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    Coming Out Stories: A Rainy Night in Paris

    By Page Hodel–

    I can almost remember the exact moment that I realized I might be one of “those” people. I was driving shotgun in the red Morris Minor of my best friend in high school. I remember I looked over at her behind the wheel as she was wearing a very short miniskirt and I caught myself looking at her thighs and felt my eyes stay a little longer than “normal.” For the first time, I felt that magnetic unmistakable flush of longing and realized something definitely undeniable. I wanted to be more than her friend.

    I had the typical tomboy young life. Red wagons, skateboards, slingshots, balsa gliders. I even stole my neighbor’s Tonka truck and careened down the neighbor’s driveway. Yes, my parents tried to steer the boat in the pink direction, but all proved to be futile attempts. I got the requisite dolls and tea sets that just gathered dust as I raced out the door in my blue jeans and ratty sneakers to build another fort or climb a new tree.

    As I entered puberty and started the “dating” scene, it was at best awkward, somewhat clumsy, and I definitely couldn’t pull it off. I had boyfriends but they were the gentle soft types. Really wonderful guys, but I definitely had already begun my gravitation to girls.

    I grew up in Marin and although everyone thinks California is so free and forward, in 1969 early 70s, in my high school, there was not one gay person who was out. And the gym teacher who was suspected to be gay, with her short-cropped manly haircut and powerful strong confident demeanor, well, it was NOT respectful what was said about her. And I was terrified to be one of “those” people.

    In 1972, I wrote a cryptic poem proclaiming to myself that, in fact, I was gay. Then quickly stashed it in a suitcase and packed my bags to get as far as I could from anyone I knew and went to study music in Paris.

    When I stepped out of my apartment that first day there at the ripe age of 16, I wandered the streets knowing that I was completely free to be whoever I wanted to be. As one inevitably does after a long walk in Paris, I landed in a corner café and stood at the bar with all the Parisians smoking fat little French cigarettes and swirling tiny spoons, stirring the sugar cube wrapped in pretty paper, in their dark espressos.

    I stood at the steel covered bar, and in walked an astoundingly beautiful and dapper young woman dressed in a three-piece perfectly tailored suit. Very handsome boyish haircut. Not one hair out of place. The French, as we all know, can put themselves together like no one I have ever seen. She was like a statue. I was dumbstruck as I watched her while sipping my tiny little cup of coffee, staring in lust and wonder. I went immediately later that day and cut off all my hippy California long hair to a cute little boyish cut. In my own way, I think that day I came out. I was free, I was alone, finally able to express myself without the blaring gaze and crushing scrutiny of my friends and family.

    With my new haircut and this seismic explosion of the fluidity of gender raging through me, I walked down the Champs Elysée that day and stopped in a perfume store to experience the famous “French perfume.” There, with my newfound “I’m a boy now” confidence, I walked to the counter with my imaginary three-piece suit on and met the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, Tatiana, who proceeded to squirt little sweet scents all over me. I was drenched in the sweet flirtatious pampering touch of a woman.

    With the aromatic cacophony of what felt like an orchestra of aromas, we landed on my favorite of all, Eau Sauvage, which I wore most of my perfume life. Delighted with my choice, she called me aside, then opened her purse and produced an adorable miniature little bottle and said, “This is also my favorite. Please have this as a gift. I carry it everywhere.” I floated out of the store, and, of course, never saw her again, but alas, Tatiana, I never forgot you.

    My apartment was on a small alley on the left bank, and I lived across the street from what turned out to be a lesbian couple, one American from Berkeley, one French from Paris. I was on the 7th floor and they on the 6th. We would holler across the street in English, and I quickly began spending lots of time with my new first gay friends. They were considerably older than me and, recognizing my young age, they kind of took me under their wing and introduced me to feminism and the arts with lots of women from all over the world.

    Most of their friends were in the arts—some clowns and theater students, filmmakers, writers and photographers. One night at one of their parties, I met my first love, a performance artist from New York, who was studying mime at Marcel Marceau’s teacher’s school.

    We all made plans to meet the following weekend to go dancing at a lesbian bar. It was a rainy night, and we all piled into the car of one of their friends. It was so packed full of girls giggling, with everyone (probably seven of us) sitting on laps, bouncing in her Renault on the rainy cobblestone streets.

    We got to the front door of Jeaux de Dammes, Paris’ only lesbian bar in 1972. It had a dark, seedy little entrance. If you didn’t know it was there you would have walked right by. It had a little trap door opening peephole where the door person would look you up and down and decide on your correct “look” for entry. Apparently, we failed. Too many jeans and t-shirts. She said something to the effect of, “We all like to look like women here,” so we piled back into the Renault and returned home to get our raincoats to cover our garb. We were let in on take two.

    We danced all night and I somehow conveniently lost my keys, so I had to stay at my first love’s little studio apartment, where we talked into the morning light, made love for the first time, and, if you can stand it, fell asleep to the sound of the choirboys’ singing, echoing throughout the courtyard.

    That was 48 years ago … .

    Page Hodel is an internationally renowned DJ and nightclub promoter in the LGBTQ community who has worked with major dance venues in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Paris. She is also an artist and author, who wrote the best-selling “Monday Hearts for Madalene “(Stewart, Tabori and Change, 2010). A talented carpenter, she converted a school bus into a tiny home in the 80s, and recently built another tiny home: a wood-paneled beauty named “Mazine.”

    Published on December 3, 2020