A Chorus of Female Voices

This piece was first debuted as part of The TMI Project: MHI in Ulster County.  Visit The TMI Project’s website to learn more .


Que Será, Será, is Zelda’s (aka Judith Z. Miller’s) humorous, sobering, hopeful multimedia one-person revelatory performance that chronicles her personal story of the joys and challenges of navigating non-binary Queerness from childhood during the 1950’s to adulthood. Zelda is the recipient of an Arts Mid-Hudson Individual Artist Commission to develop the show to premiere in Kingston, NY at the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center on December 7 & 8 as a workshop production. It will include an adapted version of “A Chorus of Female Voices” as well as the previously published “Sheitlestock”. You can learn more about Que Será, Será and support its development here.


TRANSCRIPT:

I’m 8 years old. My parents take me to see the movie “Some Like it Hot” starring Marilyn Monroe. It’s a fancy theatre with plush red seats. We’re in the very front row of the balcony, high over the orchestra.  

A thick shiny brass railing protects us from falling onto the people seated below. Marilyn is singing ​“I’m through with love, I’ll never fall again,” ​and as she​ ​breathes in deeply through her pouted lips to enunciate her words, I can see the details of her full breasts through her tight-fitting, completely sheer gown. I’m standing up, gripping the bar, leaning all the way over the top as far as I can, trying to climb​ into​ the movie — to immerse myself between Marilyn Monroe’s breasts.  

I hear my mother calling to my father in a whisper: “​Pssst …. Psst” … “Sid … Sid, look at Judy … what’s going ​on​ with Judy?” 

I’m 11 years old and I’m in trouble, mainly because I’m a LEZZIE. At least that’s what I think I am. I’ve been in love with Judy in summer camp ever since I can remember, and I ​know​ I’m not supposed to be.  

I’ve never met or seen a ​“Lezzie,”​ but I know it’s a word that defines what I want as something nasty and bad. Something that should not exist.  

It’s 1962 in suburban New Jersey. There are no ​Lezzie’s​ on TV, in books or movies — except when ​The Children’s Hour ​comes out on late-night TV.  

I watch as Shirley McClain confesses her secret love for Audrey Hepburn —and then hangs herself afterwards. Audrey cautiously opens the door to see the ominous shadow of Shirley’s body slowly swinging back and forth, back and forth, accompanied by the creaking sound of the rope as she hangs limp from a noose.  

That’s the only solution it seems.  

I write about my feelings in poetry.  

“Why do I deserve this fate of hard dark wall and iron gate?” 

These aren’t feelings that ​anyone​ I know talks about, and they aren’t feelings I would ever admit. 

At 14, I’m in love with Elaine, one of my best friends. I want to throw her a wonderful birthday party. At first my parents say OK, then, after I have everything​ planned, change their minds and tell me ​“no.”  

Devastated, I go into the kitchen and I grab the black-handled dagger out of the drawer. I run down to the basement, where I had planned to throw Elaine’s party, and I fall onto my knees, sobbing. I try as hard as I can to stab myself in the gut. But I can’t make myself do it. 

Every time I look up at the night sky, I wish upon a star: 

“Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, wish I may, wish I might, have this wish I wish tonight: I wish I was no longer a lesbian.” 

I’m 15 and Mrs. Bruck is SO beautiful! I’m ​crazy​ in love with her. She has fair, delicately freckled skin, blue eyes, a full mouth, and a sweet disposition. And she’s a really ​good​ high school teacher too.  

I stand in front of her desk one day, gazing down upon the delicate sparkling strands of her wheat-golden hair. I’m so taken by her beauty. As her baby blues turn up to look at me, I brazenly blurt out: 

“What does your husband have that I don’t?”

Mrs. Bruck looks at me like I have two heads. 

“He’s my HUSBAND!” 

The school sends me to a social worker, an older woman around my mother’s age who starts off asking me general questions like, “How’s school going?” She’s acting stiff, nervous and uncomfortable, and I can feel her leading up to something.  

“What do you want to DO to other girls?” ​she asks — like her mouth is holding back ​vomit​. It’s​ ​the sexual part she wants to know about.  

