Problem solved

A few days ago, I read a blog post on the silly questions that straight people ask lesbians who are engaged. One of the questions was

Who is the one that’s supposed to propose?

I didn’t think that was such a silly question. Frankly, I was asking it of myself.

My Love and I agreed on some things before I came East. I would have my own apartment. We wouldn’t discuss getting engaged until we’d known each other a year. If the law changed in our home state, we’d marry at her parents’ ranch, but not before next year.


While I sat in the waiting room as my Love had an emergency appendectomy, I had a lot of time to worry and pray. And to think.

I understood emptiness for the first time in my life. It frightened me to my core.

I had never loved anyone before. I had walled out love all my life. I couldn’t be hurt, because I had nothing to hurt.

Now, I had glimpsed something beautiful, something sublime. I know that she’s human, fallible, imperfect. So am I, and she knows it. I know that we have much to learn about each other. I know that nine months, less than half in the same city, is little time compared to the rest of our lives.

I know that I see her, and our future, through a glass, darkly:

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

But sitting in that waiting room, I also glimpsed what life might be without her.

Of course, I would go on. We’re bred tough out on the range. We have our day of mourning, then get on with life. It’s a harsh land. Only the strong survive. Only the dead bury their dead.

She lived. But that knowledge of emptiness lives, too.

I resolved that when my Love finished her antibiotics and could drink a glass of champagne, I would break our agreement and propose marriage.

I wondered: Who is supposed to propose? She’s (a little) older and (a little) taller. Should I tell her I want to propose, so we could make it a joint operation? I’m an old-fashioned girl; I needed to ask her parents’ blessing. Did I need to fly home to do that in person? How could I do that without tipping her off?

On Sunday, after church, she solved my problem.

I accepted.

My Story: Coming out to mother

Please read my preceding post for necessary background.

I was completely in the closet until I was almost 35 years old. I never acted on – or even thought about acting on – my attraction to women. I told no one.

I love my family. My mother is a devout Catholic. She was hurt when I left the Church and became a Protestant, but accepted it. But I thought she would never accept that her daughter is a lesbian.

I didn’t fear my mother. But I did not want to destroy my family.


My decision to move to New York excited my family, but left them apprehensive. They were ambitious for the opportunity, but none of us had ever lived in a city, let alone New York City.

They wanted to meet the woman who was helping me with my New York venture.

When my Love was out West for a visit with her family, they invited her for afternoon coffee and cookies. To them, she was just a friend who had already been down that trail.


I was more nervous than I have ever been, even for the defense of my thesis.

My Love was, as always, beautiful and beautifully dressed. Her essential, sophisticated, understated, brilliant self. As easy as I was nervous.

She was utterly charming. Mixed an observant and honest gravity with a light humor I had rarely seen. Despite her genius, success and sophistication, she came to my parents as equals, never condescending or patronizing.

First, my Love put my parents’ minds at ease about their little girl in the big City. My Love talked about its safety, its culture, its sanitation, its distractions, its temptations, its energy, its diversity, its food. She talked about the subway, Central Park, Riverside Park, Times Square, Madison Avenue and her neighborhood on the Upper West Side. She admitted that she had never been in the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. She talked about the theater and the opera. About just walking around.

About how a girl from the end of the road outside of West Jerkwater could thrive on brains and guts and hard work. About opportunity and competition and promise. That nobody cares where you’re from or who your parents are or what you did yesterday. All they care about is what you can do for them today and tomorrow.

She sold them on the City. She let them know that she would be a friend I could call on for anything. She convinced them that I would thrive in the deep end of the biggest pond of all.

My parents told funny and sad stories about me and about our family. My Love told funny, self-deprecating and sad stories about herself and her family. We talked about the importance of family and friends and self-reliance, hard work and faith, honesty and dedication.

The hour stretched to dinner and into the evening. I loosened up enough to contribute.

My Love was comfortable and confident enough to engage my mother in a serious discussion of theology, the differences between Catholic and Protestant approaches to grace, tradition, authority and Scripture. She talked about her own conversion from atheism to Christianity.

The more my family grew to like my Love, the more relaxed I became. I began to believe that perhaps, maybe, someday, my mother might accept that I might love a woman, this woman.

As my Love was getting ready to leave, my mother took us aside from the rest of the family. She asked if we were more than friends.

My Love seized the nettle.


She said that she loved me and hoped, God willing, someday to marry me and have a family with me. For my whole life I had buried my attraction to women for my mother’s sake. My Love would not be a wedge to separate me from my family. My family meant too much to me, and therefore to her. While my Love did not expect my mother’s blessing, she hoped that at least my mother could tolerate us for the sake of my happiness.

