved. I simply had to acknowledge the superiority of the male because he was so much more perfectly and conveniently made.

The two other boys must have gained some knowledge of the sort they would get from the “hired men” or older boys at school, as they kept up the demands upon me. Not often, but occasionally. At first it seemed to be a matter wholly of curiosity. They seemed to be watching for developments as to my becoming like unto them. In a way, this also interested me as I remember my dismay each time when “no progress” was reported. We were bound to secrecy for obvious reasons. The lesson in deceit was well learned by this time. Most parents believe that when any question on the matters of sex of pertaining to “private parts” (what a disastrous appellation!) arises, one good spanking will put an end to all trouble; whereas it is just the beginning of a life of deceit and the birth of a barrier to confidences between parents and children.

 

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My sister’s home in the city and at the shore was always a popular musical and literary center. My joy was very great during that first visit. Swimming and rowing were my great delight, and my girl friend at the time, who was a younger sister of one of my sister’s friends, owned a lovely boat, anchored at a private pier almost in front of my sister’s house. She was a gentle, quiet girl and I assumed the role of the male in my care and consideration of her. I could row the best and without tiring, and it all seemed very natural for us both. I began to feel for her the same as I did for the girl at school already mentioned, but this one reciprocated my affection. We were constantly together during the days. No one seemed to think anything strange of this absorbing friendship, but rather expected to see us always together. I liked to kiss her and she always returned my kisses very willingly. When we were seeing the other part way home after our day together we had the proverbial long farewells. The only sensation I felt was a great thrill right at the end of my breast bone. I could feel my heart beating faster, but there was no desire for anything more than that sweet response to my love.

We spent many nights together, always in loving embrace, repeating all the little love sayings, and sleeping in each other’s arms, perfectly happy. In fact, the sensation was to me so perfect that I never dreamed there could be any greater happiness involved in physical contact.

One day, when I was preparing for my usual swim, I noticed with dismay indications that things were occurring which the undesirable girl had told me of. But I also remembered what she had told me about putting my feet in cold water, so I went ahead and had my swim. The cold water did not seem to function and I was in a dilemma s to how I should conceal things from my sister, to whom I had never even broached such subjects.

I felt that I would be disgraced for life if anyone knew that the awful blight was upon me. The cold bath did function to bring on severe pains, and before morning, I was obliged to let my sister know what was the matter. She surprised me with a great scolding, and told me how naughty it was for me to go into the water at such a time, and said I was never to do it again. She probably did something for the pain I was having, but the unfair scolding took hold of my thoughts. Why couldn’t she have been reasonable and have explained things to me? Of course I did not tell her about my only source of information on the subject, nor alas! could I tell her that my mother told me all about things, because she had not done so.

How I writhed in pain, and more so in rebellion, at being doomed to bear that degrading weakness all of my life! From that time on I always suffered intensely at every period.

 

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The second year in college brought into my life probably the most astonishing experience that ever a girl went through. My earlier experience I know that all girls—or rather many—have had, their details notwithstanding.

With the opening of the fall term and my junior year, came a new professor and his wife from an eastern city. As our family was the only one from that part of the world, we were among the first to become acquainted, and some became fast friends.

These people had no children, and they seemed to like me, so I was at their house a great deal with through with my studies, staying often for dinner and the evening, when my sister and Peter would come for me and for a visit. I felt a great attraction for the wife, whom we will call Flo, as she is to figure largely in my life from this point onward. I had not yet become entangled with the young who danced and kissed so well, and I found that my affections were turning Flo-ward very rapidly. Being of a naturally affectionate and demonstrative disposition, a trait coming to me directly from my father (whom I have always been said to resemble in many characteristics), I began very timidly to show my increasing love for Mrs. Flo. She seemed to return my fondness, and I proceeded to make love in the accepted way of sending flowers, and doing little things to please her. I was in fact, quite devoted.

Peter was also making a definite impression on Flo. Both the professor and Flor loved my sister, as did everyone. We were all together at one home or the other nearly every night for dinner, cards, or just to chat or go to some function connected with the college or to the theater.

Soon I was expected as a regular dinner guest every Thursday night, and to spend the night. Then began the little visits to my room by Flo after I was in bed, when some very tender moments of love were experienced. Little kisses and big kisses and finally she would leave me to go to her own bed and husband, whom I am sure she adored, as he did to her. I would be left with a longing for her that I could hardly bear.

Now do not raise your eyebrows, O, pious one, and close this book with the worn-out phrase, “I never heard of such things.” It was but yesterday that I took a popular best-seller from the private library here in this little town and, before taking it, I glanced at the list of the readers who had the book before me, and there were the names of all your daughters. Boys don’t bother to read about what they get at first hand. In the novel, I read of all the things of which I am writing, but of course couched in terms so glossed over that the prudish censor prefers to read it rather than cast it aside.

I am telling the plain truth of things which so many know about, from babyhood almost to the grave, but dare not admit that such things exist. Despise me if you will, but let the sacrifice I am making have its desired affect [sic], to make you think and acknowledge the sins of your past, and try to help the unborn babe and the many children who today are bearing children without the benefit of clergy.