Summary: A romantic evening at a local haven. A short narrative exploring the sexual dynamics of the lesbian community in the 1940s.
Disclaimer: All named characters in this story do not belong to me, they belong to the creators and producers and studios that own Xena: Warrior Princess.
Episode Spoilers: The Xena Scrolls.
It had been a while since they circled the bars, initially as two femmes -two women who weren't exactly sure of themselves or the seductive subculture they found themselves in. They revelled in the novelty of their fixed spaces -gay spaces -where they were allowed to indulge illicit fantasies for a few hours if the cops didn't break through the doors, or if the bar owners made enough money. It was, of course, that they didn't belong anywhere but in secret; though the bar owners knew: their money was as good as anyone else's. And so club owners set aside a private room and a few tables and kept the regular patrons away from the few remaining places they could enjoy themselves.
Mel tore her gaze from Janice for a moment, letting her eyes gloss over the dance floor and the ever segregated section of whites and non-whites: few non-white femmes intermingling with white butches. It was a strange kind of network, one beyond what Melinda understood to be right, or American. Native women and Asian women insisted on being femme together, with one another, black women too. It was almost unheard of to the white women there. How could you have a lesbian couple without a butch counterpart? Who served who? How might two femmes make love? Melinda took a long drag of her cigarette, exhaled and frowned at them. Bizarre.
When she looked back, Janice was carving her way through the dance floor, dodging the swaying bodies until she reached Melinda's table. The butch dykes around her stood up, their chairs squealing angrily across the floor. In silence, Janice held her hand out to Mel and Melinda chuckled, finishing the rest of her drink.
"She's got company already," a tall butch sneered, standing too close to Janice.
"Now, now," Melinda purred, drunk with power and liquor, "be nice. It's just a dance."
Narrowed eyes burned into them as they wandered away and assimilated into the swaying masses, arms around one another, their mouths whispering in each other's ears.
"You're butch now?" Melinda asked.
"I always was, since I have to choose," Janice replied, "Now I just have good hair."
Mel smiled. "Why butch? Was it the comfortable shoes?"
Janice chuckled, "No. I found a better reason."
"I'm sure you know by now." Janice's grip tightened around Melinda's waist. "It's the butch's responsibility to please her woman."
Melinda felt the words run through her ears and down her spine, eliciting a warm, electric sensation. Mel was, if only recently, well versed in the lesbian subculture. The butch, the dyke, the man, pleasured the woman, the lesbian, the femme. It was law, in a way. The reversal of what they'd been taught in school and growing up. The subversion of teenage fumblings behind the bleachers of homecoming games with their eager boyfriends, handsome as they were. It had been about them -the boys -wanting more, wanting everything, wanting their girlfriend's bodies to quell their budding sexual curiosity. The demands came from them alone. But in these bars, life was different. Melinda could demand everything, and it was every and any butch's responsibility to give it to her expecting nothing in return. That horrified and infuriated a lot of the outside world.
Mel leaned back a little to examine Janice's face. She brushed her fingers over the cropped red-gold strands just above her ears. She was too feminine to pass for more than a young boy, and if she dressed like one, she might pass as a boy altogether. How dare she do this! Melinda could hear the phantom protests of the morning newspapers, how dare they! Perverted dens of deviant filth. Ungodly, inhuman. Inviolable, rapeable, like the prostitutes in the red light district disappearing night after night, turning up dead. And yet the same faces still came back, the same that had been arrested and assaulted by police, by strangers. How dare Janice insult a man by dressing like one, by acting like one, by performing the role so completely! Doesn't she know a woman cannot be a man?
Her gaze wandered over to the women on the other side of the dance floor: the coloured women. One of them was a very good dancer and a singer: a black woman with very short hair but she was femme with her dresses and long earrings on. She was dancing with another black femme. They began to kiss passionately, disregarding the dozens of eyes set upon them as though they did not care. Melinda still could not understand it.
"Stop staring at them," Janice chided softly, a leer on her lips.
"I can't help it."
"Do you like it?"
"I'm not sure... it's a little strange to me."
"That could have been us," Janice said seriously and Melinda turned back to her partner.
"No," she insisted, shaking her head, "You were always butch. You said so yourself. It would have made more sense if it was you and me."
"Could you have kissed me with long hair?" Janice asked.
Mel bit her lip, startled by the bold question. After a pause she whispered, "Yes."
"Would you have kissed me with long hair and lipstick on?"
"Then there's no difference."
Melinda looked back at the black women, aroused by them in spite of her prejudice. Janice watched them too, since Melinda was so fascinated. One of the women began to kiss along the jaw line of the other, traveling down to the collarbone while her partner's eyes closed in ecstasy. Janice smiled and moved in carefully, Mel's neck left exposed from her immediate obsession with the two women. She gasped and stopped moving when she felt Janice's lips on her neck, working softly into her skin, sending fire through her chest and down her body where it settled at a most sensitive point.
