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I

,
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Telling my st
I
ry has not
been easy for e. I've had':"
to dredge up memories 1:
would rather have forgot-;
ten. The lonely, anxiety-ridden months I avoided
others, attempting to hide from interrogations'
about my social life. The questions I couldn't or:
refused to answer ... the inescapable nightmares of
being rejected by family and friends. The mornings,
when tension-racked and covered with hives, my
ody would be raw from my incessant scratching. Through all
this I pretended that being known as a lesbian did not bother me
that it was only a problem for other people. Yet, for me and o ~
many women like me, being a lesbian today means living in fear
of discovery and in fear of not being liked. And nothing has
brought me greater misery or stagnation than those fears.
Somehow I survived the tears, the isolation and the feeling that
something was terribly wrong with me for loving another woman.
Coming to terms with my life as a lesbian has been easier for
me than it has been for many. Since I don't look or dress like the
; stereotypical bulldagger, I have a choice as to whether my sexual
1 preference is known. Not having a recognizable difference has
given me the opportunity to find out what my way of living entails
on my own time. I have also been fortunate because I discovered
my preference for women early, before getting locked into a
traditional marriage and having children.
When I decided to write this article, I said, ''I'm writing this for
my gay sisters." I wanted my voice to reassure ~ h o s who feel as
isolated and alone as I once did, those who desperately seek
answers to all the "whys" when none exist, those who are
embroiled in a struggle to be themselves in a society that frowns
on differences. As I wrote and relived the pain, I realized that the
fears, which I had assumed to be gone, were still within me.
Furthermore, I saw that I had been denying my sufferings,
denying feelings that were important to me. In anger and relief, I
saw the importance of being myself and knew I had to sign my
real name. "Coming out" this far has taken me seven years and I
still don't rest easy. I worry that no employer will hire me again,
that my free-lance writing assignments will dwindle, that my gay
friends who are still in the closet will disassociate themselves from
me. I fear, in sum, that the monster of conformity will rear its
angry head and devour me. But I'm weary of playing games and
of hiding and being afraid. I refuse to be trapped in a half-life of
worry and anxiety, wondering how to explain to others that my
lover is a woman. For myself, my gay sisters and those who care to
take a step toward understanding-here is my story. (conlinuedonpage/571
eSSENCE SEPTEM8ER/91


M A
linued[rompage 91)
Novemberand I was 17. On a cold afternoon L along
several hundredolherwomen.wereattendingafreshman
"entation at OUf Seven Sislercollege. Before long. everyone
Vt reslless.Thereseemed 10 be flO endto the traditions.rules
regulationswe were supposed to absorb. A woman,",'ho I
er found out was named Sharon, "at beside me. With her
ightened hair and prim collar, she looked conservative-a
ical Ivy Leaguer-and Igroaned inwardly. BUL she made me
n when suddenl)'. unex.pectedly, she leaned over and \vhis-
red. "Don'tyou wish we hada joim?"
"Tomorrow," I wmked. striking my most genteel pose,
efofe tea."
From thar moment on, we were inseparable. Although
aron wasreservedand Iwas the "takecharge"type,we were
th prettymuch loners. We alsohadsimilarinterests. Likeme,
aren lovedjazzandsunsetsar.d hall read LucilleClIftonand
mesAlan McPherson.She LOa haled partiesandsocials and
Iy paid lip service to the frantic manhunts that preoccupied
any ofour classmates. Together, Sharon and I could find
ace. Whileourroommatesparty-hoppedeveryweekend,we
pt one another company-swimming, studying and writing
etry-contentJUS! 10 be with each other.
'One morning.four months laler, we found ourselves in une
other's arms. admitting fOf the first time aUf Jove for each
her. I was ecstatic. There was the joy of waking to her
hispers and the son warmth ofher woman's touch. Beyond
at was the joy ofdiscovery, of watching a new part ofme
folding. It u:as like asecond birlh. Yet, however naturalour
ing seemed. we were both aware that this \vas a turmng
int in bothour lives.
"Have you ever made love with a woman beCore?" I asked
yly. "Did you justdo it because you were drunk?"