She wouldn’t – couldn’t – ask my mother to reject her Church or compromise its tenets. After long and prayerful study, before my Love recognized that she was gay, she came to believe that homosexuality is not a sin. She would be happy to discuss her belief and its basis with my mother, but she would not ask my mother to accept that. All she asked was that my mother recognize that, if it is a sin for her daughter to love a woman, her Church recognizes that we are all sinners. Christ preferred the company of sinners to the company of the pious. If Christ could love sinners, perhaps my mother could still love a sinner, too.

My Love did not want to break my mother’s love for me. That was too precious. What my Love wanted most in the world was for my mother to continue to love me as she always had, to recognize that we are all sinners in need of God’s and each other’s grace. She would understand if my mother could not accept that. She hoped that my mother could accept it: It would otherwise break my Love’s heart, and she thought it would break mine as well.

My mother took it all in, quietly. Her face never changed from a stern fortitude. My Love stated her case and stopped. She didn’t babble on. I wanted to fill the ensuing silence, but my Love stopped me with a squeeze on my arm.

My mother finally spoke. Her Church says that homosexual acts are acts of grave depravity. But she would always love me. If my Love loved me, then my mother loved my Love, too. She didn’t think she could bless a wedding, or bring herself to attend a wedding, but she could – and did – bless both of us.

She said the most peculiar thing: That she could bless our love, too. She believed that God condemned homosexual acts, but she could not believe that God condemned love.


Had I been too afraid of my mother? Too ready to judge her? Too ready to believe that she would reject me? Too small minded to realize that her love would always envelop me?

Or had I always been right to fear her disapproval, but the reality of love opened her mind?

Or was she just happy that someone loves me, and that I love someone?

 

 

Our story: Courting

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.

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.

They absorbed me into their family.

Then she was gone, back to New York.

Our story: First kiss

I had kissed men before. Kissed men who used me; men I used to try to convince myself that I wasn’t gay. I had never kissed with love or passion, or even the hope of love or passion.

She had kissed men before. Men had kissed her with passion. She had kissed some of them with affection.

Neither of us had ever kissed a woman.


My life is now divided between before and after.

I remember the last moment before, in precise clarity. The brilliance of the sun and the sharpness of our shadows. The color of the sky. The little clouds. The scent of the trees and the wildflowers and the earth, the thyme soap on her skin and the scent of her hair. The dry mountain heat and the little breeze. The race of a cicada and the call of a lark.

Then time stopped. At the break of her lips.

How long? It’s meaningless: Time stopped.

It was glorious. Glorious beyond my wildest imagining. It was sweet and tender and then playful and then wild and chaotic and terrifying, until she drained all the life out of me and I drained all the life out of her.

I remember the moment after, remember it as vividly as I remember the moment before. The same sun, the same shadows, the same sky, the same clouds, the same scents, the same heat, the same breeze, the same cicada and lark.

But we were changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. Everything was changed.

We stood, arms around each other, heads on each other’s shoulders. Her breath was coming in short gasps.

When her breath finally evened, she said,

“Do you know you’re vibrating? I don’t know if it’s humming or purring.”

My story: First date

I have a very good friend at the church I attended out West. She loves to talk about her genius sister, who has an advanced quantitative degree from an Ivy League university. The sister founded a successful firm that uses quantitative tools to model clients’ business alternatives.

The sister comes out from New York every summer to relax for a few weeks on their parents’ ranch. My friend brought the sister to Sunday services.

The sister had just come out to her family. My friend, who has a puckish sense of humor, introduced her sister to the minister as her “New York lesbian sister”. I think she expected that to fluster the minister and her sister.

Quite the contrary. The minister was delighted. He asked the sister whether she was comfortable in her faith. If so, would she talk with a woman who was struggling with coming out? (That would be me.)

She agreed. She reserved a table for a dinner at a romantic little restaurant.

The only person I had come out to was the minister. He was a professional, bound to confidentiality. This woman would be the first ordinary person to whom I would come out.

I was nervous, but all the reticence of more than 30 years in the closet evaporated in minutes. I talked freely with a woman for the first time in my life.

She was beautifully dressed, a subtly tailored, simple, classic grey jersey designer shift, pearls, sapphire studs, impeccable light makeup, blonde hair to her shoulders – and cowgirl boots.

At first I thought she had a speech impediment, but I came to realize that she was taking the time to craft each perfect sentence out of a perfect vocabulary.

To any observer, we were two women having a business dinner. We didn’t touch. We didn’t flirt. We talked seriously about our lives, about our families, about growing up in the rural Rockies, about our faith, about our home state, about having kids someday and about coming out. She talked about things of which I knew nothing: literature, the opera, places I’ve never been – New York, London, Paris, Singapore, Rio.

I am self-confident to a fault, but her self-confidence was unnerving.

She would have been intimidating – brilliant, beautiful, beautifully dressed and coiffed, a distinctive personal style, cultured, cosmopolitan, a successful entrepreneur, a New York sophisticate to beat all New York sophisticates. But she carried it all with down-to-earth ease – just a girl from a ranch 10 miles outside of West Jerkwater, amazed at her good luck. She was the friendliest, happiest, least conceited, least self-absorbed person I have ever met. Her self-deprecation was charmingly amusing instead of falsely modest.

