YOUNG LESBIANS COMING OUT PACK
© Lesbian Information Service 1995
Coming out as a Lesbian (admitting it to ourselves and others) is usually a very painful process. We live in a society which tells us all the time (school, television, films, comics, newspapers, magazines,
books, friends, parents/guardians, and so on) that there is only one "normal" or "natural" way to be: heterosexual (to be sexually and emotionally attracted to men); to fall in love with a man, get married
and have children. Our friends try and pressurise us into having boyfriends, getting dressed up, doing what they do.
When (if) we ever learn about Lesbianism (falling in love with other females) it is in a negative sense:
* We hear school-mates (and sometimes we join in) calling a girl "LEZZIE", maybe because she has chosen not to have a boyfriend or has short hair or has refused to be feminine (wear make-up and dresses). To be called "LEZZIE" is to be insulted. Lesbianism is rarely, if ever, mentioned in sex education.
* We are told by our parents/guardians/friends - after summing up the courage to tell them that we think we are Lesbian - that it is only a phase we're going through and that we'll grow out of it and become
"normal" again. Trouble is, we never do grow out of it (and we don't want to)!
* The media - television and newspapers - usually show Lesbians as only being interested in sex.
Rarely, if ever, is a true and positive picture shown about what it is like to be Lesbian.
It isn't surprising, then, that for many Young Lesbians it takes quite a while to accept our (I, too, was a Young Lesbian once) sexuality. We often go through a long and painful process of denying our Lesbianism before we come out to ourselves or friends or family.
For some of us our only support has been our families/guardians - when we have needed help in the past we have turned to them (mind you, some Lesbians have never had support from parents/guardians, especially those of us who have been physically or sexually abused by them). But, in any case, we know that it is highly unlikely that they will understand or believe us when we tell them we think we are Lesbian; we expect a bad reaction (and usually we know this because of the way that they have
called Lesbians/gay men). So we keep it to ourselves and suffer in silence.
There are rare occasions when parents/guardians can be supportive. If you are thinking of coming out to them wait and think about it. Better still, talk it through with another Lesbian. It is best to have thought
through what you are going to say and to have some support ready, in case they react in a bad way. How are you going to cope if they reject you?
If you think you are Lesbian and haven't yet come out; if you want to talk about your feelings; or if you are having any problems and you have no-one to talk to, then you can ring Lesbian Information Service on
0706.817235 (preferably on Wednesday evenings between 7 and 9 p.m.) and speak to either me, Jan, or Sandra. We have put together a pack of information to help you decide and to share with your parents. Contact us for more information.
AT LEAST ONE IN EVERY TEN FEMALES IS LESBIAN. YOU ARE NOT ALONE
ASSERTIVENESS AND COMING OUT
(adapted from "Assertively Gay, how to build gay self-esteem" by Terry Sanderson)
Coming out to parents, friends and family can be the most difficult area of all for lesbians/gays. But, failure to come out means that our homosexual life will not progress very far, and staying in the closet will impede the development of our homosexual self-esteem. If we don't acknowledge and integrate our sexuality into our wider existence, we are denying ourselves the opportunity of a full and fulfilling emotional life. Coming out is the key that opens all the other doors to happiness and adjustment. It is also probably the most terrifying thing that many of us can imagine.
Assertiveness will not completely remove the trauma from the coming out experience, but it will significantly increase your chances of success. You will be able to retain your dignity in the face of what might be a gruelling family crisis and also help others to cope better with their feelings about this great event in your lives.
No two families are the same, and so there can be no hard and fast rules. All decisions have to be taken in the light of your own assessment of the situation and of people's receptiveness. You need to think of the time, the place and many other practical considerations. As all relationships are unique, only you can decide how best to approach this topic with your family. You will have to create your own scenario for using assertiveness to help you through the trying times ahead.
The first thing to remember, though, is that you are mistress of your own destiny. Remember the four golden rules of assertiveness:
1. My feelings and needs are at least as important as anyone else's.
2. My rights are sacrosanct and it is my first duty to protect and promote them - but not at the expense of other people's rights.
3. I am not responsible for other people's feelings, and they are not responsible for mine.
4. I do not have to explain my decisions or justify my feelings or actions unless I want to.
Apply the golden rules to this situation. If you have decided that the time has come to be open and honest with your parents, face the decision with courage and be prepared for the consequences. Reactions might be bad, but the likelihood is that they won't be. It is important not to catastrophise (the favourite occupation of those with low self-esteem). To catastrophise means a tendency to predict and anticipate the most horrendous consequences resulting from every risk taken. ("I couldn't possibly tell my parents, they'd drop dead immediately" or "No, my old friend Janet wouldn't understand if I told her. She'd never speak to me again.") Catastrophising can provide a great, if frequently spurious, motivation for doing nothing. If things are going to be so bad, why make them worse? But catastrophising is often based on self-delusion and pessimism. There is little - beyond death - that is totally irrecoverable. If we are strong we can recover from the blows that life delivers, and if we are imaginative and persistent we can make something of the setbacks that might befall us. Don't project the worst possible outcome on every decision you are faced with - think positively, and try to see the benefits of making changes.
WHAT'S YOUR MOTIVE?
Next, look carefully at your motivations. Why do you want to come out to your family? One of the answers, hopefully, is that you want to be free from the fear of discovery and so be liberated to live an honest and dignified life. Ideally you will want to take the plunge because you desire your relationships with your loved ones to be more open and less fraught. If these are your reasons, then you should go ahead and make a start.
If your reasons are less noble - for instance, you see your coming out as a means of "getting back" at your parents for some wrong you feel they have done you, then perhaps you had better give the matter some more thought. Using your homosexuality as a weapon to punish parents is not a good basis for making improvements in your life. You cannot come out assertively or with dignity if your principal purpose is to cause pain - such a tactic will surely backfire. If you are unhappy now, this kind of behaviour will simply make things worse. Remember, assertiveness is not about trampling over the feelings of others. It is about granting each other equality.
We must be careful, though, not to fall into the trap of staying in the closet in order to "spare" our parents distress. That is faulty logic, because it may well spare them from pain, but it prolongs your own suffering. If you face the situation with honesty and goodwill, you can all emerge from the other side stronger and closer. It was Margaret Adams who first wrote about the Compassion Trap and it is worth mentioning here. Compassion is, of course, a noble virtue and a facet of human life that makes it worthwhile, but only when it is a genuine expression of empathy with other people and not a means of enslaving yourself to their demands. Sympathising with the pain and suffering of others is quite distinct from allowing it to overwhelm and paralyse you emotionally. Reject the argument that you are behaving selfishly by telling your parents you are gay, and therefore causing them unnecessary grief. If you are doing it for the right reason, then the emotional turmoil which you might have to work through will be justified.
The argument then goes that if you leave things as they are, unspoken and unexplored and dishonest, then everyone can carry on as normal and all this upheaval can be avoided. Although this may be satisfactory from your parents point of view, it's far from satisfactory from yours. Inflicting upon yourself the burden of lies that goes with staying in the closet can have terrible consequences. Acting assertively, you know that your feelings and opinions are as important as anyone else's - and that includes your parents, brothers, sisters and friends. So, coming out to them with the best of loving intentions is far better than either staying in the closet and harming yourself or coming out with the primary intention of settling some kind of score.
They might be upset at first, but most people get over it and then get on with life. Keeping in mind your right to choose a full life of your own direction, you should ride out any crisis, maintaining your dignity while giving your parents, family or friends the reassurance and support that they might need. Remember, the discomfort and upset that will probably follow the revelation is a necessary passage to a newer and more mature relationship.
So, how do you actually come out assertively?
Much will depend on the circumstances of your life: your age, the kind of relationship which already exists between you and your family and whether you still live with them at their home. If you decide to go ahead, you might find that parents will resist the news at first. What follows are some of the arguments that other gay people have faced from their parents after they came out, and then some of the counter arguments.
* You're only doing this to hurt us.
This may well be the way they feel at the time but, as we've already discussed, telling the truth for the right reasons is not meant to hurt but to heal. If you can reassure them that you have done this because you love them and want to be honest with them, most parents will understand, given time. Try to ensure they appreciate the pain you've had to suffer through being dishonest with then, and how your decision to tell will lead to a better relationship. It may take some time for them to accept this reasoning.
* It's just a phase, you'll get over it when you meet the right boy.
