At my fiancée’s family cookout last month, someone asked me,
When did you become a lesbian?
I gave the stock answer:
I didn’t become a lesbian. I was born this way. Nobody would choose to become a lesbian.
And that’s true: Nobody would choose to be a closeted lesbian in a heterosexual world dominated by the intolerant. From my own history, I know that a teenage girl or high-school-educated woman in a remote farm or town would not be likely to choose to be a lesbian.
The firebrand conservatives say that’s a good thing. Decriminalization, social acceptance, legal equality – make it easier to be a homosexual, encourage the spread of homosexuality.
There’s a joke:
Two guys are out golfing. A bolt of lightning kills them. At the Pearly Gates, St Peter is befuddled: These two guys weren’t supposed to die today.
St Peter says he has to send them back. As compensation for their trouble, they get to choose who they want to go back as. The two guys huddle, then come back.
Two guys: We want to be lesbians.
St Peter: Lesbians? Why lesbians?
Two guys: We still want to have sex with women, but we want to use the ladies’ tees.
That joke gives me a warm smile.
Loving a woman is glorious. Absolutely, utterly glorious. I love everything about it, about her.
Of course, I love a woman because I was born this way. I never got the chance to choose to become a lesbian.
But, now, I am glad I was born this way.
I would choose to be a lesbian.
In that sense – and in the sense that I have chosen to come out, chosen to meet a woman and fall in love with her, chosen to ask her to marry me, chosen to accept her request that I marry her – I have chosen to be a lesbian.
There was a time, and there are places, where no one would choose to be a lesbian.
Not back home, either – at least, not for my fiancée or me. Conservative Christians and Mormons may disapprove, may even tell me that I’m going to Hell. That doesn’t bother me. I’ve dealt with much worse disapproval and heard a lot worse things said about me – for things that I have chosen. There’s not much that they can do to us beyond tut-tut.
I can live happily and openly with the woman I love.
Growing up, this was The City. Now that I’ve seen New York, London and Singapore, well, it’s a town. But it’s a delightful town. Someday, I want to have one of the 19-aught houses with a yard for a half-dozen wild kids. Ozzie, the girl mathematician entrepreneur. Harriet the girl engineer.
I reserved a room in a bed & breakfast in one of those 19-aught houses. When I made the reservation, I delicately asked the owner if she would be comfortable hosting a lesbian couple. She laughed and told me that they had just hosted a gay wedding.
I checked in and took a little nap. I got up, soaked in a hot bath with my Love’s favorite oil. I made myself as pretty as I could.
I took a car to the restaurant. Last year, she was there first, waiting for me. This year, I was there long before she arrived. I wanted to savor her entrance.
She came in. The world narrowed to her. She wore the same dress, the same pearls, the same studs as last year.
I stood up.
She saw me and smiled. My world exploded. I felt what I felt last year, when she first touched my cheek. That I would never draw another breath. And that would be fine.
She is tall. Slender. She moves with exquisite grace. Her dress moved with her. Every eye was on her. All conversation stopped.
Last year, we didn’t touch. I didn’t dare. I was deeply in the closet.
This year we kissed. Not a public display of affection. Just a, “Hello, sweetie,” kiss. But we were radiating such happiness that no one would doubt what we were to each other.
Last year, she hadn’t had trout in a year, so she had trout. I had rabbit.
This year, I hadn’t had trout in six months, so I had trout. She had rabbit.
We are firm believers in swapping bites.
In the mountains, trout tastes sweet. I tried it once in New York. It wasn’t sweet. It tasted odd.
I’ve gotten accustomed to Atlantic fish – other than Atlantic salmon. I love Pacific salmon. But Atlantic salmon tastes rancid to me.
The trout was pan seared and served in almond shavings and tarragon butter. It was as sweet as I remembered.
The rabbit – in a rosemary-mushroom reduction – was a warm note on a cool summer night.
An elegant light Willamette pinot.
Dinner conversation was New York heat and humidity, Western wildfires, putting up hay, hay yield, calf yield, food, wedding plans, the next day’s cookout.
She gave me background on the parts of her family I would meet for the first time at the cookout. A warning that we would be the first lesbians some of them had ever met. She wasn’t sure how open-minded some of the distant cousins would be. I could tolerate some pleasant bigotry, and even a suggestion or two that I was headed to Hell. Still, I suggested that – for the sake of inter-family harmony – we keep any doubtful relatives away from my mother.
The chef came out of the kitchen with three glasses and a half-bottle of Sauternes to toast us over a deep dish berry crisp.
The B&B was romantic and gay-friendly. Very romantic. Very gay-friendly.
Even now, I have a hard time with gay – and particularly gay woman – to describe myself. Yes, it’s up there in the header (“God-fearing gay geek girl”), but for its alliteration. But I think of gay as a word for men.