She would have seemed unattainable, but she was genuinely interested in me. In me. It was incredible to me then, and it is incredible to me now. She plainly saw me as an equal, as if it were incredible that I might be interested in her.

As we were standing on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, taking our leave, she touched my cheek. I nearly fainted. I understood what it means to see fireworks: Pricks of light flashed in my eyes. All the years of suppressed emotion exploded at the tip of her finger.

It was a few minutes before either of us could talk.

And she became my Love.

My story: Coming out

When I turned 30, I had an immensely satisfying, tremendously successful, career.

There can be few vocations more satisfying than engineering. When I complete a job, there is something there, something tangible and useful, something that serves mankind.

Something about which I could say, with pride, “I built that.” In a century, people might still ask, in wonder, “Who built that?”

But I could feel my life slipping away. I was almost halfway to three score and ten.

I wasn’t unhappy, but I wasn’t happy. In my early 20s, I had given up happiness to free myself of torment. I gave up even a thought of physical or emotional attachment to another person. The most I hoped for was contentment.

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.

My story: Teenage

I was in Seattle, on the street with my mother. I was in junior high school. I had always admired women.

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.

I love New York

I’ve lived in New York City for two months.

Not enough time to know anything about it. Except this:

New York is freedom.

Freedom to be myself. Freedom to be honest with myself and with the world.

Freedom to love. Freedom to be loved.

I don’t know how to convey the enormity of that. I don’t have the vocabulary. I don’t think the vocabulary exists.

Love is the most basic element of humanity. It makes life worthwhile. The feeling of freedom to love should be easy to convey.

But I can’t express its intoxicating sublimity, its ineffable exquisiteness.

Until I first felt that freedom last fall, I could not have imagined it. If one has never had that freedom, one can long for it, but one can not imagine it.

If one has always had that freedom, one can not imagine how it is to have it for the first time. It’s the very air one breathes.

The joy of that freedom is, literally, inexpressible.

I was almost 35 years old when I first came to New York. I visited my Love for a weekend. I floated through the weekend in an ecstatic haze. I could hardly breathe with the enormity of it.

I could hold her hand. I could smile at her. Right in front of God and everybody.

Sexual orientation: A paradox

My sexual orientation isn’t sexual.

Neither is my Love’s.

I can find a man aesthetically or intellectually interesting. But I’ve never felt an emotional or sexual attraction to a man.

From an early age, I appreciated the aesthetics of women and was emotionally attracted to them. I was too young for it to be sexual.

I didn’t have a sexual desire for anyone, man or woman, before I met my Love. I had dreams and waking fantasies of women. They were chaste – being close, talking, holding hands, perhaps kissing or snuggling. No sex, however broadly defined.

Maybe it was just that I had never even held hands with or kissed a woman, and my imagination was too impoverished to supply a sexual context.

But I don’t think so. I wasn’t ignorant. I had sex with men in high school and college.

My Love suggests that aesthetic, physical, intellectual and emotional attraction are, for us, logically prior to sexual attraction. We can’t have a sexual interest without aesthetic appreciation, physical attraction, intellectual engagement and emotional passion.

Perhaps that’s why the (relatively limited) sexual activity that we’ve had has been so explosive for both of us.

I am in my mid-30s. When I was in high school and college, I tried to sublimate my yearning for women by having sex with men. That sex, all of it, was tawdry and degrading. It had no meaning for them; its only meaning for me was disgust. I loathed it even as I went back to it, trying to exorcise the grave depravity of wanting to love a woman.

My Love is in her late 30s. When she met me, her entire sexual experience consisted of having her breasts fondled by a respectful high school boyfriend, and cuddling and having her breasts fondled by a college boyfriend. It was not meaningless – she had affection for both. But she had no desire. It was mechanical and unerotic.

Calling us babes in the woods laughably overstates our lesbian experience.

When my Love first touched my cheek, I almost fainted. Pricks of light danced in my eyes. When she first touched my breast, I stopped breathing. I am certain that my heart stopped. Until that moment, I had been an unemotional woman. Then, I wept in ecstasy at the simple warmth of her palm through my shirt and bra.

When I first touched her breast, she crushed me so hard into herself that I struggled to breathe. Was the scream I heard an actual scream – hers or mine – or the rush of blood in my brain?

Lonely: A paradox

I’ve lived alone all my adult life.

I’m friendly with almost everyone I’ve ever met. I have a wide circle of professional respect. But I protected my closet by avoiding close friendship.

I was fine with that. I was content with my independence.

Until I met my Love.

When I was alone, I was never lonely.

Now that I’m not alone, I am lonely.

Whenever we are apart.