This argument is often employed by parents as a defence mechanism, a way of pushing aside what is painful. If you are in no doubt about your sexuality then ensure they understand from the start that you don't consider it to be in any way temporary. By calmly but firmly insisting that you don't accept the 'phase' interpretation of events, then you can encourage your parents to face up to the truth much sooner.
* Where did we go wrong, it must be our fault that you're like this.
Guilt is a frequent reaction to the news that a child is lesbian. Trying to assume responsibility for your orientation is one way that parents can begin to understand. When they first discover the truth they will be thrashing around for 'reasons' to explain your sexuality. They want an explanation for something which is a mystery. They have probably also heard the theory that homosexuality is "caused" by a domineering mother or an absent father. This theory originated in the 1960s from a study conducted by Professor Irving Bieber. His study has been repeatedly discredited, and more and more evidence is accumulating which seems to suggest that there is some physical explanation for homosexuality - that there may be a genetic or hormonal element in the way we develop. Nothing is certain, though, and so parents cannot blame themselves for 'causing' you to be lesbian.
* It's against God's law. You ought to pray for forgiveness.
If you come from a background of strict religious belief, there are extra problems, some of which might be insurmountable. Assertiveness can help you rationalise the situations and resist emotional manipulation. Religion, on the other hand, puts such thinking entirely into reverse, depending as it does on an unquestioning belief in the unseen and the unknown. It means allowing someone else to make your important decisions for you. Strict and dogmatic religious communities can be extremely cruel to those of their members who do not fit into the "pre-ordained" mould.
If religion is important to you, then remember there are choices, even in that area. The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement has another way of looking at the Bible and there are Jewish lesbian and gay groups, too, which can help.
However, if you want to come out to parents who subscribe to a philosophy of religious fundamentalism (the literal interpretation of the Bible) it is highly unlikely that they will take the news of your homosexuality with equanimity. One person who has survived such an experience is Jeanette Winterson, the lesbian author of "Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit." In an interview she described her feelings when, in early life, she reached a turning point that would oblige her to make the choice between her religious upbringing and her burgeoning sexuality: "Everyone reaches a moment when they come to a cross-roads - whether to go on with the life you know, which is safe and comfortable, or move on to another, which is more dangerous and, maybe in the end, unsatisfying. You have to cross over and take the risk or move back and make compromises. In my case it was not possible to belong to an evangelical church and love a woman. And I was also going to a world that really was not acceptable to many people, or safe." In these circumstances the choice may be as stark as that: move on and take risks or go back and suppress your needs in order to remain true to your religious principles.
It is possible that your family will surprise you and be more accepting than you could have imagined, but the community they live in is unlikely to be as understanding.
* We can't understand it, we can't accept it.
The cry that heterosexuals "can't understand" homosexuality is a frequent one. Often they will go as far as to say that they find us repulsive. This might be true but it is not your responsibility that they feel this way. They are being homophobic. You have not created this, you are simply the victim of it. Consequently, you cannot be made to assume responsibility for its existence.
Similarly, parents may not understand your feelings simply because they don't share them. But that doesn't mean they can't accept them. Truly mature individuals allow other people to feel differently without getting upset. If your parents become agitated because they "can't understand", try to make them see that they don't have to understand, they just need to accept. If the thought of physical expression of homosexuality "makes them sick", then they simply don't need to think about it. The physical expression of your sexuality is really a personal thing, and it's unlikely that they'll be required to witness it. If you have heterosexual brothers or sisters who are married or in some other sexual relationship, it is likely that your parents don't really like to think of them in their intimate moments, either. They cope by simply not thinking about it, they just accept that it happens. They should extend the same privilege to you.
Parents - and other people who claim not to understand - simply have to grow up and come to terms with the fact that not everyone in the world feels the same way that they do. Those who are incapable of this leap of imagination and empathy usually end up as bigots - and very unhappy and bitter individuals to boot. Their bigotry is a sad problem, a sign of a pathetic immaturity, and they have to sort it out for themselves. It is your problem only in so far as its effects spill into your life from time to time.
As for their not being able to "accept" your lesbianism - what does that mean? Of course they could accept it, what is to stop them but their own fear? Some parents have very little problem adjusting to their child's homosexuality; they may not be over the moon about it, and they may have to revise their expectations, but they have accepted. So can your parents. It is no use their saying that because they had a strict and disapproving upbringing they are bound by this. Remind them that they are not responsible for their parents' feelings, and they are allowed to think and feel differently. They are permitted to move on. It is not carved in tablets of stone that every generation must hold the same opinion as the one before. If that were true the world would never progress and we'd still be living in caves.
You might be one of the lucky ones who have reasonable, informed and liberal-minded parents. Then again, you may have parents who have inherited and embraced attitudes which make the acceptance of a lesbian daughter very difficult. During all this ferment, assertiveness will be useful. It won't make you totally immune to bad feelings, but it will help you cope with them. It won't totally prevent pangs of guilt penetrating but it will help you identify them.
For instance, if your parents are trying to blame you for the way they feel ("Why did you have to tell us? If you'd kept quiet we could have carried on as normal and needn't have had all this upset"), then you may well accept their analysis and take on the mantle of guilt they have laid at your door. This will lead to depression and regret. It will undermine your self-esteem and have the opposite effect to the one you had intended. Once you have analysed and rationalised the source of your depression ("They are blaming me for feelings which they themselves have created") you can relieve yourself of the responsibility with a clear conscience. After a lifetime of such guilt trips, you might not find it easy to resist, but you must try. It may be that your parents don't realise precisely what they are doing by off-loading their own guilt and bad feelings onto you.
Prepare well for what might be an extremely uncomfortable time. Remember:
1. Keep clam. Try to keep anxiety under control by applying relaxation methods.
2. However badly your parents react, don't join in their emotional explosion. If they shout, don't shout back. If they cry, try to stay dry-eyed. Keep your voice quiet, reassuring but confident. Don't be afraid to say how you feel - "I am nervous about your reactions", "I feel sorry that you are having such a bad time," "This isn't easy for me either", "I'm so happy that you are taking it so well" etc. - and listen carefully to what they are saying to you. Constantly remind them why you are coming out and why it is so important to you and to them. If things seem to be getting out of control, ask if you can take some time out - go for a walk, listen to relaxing music, meditate, try your best to relax. Your mind will then be in a better position to weigh the facts and reach a decision about your next move. Creative decisions are much harder to make when you're agitated.
3. Watch out for manipulation. If you've decided to come out to your whole family, don't let your parents persuade you to be selective about who you tell. "Let's just keep it between the three of us" is a familiar tune played by parents to children who have come out. Such a request is seen as a damage limitation exercise, but for you it means keeping the closet door firmly closed in some situations. Explain to them why you can't accept and why you are determined to be out with everyone in the family. Do this calmly, too, refusing to be drawn into the web of guilt your parents might have constructed ("But we are so ashamed, why are you trying to humiliate us in front of the whole family?") An assertive person would see straight through that one. You aren't trying to do anything of the kind to them, you are trying to make things better between you and your family. Their feelings are important, of course, but in the end you have to be true to yourself. Humiliation can only happen if you allow it to happen - they can make the choice to face the family bravely and with head held high. Humiliation would be very difficult in those circumstances.
But, you might say, isn't the rule of assertiveness that other people's feelings must be respected and not trampled under foot? Yes, of course, but let's be clear exactly whose feelings are being trampled here. In this case I believe it is the parents who are running roughshod over the needs and dignity of their gay child. Your parents are not responsible for your feelings, just as you are not responsible for theirs. They don't have to feel ashamed and disappointed, they could just as well choose to feel proud of you. Make sure they realise that they have a choice - rejection is not the only option.
4. Be prepared to explain. This might seem like a contradiction of what we've said before about not having to justify anything you do, and while no-one has an automatic right to an explanation of your actions, in the case of coming out to loved ones, I think it is a good idea to tell them as much as you can about the way things are in your life.
They might react to your news by demanding that you have "treatment" for your homosexuality, or that you see a priest for "forgiveness". If the relationship with your parents is important to you and you want it to continue, you have to be prepared to resist all this with rational and informed argument. Each anti-gay myth to which your parents subscribe will have to be patiently dismantled with logic, each attempt to manipulate you with guilt must be recognised and exposed for what it is.
