'Do you know what a lesbian is, Laura?' she said in a really aggressive way. I was totally stunned and surprised. Where did this come from? What was this all about? What did it mean? My mind was whirling madly.
All I'd been doing was hanging about outside the school gates at the end of the day waiting for this friend I often walked up the road home with, when this happened, when she came over to me and came out with this - totally out of the blue - out of nowhere.
Of course I knew what a lesbian was. Didn't everyone? There was always talk at school about the women gym teachers, especially the sporty ones, you know - the jolly hockey sticks kind - and strangely enough I had read 'The Well of Loneliness'. I'd come across the book totally by accident in a box of books my father had found in the street one day and brought home for me because I read so much. According to that book, real lesbians were depressed and unhappy women who wore tweed suits or 'mannish' clothing and were upper class, who behaved in a very masculine way, who were in competition with men for these fluffy girly women or really wanted to be men and hated themselves so much for what they were. It was a very sad book.
But if I said yes, did it mean she going to think I was a lesbian? Then it would go all round the school and my life would become hell.
You have to remember this was the early sixties and I was fifteen or sixteen, I can't remember which, and in 4th year at school. It would be about 1962 or 3 and the so called swinging sixties had not yet happened and Glasgow was not the best place for a free frank discussion about anything sexual to say the least. And especially not about lesbianism. I remember the son of one of our neighbours up the close was said to be 'homosexual' and I'm pretty sure he had a bad time of it at school.
If I said no, would she just think I was covering up something anyway or that I was so totally ignorant everyone would just laugh at me? The choices weren't so hot. In fact there was no real choice.
But could knowing what a lesbian was, and not being disturbed by it, mean you were one? Surely not. Was I a lesbian? I didn't think so, after all I was nothing like any of the women in the book, and if anything could convince you weren't a lesbian, reading that miserable book could. And anyway I wasn't sporty either. And I went out with boys, I liked music and dancing.
But why did she ask me this question? Was it because I waited for her to walk up the road? Did she think I was attracted to her? I was a bit of a loner, a bit quiet, a bit odd perhaps, a bit different, didn't really fit in. I definitely didn't want things to be any worse.
So I made a choice. I said yes I did know what a lesbian was. And she never spoke to me for the rest of that year at the end of which she left school.
And me what did I do? I spent the next 20 years of my life in denial. I tried to fit in and be like everyone else. I got married, had children but was aware all along that things were not right. I tried to bring my children up to be aware of differences. But I was not at all happy in myself and refused to recognise what my feelings for women were. The changes for me started when a friend pointed out to me how much I was talking a lot about someone I knew. She said 'You like her.' 'Oh yes,' I replied, 'I just admire what she's done.' 'No,' she said, 'you really like her.' And then feminism got going again and I met lots of women like me.