A candid memoir of Frankie Lennon's battle to claim her own life and sexual identity. Order "The Mee Street Chronicles" at www.amazon.com or www.kerlak.com
Excerpt from "Woman Dreams"
I fell hopelessly in love with the movies before I reached the age of six. Armed with popcorn, hot ham sandwiches, Hershey Bars, and grape soda, I settled down every Saturday afternoon at the Gem Theater where I gorged myself on a steady diet of Bugs Bunny cartoons, Our Gang, The Three Stooges, Bela Lugosi vampire thrillers, or Jimmy Cagney gangster tales. When I was small, my favorites were shoot-'em-ups, starring tall, tough John Wayne, and the Republic Pictures serials, featuring action-adventure heroes like Spy Smasher and Rocket Man. I was endlessly fascinated that this week the hero perished at the end of the reel only to be resurrected next time through some miraculous escape. As I got older, my favorites became MGM musicals with dancers like sexy, red-haired Rita Hayworth, or dark-haired, curvaceous Cyd Charisse who sent me home dreaming about becoming a dancer. And other things.
What flashed across the screen in coded symbols and metaphors gave me subtle instructions. In matters of femininity and masculinity. In matters of skin color and beauty. In matters of sex and desire. And, in that which was forbidden. There, in the darkness, Hollywood's magic lantern constructed a palace of dreams where the White screen goddesses of the day reigned supreme. The camera's golden eye made them irresistible: It caressed and lovingly magnified every curve of the chin, breast, and hip. And so, I began to learn what was desirable. And, gradually, what I desired. Since the silver screen never placed Black women in the firmament of stars, I came to favor what it showed me. I came to favor, not the sweet, simple-minded blondes, but the dark-haired femme fatales—the bad girls who were gutsy and headstrong. Like Susan Hayward, clever and untamable. Hedy Lamarr, mysterious and tantalizing. Ava Gardner, dangerous and unpredictable, or Jane Russell, wanton and voluptuous. Every one of them the sirens of men's dreams. And mine.
When I was growing up, Hollywood taught me that desire was one thing, but its fulfillment was a secretive matter—something hidden behind the closed doors of the bawdy house, or discreetly placed behind a boudoir curtain, places where the camera never went. As a kid, I never thought twice about the closed doors, but as time went on, I wondered: What was this thing called sexual attraction? What went on behind those closed doors? What was so mysterious, so forbidden about sex? Why was it padlocked and rendered invisible? Hollywood would not show me the answers. Except in symbol and sign. The answers were taboo. Which, of course, gave them the kind of mystical power that only things banished as taboo can acquire. Sex was a coded enigma.
The advent of my menstrual period, at age eleven, in the sixth grade, threatened, suddenly, to render the matter visible. Visible, at least, in my house. For a moment, I thought I'd get a clue about this mysterious and forbidden thing. I wanted to be in the know since bleeding, sex, and boys were the hot topics on the playground at lunchtime. But that was not to be. In typical parental fashion, Mama announced that I needed to know about sex now that I had gotten my period. To explain it all, she handed me a book that pictured strange looking internal organs which reportedly were somewhere in the vicinity of my "private parts". Said book dutifully told me that I could expect blood to flow monthly because of some egg dropping from somewhere—a process I could only liken to jelly beans dropping out of the Gem Theater's candy machine after I'd put my penny in. Having put the book in my hands, she warned me to be a lady and always, "Keep your dress down and your legs closed." Thus, my home lesson in Sex 101 was completed, leaving me still in the dark.
In the dark. Where Hollywood whetted and teased my appetite about sex. In the dark. About why I was dreaming of stunning Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner, instead of bad-ass John Wayne or brawny Burt Lancaster. At some point, I don't remember when, I began to wonder if other girls dreamed like I did, not of men, but of women. I didn't know and I wasn't going to ask. Though I wanted to. I wanted to ask one of my friends if, at night, before falling off to sleep, she made up romantic little scripts in her head like I did. My nighttime scenarios cast as my leading lady whichever Hollywood knockout had, lately, taken my fancy. I, of course, would imagine myself all aglitter in magnificent gowns, shoes, furs, and jewels, cozily ensconced in a Manhattan penthouse apartment, courtesy of money's mammy. My script would lay out the usual wooing with a bit of music and some lovely dancing, like those Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire movies that I dearly loved; after winning my lady love’s heart, the scenario inevitably ended with us pledging our love. The pledge was always sealed with my bestowing passionate, fiery kisses upon my pillow-lover. It was my secret movie production. A forbidden drama. Played out in the shadows of dark.
Later, I would decode the symbols on the silver screen, would begin to learn certain lessons. Hollywood would teach me about what was forbidden. About what was taboo in the dark, as well as the light. About what happens when you go against the grain. -------------