When I was in the closet, I didn’t like lesbian, either. I’m not sure why. I thought it sounded ugly and antiseptic. Not as ugly as homosexual, but ugly. Not as antiseptic as homosexual, but antiseptic.
Maybe it was just the baldness of, “I’m a lesbian.” No matter how firmly I say it, it sounds like I’m admitting to a sexually transmitted disease. (My Love likes to joke that if you ask a Harvard undergrad where he goes to school, his answer will sound like he’s admitting to a sexually transmitted disease.)
But I’m reconciling to lesbian. I’ve come to like it. I like the sound of it, now. I like the baldness of, “I’m a lesbian.”
Then there are queer and dyke and faggot. I hate those words, absolutely.
I understand that people use them self-referentially to denature them. I understand that people use queer to encompass the whole range of non-heterosexuality.
But they are plain ugly words, hateful words that I’ve heard, spittle-flecked, through clenched jaws. Maybe I hate them out of shame that I protected my closet by not objecting to them.
The funny thing is, this blog is the only place that I regularly use any of those words. It’s not that this is the only place I’m comfortable with them.
I’m fully out of the closet. I’m not ashamed of what I am. I’m happy to admit it, to confirm that I love – am engaged to marry – a woman. Everyone at my firm knows I’m a lesbian. Everyone in my family. All my friends.
I don’t make a point of it. I don’t need to. I don’t feel a need to correct people or to get annoyed at heterosexual assumptions. After all, heterosexuals outnumber us somewhere between ten to one and fifty to one, even here in New York.
Perhaps this blog is the only place where it’s an important part of my persona.
At work, the primary element of my persona is engineer. Lesbian or even woman is irrelevant. To my landlord, the primary element of my persona is tenant or rent. At church, it’s Christian or member. To my Love, it’s fiancée or sweetie. To my family, it’s daughter or sister.
I look back through the posts on this blog and see that I am becoming more and more comfortable with lesbian. I’m beginning to like it.
Maybe it’s that I’m only now beginning to think that I’m entitled to use it. It’s been less than a year since I first allowed myself to think of confessing my secret to another woman. And now that woman is my fiancée.
Maybe it’s that other bloggers that I follow – or that follow me – are so comfortable with lesbian. You’ve been using it a lot longer than I have. You seem happy with it. You seem happy to let me use it.
Heather is (unlike me) an actual lawyer law school graduate.
I particularly agree with one of her thoughts: Marriage is three different things:
a collection of legal rights and obligations
a commitment between two people
a ceremony, religious or not
It is a category error to confuse the three things, as opponents of gay marriage often do. As Heather says, I don’t need a lawyer for the latter two. I don’t need God for the first.
PS: She called my post “very intellectual”! My dear, I’m just an engineer.
PPS: Heather’s post reminds me that my hero is Roy McDonald, a conservative Republican from a conservative, Republican upstate district, who committed political suicide by voting for the New York gay marriage law. Roy said,
[Y]ou try to do the right thing. You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that. Well, f*** it, I don’t care what you think. I’m trying to do the right thing. … They can take the job and shove it. I come from a blue-collar background. I’m trying to do the right thing, and that’s where I’m going with this.
The Church took that opportunity and made good on it.
The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, kept the Church out of the campaign. Although he personally would vote No, he said, “Marriage isn’t just about two people falling in love. It’s a much more complex. My voting No is not a vote against gay and lesbian people.”
And he backed it up by rebuking priests and bishops who were more intemperate.
True, a lobbying organization of Catholics was the loudest opponent of the amendment. But it was individuals, not the Church.
Its arguments were pathetically self-defeating. The notion that gays cannot be good parents, that their children are somehow stunted, is belied every day.
In the end, was it the fallacy – the obvious wrongheadedness – of that very argument in the face of gay couples’ commitment to love and the truest of family values? Was it His answer to the prayer for the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer?
Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.
Finally, I am most heartened that it supports my belief that our most important battle is won when people – traditionalists, conservatives, fundamentalists – see us not as aliens, but as fellow humans.
Perhaps I’m Pollyanaish. Perhaps I have Stockholm Syndrome. But I have a more intimate knowledge of those who oppose gay marriage than my urban sophisticate friends.
I come from a place where homosexuality does not exist. My Love and I are probably the first out lesbians that most people in our home counties have ever met.
Two-thirds of the citizens of my home state voted for the opposite constitutional provision: that marriage is between a man and a woman. My Love and I come from the most conservative, most rural parts of one of the most conservative, rural states. Almost everyone we know voted in favor of the amendment.
I can’t demonize opponents of gay marriage. They are people, too. My people. They may not understand me, but they don’t hate me. Where I’m from, Westboro Baptist Church is hated far more than a gay couple.
Since my Love came out, she has had nothing but acceptance. Since I came out, I have had nothing but acceptance.
