I was 17 and working a Saturday job in between studying for my A Levels and making new friends at the small-town Technical College I’d just transferred to. Before that, I’d spent a year at a city centre Sixth Form College. I was missing my friends and my old, cosmopolitan life. My new setting didn’t seem to hold much joy for me and I felt like I was going through the motions of life instead of fully living it. I was also feeling lonely. Everyone else seemed to have already paired off into girlfriend-boyfriend couples. I never met a boy I fancied, though, and it was only me and a few other odd bods who were still single.
One Saturday, after work, I switched on the TV while I was waiting for dinner.
This was back in 1990 and TV in the UK consisted of four whole channels. Channel 4 was the newest on the block and my mum frowned upon it for being too avant garde and controversial.
She was occupied in the kitchen so I switched the TV onto Channel 4. There was a music show playing – a country music show. I half-listened and watched the singer, reflecting on my day and wondering how I’d spend my Sunday.
The host of the show announced the next singer and a tall figure dressed in a sparkly blue cowboy suit strode onto the stage. I saw a spiky quiff and smouldering eyes that would have made Elvis envious. And then the song began…
Oh, that voice! Rich, dripping in emotion, seductive… And matched with looks to the camera that said “come hither”.
In fact, I knelt in front of the TV screen, leaning in to get as close as I could to this vision of loveliness.
As I watched in awe, one thought kept going through my mind:
I don’t know if you are a boy or a girl, but you are what I want.
The song ended. The singer waved and walked away. The show host’s voice said, “Thank you kd lang!”
kd lang. Is that the name of a boy or a girl? I was none the wiser. This was way before we had the internet so I had to sit with my unanswered questions and unexpected feelings.
It wasn’t that I hadn’t had crushes on girls before. I had. I’d had a crush on my best friend, my English teacher, the girl in the year below me who played the trombone… I’d even shared a kiss with a girl. But I’d never met someone so androgynous and so seemingly confident in their sexuality as kd lang.
A trip to the music store that week saw me spending my Saturday paycheque on my first kd lang LP and discovering that she was indeed a she and that I was truly and totally in love.
At 17, I knew I wasn’t in love with the actual kd lang – but I was in love with what she represented. We just didn’t have butch, androgynous, confident, sexy lesbians in the media in the 80s and 90s. At least, none that I had come across before.
I wanted her and I wanted to be her.
I wanted to know that I could create my own way of being a sexual woman – a way that didn’t have to involve high heels, eyeshadow, and putting up with boys’ farting jokes. I was only 17 and at a pivotal point in my blossoming sexuality. kd lang was the sunshine and the rain that helped me to grow. From that first encounter, worshipping her on my knees in front of the TV screen, I learned what my sexual attraction felt like – I learned what my sexual desire felt like.
A few years later, having made it out of the small town and to university in Edinburgh, I was in a café bar (the Filmhouse) and, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a figure stride towards the bar. Blonde hair – not dark like kd – and wearing a black leather jacket and blue denim jeans – not a rhinestone covered cowboy suit. Despite the lack of visual similarity, I instantly recognised the same androgynous sexual confidence I’d watched that day on Channel 4.
Through a series of events that were part synchronicity and part deliberately manufactured by me, we ended up in my bedroom.
My delight in her butch androgyny was matched by her delight in having someone who appreciated and was attracted to the real her. She kissed me firmly, her chin bruising up against mine, as one hand snaked around to unclip my bra. “That’s better,” she said, as my large breasts swung free for her to fondle while we smooched.
Her breasts were tiny in comparison, and she never wore a bra, but she welcomed me playing with her nipples too.
It wasn’t my first time making out with a woman but it was my first time making out with a woman quite like her. My first time being with someone whose self-confidence and self-assurance when it came to fully inhabiting their authentic sexual self, meant that I could take the risk and inhabit mine fully as well. I wasn’t trying to keep up – I was being carried, effortlessly, on the wave of mutual attraction, lust, and appreciation.
Up until then, sex had always felt like a bit of a performance to me. I’d been a spectator in my sexual encounters, worrying about how I looked, worrying about taking too long to orgasm (or faking it because I convinced myself I couldn’t come). But this time I surrendered all of those worries. Even though our bodies were so very different, her confidence in hers allowed me to feel more confident in mine.
The sex wasn’t perfect but it didn’t have to be. It was real, passionate, messy (at times), and ultimately set me on a path of enjoying my sexuality my way.
I still have a soft spot for androgynous butch women. Several decades on, we have new language and understanding of the spectrums and rainbows of gender and sexuality, and I define myself as queer. For now, that seems like the best way to encapsulate my range of sexual attractions, and how it feels to inhabit an ever-changing body. It also gives me space to allow my sexuality to continue to grow in other ways.
The first album I bought of kd lang’s was ‘Absolute Torch and Twang’. The cover shows an image of her wearing blue denim and holding a cowboy hat, standing in a grain field, with a bright and expansive sky overhead. She’s gazing confidently into the distance. She taught me to embrace who I am, to be expansive, and to be confident. Thank you, kd lang.
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