My very early life was Catholic, it was the typical nuclear family. That changed though, as things do. Getting closer to adolescence I was in a liberal family of women, men didn’t figure much into this stage of my life; if they did it was more peripheral then intimate. Male gayness was openly supported and normalized, but I’d never, ever, heard anyone even comment on lesbianism.
I knew the word, but I don’t know why. I know that I was familiar with the term because one day after school an older girl who lived with us demonized another girl (who I didn’t know and never would) as a lesbian. It’s my first openly negative memory of anything like this and it was shocking and left a mark on me. The older girl was voracious in her hatred; I was unaccustomed. My mom was big on equality for all, and I’d never even heard anyone speak about another person with that tone.
However, lesbianism in a houseful of female hetero-normative indoctrination was clearly “disgusting” because the idea of female gayness seeped into our house with silent disdain. To grow up in a really liberal house that actively supported equality and human rights and to have this one word excised was it’s own message. I don’t blame my family, it was just the times—gay men were okay because they were so different and it wasn’t intimate for us. Gay women were an entirely different matter.
I didn’t even know until I was older that to understand myself as a gay woman in a family of women who are very close is a big fucking deal. It scared the shit out of me so much that the reality of it wasn’t even something my conscious mind could wrap itself around. It kept me away from myself for a very long time.
Sexually, my earliest memory of difference was probably in grade three. I was in class with a group of girls that were gathered around a desk oohing over a teen magazine. I think they were looking at the Bay City Rollers, or maybe Erik Estrada—who I could probably appreciate slightly more—but the images held no interest to me.
The way I remember that moment was of them in a circle responding to images in an appreciative way and me kind of observing the circle of girls and finding the whole thing perplexing. I liked Cindy or Marsha from the Brady Bunch, but Bay City Rollers—not so much. What I noticed was difference, but without any negative internalization because it didn’t mean anything to me yet.
Once I entered adolescence things got a bit haywire and nothing about me was usual or followed a predictable path, including my sexuality. I was so far outside of mainstream that the concept of gay, queer, lesbian, or anything else was a footnote that left no ripple of dismay within me. But then, I didn’t identify as any of those so there was no consequence to make a ripple.
I got my radicalized education from the streets and moved on from year to year. Intellectually I was changing, but it took a lot to erode my deep early socialization, and then to make sense of it all. I was scared. I often re-remember my early sexuality different then it was.
In my late teens the only out, loud, and proud lesbians I knew were older then me, and politicized (thank-you for that). They enjoyed challenging my femme self, my girly-girlyness, my obvious lack of understanding. It wasn’t enough for me to be ‘okay’ with gay—they challenged me to be pro-lesbian, rightfully so. I wasn’t sexually attracted to them, so I don’t think it had sunk in that I might have to check that box on the identity form. I still just felt different.
I had fooled around with some of my straight friends, but it was never intimate. It was safe because I knew they were just playing. Then, in my early twenties I had sex with a close friend. It was her idea; she was queerious and I was queer, so I agreed. I have the feeling that she needed to check off her list that she wasn’t gay. Whereas it hadn’t occurred to me, not in any meaningful way, that I was. Or if I was, what that might mean.
Our reactions to that experience were different. I felt like I’d just gotten corrective glasses after a lifetime of blurry vision. And by this, I mean emotional glasses. Something inside of me straightened out—a crook cricked.
Around this time queer culture was changing and it literally felt like there was a sudden explosion of young gay women that sprung up out of the asphalt and I was attracted to them; I got crushes that I couldn’t deny. My socialization had been power-washed off by degrees, and I was meeting women that I could relate to, that I was attracted to, and I wasn’t afraid anymore.
I don’t know that I ever actually came out. There were questions and challenges, but they didn’t hold a lot of emotional charge for me. I just started introducing different people to the family and eventually one of them stayed. There was no one traumatic event or situation that I had to deal with.
That doesn’t mean it’s been easy coming to terms because it hasn’t. Every single person on the planet feels different and we all have things that are more difficult then others to deal with. This is one of my areas of difference; I’m relieved that I came up in time to embrace this part of me without terrible consequence. Hats off to those who struggled before me.