"No." she protested, "1 wallteu to."
"Well," I persisted, "how did you know what to doT'
Al thaI, we burst into giggles, clinging closer
gelher. What was happening between us? What was this
phoria?Although both ofus had slept with'men, neitherof
hall been intimate WIth a woman before. We didn't even
ow lesbians. How and whyhad this happened?As we lay
gelher. we mulled over the lho\Jsand questions we suddenly
dto ask each other.
wanted 10 tellsomeone,"I'min I wassovery happy_
verything was Sharon. Sometimes we wondered if anyone
uld tell we were more than just friends. But we were so
rapped up in each other that no one else mauered.
We convinced ourroommates to switch, and Sharon moved
with me. No one seemed suspiciOUS. since the arrangement
emed perfecLly logIcal. OUf roommates had the samesched
les, majors and interests, and Sharon and I were clearly
rnpatible. Vo.'e knew enough to keep the true nature ofaUf
lationship secret, even though neither of us realized how
uch we weregetling into_ Having always beenloved,accept
and praiscd.we were \Jnaware ofthe scorn and ridicule that
ciety might heap upon us for beIng "differenL."
Sharon and I realized that we had always been more
!tracted 10 women. both emotionally and physically. than to
nen. We were very that we loved women and preferreJ
as lovers. Our doubts concerned the kind of life this
Deant for us. What if people fOlJnd out-would we still be
ked? What ifwe wanted to have children?Could we, should
'e, everteltourparents? Would theydisown us? Could we get
lpelled Crom college? Did any of this matter? Having, no
orinformation was frightening.
'We soon learned that it is one thing to prepareCor problems
ld quite.analher to meet them headon. Despite all our
Sharon and 1had managed to create a small,
Wate haven together. Thatpeacecame to a sudden end one
ghl when we CargO! to lock (he door to our room. We were
(collfillllCd on page /59)
"'A LESBIAN
popular and friends and acquainl-
's were :Jccustomed lO making unan-
. ced visits for conversa-
and lea. Sharon and I were silling on
. me bed hugging one another when
ilooropened. Light flooded the room,
apart. "Shit!" J whispered.
.. arTy." muttered a tall. dark figure,
:king quickly out the door. After
.dy deliberation. Sharon ran out to
ain what we were doing. Feel-
.;paranoid, I waited and wailed for her
m. When she came back. she re-
ed her lie for me and assured me
. our friend had bought the story. But
Jd nol feel reassured.
uddenly. I felt trapped. Sharon was
'tent with loving me in isolation, but
t was like a second
birth. There was
e joy of discovery,
f watching a new
part of me
unfolding.
forthright Sagittarian spirit rebelled
ainsllhe lies.lhe secrecy and the threat
discoven', I knew I was not free. .
, Although I don't consider my sexual
eference the most jm portant aspect of
existence, I wanted people I cared
out 10 know Ihis love that brought me
much happiness. Sharon and I agreed
tell a fe"" friends. Telling people was
I as hard as I thought. Ilnd had Sharon
d I known more liberal groups of
ters. we might never have felt any
'r . gative repercussions. Ironically. the
'0 women we spent the most lime with
the most unreasonable about ho-
'ffosexuality. One of them would grow
';'ild at the mere mention of a rumored
between two
YeL she loved to (alk aboullhem
I never told her we were gay. I
,nsed, as she grew more and more
;stil.nl toward us, that she knew. Well
and sociable, her changed be-
Iiavior affected others and I was sure that
Ihe word was out.
'hJd been elected dormitory repre-
'ntative for our class, but I withdrew
tm what had been exuberant panici-
Maybe I imagined those funny,
silences during a chance encounter
riding in the elevator with what
iad been our loud, laughing crowd of
'riends. Maybe no one stopped speaking
ous and it was my own sudden quiet
Ihat precipitated the change. But I don't
believe that to be true. Tension settled
over my life and I slowly kniued a
cocoon around my feelings to protect me
from a hUrl and confusion I did not
understand. I was frustrated by the hid-
ing. the lies and guilt, but there was no
outlet. I didn't know how to reacl (0 the
ignorance and fear that constitute the
prejudice many heterosexuals have
against gays. I didn't know how to quiet
my fear of rejection. It was getting harder
and harder to get up in the morning, lei
alone study, and Sharon and I began to
argue and find excuses to stay away from
each other.