I don’t remember my answer.  All I remember is the terrible feeling that everything about me is​ wrong and bad.  

At 15, I’m sexually assertive and simultaneously suicidal. I can’t stand the pain of not having sex with a girl and not being loved. It just hurts too much.

At 16, I fall in love with Peter. He’s handsome, tough, with knife scars from fights, but he treats ​me​ great. But, even though Peter is so sweet, ​and​ I’m in love with him, I ​have to​ be with a girl!  

She’s a friend, but I’m not in love with her — no matter,  I leave Peter for Maddy. One day I buy Maddy a new bra. Nothing fancy, not romantic, just a plain white bra because she needs one and I’ve got some money. Her sister finds the bra, shows it to her father, and he goes ​ballistic​. He ​storms into my dad’s butcher shop, and, in front of all the customers, ​demands​ that I stay away from his daugher or he’ll put me in a ​house of detention​. 

I’m terrified because I know that man means ​business. So I lie:

“I don’t know what he’s talking about!”

My parents send me to a psychiatrist who tells me I can beat this. I had a boyfriend and I’ve had other boyfriends which ​proves​ I like boys and if I just try hard enough I can stop wanting girls.  

I have a dream about riding a big stallion that rears up on his hind legs, but I manage to stay in the saddle and retain control. The psychiatrist tells me that the dream means I can ​conquer​ my urges towards girls. 

I see the psychiatrist once a week on Wednesdays, right after school. Each week he convinces me that I can go straight. On Thursday and Friday I feel strong​ and I stay away from Maddy. But then I can’t stand it. Late Saturday night Maddy and I get in my car and go to our usual spot — ​where no one will ever find us ​—right behind the ​police station​.  

This goes on until I leave for college. 

I’m at my locker getting changed on the first day of freshman gym class. I turn around, and there she is: beautiful. Dark soulful eyes, long brown hair, lovely skin, smiling — we become immediate friends. I follow Laurie to her dorm room and inside there is a big sign hanging from the ceiling with one word in large black letters: 

“GUILTY?” 

A shiver runs up my spine. 

I need to touch; be held. I need a girl to speak to me sweetly, to look deeply into my eyes; someone to kiss.  

I pursue Laurie. We fall in love. Laurie is very deep and moody but also lots of fun. ​ ​We are both passionate, and being secretive makes it all the more exciting. We must make love as quietly as possible — because we’re doing it on the top bunk of my bed, right above my college roommate.  

I have no idea how we think we can get away with this.​  Maybe I think it’s like being behind the police station— so obvious no one will even ​think​ to look. 

I have lots of other friends in the dorm. Everyone knows me, and as I walk down the hallway they greet me with a wave or a friendly, ​“Hey!”  

Well … one day I’m walking down the hallway in the dorm and a girl I know walks towards me and turns her head away …  

then another … 

And another.  

Whenever I get on the elevator, all the other girls get off. 

Laurie says the same things are happening to her.  

We do some research and find out that the progressive Antioch College in Ohio has a tiny sister school in Baltimore, not far away. We visit: small classes, interesting mix of students. Students have a big say in what happens at the school and there are no grades. ​Yes!​ So we go to Antioch. 

On one of the first days of class, we’re in a big ​group therapy session, a circle of about 50 students: I’m anxious. The leader stands in the middle of the circle, a tall, commanding Black man with a booming voice.  

What if he calls on me? What am I supposed to say? I know why I’m here … but I can’t say ​that​ out loud.  

He turns on his heels and points to me ….

“And why are YOU here!” 

“Because …  I’m … attracted to … girls” 

I barely get the words out of my mouth. 

I have my head down because I can’t look at anyone — I really want to be totally ​invisible​. 

I hear … 

A chorus of female voices from different parts of the circle, calling out matter of factly: 

“I am too”  

“… Me too” 

“Well so am I …”

I have ​never​ heard ​anything​ like this before. 

Out loud.  

In front of a whole group of other people.

 That moment.  

Those women’s voices ….

Those were the voices of the first community of people to treat me and my lover like any other couple. Just me and Laurie – like any other couple. Like people. 

Like human beings.

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