At 8 o’clock every morning, Michael Ming got off the elevator of UC Berkeley's Martin Luther King Jr. Community Building and unlocked the door to the Gender Sexuality Exploration Center. He placed his copper key with its rainbow colored tassle into the door's keyhole and let himself in.
In only three hours, the Center was going to become crowded with people. Mike quietly closed the door behind him. He appreciated the quietness and stillness as daylight calmly entered the hallway.
Peace would soon be interupted. He heard a shuffle coming from the other room. Mike crept to the other room, quickly grabbing one of the center's rainbow colored umbrellas. He quickly lept towards the couch and realized that his family.
Shampoo was sprawled across one of the new comfy red couches. She was wearing a tank top and jeans that looked unwashed for several days. Her lovely purple locks tossed with the lack of hairbrush. Basically, she looked like a complete mess.
“How did you get in here?” Mike asked Shampoo. Shampoo tossed her messy purple hair. “I quickly walked in right after the director leaves the building,” she said. “I was hiding by the potted plant for a while.” She motioned to a large potted green fern beside Martin. "I could really like it here," she said, "until I can somehow afford my own apartment." Her eyes started to well-up. “They kicked me out of my sorority for being gay.”
"No," Mike said immediately, "they kicked you out for breaking the code. I have friends in high places. That Tofu is quite a bitch." Shampoo started to cry and her purple dried mascara was starting to run again. "Oh honey," Mike looked at Shampoo, "we have got to get you cleaned up."
At Whole Earth Grounds, Shampoo tried to sip a steaming hot cup of chai. An instant sting emerged as the burning liquid hit her tongue. She ate her spinach and cream cheese scone ravenously and swallowed chunks of it down. Mike just looked in awe. Beautiful Asian Sorority Barbie now reduced to the instincts of a wolf. Mike sipped his tea slowly.
He broke the silence. "Aren't you going out with Lisa?" Mike asked inquistively. "Why isn't she taking care of you."
"Lisa has a Christian roommate who she isn't out to," Shampoo said. "She threw me off her as if I was never her lover." Shampoo looked down again. "As if I never existed."
"Ah Lisa," Mike calmly blew the steam off his liquid. "She's one foot in the closet and another foot out. She's gay as a goose though." He looked directly at Shampoo. "Of course, she would have done what she did if you pushed her to it."
"She offered a deal in which I could be her roommate and we just couldn't have sex or kiss or hold hands or be five inches from each other," she said. "I couldn't deal with that." Michael looked semi-shocked and quiet. He calmly sipped his chai tea.
“When I came out,” Mike told Shampoo finally, “my mother couldn’t stop crying. My dad didn’t even look at me. He grabbed most of my clothing, stuffed it in a sports bag and threw it out of the house. I followed.” Mike took another stinging sip of the burning liquid, his eyes looked pensively towards Shampoo.
“I took the MUNI up to Castro and wandered the streets for the rest of the night,” he continued. “I got lucky with one guy who was cruising me outside of Gold’s Gym, even though I was underage. I had a place to stay for the night. The next day, he escorted me to LYRIC, the LGBT-youth center in Castro. They helped me pay for an apartment while I finished my high school studies and worked part-time. I’m so grateful to them.”
Shampoo sipped her own mug of chai. It was comforting to know that Mike had gone through a similar experience. She looked at Mike. He smiled, his eyes fading into two small slits as he smiled broadly. How could a man go through so much trauma and find such happiness in his life.
Mike spoke again. “I think I know where we should go next,” he said.
Shampoo drove Mike several blocks down from Whole Earth Grounds. As they moved farther and farther from Berkeley’s central market area, the streets got dirtier and dirtier. The wind howled violently, scaring the leaves off of the rustling autumn trees. Her heart was pounding nervously. Of course she trusted Michael Ming but the idea of going to unfamiliar territory frightened Shampoo to death.
