Beth DeSombre: Though I came to Oberlin and took Nori’s class and started doing gay activities, I wasn’t in a relationship my first year here. I didn’t tell everybody that I was lesbian or anything else, and it was never clear who knew what about me, and I never would deny it. I just lived the way I lived and I never knew who knew what. There was a time in my sophomore year when suddenly a lot of people came up to me saying, “I hear you are bisexual. Is that true?” And people wanted to talk to me about their own coming-out process. It was, in fact, a mystery to me how these people who I didn’t know or who I knew but had never said anything to or had never seen at Union meetings, how they knew anything about me. It was clear sometime in my sophomore year that people had obviously gotten this information and knew that I was somebody that they had to talk to about their own coming-out process.
Terry Maroney: […] I went to a meeting at LGU and made this public coming out in one of the big upstairs rooms in Wilder. I remember coming into this meeting — it was supposed to be about something else — and demanding that people help me come out. How do you do a coming out to yourself? People really supported me. Alec Cushman ‘87 used to follow me around campus and give me all this advice about women. I was adopted by this whole crowd my sophomore year. There was this crowd of lesbians that used to gather every afternoon on the Wilder steps about three o’clock. So I started dropping by Wilder steps and was truly adopted by this whole crowd of lesbians. It was great. It was like we were reliving junior high. We used to get together at this one woman’s apartment and play spin the bottle and stuff like that and just all kiss each other. It was like going through a second adolescence with all of its turmoils, and this was really the perfect place to do it.
Andrew Deppe: It is interesting, Terry. I’m struck by the differences in four years because my freshman year was 1981. It seems like there was a major change. Part of it may be a function of my social circle or the one I created for myself when I was here. Like your earlier description of your tour of campus and looking at Mallory, that would never have happened to me in 1981. It was more like, “The Gay Union — their offices were in such and such a room — they throw the best parties on campus. This is the Women’s Collective and it is a great place.” It was a lot more affirmative. In fact, I had friends my freshman year who everyone said were bisexual. And as a gay man a lot of us talked about it as being a cop-out because they didn’t want to admit they were straight or admit that they were gay or whatever. I had people come out to me as straight, actually, when I was in Oberlin, because everyone was sort of presumed bi unless proven otherwise. It seems like in four years’ time things changed appreciably towards things being a little bit more closeted or something.
Terry Maroney: And also not. It seemed to be a time of great dichotomy in many ways. There was this crowd that was very out, and it was very in. It was cool to be lesbian or gay, but at the same time it wasn’t to me. There were two very different lives, social lives, going on at Oberlin. My first year I was exposed to the other side of it, the conventional straight side. To me it seemed to be two different worlds, and once I got into the feminist one and the lesbian one, that other world stopped existing for me, but I was aware that it was still going on.
Susan Hart: That is a really important point. One of the things that made it difficult for me to come out while I was at Oberlin, aside from the fact that I kept having these incredible crushes on straight women, was the realization that there were those two different worlds. Two academic things that I was into were East Asian Studies, my major, and jazz. The whole jazz scene at Oberlin, and what there was of it at the time, I didn’t feel at all safe coming out. In a more general Oberlin social context it would have been okay, but I wasn’t willing to go with the latter. I wasn’t willing to take the chance and risk the former to have the latter. I felt that dichotomy; I felt that I had to make that decision.
Terry Maroney: And if you went into one world you did have to turn your back on that other one in a lot of ways, which can be very threatening.
Susan Hart: And I would have loved to, any number of times. What you were saying about the group of Amazons; I watched that group of people you were hanging out with on Wilder steps. I wanted so much to be a part of that, but I felt like I wasn’t cool enough. If I tried to get involved with them I was going to lose my base in other places; it was just too much of a risk. I remember my first introduction to Mallory; it was my first year. I was starting to get involved with music things and with jazz, and there was this one woman who at the time was a composition major. She was really into doing women’s music and have it all revolving around women. She thought it was really neat that here was a woman bass player. She had written a composition and wanted to play it. It was for piano, cello, and bass and she wanted to do it at Mallory coffee house. This was my first semester here and I didn’t know what Mallory was. She said, “There is this coffee house and it is women’s stuff.” At that time I didn’t associate women’s music with lesbian music or the Women’s Collective as a lesbian collective. It wasn’t analogous to me at that point, so I said, “Sure, that sounds great, let’s do it.”
A couple of days before we were to perform in this coffee house, somebody in my dorm said that Mallory was this ‘bastion of lesbianism,’ as it were. I remember panicking, mostly because I was afraid of guilt by association. I didn’t want to be identified as a lesbian; I wasn’t ready for that. Being gay or being lesbian is really cool for them, but I can’t do it, it gets too complicated and it wasn’t going to be okay. I went through this whole panic for about a day, “Should I call up this person and tell them I can’t do it?” I realized that was totally ridiculous, and I did it.
Terry Maroney: I completely relate to what you are saying, because there was the cool lesbian crowd just like Nori had said before. My sophomore year it was fluid enough that I was able to be taken in by an aspect of that crowd. I forced myself to be taken in because I was madly, passionately in love with one of the members of this crowd. I followed her everywhere and forced them to deal with me. I remember having this desperate desire to be a part of that, and I radically altered myself to try to be part of the Mallory scene. I almost moved into Mallory, then decided to stay with my roommate; we were really close friends. I remember I radically changed the way I dressed. There was this perception that I picked up on that to be a good radical lesbian feminist, which was all I wanted in my life at that point, you had to be real drab. I let my hair grow real long and I wore this same pair of real drab khaki pants and black turtlenecks all the time. You had to wear black Converse high-tops and on the little leather circle that said ‘Converse,’ you had to draw a women’s symbol on it. There was this whole code of things you had to do. I remember going home for breaks and my parents just bursting into hysterical laughter seeing me coming off the bus or whatever, because I looked so different than when I had left. I remember wanting so much just to be a part of them. While there was an aspect that took me in, there was another whole crowd that just never would, because they were too cool. Throughout my years here they got more and more preoccupied with their own coolness and exactly how hip they were. It got more and more exclusive and I think that that is still happening today.
Susan Hart: Several of you mentioned Women’s Studies and EXCO courses as a factor. I took my first and only Women’s Studies class my last semester. It would have been great had I taken it my first semester; it would have changed a lot of things. Taking that class was a great source of empowerment to me; it made the whole class think that being a lesbian and being a feminist and being anything or anyone is okay. It just made everything okay. I had already gotten almost that far on my own. I was just about ready to crack, and then I took this course. I’m really glad that I did, but wish that I had taken it earlier.