You will have realised by now that the by-word for the assertive person is choice. You always have the option to do something or not to do it, to make a decision or to put it off. Every decision you make will, hopefully, propel you forward towards your goal in life of happiness and fulfilment. Naturally, you can choose to come out or stay in the closet. Sometimes, and in some circumstances, it is right to be circumspect and to make use of the ability to "pass for straight" in order to reserve life and limb. But keeping from those you love the truth about your essential self is a dangerous decision. The cost of avoiding the truth in order to save your 'significant others' from feeling discomfort is a lifetime of denial - and probable psychological damage - for you. The surface waters may remain calm by using the "hiding" choice, but the inner depths will continue to churn.
5. If you need back up, enlist the help of someone your parents can respect. If you are already out to a sympathetic member of the family make sure they will be around to provide a role model for your parents. They can demonstrate best of all that acceptance is a real option. It is amazing what pressure from a sister or brother or uncle or aunt can do to make your parents calm down and reconsider their position. If you haven't come out to anyone in the family, then you could consider getting someone from a gay help line to talk to them, or best of all a member of a parents-of-gays support group. (You'll get the phone numbers and other contacts from the listings in "i think i might be a lesbian ... now what do i do?" Alternately, you can ring LYSIS).
Your parents will have their own "coming out" to face. They will have to decide whom - if anybody - they are going to tell that they are the parents of a lesbian daughter. They fear that they will lose prestige in the eyes of their friends, neighbours and work colleagues. They may be afraid that their position in the community will be undermined if it is thought by their friends that they have a "defective" child. However insulted we may be by such a concept, we have to acknowledge that they are real fears for some people, and we have to allow them the time, sometimes years, to sort them out. Parents can't be expected to accept such a fundamental change in their child overnight. They have to reassess a whole swathe of expectations and hopes for the future. They have to deal with a lot of fear and misunderstanding. They need to be educated themselves about homosexuality, and what it means for them and you in the years to come. That's a tall order for anyone.
Don't be too impatient and don't be too hard on them. We have to let them experience their feelings. Although we may consider them to be an over-reaction, they are, nonetheless, very real for the people experiencing them. You can allow this adjustment time without having to compromise your own needs.
Adapted from "Assertively Gay: How to build gay self-esteem"by Terry Sanderson. Obtainable by post from The Other Way Press, PO Box 130, London W5 1DE - £5.95 plus 75p postage.
Interview with a 17-year-old Lesbian
Jan: When did you first think about being a Lesbian?
Anna: I had the feelings, well, of being attracted to other girls and women, when I was about 11/12 but I didn't really think seriously about it until I was about 15. Then last year I phoned up Gayline. I went to
Gayline and spoke to someone. It started off from there. They suggested the youth group on a Monday night. I had to think of excuses, to tell my parents, to go out on a Monday night. I went for about two
months or a bit more. Then one night, when I got home, I told my parents where I'd been. I said: "Look, I've not been out for a drink with my friends, I've been to Gayline." They weren't too happy about
it to say the least. They stopped me from going.
Jan: What made you want to tell your parents?
Anna: Guilt. Going behind their backs. Lying to them. I just told them where I'd been. My mother didn't go through the roof first of all. She asked me why I didn't go and talk to her about it. I told her I'd
find that very hard to do. (Because I know her attitude about homosexuals: Before she knew about me she was always slagging them off. She'd say "stupid puffs" and "it's disgusting.")
Jan: How did you feel when she said that?
Anna: I just felt really bad. She said "Oh, it's just a phase, don't worry, you'll grow out of it." I said, "Look, I don't think so, my feelings are much stronger." That night everything was alright and then
the next day she started having a go at me. We had a massive row. I was crying and everything. I think she was crying. My dad got involved as well.
Jan: What was the row about?
Anna: It was just everything. The thing that really hurt her was that I was deceitful. I told her I didn't want to tell her where I was going because she wouldn't have let me go in the first place; that would have
made me feel real depressed because I was depressed anyway. I didn't think I could speak to her about it; to anyone really.
That night, when I first phoned Gayline up, I was just so depressed because I had a great big crush on a teacher. My mum said this a classic thing, that every girl goes through it; and boys. But I thought my
feelings were very strong for this teacher and I did fancy other women. My mother said, "Well, look. The main thing about being a Lesbian is going to bed with a woman. Do you really think you could do that?"
First of all I didn't answer but I knew that I could. So in the end I told her that I could. She said "Oh, well, then."
Jan: When you were depressed, did you ever think about suicide?
Anna: I probably thought about injuring myself; I didn't think as far as suicide. I mean getting horribly drunk or just cutting myself.
Jan: How do you think that would have helped?
Anna: I think it would have made me feel better but I don't think it would have made anything better.
Jan: Why would you want to do that?
Anna: Because of all the anger in me. I just felt so angry. At the moment my mum's alright about it. It's my dad. He doesn't talk to me now. We just speak really formally to each other, like, "It's very hot
today." Nothing else. I've never really been close to him. I think my mum knows that we don't get on. But lately he's been really far away from me.
Jan: How long is it since you told them?
Anna: About half a year. She still won't let me go back to Gayline because that's the place where... she says she doesn't want me going there anymore.
Jan: Does she know that you're having a relationship?
Anna: Yes. She's better. She seems alright towards Mary, she even wanted her to come to our house the other night because we were having a barbeque and she asked if I wanted her to come. But I thought it
wouldn't be very wise because my dad is very against it. He just would have been rude.
Jan: So they know that you're having a relationship and they're not trying to do anything to stop that but they want to stop you going down to Gayline. Does that bother you?
Anna: Not really. It bothers me that she's forbidden me to go there. My mum seems to think that the more I mix with gay people the more gay I'll become that people will try and push me to become gay. I've tried telling her that it's not true.
Jan: So why does that not apply to your relationship with Mary?
Anna: I don't know.
Jan: Are your movements restricted?
Anna: Yes. My parents wanted to know everything about where I was going, who I was going with. That meant I had to lie. I felt really bad about lying.
Jan: When did you decide to tell them about Mary?
Anna: I didn't really tell them. First of all I told my brother. He didn't say anything. He was really good about it. Then, because I kept seeing Mary, my mum said "Oh, where's this Mary suddenly come from
then, you seem to be quite friendly?" I said I just met her at college. She goes "Well, is she a Lesbian?" After thinking about it I said "Yes." And she said "Is there anything going on?" I said "Well, what
do you mean?" She asked if I was having a relationship with her. I blushed and said "Yes." Her face went straight; she didn't look too happy about it. Then she started asking me a few personal questions.
The first one was whether I'd slept with her. I goes "Of course, not." I felt quite offended about her asking that because that's not the first thing I would want to do. Sex in a relationship isn't the main thing.
Jan: Did you think she had a right to ask those questions?
Anna: No. She said "Which one of you is the man and which one the woman?" I laughed at her when she said that.
Jan: We have a book for parents of Lesbians, do you think she might be interested in it?
Anna: No, I don't think she would.
Jan: There is also an organisation here for parents of Lesbians and gays; do you think she might be interested in that?
Anna: No, because she keeps saying it's no-one else's business. If we need to talk about anything we can do it in the family.
Jan: So what does that make you think?
Anna: That she's trying to avoid it, push it out of the way. She's still convinced that I'm not Lesbian. She's still convinced it's just a phase.
Jan: What do you envisage happening?
Anna: At the moment I think I'd like to leave home and get a job which will be a bit hard to do.
Jan: Would you want to stay on at college?
Anna: I'd like to but I'd still need support from my parents, and anyway I want to leave home.
Jan: But if you applied to colleges away from here you'd be able to leave home. Is that what you plan to do?
Jan: Have you told anybody else? Have you told any friends?
Anna: Yes. A couple of them were surprised but I've not had any bad reaction.
Jan: Have you read anything about being Lesbian?
Anna: Well, I've only read little articles in magazines. Weekly, teenage girl ones. I've not read a book. I'm quite happy reading the small articles about them.
Jan: What do they say about Lesbianism?
Anna: I can't remember now but the last one I read was in "Just Seventeen." It had a piece from four different Lesbians, letters from their parents and things.
Jan: It's a difficult time to go through when we're young and Lesbian, because we don't get support from parents or where we'd usually get support from, so we have to look elsewhere. I think that the Lesbian
community should be doing something to help Young Lesbians. If it was possible that there was something available, for Young Lesbians, what do you think you'd like?
Anna: I'd like some sort of group but the thing is there'd be a problem getting to it. I'd probably have to lie to my parents again because they wouldn't let me go to it.
Jan: So you think their reaction would still be the same if you went to a Young Lesbian Group?
Anna: It would probably be even worse with a Young Lesbian Group. My mum would think that it's just a pick up place.
