In life, we all struggle with who we are at some point. For Jess Goldberg, this was a daily struggle that consumed her entire life.
Jess was born in 1949, a period in time when being anything other than heterosexual was accepted. From a young age Jess knew she was different, and so did her parents, schoolmates, and anyone who even glanced at Jess in passing. Adults would even come up to her and ask, “Are you a boy or a girl”(16)? This was just the beginning of Jess’s very difficult life. From such an early age she struggled with her identity, and that struggle followed her around day by day. As Jess was growing up, she had to deal with rejection quite often.
Her parents never accepted her, nor did most anybody else. Running away from home at the age of sixteen was the best thing Jess could think up for herself. She soon found a home away from home at a gay bar called Tifka’s. Here she thought she had figured out who she was, a butch lesbian. She was happier now, knowing that she had people that accepted her, and a place to go to hangout with them. The struggle wasn’t over just yet, Jess ran into many problems with the police due to Tifka’s, as well as another bar called Abba’s.
Also due to the fact she began to dress more like a butch than a femme. Jess began to live in great fear, she wasn’t sure when she would get jumped, or beat up. She came close to death a number of times. Still she never took the easy way out, she continued to be the butch she knew she was, even with the consequences that came with it. Jess became confused, she was at a stand still, she began to take hormones to look more like a man in hopes of an easier life. Jess had to give certain things up, like the love of her life Theresa, so that she could try and have a safer life for herself. She lost most of her friends for a multitude of reasons.
She moved to New York all by herself. She was lonely and still afraid. This period in time was very difficult for Jess. She was in a constant battle with not only the world, but herself. Rejection was something Jess learned at a very early age. From birth not even her mother wanted her. She knew she wouldn’t be accepted by her family when she was driving with her parents in the car one day they saw a “he-she”.
Her sister asked their father what a “he-she” was, and he replied, “It’s a weirdo, like a beatnik”(20). It was hard for Jess to figure out who she was when before she could even figure it out the people around her were already against it. Her parents took her to a ward in hopes of her “getting better” because people during this time thought of homosexuality as a sickness.
It was very cruel of her parents to do this to her, especially the manner in which they did it in. Pretending to take her somewhere else and just dropping her off at a ward for a few weeks. Her parents even sent her to a Charm School which was probably worse for Jess because in no way was she nor did she want to be feminine. Their motto, “Every girl who enters leaves a lady”(23), Jess was the exception. Among side rejection at a young age, Jess was also raped.
One afternoon six boys from the football team tackled Jess and proceeded to rape her one after the other. Then when it was over, as blood dripped down her leg, Coach Moriarty said, “Get out of here, you little whore”(41). Society rejected homosexuality, as well as neglecting any cruelty towards it. “Feeling the last brick wall go up inside of me that might never come down again”(47). Jess decided it was best to take the next step in her journey, she ran away from home. The saddest part about this whole thing is that even though she wrote a letter to her parents telling them she was leaving, she knew they wouldn’t care. “I got a job and a motorcycle and friends”(51), said Jess. At this point in Jess’s life things were going okay.
She had a steady job for a while, a way of transportation that made her feel even more like the butch she is. She had friends that accepted her and loved her for her. A butch named Al played a very important role in Jess’s life. Jess wanted to be just like Al. Al was strong, independent, and everything most butches aspired to be. Al was like Jess’s mentor, she helped her in many ways to figure out just who she was. Although as strong as Al was, she couldn’t protect Jess, or herself from the police. The first time Jess was arrested and taken to jail, she sat in a cell as Al and Mona, a drag queen, were raped.
On another occasion, the same would be done to Jess. When Jess was being raped she took herself to the desert, “Staring at that jail light bulb rescued me from watching my own degradation: I just went away”(62). Jess began to feel lost.
She was jumping from job to job trying to make money, sleeping on friends couches. Even in her places of work she was still being rejected..