We finally decided to consult a psy-
chiatrist because there was no one else
whom we could trust and who could be
objective. We also figured that we could
not possibly be the first and only women
at this school who have had problems
like this. Although the American Psychi-
atric Association had not yet declared
homosexuality a viable alternative life-
style, the psychiatrist assured us that our
stemmed from our living
conditions rather than from a confusion
about our sexual orientation. Sharon was
about security while I was about risking
and exploring-discovering what kind of
life I could have in the real world.
Separating was a long and painful
process, and Sharon saw the psychiatflst
for some time after.
I moved alone to a new dormitory and
eased into my new life. I grew more
serious about writing and changed my
major from psychology to En.glish I also
explored lesbianism through books. as
an attempt toward self-definition.
In Sappho Wiu A Rlghr On Woman,
authors Sidney Abbott and Barbara
Love define u -lesbian as ..... '1 woman
whose primury psychological. emotion-
al. erotic and social inlerest is in
members or her own sex even though
thut interest may nol be expressed. Les-
biJnism IS a state of mind rather than a
sexual ad,' .lUSt as a woman may be
heterosexual yet never marry or even
have signiricant relationships with men,
so can a woman be gay. yet never have a
lesbian relationship. Sharon and I had
always thought of ourselves as hetero-
sexual IJrgely because society had con-
ditioned us to believe that was what we
should be. We had had positive rela-
tionships With men, but the depth. un-
derstanding Jnd warmth we felt for each
other was beyond comparison.
My new rooming situation allowed me
to make more rriends. I began to meel
women and men who were from cities
and had been exposed to people with
varied lifestyles. They were secure
enough not to be threatened by my
lesbianism. A couple of sisters even ad
milled thal they had questioned their
heterosexuality. Although neither of
them had ever slept with a \It'oman. they
(continued on paRe ibn
Egg FuYung\
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Plepare 1 pkg. Fried Rice-A-Roni according '4.1li-
to' package directions; cool. Beat 6eggs willi.'.;'
1 Tbsp. soy sauce, 'I, tsp. salt, dash
in cooked Rice-A-Roni, 1 (16 oz.)
bean sprouts, 'I. cup sliced green ;'1;rt.
Drop mixture by 'I, cupfUls onto;..;-
griddle. Brown .on each side. sauce:.. 'if,
c mbine 2 Tbsp. cOrnstarch, 2 Tbsp..soy .,

uce and 2 cups water;' cook untll thIck.
S,rve over Egg Fu Yung. Serves 4. -.
I r , _, _.
'AM A LESBIAN

,:oll!/nued/i"ompage /5(j)
that lesbl:Jolsm goes beyondthe
\;dwnm. One sisler felt that, while she
J(lUld always have a greater love and
for women. could never dis-
..ppoint her family who expected her to
lUfr\' i.lnd have children. The othersis-
':f- Intended to have a political
ureer. didn't feel thaL could ever be a
:l:ulitv ifshe were \0 have relationships
We had many long discus-
iom ,Ibou! v..'hether it \'.'as possible or
:.,.ven practical to sacrifice a loving rela-
l(lnshlp wllh a woman for family orthe
1lIlside .,",arid. Although I didn'I feel iL
,as necessary \0 make either of lhose
acririces, IrealizedthaIit takesacertain
;Durage and qrength (0 be visible.
Itwas notlongbefore myownslreng\h
usLesled. Iwasjustgetting used to the
dea of lIving as a gay woman when I
home for spring break. I had been
I{Inle less thi.ln a day when my parenls
ailed me in to the family room for a
conference. "Is this yours'?" my
nother asked. handing me a brochure
::Ir iln upcomll1glesbian conference. My
kin went cold. my fingers twitched ner-
(lusly and my heart fluttered. Somehow
managed to'answer"yes."and toadmit
'1' involvement in lesbian activities. My
llhcrwasstunned.He s:Jid he knew that
len in pnson were often into homosex-
<lIlLY. but he didn't know about this. It
'as my turn to be stunned. 1honeslly
idn', realize how liltle he knew about
ol1losexuality.