Jan: What would you want from a Young Lesbian Group?
Anna: Just a chance to talk; give each other comfort and advice.
Jan: Thank you, Anna, for talking to me.
Young Lesbians Today
'WE ARE not trendy feminists who wear DMs and lots of badges' said the Islington Young Lesbian Group. Determined to keep my appointment with the group, I managed to make my way across London on the first night of snow.
I was convinced that the freak weather would not keep the young women away from their regular Monday meeting. Ater all, a meeting for young lesbians when I was an adolescent would have been far more fun than Girl Guides or Opportunity Knocks.
What was I doing when I was 17, 18? I was in love, in the relationship of my life with a married woman, living in the marital home with her daughter and husband. And I thought I was living.
Suddenly I was reminded why I had made this journey - I had arrived. I entered a large room with a pool table at one end and a kitchen table at the other end. The room was bursting with energy. Two
young women had come to the meeting to complain about their house. They had no water and the pipes were frozen.
The first day of snow had definitely caused their household problems. The women live in a hostel for six young lesbians. All vacancies are filled by word of mouth.
One young woman had come to the meeting for her first time. She had read about Islington young lesbians in her Spare Rib diary a week before.
The group has been meeting for approximately eight years. It survives on donations and very little funds. One of the group members told me that they had received an anonymous donation from an old woman. 'I reckon she was a lesbian' she said.
What do you do? I asked. 'Scrambling, camping, football, charity walks,' the group replied. Their list went on for nearly five minutes, the group had even been to Amsterdam for a week last year. At meetings
they play pool, listen to music and sometimes have 'heavy discussions'. The staff supervise, offer support and help the young women with any problems.
When new members come along to a meeting 'it can be difficult' said a member. 'They soon settle in though, we take them along to Rackets and other women only places.' The staff usually arrange to meet a new member before they attend a meeting so that they do not feel uncomfortable.
I asked the group why they felt a young lesbian group was important. A member said 'it can be difficult to meet other gay people in London, if you do not know anyone. It is a place where you can meet
other lesbians and where you can socialise without the pressure of drink or feeling you have to go to the pub. It is important for women if they are about to come out.'
Six women had turned up to the meeting, their ages ranged from 15 to 21. There were two black women and four white women. They discussed the issue of being out in school and in the family home.
'When I came out in school, all the people who used to smile at me stopped and the people who never smiled started smiling. The boys treat me like one of the lads," said a member. Another member was told by her teachers that if she wore trousers all the time she would turn out odd. She can remember a girl at school who was placed in a mental hospital because she was a lesbian.
The group said that sex education in school never informed them about women. 'It always spoke about boys and masturbation and showed erect penis'.
'I thought I was a boy and would grow up like being a man because I masturbated', a group member said.
'Sex education only mentioned male homosexuality, lesbians were never considered,' said the group.
'My drama teacher was a lesbian. She used to talk about sexism instead of teaching drama, until she got caught', a member said. The group believe that all gay teachers should come out to the gay children
if they can identify them. The members believe that the support is important and often needed.
The young lesbian group had different opinions about being out in the family. The black women said it was a lot harder to be out in their community because the adults call homosexuality the white disease.
'My dad would kill me if he knew, his culture has strict principles and has never had to cope with overt homosexuality before. My mother accepts that I am a lesbian, I take her to the lesbian and gay centre -
but she is white.'
A white middle class group member said that her family was narrow minded. Her parents had taken on the racist, sexist and homophobic attitudes from their parents.
A white working class group member said you did not come out into the community because it was dangerous. 'It is right on to throw bricks through windows in my town. You dare not come out to anyone because you needed to protect yourself from violence and being forced to live a dog's life.'
The young women in the group were full of enthusiasm and optimism for the future. They believed things would improve for young people.
V.M.J. From "GEN", March 1987: Challenging Heterosexism.
IT'S A SIN
When I look back upon my life it's always with a sense of shame. I've always been the one to blame. These words echoed in my mind as I turned my Pet Shop Boys tape off. It was summer but the sky was cloudy and gloomy. It was as if the weather knew how I felt. I suddenly realised how much those words meant in my life: "Always with a sense of shame." How they reflected on my early teenage years. Years of shame. Years of not understanding. Years of thinking it was the norm that every girls'
father and brother loved them in a special way.
Esther Rantzen's "Childline" dropped the bombshell. What had I done to deserve that treatment? Why me? What if anyone knew? I'd have to hide it. They'd blame me. Could I trust anyone enough to tell them? Could I ever trust anyone again? There was my P.E. teacher. I like her, there was something about her; I had my own special affection for her. It was the same affection I'd felt for a teacher at my primary school. I was confused. I didn't know what to do, what were these feelings? The P.E. teacher like me too. She knew I wasn't the rotten apple everyone thought I was. I don't know why I rebelled against my other teachers, I seemed to be rebelling against everything in those days.
I found something to take me away from it all. It was great at first. It would take me to another world away from my feelings of despair and confusion but I'd always have to come round and get back to my troubles. The glue sniffing lasted about two years before it really affected me. I started slowing down. I couldn't do things as good as I used to. I guess that was my first suicide attempt, a slower death than tablets but with the same reason, to get away from it all. My second attempt came when I wanted to run away from the affections I was having for my friends. Again my escape wasn't tablets but boys.
I met Jane at work. There was something about her. I liked her. She liked me too. I could tell by the way she kept looking at me. Our love for each other grew stronger by the day and for two-and-a-half years everything was great. Then she left me for a boy. I shouldn't have blamed her really, after the pressure we'd been through: family and friends would keep asking when were we going to find boyfriends and settle down to have a family? Would-be friends sniggered at us and made fun of us when they found out we were Lesbians. Gangs shouted abuse at us in the street. I got that used to people saying it was shameful, I started to believe it myself. This time my third attempt did take tablet form. They were my mom's and I lay on my bed and took them. I wanted to get away from all the bad things that had happened to me but the tablets just made me violently sick.
Now I live in fear of something bad happening again to spark off all the memories of the sexual abuse, the drug abuse, the failure at school, the confusion, the rejection of lovers and friends, the love I'd never had
from my family and the loneliness. Because all it needs is that one spark and it's so easy to reach for a bottle of tablets and swallow them. Yet why should I let this cruel world get the better of me?
I've met someone new now but it's hard to form a relationship with someone who'e also suffered sexual abuse, aggression from the so-called caring Britons, and who's survived four suicide attempts. If only
Straightsville knew what they were doing to us and how they were messing up our lives, that's the true "SIN."
COMING-OUT LETTER WRITTEN BY A YOUNG LESBIAN TO HER MAM
"Mam, I'm leaving this behind because I don't want to be around when you read it. I don't want to deal with any more bad reactions. It's difficult writing because I've no idea how you'll react to what I have to say.
I've always felt I was different from most of the other girls I knew, even when I was very young. It took me until I was fifteen to realise that I really was different, and from then on I've called myself a Lesbian.
It was difficult at home because I wanted to tell you and dad but didn't feel I could because of your openly hostile attitudes towards Lesbians. Because you probably don't know much about what it means to be Lesbian, I'd like you and dad to read the information I've left.
I'm telling you this now because I want you to know who I am, and not who you think I am. I've been unhappy, not because of my sexuality but because of having to hide it. Discovering I was a Lesbian was such a relief and I felt really happy.
I don't want to hide behind lies any more, and I don't want to sneak around like I'm doing something wrong. Leaving home has given me the chance to feel good about who I am. I'm really happy the way I am and I don't want to change, even if I could. Being Lesbian is the most important part of who I am.
This isn't a phase I'm going through. It isn't some kind of mental disorder. It isn't disgusting to me. It isn't abnormal, nor is it unnatural. It's natural to me. It does mean that I've chosen never to have any relationships with any men.
No one has influenced me in becoming Lesbian. It was my choice. Either you'll accept what I'm telling you, or you won't.
I'd like you to tell dad, and (my brothers), that I'm a Lesbian and also that I'm happy being Lesbian. Love, ..."
Lesbianism, a rebellion against a macho society
Marta, a Nicaraguan videomaker living in Managua, is a rarity in that country: an open Lesbian. Below are some of her perspectives on sexuality and politics, excerpted from an interview with Philadelphia's
Lesbian and Gay Brigade, which travelled to Nicaragua in 1986. This first appeared in "Listen Real Loud," the women's publication of the AFS Committee, reprinted in the International Lesbian Information Service Newsletter.