There’s a lot of curiosity – some of it pretty silly – but that is a good thing. Curiosity is incompatible with knee-jerk hate. People don’t try to understand something they hate. People are curious about something they want to understand.
I don’t have a grand agenda.
I just want people to see that He formed me of the same dust of the ground. He breathed into my nostrils the same breath of life, the same living soul. He created me in His image, too. He knows that it is not good that I should be alone, either. He has made a help meet for me, too.
Hath not a lesbian eyes? hath not a lesbian hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?
I want to be seen to have the same yearnings, the same hopes, the same fears as straight people.
A man wants to work for his pay.
A man wants a place in the sun.
A man wants a gal proud to say
That she’ll become his lovin’ wife.
He wants a chance to give his kids a better life, yes
Well hello, hello, hello brother
A gal wants to work for her pay.
A gal wants a place in the sun.
A gal wants a gal proud to say
That she’ll become her lovin’ wife.
She wants a chance to give her kids a better life, yes
Well hello, hello, hello brother
For two glorious weeks, we were together out West.
We had picnics.
We rode horses into the back country.
We went to church.
We went honky-tonkin’. We danced with each other, danced with other girls, danced with boys, met some of her old friends.
We talked on a park bench. We talked on a picnic blanket. We talked on the tailgate of her pickup. We talked in the cab of her pickup. We talked while riding horses. We talked in bed.
The few nights we were apart, we talked on Skype.
We talked about what we wanted. From life. From each other. From ourselves with each other. About our pasts. About our futures. About our future, when she left for New York, 2000 miles away. About my future, perhaps in New York.
We went to a lodge in the mountains, a “luxury ranch”. We ate outstanding meals and drank excellent wine. We hiked, rode horses, fished, dusted clays, relaxed.
We shared a bed, each of us for the first time with a woman. We cuddled, each of us for the first time with a woman. We explored each other, each of us for the first time with a woman. We slept in each other’s arms, burrowed under the covers in the chilly mountain night.
We spent the last weekend together at her parents’ ranch.
Her parents invited her family for a cookout, to meet me. The loyalty, the love, in her family was extraordinary.
I met with the minister of the church I attended. I was not a member of the church. I knew nothing about him, other than that he preached to the text and that his sermons were conservative, thoughtful and tolerant.
“I am not depressed or suicidal. But I am tired of struggling with myself.”
Of all the things I thought he might say, I wasn’t expecting what he did say:
“Do you think it would be a sin to act on it? Maybe we should look into that.”
I was nonplussed, and a little irritated:
“I won’t edit scripture to justify my inclinations.”
He was amused:
“I would never suggest that you – we – edit scripture. I suggest that we study scripture. Frankly, this has never come up in my ministry. You are the first person to walk in my office and say, ‘I am a homosexual.’ I have never seriously thought about it. I know what tradition says, but we Protestants reject the authority of tradition. I would be interested to know myself. Shall we find out together?”
So we did. And I was reconciled to my self and God.
As I approached 30, I had the increasing sense that I was wasting my humanity, my capacity to love and be loved.
I had the increasing sense that my refusal to embrace joy and love or to evoke them in others was worse than whatever sin I was trying to avoid. I was betraying God, scorning the spark of humanity He had given me, refusing to embrace the essence of His image. My emptiness darkened. My pride in my accomplishments was fading into inconsequence.
But I could not see how I could break out of that emptiness and inconsequence.
I like men and generally find them attractive as human beings. But I could not find emotional or physical intimacy with a man. Emotional or physical attraction to a woman was a sin.
Finally, I made an appointment to see my minister. Perhaps he could help me find a way out of my physical and emotional dilemma. And, if not, help me to regain my pride and a measure of contentment.
He was the first person to whom I came out of closet.
We saw two ordinary, well dressed women holding hands as they walked down the street. They stopped, kissed each other – chastely but affectionately – and separated with a wave and a laugh. Something I had seen thousands of times between married couples. A tableau of real affection, of love.
My mother said, in disgust, “Lesbians.”
Then I knew what I was. My heart went out to them, even as I knew that they were damned.
It wrenched me to the core. These were ordinary women. They weren’t strange or depraved. They were just like my mother. Except that they were in love. With each other.
And what of me? I had that same feeling for women; was I objectively disordered? Was I in sin?
To prove to myself that I was not a pervert, I forced my virginity on a boy. It was quick, sordid and painful. Everything about it was disgusting. I was sick with myself for days.
I became a slut in the hope that I might be converted from my shameful inclination.
I became isolated.
I could not bear to be with girls. Girls did not want to be with me, a slut.
Boys didn’t want to be seen with me. They did want to be with me, unseen.
Everything about sex disgusted me. It had no meaning for them; its only meaning for me was degradation. I loathed it even as I went back to it, again and again, trying to exorcise the other depravity.
I threw myself into school work. I graduated at the top of my class. My first-choice university accepted me to its honors engineering program.