“Turn at the next left,” Mike said. They finally came upon a large worn-out house. The overdried paint upon the walls gradually started to peel off. Shampoo could hear a stray cat screaming in the background. The windows were foggy and had pink flowersills at the edge of each of them. They got out of the car. Shampoo wrapped her scarf around herself tighter as she pulled her bright pink suitcase over the bumpy pavement. Mike proceeded to bang the worn out door. Another shred of tinted paint peeled off the door. The sound of the hollow wood cracking from within was emitted.
Alexandra Lao pulled the door open. Her hair was still bottle-blonde and she still wore thick-rimmed glasses. “It’s the stick again,” Alexandra looked at Shampoo. “The stick” was Shampoo’s lesbian nickname at Cal Q&A because her waif-like body completely differed from the thicker womyn in the organization.
Alexandra grabbed Mike in a bear hug. Mike gasped for air slightly. “So what brings you on a social call to Lambda Delta Lambda?” Alexandra asked Mike.
“Actually,” Mike replied, “it’s for Shampoo. Apparently someone found out about her identity at KAO and they booted her. And then she tried going to Jenn. I was wondering if you could let Shampoo stay here for a little while, until she gets her life back together.”
Alexandra walked around Shampoo and eyed her body carefully, Shampoo felt like she was a slab of meat marked for sale.
"We can take care of her," Alexandra said gruffly.
“Great!” Mike said. “It’s settled.” He turned to Shampoo. “Call me if you need anything but these girls will mean no harm to you…or so they say.” Alexandra gave a faded fake smile and Mike fake-smiled back. He walked out of the room.
Alexandra grabbed Shampoo’s pink suitcase and lugged it to the room. Shampoo looked down and saw that the wooden ground was piled high with dust and was actually white rather than mahogany. With the absence of Mike’s cologne, Shampoo smelled the true smell of the sorority, which was musty mixture of unwashed bedsheets, organic food products and dog.
Shampoo’s new room was not completely that bad. It was half the size of her bedroom at KAO.
“The water pipe is broken,” she said gruffly. “I’d recommend using the shower before 6 p.m. unless you’re really into cold showers.” She turned away.
“You’re gonna be alright, kid,” Alexandra made one last look at Shampoo before she walked out of the room.
Shampoo slumped down on the bed, feeling the ice-cold fluffyness of a down comforter.
It was a picture of her and the sisters of Kappa Alpha Omicron. In standard sorority style, the bubbly Asian girls in beautiful silk black dresses stood in the background of their leaders, who were sitting crosslegged in small white dresses and pageant sashes with the Greek letters on them.
Shampoo flipped the picture over and broke down again.
For the next few days, Shampoo felt a lump in her stomach. Everything she had heard about the lesbian culture was true. And living with a house filled with fully-lesbian women made Shampoo realize that the cold evening showers weren’t the only thing she was disliking quietly about Lambda Delta Lambda.
For starters, most of the girls from LDL had very bad taste in clothing. Alexandra was notorious for her lack of fashion sense. She had too many oversized sweaters from GAP and pants from the 90s. Another sister, Tina, wore the NOW shirt with everything and she didn’t wash the shirt for days. The smell of an unwashed shirt joined with the dog-musk smell of the house. And above all, Shampoo almost gagged at the site of flannel, which was everywhere, especially the flannel jackets with the Greek letters of Lambda Delta Lambda sewn onto them.
At the very least, Shampoo connected to the girls with The L-Word. Most of the girls loved The L-Word and pooled together their funds to purchase an official sorority-version of the expensive DVD. After extensive studying, the girls would gather together exchanging beer bottles and watching the show together. They booed at fragile and whiny Jenny, laughed at the charismatic Alice and they made catcalls at the luminous Marina. As Shampoo clinked cheap bottles of Bud Lite. It was at these quiet moments that Shampoo felt connected to her supposed community, the community that she was now a part of.