For me homosexualism is the person's rebellion against a macho society. We can't talk about homosexuality until we talk about machismo.
To be a Lesbian is to defend yourself against a macho society and to want to change society. The relationship between women is deeper. I'm not just interested in sex - I could sleep with a man for that. I want more.
Here Lesbianism is very well repressed. Homosexuals are closed within themselves. A relationship is carefully cared for and no one can know about it or they will begin to shout it in the streets.
Until three days ago I had a stable relationship. In the last three months my daily life was boring. That woman was the only thing that took me away from daily life. I went out to work then came back at
night to find someone of my own sex who I could talk with about what had happened, I could share everything with her.
I lived in Rio de Janeiro (in Brazil) for 15 years. I'm 17 years old. My mother is Nicaraguan. I was born here and lived here a year. My family isn't here; I'm here alone. I've only had one relationship with
a Nicaraguan; I've only been back one year.
Video for me is a response to the manipulation of news that is happening abroad. It's my arm, instead of the arms that the army has. I fight with video, with documentaries to contradict and counteract.
Nothing is apolitical. Even sex itself is political. When you sleep with someone you don't just see their body; you see that person's ideology as well. I have to hide many things in Nicaraguan society.
Most Nicaraguans think Lesbians are a horror. They say to their children, don't go around with her, she's a Lesbian - as if it were a sin, or something from another planet.
In my work there's no problem. We talk about it. Only my bosses know. The people (customers) themselves don't know. I have to maintain appearances in this society in order to be respected. Sometimes it's even necessary in order to maintain your self-respect. They can't know, except for people you've carefully chosen.
Keeping up appearances doesn't mean having to wear makeup or going out with men. It means not to go around talking openly. If people see that you are a person who does good in society, who does good in the
revolution, they don't look at how you dress. They look at how you act, at least the people I'm involved with.
To be a Lesbian is revolutionary. I came here to be enriched by the revolution, but my ideology was already developed. I was born with my ideology and I was born a Lesbian. I never liked men. I was very
radical because I'm an extremist.
The experience here - there are a lot of political riches for your head. But it's necessary that you complement them with reading and work and talking with other people.
This last year here has been incredible, as if I had been here since '79. I'm talking about things that enrich my ideas. We are in a crisis situation, with the economic blockade. We are in a war, with death,
with blood, just surviving. My incredible experience in the last year has been to survive, as we are all surviving in Nicaragua now.
About gay rights - you can't tell the revolution to run if it's making its way. But I would like it if there were gay rights. It's difficult to say that. You can't make all people understand that this is a
natural thing because for them natural is the relationship of a man to a woman. It's difficult to change them in the few years of the revolution. They need a process of conscientization.
I want to tell (the young women of the U.S.) that you have to think and find yourself within yourself. What you feel is right. Everything is natural in this life. "Natural" isn't the relationship of a man with a
woman. "Natural" is what feels natural. You have to be confident. If you like a woman, why shouldn't you have pleasure with her? That's natural. If my ideology is of the left, for me that's natural. You
have to struggle to be sure of your ideas, to enrich them with many other things. You have to look for support. People need moral support - support of the society they don't have.
REPRODUCED IN "LESBIAN INTERNATIONAL" NO. 24, OCT/NOV 1989.
ONE IN TEN
I have always known I like women more than men but thought that only I felt this way. I was really chuffed when I had my first gay relationship and know in myself that I wanna stay this way. I love kids
but I don't want any of my own.
I was always for gays and I think it's great being with other people who give it to you straight what they're thinking or even in their actions. It feels like being in a completely different world, being in the
company of people who be what they are.
I'm pretty quiet 'till I get to know people, but I found I lost a lot of friends through being straightforward. I didn't ever think two women could love each other and now I know that's not true. I wish I'd have
been this way at a younger age 'cos I think it would have made everthing a lot easier for me.
I told my mum one time when I was about twelve thAt a woman on the telly was turning me on and she made me feel abnormal about feeling that way, since then I held my feelings in until recently. My mind feels like it's my own now.
The first girl I asked to see I fell in love with. I didn't know it could feel so good and that true feelings that you know a lad wouldn't be able to give you could be so clear with a girl. You can share a lot
more together and just being with each other feels really great. I feel like I'm not ready to get involved too much just yet with anybody but I know when I'm ready it'll be with another girl. I think that sometimes I get excited by little things that my heart just touches the clouds and I feel like I'm not gonna live to catch my breath. IT'S GREAT! The first girl I asked I shit myself because I didn't think she'd say 'yes,' then when she did I didn't know what to do, but I suppose you just do what you always wanted to do. She was gay but told me she wasn't 'cos I was straight so she shit herself as well but things turned out pretty well.
I think people think of me as being or looking feminine but really I'm not. I like to do boyish things more and I can't stand boys looking at me.
It's better being closer together and holding each other all night just to know that someone feels the sameway lets a lot out of your system. Feelings should be more and mean more and now I know they can.
EXTRACT FROM "ONE IN TEN FOR EQUALITY," ONE IN TEN GROUP, SKELMERSDALE, SUPPORTED BY LANCASHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL YOUTH AND COMMUNITY SERVICE.
Oranges are Not the Only Fruit
Television rarely depicts Lesbians and when we are shown it is usually in a negative and stereotypical role which ignores Young Lesbians, Black Lesbians, Old Lesbians and Disabled Lesbians. It was, therefore, a
pleasant surprise to watch the BBC2 adaptation of Jeanette Winterson's semi-autobiographical novel "Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit."
"Oranges ..." is about a Young Lesbian growing up in an adopted, pentecostal, family, in a small Lancashire town in the 60's and 70's. Rare television indeed. But what was rarer still is that Jess, the
young Lesbian, is portrayed as a very positive character who was able to stand up for herself in front of her pentecostal congregation whilst being humiliated and exposed as a Lesbian:
Preacher: There's a prayer we say, you all know: some are sick, some are sad, some have lost the joy they had. We are praying for two of our number who are like that. There are two of our number who have committed a sin, a terrible sin, the sin that dare not speak its name. These children of god have fallen foul of their lusts. Their bodies have proved stronger than their spirit. Their hearts are fixed on carnal things. These children are full of demons.
Jess: I'm not, neither is she. I said it's not true.
Preacher: Be quiet. Now we hear the voice of the demon arguing with the voice of the lord. Now we hear satan's voice. Do you deny that you love this young woman with a love reserved for husband and wife?
Jess: Yes. No. It's not like that.
Preacher: St Paul says in Romans, chapter 1: Claiming to be wise they became fools therefore god gave them up to the lusts of their hearts, to the dishonouring of their bodies ... women changed their natural relationships for unnatural relationships receiving in the end their due punishment from alla.
Jess: St Paul, Romans, chapter 40: ... but nothing is unnatural in itself it is made unnatural by those who think it is unnatural.
The television adaptation shows the pentecostal way of dealing with Jess's Lesbianism as an 'exorcism' in which Jess is held, face down, in the front room of her adopted parents home by her adopted mother and
other female members of the congregation. The preacher ties her hands and feet and gags her, climbing on top of her in the process. They then pray over her for hours (three days, in fact). In the book Jess is
confined to her bedroom until she denies her Lesbianism; she eventually begins to hallucinate and has a nervous breakdown as a result of her treatment.
The punishment does not work. Undeterred, Jess finds another lover, Katy. Throughout the story, which is told in a sensitive and sympathetic way, Jess is supported by Elsie, an old woman (an old Lesbian?), who later dies; a middle aged Lesbian and later, on leaving home when her mother discovers her relationship with Katy, by a middle aged heterosexual woman. The story ends with Jess escaping the small town, having won a scholarship to Oxford University.
Although I have some criticisms about the adaptation, primarily the voyeristic portrayal of the love scene between Jess and Melanie, the violent 'exorcism' and the tokenistic use of a Young Asian Lesbian, on
the whole I think "Oranges ..." was an excellent production and one which could be used as a discussion aid for work with Young Lesbians and young women in general.
I found myself comparing Jess's experience with mine. Whilst I also come from a small Lancashire town, I was growing up a Young Lesbian some twelve years earlier than Jess. My method of escape was to join the R.A.F. at seventeen and a half and I didn't come out to my mother until I was about 24 years old and living in London. My mother's reaction was to ignore what I had said and we never did discuss my sexuality or my oppression as a Lesbian. I knew of no other Lesbians in my town at that time and certainly I had no support for my sexuality from anyone.