"Would ',.'ou ratherhavegonetoacoed
)]Jege'?" my motherquestioned.
lpied with w<Jnling to know whal Ihey
Jd done \\'[ong, she seemed 10 feel
:sponsible.
"No," Ireplied,surprised thalshe had
'en asked. It had been my decision to
tend a women's college. 1 had been
'cepLed al four coed colleges, but Ihad
Inscioush" ehosen an all-femaleschool.
loved women. Even ifSharon was [he
st female lover I would ever have, I'd
:11 prefer women. I didn't know why
Iy more than Jnyone else did. I ram-
ed on nervousl\' about some studl' I
,d reud, whICh slated that there were
ore gay people on coed campuses be-
studentsa\ single-sexschoolswere
("rly paranold about homosexuality.
y parents stared at me with blank
pressIOns. Icould have been speak109
.. ahilt for all the'.. knew
Finally my father sighed. "You're
ack and 'you'reawoman,"he declared.
don'tseewhv youwant to be lI1volvcd
something I{kl:; this."
"You lalk as If I had Uchoice." 1pro
,ted. my reactioncomingfrom the gul.
My' father was taken abaCk for a mo-
It W<.IS slowhdawningon him IhaL
was deud serious. "Well," he said,
lking hIS heDd, "I don'l condemn it,
but 1don'tcondoneiteither." Mymother
was silent.
Despite all my fears, Ifell relieved. At
lasL it seemed I was free, Now that my
parents knew about me and were still
willIng 10 acknowledge me as their
daughter. il dIdn'T seem to matter
whetherOlhers accepled me ornoL Idid
not know [hen that Lhe conversationwas
justthe beginningofa long road toward
acceptance.
When I rerurned to school. I
somed. Coming from Smalltown, USA,
from my insular family, I
hadn'treally experiencedcity life. Every
gay event, organization and pLice
seemed to bein thecityand I had hopes
offlnd1l1g othergay Black women there.
One nIght a friend and J decided (0
hitchhike into lawn and find Sappho's
Retreat. an alJ-women's bar. After a 40-
mlOule journey, we fin<.tlly 10caLed it in
Myspiritrebelled
againstthelies,the
secrecyandthe
threatofdiscovery.
thedark and isolated heart tJfwhat is the
businessdlstricl duringthe day. Ayellow
sign hangmgoverthe entrance \\'as likea
beacon,andadozencuriousfacesturned
toward us <lS we entered.
Trymg h<lrd not tost<lre, we made our
way to the dance floor <J.nd were greeted
by the truly pleasur<lbJe sight ofwomen
duncing together. The cozy atmosphere
was in sharp contrast to the dark, dank
Images I had conjured up.
I 5l1W several Black women <.1t tables,
talking and drinking. One siSler with a
short-cropped Afro who was standing
alone glanced overat me. Iwus dying LO
talk 10 her und she CUOle over <.1S ifshe
knew wh<lt I was thinking.
"You look like a fflend of mine," she
began. luunching into <J. ","'hole monO-
logue<.1boU( how she h<J.ted goingto bars.
but thcltthere weresofew otherplacesto
go Her name wus Leona.
Ilnlerrurted her to expJaJn IhULI had
come tothis bur because 1knewveryfew
gay sIsters and I wanted tll meet more.
Leona's face brightened. then dimmed.
"\\'elL there are J tot of us. 'iOU know
there just hDve La be. \).,'e have'ukind of
underground network because this bar
and the women'scenterure <11\ for whIle
women, I'll keep you lI1formed aboul
p;.Hties. meetings-whatever I hear."
Leona und I becumegood[fiendsover
the next five years. Through her I dis-
covered an enLlrelv unhe;,lfd of. unseen
community orgay-Slack women, few of
\\hum had everset fOOL In a gay bar.
