It was the fall of 1980 and I was living in Southern Idaho attending my first semester of college at Idaho State University. I was kind of lost, since I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, which makes being focused in school a difficult task. I was working at Taco Bell to support my two horses and to put gas in my car. College at that point was more about socializing and hanging out at the University than anything else. I was going because my mom told me I had to if I wanted to continue living at home.
I got to school early on that Wednesday. I had three finals, all separated by a two hour window, so I planned on getting a plate of fries for breakfast and hanging out with my friends until it was time to take my tests. I had not studied, but it did seem to be important to at least show up and make the attempt to guess correctly on some of the questions. As I was sitting there my friend Joy from High School showed up. She had just turned eighteen, was married to a man of thirty-five and pregnant with their first child. She had attended her first semester of school, but was planning on dropping out to take care of her kid. We were comfortable friends and had taken ceramics together in high school. She plopped down next to me and then began scanning the room.
I gave her a quizzical look and she made a face at me. She then told me there was a woman in one of her classes she had invited to meet her in the S.U.B. and she was looking for her. I ate fries as other friends joined us. Finally, the woman Joy was awaiting walked up. It was the first time I ever met someone that resonated with me on a level that made me feel like we had meant previously. Joy was right, she was someone I needed to meet.
I was captivated.
I spent the entire day sitting in the S.U.B. talking with this woman. I missed all three of my finals (no biggie since I hadn't been attending class since mid-terms) and waited for her to return from taking her final when she left for a couple of hours. Finally, as the day was winding down and I needed to leave to make my shift at work, she got up to go. She had a large portfolio of drawings in her hand and I asked to see them. She looked really uncomfortable at the question, but didn't seem to know how to say no, so she passed them over. I opened the portfolio and began to go through them.
They were pencil and charcoal drawings in various stages of being done. The first was a unicorn, which was almost done, followed by a few drawings obviously intended for an art class. At the very back of the portfolio was a picture of two people, one who was obviously a woman, in various stages of undress. I couldn't look away. Joy, who had moved behind me to look over my shoulder said "It's not fair that the woman is undressed but the man isn't." I said, without really recognizing what I was going to say, "it's two women, Joy." The other woman said nothing. I looked from her to the picture and back again in deep speculation.
We all gathered up our things and left. I went to work, walked in and said to one of the managers there, "Hey Deb. I'm never dating men again."
When I came out of the closet, I blew it up as I left. In Idaho. In 1980.
The Kowboy Bar:
Fast forward a couple of months. I was taken to my first concert by a woman named Holly Near. She was the first "women's music" singer I was introduced to in my coming out process. Women's music was pretty big in the mid-70's to late-80's and provided a voice for both my sexual identity and my budding feminism. Holly Near's "Something About the Women" song was the anthem of my new life and going to her concert was a huge deal. It was in Rock Springs, Wyoming, at a High School there. Let that resonate for a minute. I left Idaho to drive to Rock Springs, WY to go to a women's music concert. In 1980.
What could possibly go wrong?
There were several hundred women at the concert and I got to introduce myself to Holly at the end. I had never been around so many possibly gay women in my life. I was kind of like a really shy kid in a candy store. The concert was very good and afterwards there was talk of going to the Cowboy Bar in Rock Springs and dancing. Together. At a Cowboy Bar. The bar was across the street from the hotel we were staying in (I was with - as a friend - the woman I had met at the college and some other women from our local N.O.W. group. Yeah, that used to be a thing.) We decided to walk over and join the other women at the bar. Drinking age in Wyoming at that time was 19, so we weren't too far off and my friend, I'll call her B, had a fake ID for me.
There was a live band and a dance floor. And beer. It didn't take long for the women to start dancing with each other, and although some of them danced with the men in the bar as well, mostly we just danced with each other. There were close to seventy women in the bar. I wasn't drinking, but instead I was meandering around talking to people and collecting phone numbers. I had a felt tipped (fine) pen and had the women write their numbers on a napkin for me. Plus, we danced. A lot. I danced with B quite a bit.
There was a slow song that the band played. B asked if I wanted to dance, so we moved out to the dance floor. There was another couple dancing there too and I recognized the woman from the concert. She was dancing with a grizzled cowboy who looked like he had just won the lottery. I said to B that I wanted to dance with her. B, ever the enabler, said to go ahead. I stepped over and tapped the man on the shoulder. He stepped back and got a huge grin on his face, thinking I wanted to dance with him. I smoothly (I am not ever smooth so this was by the grace of the Goddess) I stepped between him and the woman, took her hand into mine and waltzed her away across the dance floor. Gods I was suave. The man's jaw dropped. So did the woman's. Then she got a huge grin as she stared down at my head. B, who had watched her to make sure she wasn't going to deck me, saw the grin and grabbed the grizzled cowboy, swinging him around to dance with her. I got that woman's phone number after our dance.
As the night went on, our lively group of seventy (there is safety in numbers) dwindled until barely a dozen of us were left. We were all on the dance floor when the band called it a night and the music stopped. The group of us turned to go and were faced with a ring of pissed off men holding beer bottles and baseball bats and pool cues. There had to have been at least fifty of them. And there was no where to go. We were surrounded. The band leader, coming off the stage and pushing through the huddled and now pretty freaking terrified women, looked up and surveyed the circle of men. He stopped, pushed his hat back and turned back toward the stage. He told his band "we aren't done yet" and led them back up onto the stage.
They played Cocaine by Eric Clapton.
We got everyone in the bar on the dance floor. And I mean everyone. We were pulling men in left and right. We created a huge mosh pit in front of the stage and everyone was singing and bouncing and jumping up and down. The lead singer played it through one time and then started the song again, keeping the music and the energy going. He looked down at us and mouth "get the fuck out of here". You didn't have to tell us twice. We got.
When we got to the hotel, I was so hot that I stepped off the edge of the pool into the water and walked across to the other side, soaking everything I had on, including the napkin of phone numbers written in felt tip marker I had in my back pocket. Do you know what happens to felt tip marker on napkin when it is soaked in a swimming pool? I cried a little bit when I pulled it out of my back pocket.
All of the women got out safely, although four of them were chased down in their car, forced off the road and the back window of their car was shot out. The sheriff who responded refused to even take statements and told them he didn't find any probable evidence to support their story. I managed to get a few of the phone numbers replaced the next morning at a breakfast shoppe where we ran into some of the women from the night before. Then we were on the road home to Idaho.
Sometimes I really wonder how I managed to make it to the age I am today.