Portia, in turns out, crossdressed. She stood in front of a class of over a hundred people one day—our ‘heroine’, not Portia, who was busy defending Antonio in court—full of the thrill of that very thought, the thrill of pointing out that an Elizabethan male actor would have dressed as a woman (Portia) who then took on a male disguise to show up in court. A man needing to ‘perform’ a man! If only Judith Butler had been there! Only as far as our heroine is concerned, Judith Butler had not begun to exist and she, with tentative fingers, was reaching out towards the possible implications of her revelation. ‘Homoerotic’ was a word which appeared that day. A word she could say, happily, without the shame and embarrassment attached to words in her mother tongue referring to same-sex dynamics. The choice to leave home was beginning to pay off, at least in terms of freedom for intellectual exploration.
She was, however, still an intellectual snob, ruthless towards anyone displaying any logical or cognitive weakness. And she wanted more. When the chance to sit in on her seniors’ Women’s Writing classes cropped up, she took it mostly for the sake of the possible arguments. She believed, strongly, fervently, that women mostly wrote sentimental nonsense. And those who didn’t were good enough not to need a label like that. People were responsible for who they were, whether men or women, and there was no space for fallibility or compromise. So when she sat down with A Room of One’s Own, she did so in the red light of anger, thinking she already had her nugget of truth. Many things happened, in library as well as in class, but the one event she remembers still is the moment when Chloe liked Olivia. Most of the class giggled. Many were embarrassed. She was put in mind of the time, in highschool, when a teacher had asked how many of them thought homosexuals should be ‘allowed’ to get married, and she found hers to be the only raised hand. She was angry. What’s wrong with Chloe liking Olivia, the girl asked now that no teacher was likely to call her parents to school and tell them what their good girl was up to. They talked about homosexuality being unnatural during that class and their teacher had asked them to stop and think whether wearing clothes was natural. She almost clapped. She certainly grinned brightly at the quiet, patient woman in front of her, who was soon to become her closest friend.
It was learning the language of freedom in multiple ways, a language she could play with and write in without words throwing their ghosts upon the page. Feminism, which marked the actual redoubling; a continuous questioning of everything started then, in those classes, and as she made her way through everything she could get her hands on, from Kate Millett to Helene Cixous, from bell hooks to Mary Daly, falling in love with every single one of them, she developed the courage to take thoughts to their logical conclusions, though sometimes those conclusions were not easy to live with and sometimes voicing those thoughts in other classes was tricky, to say the least.
One of the logical conclusions told her that she’d been fashioning herself in the image of her received dreams, and her fiance, while a kind human being, was an insecure patriarch who needed to control her every move and to know that his family would be her family, to the demotion of her own, as soon as they were married. And while her parents were blissfully oblivious of the person their daughter was turning into, and she liked it that way, hearing that a girl is brought up for her in-laws’ family made the said daughter see red. When homosexuality raised its ugly head, as a matter of sheer academic discussion, it turned out to be too much. It was, the fiance suggested, an abomination, and no amount of sensible argument would convince him otherwise. Those were the days of Chloe and Olivia, and not long after, she moved out and became me.