(collf/Illtedonpage lfJ4)
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(cominued./i-ortl page 161)
Leona and I were still talking when
someone came up behind me, grasped
my hand gently and asked me \0 dance
I turned around and gazed into the
honeY-brown face ofa womanwith
chlcr'm her eyes. She was 3. couple of
inches taller Lhan me and was smilingso
warmly I cculdn't lake my eyes away
from her as we "bumped" Onto the
dance noor.
When the song waS over, we sat down
to talk and I dIscovered that her name
"'as Sharla. She was a transfer
from California. who was unending a
university close by. Sharla and Ibecame
friends, and tWO months later we were
relutlng inlimacely: Although we liked
bemg together, we continued to date
PLher women occasion'.. lllv because we
were bOLh leery of bem-'g tied down.
DUfJng our twO years togelher. we
learned a greatdeal from eJch olher.
What WaS was that Sharla
had been openly gay since she was 14
yearsold. Herparentshadallowed herLO
entertain homosexual friends al home
ami partlcipatc in gily and activi-
lies. She LOld me her parents tolerated
her:-Iomosexuatity becausethey thougbt
Il \.\.as [ncrdy d stage she was gomg
through. They had only insisted thatshe
attend a coed unlversitv.
BOlh of us had bu"yfriends 10 high
schooL but we had alwayS ended the
relatIonships. Sharla had bent to her
parents' SUbtle plessure to at least "try
II." 1had reacted from sheer loneliness
and peer pressure. Unlike Sharla, I had
had a se;l(ual e;l(ptrience with a man,
which I found both physlc<lll) and emo-
tIOnally s<.ltlsfying. But Icould noladmit
(hal I h<.ld always becn moreattracted to
women than to men The longing had
been there even though il was unartI-
culaled at thal Ulllt:.
Shada and rsaL on panels and con-
ducted workshops on the dilemma of
beinga minoricy Jnu gay Throughthese
aCllvlties l,I;e met and exchanged Ideas
with gays outside of Ihe bars and. as J
result. established close fricnd5hips and
were rrequently Invited to urnners and
house parties.
Jalso stayt:d in louch with Leor.a and
eventually joinec a Black femlnlsts'
group to Wh'lCh she belonged. I had nOt
embruced the femmist movement up
unl11 then because I thought iL was a
while woman's cause I dId no! connect
the economic oppresslon and phySical
anJ psychologicalJbuseofBlackwomen
Wl!h women's flghts until I attended the
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TalkIngwith othersistersaboutwhatwas
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v,hlte women for equal flghts. J decided
[hal we have a responsibility 10 preen]
some
I



ove
roomf
ea
ofthe movement'sgO<.lls and USe
(0 meet our needs. And further. we ha
to let Black men know that the ffiov
ment IS not a denial of men. bUl
<.Ifflrmation of women, whether we a
straight orgay marflf"u orsingle, hOme
makers or professionals.
My interest in the women'sJnDvernen
me to Slana Black femini_st publicq
uon at college In the spring01 myjUnlo
year. Despite thiS, numerousotherextra
curfJculur and a he:..wy COurs
load.Iwasdoingwell inaII ofmy classes
I was writing poetry <.lnd short stOrie
Forme,thedepth0
communicationan,'
understandingI
hadhadwithmen,
wasnotnearlyasI
greatasthatwhich
Ilaterexperienced
withwomen.