"Janice!" She gasped again, overcome with pleasure and discomfort at the amused fish-eyes of the white dancers surrounding and consuming her.
Janice pulled away but kept her lips close to Melinda's own, "Come home with me."
Mel's heart pounded in her chest and she was rooted to the ground, panting. Entranced by one another, they did not see one of the butch dykes approaching, the same one that was at Melinda's table before.
Janice turned in time for a fist to connect with her jaw. Her vision blurred.
Are you gay? It wasn't an unusual question, especially with the way Janice was accustomed to dressing. She sometimes wondered why she said 'yes', why anyone said 'yes' because it meant that you would be hit without warning and without provocation. Yes, she'd reply, and down she went from a punch, usually from men on the sidewalk, or in the park or on a street corner. Men fought to exert anger and women stood on the sidelines cheering them on. So those men who asked her would hit her because she always said yes and from there she learned how to fight. Sometimes you won. Sometimes you lost. Badly.
"Stop it!" Melinda cleared the amassing crowd away. She was popular enough that she didn't have to act passive, not like the old femmes used to do. And she was tall. That helped.
Janice slowly recovered, wobbling as she stood. Melinda stood between the two women, pushing her body against Janice to shield and steady her. Mel turned to the butch dyke behind her.
"Of course you are!" Someone in the crowd yelled.
"Damn femmes!" The butch shouted, directing her comment at Janice. "Every time one comes back butch, they take your friggin' girl!"
"Always do!" Someone added.
The women of Colour looked at each other, and then back at the whites, both amused and afraid of the developing feud. It was always bad news when the whites fought, when whites got angry. All that aggression found them somehow, the non-white women, even if they kept to themselves. And yet, it was difficult not to chuckle at the odd ritualism of some hot-headed white folks.
"It's okay," Melinda murmured and Janice righted herself, puffing out her chest. Her lip was bleeding.
"That all you got?" Janice said, narrowing her eyes on the woman that hit her.
A moment more and their anger erupted, the white crowd funnelled from both sides: one side trying to hold back Janice, the other to hold her opponent. Melinda forcibly dragged Janice away from the crowd and out of the bar, into the cool night air in the street.
"Dammit, Janice, why did you do that?" Mel cried, walking briskly up the sidewalk.
Janice trailed behind her, "Because I had to!" And she did. Competition was fierce, definition was brutal and one had to survive.
Melinda abruptly turned to her and sighed, "Your lip is bleeding."
Janice stared at the ground finally feeling the shame creep up on her. She knew it was childish and yet, she failed to protect herself, immature as the fight may have been. Melinda removed the kerchief from her shoulders and dabbed the pooling blood.
"Stop, you're ruining it," Janice said, staring sheepishly at her.
"I can always wash it later," Mel replied.
She grabbed the handkerchief and pushed it away from her lips, covering Melinda's hand with her own. Mel frowned at her persistence.
Her insistent mouth was on her, devouring her as each moment inched by. Every second, a fragment of control slipped further away, and the pleasure and the warmth seduced her. There were no observers, no cops, no bystanders or fear mongers; no war, no state, no church and no judge. There was only the night air and its cooling effect, glazing over them as rain drops began to fall.
Rain poured over them and at last they broke apart. Janice took Melinda by the hand and they ran up the street to her nearby apartment, where they paused under the awning to watch the storm and steal a kiss.
In the elevator, and in the hallways, they indulged the emptiness of the building, the freedom of anonymity. Women worked nights; men were at war and their children were fast asleep with babysitters and old folks that kept to themselves. So Mel and Janice could touch; they could kiss. There were moments in history, however brief, that even the most wretched did not fear their overlords: the powers that be. There was always a way to fight back; there were always moments of peace.
When they locked the door behind them, they stumbled toward the bed, always connected -a hand here, a kiss there -until they were on the mattress. Sounds of pleasure filled the room, disappearing ghost-like in the hallways. Senses became sensations, reduced to primal signals of response as reality dissolved into a collection of colour and light.
In the morning, it would all be a memory and reality would crawl back into their bones, evicting the warmth of their bed. WWII would not last forever. The independence they enjoyed would dissolve, the men would go back to work, the women forced home again, and the world before the war would resume just as it was before. And out would come the cops and the soldiers, the high school boys and girls and the parishioners to slander them, to defile them. It was, after all, 1944. The Jews barely had rights and the Negroes were mutilated in the North and the South because they were black -what chance did they have even as white lesbians? And those women back in the bar, the non-white women... what chance did any of them have but to hide and to fight on the street, to say yes when asked by the cops if they were gay, to kill a few of them to protect their dignity and then to be thrown in jail? That was reality.
Someday, if they kept fighting, maybe it would be different.