I then compared Jess's experience to that of some Young Lesbians I know. To safeguard their identity I will use pseudonyms.
Daphne is a twenty-two-year-old, white, Working Class Lesbian. She left home at 18 years to live with a group of gay people. Within a short time she was back in the parental home where she has lived on and off since. She told her mother about her Lesbianism some time ago and was told that it was just a phase she was going through. Her father does not know. Her mother has taunted Daphne about her girlfriends and regularly threatens to throw her out because of her 'lifestyle.' Daphne is convinced that if her father knew about her sexuality she would be thrown out.
Sue is also a twenty-two-year-old, white, Working Class Lesbian. Sue's parents died when she was nine and she lived with her aunt until her aunt discovered her sexuality by searching Sue's personal belongings and finding her diary. They had a fight during which Sue's aunt threw her round the room when Sue tried to retrieve her diary. Sue is homeless. She has lived with various Lesbian lovers. She is alcohol dependent and has attempted suicide several times as a consequence of her circumstances. We tried to find Sue accommodation with different housing projects but were unsuccessful. Sue eventually moved to another city where she was promised accommodation by a gay man.
Lorraine is a fifteen-year-old, Black, Lesbian. She is adopted by a white family. She lives in a city where there are no Young Lesbian support groups (or other Lesbian support groups). She is still at school and has come out to her teachers, one of whom has been very supportive. She does not intend to come out to her adopted family until she is 18 years old or older. Lorraine is very isolated as a young black Lesbian. She did have a Black Lesbian friend but she has since moved away.
Mary is a twenty-two-year-old, white, Working Class Lesbian. Mary constantly tried to come out to her parents but each time she tried she was put off by what her mother would say, such as calling Lesbians
perverts, dirty, etc. Eventually she could take no more. She had been assaulted by her parents and contemplated suicide. She met a member of the Young Lesbian Group who brought her along to the Group. Life became unbearable for Mary at home and, with help, she left home. She moved into Women's Aid for a few months before finding accommodation with a housing association. Mary's parents' response to her leaving home (she had left a note explaining why she had left and a telephone number) was
to contact a relative who was a police woman. The police woman was sent round to harass Mary into returning home and threatened the Lesbians who helped her to escape from home.
Because of the way her parents treated her, Mary had a breakdown. She is now recovering, has recently started to work again and is currently supporting Martha.
Martha is a seventeen-year-old, white, middle class Lesbian. She is presently studying at college for her 'A' levels. She has been forced to leave home. Her parents discovered that she was having a relation-
ship with another Lesbian. They forbad her to see her friend again and controlled her movements. Eventually, after being physically abused by her mother whilst she was drunk and being threatened with physical abuse from her father, Martha left home.
Because Mary has a bedsit and has been through an almost identical situation, she has been able to help Martha. Martha hopes to finish college and go to university but her parents refuse to support her. She
is surviving on Income Support with the help of Mary (who, herself, only receives a minimal wage).
On finding her leaving note, Martha's parents contacted the parents of her girlfriend who was 'persuaded' to take a policeman round to see Martha. Both Martha and Mary found the attitude of the policeman
extremely patronising. To avoid further problems, Martha has agreed to telephone her parents once a week but, even though she does this, she receives further abuse from her parents over the telephone - who say almost the same things that Mary's parents still say to her (eighteen months later), such as, "it's only a phase you're going through"; "you'd be better off here"; "Lesbians are sick, dirty", etc.
Martha is hoping to be re-housed by the local authority or a housing association but is dreading living on her own.
Janet is a nineteen-year-old, white, Working-Class, Lesbian. She does not have the support of a Young Lesbian Group. She does not live in a city. She lives in a small, Lancashire town. She has no support from her father, her mother is dead. She has recently been discharged from hospital: she tried to kill herself.
In conclusion, whilst "Oranges are not the only fruit" acknowledges the existance and experience of a particular young Lesbian (and hopefully the BBC will continue to show positive portrayals of Lesbians) who manages to overcome her dreadful experience, we must also acknowledge that Lesbians suffer at the hands of a society which condemns us. Research carried out in the U.S.A. gives some indication of the effects this has on Lesbians, in particular Young Lesbians. It is my belief that the situation in Britain is far worse: not only do we not have the facilities that U.S. Lesbians have but we live in a country which has recently passed legislation (Section 28) which further oppresses us and which has the effect of making Lesbians hide and hate themselves whilst in the U.S.A. some States are passing legislation to make it illegal to discriminate against Lesbians (Hates Crimes Bill).
ADAPTED VERSION OF "ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT" - YOUNG LESBIANS IN
FOCUS, BY JANET B. BRIDGET, PUBLISHED IN "YOUNG PEOPLE NOW" JULY 1990.
WELCOME TO NORMAL
These are some bits and pieces of writing I've done in the last two years. I started writing because I felt confused about who I was, and it slowly helped me to figure out why. Writing was the only way to get
out my aggressions, fear, pain, and love, and to avoid loneliness. I suppose the pen and paper are one reason I am proud to say I'm a Lesbian. So below are words of confusion, acceptance, anger, and love
for myself and other women.
"This is my coming out letter to my mom."
At this moment, I am beginning to release 16 years of feelings, never exposed, never talked about.
These feelings have kept me nailed to the floor, crucified with no place to turn. They have made me miserable, or rather society has made me miserable. These feelings have slowly begun to take control, and
finally are no longer a question.
For the past few months they are all I have thought about. I have felt restless, hate, anger, pain, aggravation, nervous, and most of all the willingness to release all this and talk. I have felt most alone and extremely awkward.
I have thought of many people to talk with, but I'm damn scared. Mom you are the one I need to tell, the one I'm closest to. But you are the hardest to tell because we are so close. I'm about to explode! I'm
such an open person, and to be so contained is ruining me. I love myself too much to continue to ache with pain.
Mom, I want to talk with you so much in person, but I fear I won't be able to look you in the eyes, because, with a few words I can change lives. When I look you in the eyes, I see a whole family to confront, a
whole beautiful family to deal with, a whole world to handle, and a lot of broken dreams. Mom, what I'm trying to say is that ever since I can remember I have felt this awkward attraction, something that always
pulled me the wrong way. But, what I have figured out is that it is not wrong and that I'm brave to admit to myself that these feelings are real and they are beautiful and that they don't ruin anything because they
make me happy. Mom, since I was little I wanted to be a boy. I wanted to be a boy because they get to like girls, and I've always liked girls, but as I've grown, I've grown to be very proud of what I am and I would never want to change. I stopped wanting to be a boy because I discovered boys can't be Lesbians. Boys can never be women.
Mom, I know I am young to be admiting this, but I am not one to keep things bottled up inside myself. I know this changes a lot of things. What you have to keep in mind is that they are changes for the better.
I love you, Mom. Sadie.
"We were robbed of our Lesbian childhoods."
I had carried that letter around for months. By the time I was ready to give it to her, you could barely read it.
One day my silence burst. I put the letter in an envelope, left it on the counter and went to work. All day I was nervously excited. I rode my bike home in about two seconds, tore open the door, ran into the
house, and the letter was still there, unread. No-one had come home.
I was so pissed.
I stayed in my room that nights, and in the morning I put the letter in the same place, rode to work with the same anticipation, and came home more nervous than the day before. My letter was still unread.
I turned on the tv to keep me company, and for two hours sat there smoldering. Those two hours were the longest hours of my life.
Finally the back door opened and in came my mom and step-pop Eric. After reading my letter, they came over to the couch, and with their words of acceptance, hugs, and subtleness of the whole event, rescued my
body, mind, and soul from sinking into the pit society encouraged me to fall into.
It's a strange thing, ya know, how ignorant and sheltered people can be when the world is so beautifully full of variety. It scares me. It was releasing to express what I had hidden and denied for sixteen years.
Once I accepted who I was, I got angry. I got angry because I realised what a struggle it would be, just to be who I am.
All of the people I had gotten close to, all of a sudden felt very far away. I clenched my teeth everytime I heard "What's your boyfriend's name?" I was constantly reminded that my soul was tattoed with ink that
read "minority." I got angry because instead of celebrating my sexuality, this strange world expects me to closet it. There's something about being happy that society can't handle.
I'm still angry and somewhere inside I always will be. It doesn't control me, it makes me stronger.
It's crazy because as much as Lesbians are oppressed and silenced, and as much as we must struggle, those things strengthen me and make me more eager to be who I am. It unifies us, and our oppressors fear that.