and had more energy I.han ever beforl
AnessLI:, Iwro[eearned meascholarshi
th:..lt wouId enable me to truvel throug
Africa for six weeks Lhal summer. Shdf
would be in H:1Wall that same
so we spent every pOSSIble momenl
could tugether
By senIor year. separate interests
gOi..lb werc beginnIngto drawSharlaar.d
I <.Ipart After graduation, Shada
:.Jbroad and I a{(ended a summer
llshing course_ LOok a few odd jobs
then moved to New York Cllyto
upon my career. I also had begun It
reahzc that I did not want to spend rnJ
life dflfLlng in and outofrelauonshlps,l
hoped mstead to find someone
whom to live. dreamand build a ltff" J
New York Cny's gay scene was
whelming! Jwas delighted ",hen'fnunf
a ThIrd\\!orld organiuI10
forgay W..lkinginto<.l
of sister", whu were relating wlth
olher positIvely-teachIng, learnl"
a heady experten:
ThroughSalsaSoulIdiscoveredJeml
m
u Black lesbIan writer's collectlve. T
first time I heard the suong, Spiflt
vOIces of my Sisler artISts, I knew th
despite New York's fast pace. cfl)wd
dirt and crime. I had found my
Some tIme laler. a Jemima memb
inVited me to.l hlrthday rany. I diu n
meet Candice. the hoste'ls, until abo
l
three in the morning J Wished h n
"happy hlrthdJy," Jnd we rapped for
short while Before I left, Candice gal
(co{/(inued on page l'
IAM A LESBIAN
(continued li'om paRe 164;
me her number and urged me lO call.
ThJt MondilY J c{Jlled Candice and we
made J owner doHe. "This must be des-
liny," she told me, afler discovering that
we worked only fouf blocks away from
each other. After that first dinner she
made dales with me for every lunch and
dInner thal week. It seemed we had to be
IOgether every moment. I had wanted a
serious. Slable relationship wilh a
woman. but I hadn't expected il to hap-
pen so quickly. I losl lrack of my meals
and grew absent-minded, Talking
throughout most of the night, neither of
us got much sltep. Before long we were
truly. dizzilv in love.
OUf frie'nds looked upon the match
dubiously. Candice was 34 and I was 22.
She was astreetwise native New Yorker
uou 1was nuive. She loved cats and I was
allergic to them. Yet. we both reveled in
the com forts of home, enjoyed travel and
poeuy and seemed to have similar goals
and desires for the future.
Candice and I hi.lve now been wgether
for two and i.I half year:s. That time has
been wonderful for both of us, although
it has not been all sweetness and flowers.
Like other couples, we have been
through our slormy periods. But these
limes huve brought us closer together.
Today, one of my major concerns is the
<.lttilUde of my parenls lOward our rda
tionship. Whut my mother and father
may have viewed as youthfuJ experi-
menl<llion seven years ago. they must
now acknowledge as my life. They also
have (0 acknowledge Candice as the
woman With whom I am liVing and with
whom I hope to spend my life.
Having supportive
friends has helped
me come to terms
with my life.
Last Christmas Candice and I stayed
with my parents. My also
brought home lhe woman he is living
with. Mv mother was warm toward Can-
dice, and my father was polite though
reserved a bit.
Later he voic.::d his refusal to deal with
any bnd of "living lOgelher" arrange-
ments while my brOlher and l were under
his roof. We were welcome home any-
time. but we. were not to bflng anyone
with LIS unless we were married. I felt a
rejection of greater dimensions thall
"".hal my .brolher must have fell. UnJi'
hIm. I wlll never marry; society <:hoo
10 ancrion only certain kinds of lovin'
Ahhough I Jove and respect my fath
I can't live [he lIfe he wants me 10, n
will I seek his approval. His altitude
not just conservative or old-fashione
but dosed. My mother and Cllodj
liked each othcr instuntly. which pleas!'
and reassured me, Since the holidays m
and ! grown keepin
In touch by wfltlng, phonmg and e
changing re:.lding material. She alway
asks ilbout CJ ndice, and I'm hopingshe'}
be able to visilus in New York soon. \'
I haven't gl .... en up on bringing
futher around. since I have seen hi
changing his attitudes toward others w
haven't met his standards prevIously. B
I am still torn betwecn wanting to Spl:
lime with my mother and not wanting
see him. And of course. I don'l wa
Candice to be uncomfortable. When
cull home. though. my father seems gl
10 hear from me. I am sure that he
proud of me in his own way.
At 24 , have worked in the editori
dcpJrlment of a national m<lguzine, I'
a published writer Jnd I h<lve rna'
honors and awards 10 my credit. I a
optimIstic about my 'relationship wi
both my parent". I may nOl have {urn
out as they dreamed, but I
have wh,H [hey seemed to Wan! most
Iheir children-Jove <lnu happiness.
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