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Jay, Karla (b. 1947)  
 
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As a young woman, Karla Jay took an active role in the glbtq rights movement. She has gone on to become a prolific author and editor and a Distinguished Professor of English and Women's and Gender Studies at Pace University in New York City.

In her memoir, Tales of the Lavender Menace (2000), Jay wrote, "I used to tell people that my jeans were by Levi, but my childhood was by Dickens."

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The stress in the household was primarily due to the serious depression of her mother, Rhoda Berlin, who also suffered from delusions and hallucinations and made a number of unsuccessful attempts at suicide. Jay's father, Abraham Berlin, part owner of a company that supplied lumber for building bins to transport cargo on freighters, made it a point to work as much as possible to avoid the uncomfortable situation at home.

When the Berlins' younger child was born on February 22, 1947 in New York City, her father consulted a list of freighters that had recently docked and suggested naming the infant after the Karla Dane. His wife felt that Jayne would be a better middle name and prevailed in the choice. Jay adopted a new surname later in life.

As a child, Jay was a tomboy, much to the distress of her mother, who kept buying her Barbie and Ginny dolls despite her daughter's complete lack of interest in them. "She saw this child she wanted to have," Jay later stated. "This child was not me."

Jay enjoyed sports and showed good ability at them, although her extreme myopia caused her to be somewhat clumsy. A more serious consequence of her undiagnosed vision problem was that when she started school, she was put into a class for slow learners, where she languished for four years.

Once the severity of her nearsightedness was discovered, she was moved into a regular class. She was far behind her schoolmates--only learning to read in the fourth grade--but quickly caught up and became captivated by the world of books.

From the ages of five to twelve, Jay went off to summer camp, where she had crushes on her counselors. "It was my first awareness that I was gay," she declared later.

Looking back, she suspects that most of her teen-aged counselors were lesbians. "I knew I was different as a little kid, but when I saw these counselors, I knew I was like them in some fundamental way," she recalled, but, at the time, "I had no words for it."

Jay had been attending public schools, but when a neighbor boy was stabbed at the junior high school, her parents enrolled her at the private Berkeley Institute, not only for her safety but also because they understood the importance of providing their child with a better education than they had had.

Jay excelled at the Berkeley Institute, earning praise for her writing ability, her expertise in French, and her mastery of mathematics. She was also among the school's best athletes.

At the all-girl Berkeley Institute, intimate friendships between students were fairly common. This atmosphere helped Jay to view homosexual attraction as natural, but, when two classmates got into trouble for excessive displays of affection, she also learned that there were distinct limits to public tolerance.

Jay's academic achievements earned her a Regents Scholarship that allowed her to attend the all-women Barnard College, where she enrolled as a French major in 1964.

At Barnard, Jay "felt a boyfriend was a necessity" after hearing at freshman orientation that two students had been expelled after a male student from neighboring Columbia University first used binoculars to spy on them making love in a dorm room and then reported them. Jay found a boyfriend at a dance early in her first year and dated him throughout college. She later stated that she was "convinced, in retrospect, that [the man] was gay and that they were using each other as cover."

Jay began exploring the lesbian bar scene, which offered women-loving women an opportunity to socialize, although one that came at a risk since there was always the possibility of police raids.

She found the venues somewhat seedy and was dismayed that she was inevitably asked by other patrons whether she was butch or femme, when she identified as neither and did not want to be forced to define herself in that way. On the whole, her trips to the bars were unrewarding: she felt so little sense of community with the women there that she sometimes wondered if she was indeed a lesbian.

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