Beyond The L-Word, conversations weren’t very easy. Dinner conversations were often filled with passionate activist womyn-speak and Shampoo often felt like she was in the middle of her most intense Womyn Studies class everyday as she dug into Alexandra Lao’s homecooked tofu casseroles. The girls would banter about everything, but mostly about politics and womyn’s issues. Shampoo found herself not seeing eye-to-eye to many of the feminist extremist ideas of many of her new sisters. Of course she didn’t want to send every man to Mars because that would include Mike Ming
And they were all vegetarians. Their reasoning was something about Mother Nature and her goddess divinity bestowing all that they need for. The crammed cupboards were filled with tofu everything. Tofu burgers, tofu sausage, tofu meatballs…Shampoo thought that she would not be surprised if they shaped the tofu into dildos. She was so desperate for some kind of meat after three days that the Cal Q&A girls snuck In-N-Out burgers through the backdoor.
Shampoo was grateful that for Cal Q&A. Most of the girls from Cal Q&A stayed away from Lambda Delta Lambda because of personal reasons. And after living with those womyn, Shampoo knew why. Lambda Delta Lambda was an organization for white lesbians, as Mia Vang said blatantly. White lesbians who were long out of the closet before The L-Word came on television. Alexandra Lao wasn’t white though but the Cal Q&A girls saw her as an exception.
The only unnerving thing about attending Cal Q&A meetings was Lisa. Lisa would try to avert her eyes from Shampoo at every meeting. As the group gathered at Q-Cup and sipped warm frothy cups of milk tea, Lisa would try to distract herself with a group of gay friends. Mike could feel the surface tension between the two women and did as much as possible to keep themselves separated.
After one Cal Q&A meeting and an elongated trip to Q-Cup, Shampoo found herself walking towards the bathroom, wearing fuzzy cotton pajamas and getting used to the musky dog smell in the house. She would have to make this home because there was nowhere else to go. She was one of them now and there was no turning back. As she walked towards the bathroom, Shampoo passed one closed wooden door and heard some arguing. She pressed her ears to the door of Alexandra’s room.
“How did this happen?” one voice said discreetly. Shampoo swore that she had a British accent.
“Mike from Cal Q&A brought her in,” Alexandra’s voice returned, “we didn’t really have much of a choice. She’s gone through so much.”
“What about what she has put me through?” the other voice returned, “I mean it’s weird having known that I’ve dated half of your sorority sisters but also having her around. It’s just too…weird for me.”
“She’s not going to be here for a long time,” Alexandra’s voice insisted, “she just needs a place to stay until she can get her finances settled down. Besides one of those Cal Q&A girls would probably love to have her as their roommates.”
There was a pause. “What the hell is with you,” Alexandra asked. “From what I remember, you were the one who took the initiative, and all of a sudden you’re trying to act like the wounded wolf.”
“You didn’t know how much she meant to me..” the other voice stammered. “Yeah,” Alexandra’s voice replied haughtily, “for the ten minutes you were together.”
“Oh,” the other voice replied angrily, “so you think I enjoy my reputation do you! Eh, Alexandra Lao? You think that I enjoy running around with beautiful young frail things like her. Well, you’re wrong! And of all people, my dear best friend, you’re the one to talk!” The voice brought a chill to Shampoo’s hands.
She heard footsteps walking towards the door. Immediately, Shampoo stood upright and tried to act like she was heading to the bathroom again. The door opened and Shampoo’s jaw dropped. The woman who stood right in front of her shrugged towards the exit. Her long brown hair tied behind her back. “Sorry,” she said coldly, her blazing brown eyes staring at Shampoo.
Shampoo did a double-take. That was Jane Duniway.
I left a reference to Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad in this chapter. Literary majors, see if you can find it!
LYRIC, which stands for the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center is a support center for young queer teens residing in San Francisco. For more information, please visit their Web site at www.lyric.org.
Lambda Delta Lambda is the official progressive queer womyn’s Greek organization. There are chapters in UC Berkeley and in UC Davis.