Each day I go to high school. Each day I try to relate. I'm at a frustrating stage. I know there are millions of Lesbians in this world, but when you're sixteen you think that you're the only teenager that's
gay. Another think I'm angry about, is being raised as a heterosexual. It's what is expected of you, forced upon you, and so you grow up void, and all of a sudden your realise why. We were robbed of a Lesbian
That's why, when I meet older Lesbians, I feel proud. I respect them so much for living their lives bravely and securely. I can only hope that the path I continue to build for generations to come will be just as
encouraging as the one Lesbians made before me.
"Ok, so you're gay, can't you just be quiet and not parade yourself around for the whole god damn world to see? I don't give a shit who you sleep with, just be quiet like the rest of the world."
When I heard that at my family Christmas party, I wanted to strangle that little homophobic closet case. I mean, it's such a typical thing for a heterosexual to view anything homosexual as dealing only with sex.
As if that's all we Lesbians ever do. If he did't give a shit, then why would it matter if we were quiet? Besides, it's people like him that make me louder. What an idiot, he actually thought the world of
heterosexuals was quiet. Obviously he never watched tv, walked down the street, or lived a day as a homosexual, to see how smothering their world is.
He really scared me with his ignorance, especially since he was so bitterly angry toward gays and only 20. I wondered how someone so young could be so ruined. As I watched him it became clear that he hated me
because he couldn't be me. His anger was directed upon something he feared inside himself. He made me proud to know who I am at such a young age. Some people will never accept it, and that makes me bitterly sad.
I wonder how many Lesbians were born today. How many Lesbians died, never knowing who they were, and how many Lesbians sit married, feeling empty and wonder why. I can't say I know how many, but that doesn't matter, because one identity robbed is one too many. Sadie, USA
"MY COMING OUT". SANDRA IS A 16-YEAR-OLD, WHITE, MIDDLE CLASS, FAT, LESBIAN WHO GREW UP IN A SMALL, NORTHERN, RURAL TOWN.
I realised that I was Lesbian when I was 13. I was in love with a friend. But I didn't do anything about it then. When I was 14/15 I had a boyfriend. Through him I realised that no way did I want this!
FIRST LOVE AND REJECTION
I first came out to a friend I was in love with, Emma. It was so unbearable because we spent so much time together. I had to tell her how I felt about her and about things in general. I hadn't told anyone
about being Lesbian, I was 15. Because she'd never had a boyfriend - although she said she'd wanted one she was so pretty and attractive that she could have had a boyfriend long since - I kidded myself into
believing that she might be like me. I told her I loved her and how it was driving me crazy. I wanted to kiss her and touch her all the time. She couldn't handle it. She rejected me. It was really hard. She
thought it was disgusting. I wrote her a letter two days after because we didn't talk at school when we saw each other. I said I was sorry but that was how I felt. She tore it up and said she didn't ever want me to
talk about it again. It really hurt me 'cos she was the only friend I felt I could turn to. I'd always gone to her with my problems. I couldn't have gone to my family, so I didn't have anyone else to talk to.
It's ironic. I'd stayed at Emma's house that night, the next morning I was watching TV with her sister Melanie (we were both fat and had the same personality, we hit it off well when we first met). Erasure were on the Chart Show. Andy Bell is Gay. She said something to her friend who was also there. They started talking about Gays. "I don't mind Gay men, they don't bother me, it's women who bother me. I think they're disgusting." She said she couldn't stand the thought of two women together. I felt like crawling into a hole. Although I hadn't told her, I felt exposed. It made me feel even worse then, like I had nobody anywhere to talk to. I was in a room full of Lesbian-haters. I felt it was important to tell Melanie because we were friends. Later, a few days after, I told Melanie how I felt about Emma. Emma had already told her, even after she'd told me she wasn't going to tell anyone because she was so ashamed. Melanie just said "I don't know how you can because you've not had a relationship with a woman and until you do I don't see how you can feel all these things." I tried to tell how I felt but it was impossible.
I told two other close friends who I'd grown up with. I worked in the Youth Theatre with them and socialised with them outside of school. After Emma rejected me I spent a lot more time with them. One night, on the last night of a performance, I was upset and crying in the dressing room. I was feeling depressed about being Lesbian. I felt I was going to be rejected all the time. My friends took me into another room. Beth said I could tell her what was wrong. I said maybe she'd be shocked, because of all the reaction I had got so far. She said there were only a few things it could be, "You're on drugs, pregnant or you're Lesbian. I won't be shocked about any of those." I shook my head about the first two things, then she said "Are you Lesbian?" I said "Yes." She said "What are you crying about? You've got nothing to cry about." She hugged me. I told them about Emma, they said she wasn't worth bothering about, that how she reacted was how lots of people would react.
In a way I knew they'd be supportive because they're so different. They've had different experiences, they're into drama, Emma was narrow-minded, immature, they were more open-minded than my other friends. It was really good to have their support. They insisted they took me out for a drink to cheer me up and talk about things. I stayed the night at Harriet's and got upset, she hugged me. It was really good. We're really close, even more so now. I write to them and see them when I go home.
I felt shocked, hurt, and depressed about Emma. I was frightened of losing her. I wasn't frightened of her telling others because she was frightened they'd think she was Lesbian and that we were having a
relationship. It pissed me off, thinking about it. She was oblivious to what I was feeling. I blame myself, I wished I'd never fallen in love with her, that we'd just stayed friends. I probably ruined the best friendship I'd had but then I'm saying that because I loved her.
I felt really happy when Harriet and Beth responded like they did. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off me. We talked and talked. It was really great. I felt I had somebody I could talk to about anything. I think if I didn't have them I don't know how I would have coped with Emma's rejection.
I was never taught anything about Lesbianism in school. All my surroundings were het. I was lonely before I told anyone. I'd always felt isolated until I left home because it's awful in Cumbria. I'd sit
in classes and think "there must be others in here who are Lesbian or Gay." I'd sit and think who it was and think to myself "Please hurry up and realise quickly." I just wanted to talk about it. I wanted to know
people's opinions about being Lesbian and Gay because no-one in school ever talked about it.
One day it was spoken about in an English discussion. We had to write down issues/questions on a piece of paper and put them into a hat. I put "What are your views about Lesbians and Gays?" It was interesting for a fifth year class discussion. Emma looked at me. She knew it was me who'd asked. She was dreading talking about it. It resulted in a long discussion. They'd not had to think about it before, not many had talked apart from those who usually talked. They said the usual 'nice' things, like "It's up to you," "It's fine." It was interesting because they were all talking about men, what fellas do. No-one said anything so I said "You're all talking about men, Lesbians do exist as well, what do you think of them?" There was a long silence. Some might have realised. They made excuses, "It's the same as Gay men." Most of the lads said it was wrong, it was disgusting (they'd also said that about Gay men). Others said they didn't mind, that it was the same as Gay men. It took them a long time to talk about it. The teacher just sat there and listened, it was purely a class discussion. She said it was a good issue to bring up and a good discussion. I think she might have realised who it was. She was really nice, fairly new. It didn't occur to me to talk to her.
My teachers noticed the difference because my work was going down-hill, I was depressed. They sat down and talked to me "You can talk to us." The first teacher I told was my games teacher, I was close to her. I don't know what I expected but I don't think she believed me. She said "I'm very skeptical, I think you need more experience before you can say this." She asked if I was having a relationship. At that time I wasn't but was in love with someone. She asked a load of personal questions which I thought she had no right to ask, e.g. had I slept with a woman? If not, how could I feel I was Lesbian? I was 15 at the time. Then she turned round and said she'd got Gay friends. I thought "God help them." She was patronising. She made me feel ... it sounded like she was an expert on the subject and made me feel that I was too young to know. I thought she would be supportive because she'd been supportive in the past because she's fat. I've talked to her right through school, since I was 11, about being fat and she was supportive. She's married, obviously not Lesbian. Although she said all that, she did support me in a way, she was concerned about me, she wrote to me when I'd left home to see if I was okay, which nobody else bothered to do.
The second teacher I told was my head of year. He was concerned about me and my work. I can't remember if I told him or my mum phoned up. Anyway, one day he asked to see me. I went into his office and he said my mum had rung up. She hadn't even told me she was going to ring. It really annoyed me. He was nice to me and suggested, because I was feeling low and needed to talk to someone, counselling. He didn't critisize me, he was concerned about how I was feeling. He wasn't like the games teacher who gave me crap about how she felt about it. He was much better. I'd already arranged to see a counsellor. He said if it didn't work to come back and tell him and he'd arrange something else.
