By Deb Sica
In 1986, I was 11 years old. Already having various disjointed moments of Sapphic infatuation since the age of nine, I watched k.d. lang, without apology, dance and bellow out her endearing, kooky Canadian Cowgirl Pride all over David Letterman’s late-night studio stage. I stood about five inches from the flicker of the tube television, thinking there was something incredible, independent and brave about this woman. I immediately knew that I was much more like k.d. lang than I was like all my glittered-up, sequined-adorned Suzie-Q Lip Gloss Pack of Gal Pals. My pubescent hormones ramped up, but were quickly diffused and tucked away for another day.
Four years later in 1990, k.d. lang came back to late-night television with a Bulldagger Swagger and a vengeance, but this time she was on The Arsenio Hall Show; a show the broke many barriers, a show that challenged age-old traditions of white funny guys with snappy wit; a show that excelled at pushing forward progress on racial representation and cultural respect; making space for others to be out in their selfhood. I watched that interview even more intensely than the first, hanging on every word she spoke. Arsenio said everything except The L Word. He asked if he could ask her a question about gender-bending, androgyny, but never once used the exact term that I needed. K.d. responded, “Yeah, so… I can’t compromise my comfort and integrity” with that sexy half-cut smile-smirk that melted young lesbian hearts all across the Northern Americas.
At the tender age of 15, I began to think I was alone in my pursuit of women like k.d. lang, but at least I had her as my Angel with a Lariat to pull me through the valley of the unknown. I did have one flannel-loving, Chapstick-wearing, tell-it-like-it-is friend and one place to go to get answers. So, I untangled the cord of the kitchen wall phone and called up my consummate and nearly consummating gal pal Sarah Beth. Sarah Beth was my zany childhood sweetheart of sorts. We got a ride up to our Community Public Library. This library was my beloved, trusted, air-conditioned refuge away from the western NY summertime heatwaves and free-to-be place to ask any question I could conjure. I never for once doubted that anything I looked up at the library would be up for third-party review or approval. I never feared that a librarian would tell anyone about my questions or report out to anyone my inquiries about sexual orientation. It was just Sarah Beth, me, and the trusty print L volume of the World Book Encyclopedias. No eTracking, cookies or digital history to worry about, no legacy posts that would haunt me for my days to come, no secret tracking marketing profile generations; none of that existed.
In this anonymity lives a little irony of privacy. Herstorcially, print library checkout cards were a way to identify and navigate an unspoken world to local Lesbians; a sort of pre-internet record, an unspoken confirmation of underground sisterhood who had held that very book before you. A sister that took the same exploratory interest in the title as you; kin connection. Perhaps I didn’t fear the card so much because at that time I was using in house only reference materials. The publishing industry had a few Patience & Sarah type novels. The beloved, yet, desperately melancholy Well of Loneliness and other such select companion novels that ended in the Lesbian shero dying in the end, losing her true love to heteronormativity or endlessly walking the lone path to a life-sentence of depressing solitude populated the printing presses.
Know, I’m not waxing nostalgic on the good old days of print by any means, but I am using my innocence and the trust upheld by my local librarians as a benchmark for best practices in our current privacy standards. So when the next generation of young and mighty Sapphos-to-Be come out or try and find answers to their unknown, they can do so with as much security, safety, and innocence that I was afforded.
Deb Sica is the deputy county librarian for Alameda County Library.