He said if I ever needed to talk to anyone at school, if I was upset or anything, I could always go and talk to him. He was one of the nicest male teachers I've ever met.
I told my parents when I was 15. I felt I had to. I couldn't stand the pretending when I had a boyfriend (I had a boyfriend to let my parents see I was normal). It got to the point when I felt I had to tell them.
I wrote a letter, which I had with me when I told them. I sat them down, I wanted my brother to be there but he wasn't. I handed them the letter. As they opened it and started reading it I said "I'm a
Lesbian." I had to 'psych' myself up for hours before doing it. I didn't know how they'd respond. I've never been close to them, I didn't know their feelings or what they thought about Lesbians, I hadn't a
clue. I'd never heard them say anything about Lesbians or Gays.
They reacted differently. My dad couldn't handle it. He cried, put his head in his hands and said "I don't know what your trying to say to me." He didn't want to know basically. When I asked him what he thought about Lesbianism he said being Lesbian was wrong and abnormal. Coming from my dad it really hurt me. He said he didn't think it would give me any life.
My mum cried and said it didn't make any difference. She just wanted to hug me, which I rejected because we'd never been close, she'd never hugged me. I thought it was ironic that all of a sudden she was this 'caring' mother. I didn't want her to touch me. My dad was in a complete shock for weeks.
My mum told my brother, who's 22, and showed him my letter. She told me he just cried. After that he was embarrassed and avoided me and didn't look at me. He'd told my mum that it didn't matter.
My parents are supportive, mainly because they give me money. They come down and see me since I've left home, or we - my partner and I - go up home. Before I left home me and my parents, with their friends, were at a pub. A complete prat, who was violent and disgusting, started telling jokes about Gays saying we should all burn them, shove them in an oven. He said "We don't have any like that round here." My mum was really mad. She stood up and said "That's not true. I'm not sitting in your company." Me and her walked out, then my dad. I was tempted to pour a pint over his head. She wouldn't let me, she said it was much better to walk out. My parents' friends were a bit like him, they were laughing along with his jokes. I don't think she contacted them for a long time. I felt really angry. I was shocked my mum defended me, I was surprised.
BEING YOUNG AND LESBIAN
It is much harder realising you are Lesbian when you are young because of these things. I found the rejection from close friends that I've grown up with difficult.
It makes me angry that young Lesbians should have to leave home because of parents. Sometimes I wished I'd had more time with my parents, say two more years. I think when I do go back I'm going to be older and they've sort of missed seeing me grow up. I've always been independent in comparison to my friends who have been more dependent on their families. I've always been more mature than my friends. When I was going to leave home I was really frightened of the responsibility, I don't think I realised how much responsibility you have. I'm still dependent on my family for money. I know I'd have more responsibility if I didn't get money.
I feel I've grown up a lot more, I feel I'm older than I am. I've missed my teenage years. I'm doing things my friends aren't doing. I feel sometimes that I'm missing out. If I'd stayed there ... I don't know, I feel bad about leaving my friends, I spent a lot of time with them. Because I don't know anyone here I feel I'm missing out. I have the responsibility of sharing a flat, living with someone, having to do domestic things, DSS, enrolling for college by myself, looking for a job. I'm missing out on going out with friends, having a good time. I'm doing things most 16 year olds don't have to do until they're older. A lot of my friends are still at home, in the 6th form, they're the same as they were in the 5th form. My life's drastically changed, I feel I'm totally different than them. When I was 15, apart from being Lesbian, I used to spend a lot of time with my friends, doing the same things.
I don't talk to anyone about my feelings. I keep them inside. They come out in anger. I get aggressive or depressed, feel low. I went to a counsellor back home for two weeks but she was crap, she was straight,
she wasn't any comfort.
It would be different if I lived in a city - I might have stayed at home. I grew up in a small town but now live in a city. The difference is so great it is unbelievable. Where I lived there was no support,
nothing; people are so narrow-minded - they don't ever have to think about the word Lesbian, like they don't experience Black people. It's as if they're cut off completely. It's more difficult because you're
more isolated and lonely and can't get information from anywhere apart from Lesbian lines, like London Lesbian Line, which is really expensive to 'phone. If you're in a city you can get hold of magazines, there's the 'scene,' Lesbian groups, coffee bars, etc. It's a bit easier for Lesbians in the city. It makes me angry and pissed off that there's nothing for Lesbians at home, that no-one wants to know about it.
People in authority, like the youth service, aren't interested in young Lesbians, they just don't want to know.
*Annie on My Mind, Nancy Garden; Virago, 1988.
Breaking up, Norma Klein, Pan Horizons, 1986.
Crush, Jan Futcher; Little, Brown, 1981.
Happy Endings Are All Alike, Sandra Scoppetone; Pan, 1987.
*Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson, Pandora Press.
*Patience and Sarah, Isabel Miller, Rupert Hart-Davis.
Ruby, Rosa Guy; Viking, 1976. (and Gollanz hardback 1981).
Sticks and Stones, Lynn Hall; Follett, 1972.
Vila: An Adventure Story, Sarah Baylis; Brilliance, 1984.
Parents Matter, Parents' Relationships with Lesbian Daughters and Gay Sons, Ann Muller, Naiad, 1987.
Different Daughters, A Book by Mothers of Lesbians, ed Louise Rafkin, Cleis Press, 1987.
A Stranger in the Family...how to cope if your child is gay, Terry Sanderson, The Other Way Press, 1991.
Coming-Out to Parents: A Two-Way Survival Guide for Lesbians and Gay Men and Their Parents, Mary V. Borhek, Pilgrim Press, 1991.
When your child comes out, Anne Lovell, Sheldon Press, 1995.
Family Outing, A Guide for Parents of Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals, ed. Joy Dickens, Peter Owen, 1995.
Being Lesbian, Lorraine Trenchard, Gay Mens Press, 1989.
Eyes of Desire: A Deaf and Lesbian Reader, ed. Raymond Luczak, Alyson, 1993.
Growing up Gay/Growing up Lesbian, Ed. Bennett L. Singer, New Press, 1994.
Joining the Tribe, GrowingUp Gay & Lesbian in the 90's, Linnea Due, Anchor Books, 1995.
The Journey Out, A Guide for and about Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Teens, Rachel Pollack & Cheryl Schwartz, Puffin Books, 1995.
k.d. lang: Carrying the Torch, William Robertson.
Lesbian Couples, D. Merilee Clunis & G. Dorsey Green, Seal Press, 1988.
Lesbian Lists, a look at lesbian culture, history, and personalities, Dell Richards, Alyson, 1990.
Lesbians Talk: Making Black Waves, eds. Valerie Mason-John & Ann Khambatta, Scarlet Press, 1993.
Lotus of Another Color: An Unfolding of the South Asian Gay and Lesbian Experience, ed. Rakesh Ratti.
Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology, ed Evelyn Torton Beck, The Crossing Press, 1982.
One Teenager in Ten, writings by Gay and Lesbian Youth, edited Ann Heron, Alyson Publications, 1983.
Out For Ourselves: The Lives of Irish Lesbians & Gay Men, Dublin Lesbian and Gay Men's Collective, Women's Community Press, 1986.
Out on the Shelves, Lesbian Books into Libraries, compiled by Jane Allen, Linda Kerr, Avril Rolph and Marion Chadwick, AAL Publishing, 1989.
Passages of Pride, Lesbian and Gay Youth Come of Age, Kurt Chandler, Yimes Books, 1995.
Sex Variant Women in Literature, Jeannette H. Foster, The Naiad Press, 1985.
So You Think You're Attracted to the Same Sex? John Hart, Penguin, 1984.
Something To Tell You, L Trenchard & H Warren, London Gay Teenage Group, 6-9 Manor Gardens, Holloway Road, London N7, 1984.
Talking Black, Lesbians of African and Asian Descent Speak Out, Edited by Valerie Mason-John, Cassell, 1994.
Talking About Young Lesbians, L Trenchard, London Gay Teenage Group, 1985.
Talking About School, L Trenchard & H Warren, London Gay Teenage Group.
Talking About Youth Work, L Trenchard & H Warren, London Gay Teenage Group.
The Lesbian in Literature, Barbara Grier, Naiad, 1981.
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, eds. Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua, Kitchen Table/Women of Color Press, 1981
Young, Gay & Proud, editor Sasha Alyson, Alyson, 1985.
© Lesbian Information Service 1996