I read an article this morning entitled “‘Female Husbands’ in the 19th Century” and it made me think of one of the most liberating things about coming out for me – how it impacted my female friendships. (Disclaimer: I make no pretense to speak for all lesbians, I’m speaking only of my own experience. And I share this for those who might be curious or uncomfortable about the depth of female friendships with lesbians.)
I don’t know where I stand on the nature vs. nurture debate, nor do I really care. I am who I am and that is enough for me. If that’s not good enough for you, I simply don’t need you in my life.
As a teen and young adult I didn’t know I was a lesbian. Although I’d heard the word and could certainly define it, I really couldn’t comprehend what that meant. I didn’t dislike boys, in fact I can still name a few who were always very special to me (some of whom still don’t know how much!) If asked about romantic attractions, I would have named a boy or two, but it was just that – romantic, in that high school girl kind of way.
But I felt somehow more stifled in my friendships with girls – as much as I loved my girlfriends, there seemed a need to hold back, some subconscious societal message that I loved them too much.
It was only after I came out to myself that I was able to understand how important and special those female friendships were and how it was a stigma that I didn’t understand that had prevented me from enjoying those friendships to their fullest. Isn’t it ironic that I couldn’t fully express my platonic love for my female friends until I learned to accept and express my romantic love for women as well?
I’m a touchy-feely kind of person with a sensitive heart. It never seemed awkward to touch, hold hands, hug a male friend. But it did seem awkward to even want to have the same physical friendship with female friends. It was only after coming out that I was able to be freed from this foolishness and recognize not only that there is nothing wrong with women loving women, but what a wonderful and beautiful thing it is. Women have had these deep bonds with each other for millennia – sometimes romantically and sometimes simply as passionate friendships. That liberation of my female friendships has contributed so much to who I have become today.
When I’m with a friend who is secure enough in her own identity, I can walk down the street holding hands, arm in arm, or with arms intertwined around each other simply because we enjoy the blessing of sharing this world together. I can tell her I love her. I can hold her hand when she’s afraid, caress her cheek when she’s ill, hug her tight when she grieves. And I can also walk arm in arm with her through the park, caress her cheek when she cries tears of joy, and hug her tight at the first sight of her. How often I’ve walked, arms around each other, laughing and joking, with friends who didn’t think twice about what others might think of them or if I might have a hidden agenda or become overly friendly!
I dearly love my female friends. I can find them attractive without be attracted to them. I can hold them close without wanting to sleep with them. And by the way, I can love a man, find him attractive and even hold him close without wanting to sleep with him either! And despite the conservative frenzy over protecting the sanctity of marriage, none of this is a threat to my marriage, or to yours.
Reading historical stories of women’s lives, we do know that some of the women in these stories engaged in romantic/sexual relationships with each other but we don’t know that about all of them. Regardless of their romantic or sexual attractions and relationships, these are stories of women who cared deeply about each other. Being a lesbian certainly is about romance and sexuality, but it is not simply that. For some of us, it is also about being free to be whole – to cherish the depths of our female friendships in a way that allows us to be who we are meant to be – human beings fully dependent on our ability to be in relationship with others. Regardless of our sexual preference, we cannot be truly whole nor can we even survive if we do not embrace and nurture our ability to develop those caring relationships with those with whom we share our world.
Yesterday started out like any other … I was sitting on the couch with my morning coffee reading the news when Phoebe (our 1 1/2 year old Jack Russell/Border Terrier mix) jumped off the couch, ran into the middle of the room and began to vomit. Lovely. But then as we began to clean it up, she repeated this two more times. It didn’t seem to be too much of a problem and there wasn’t much we could do at this point. I had to go to work and my wife had to go to the eye doctor.
Around 11:15 a young man came to my office at the church looking for a clergy person to discuss some theological questions with which he was wrestling. He was facing a personal crisis and was battling with his faith. Since there were no clergy available I spent a bit of time with him, listening to his troubles and his questions, and reassuring him that there was nothing wrong with questioning and that our clergy would be happy to talk with him as soon as someone was available. In the midst of our conversation my phone rang – perhaps not the most opportune moment for the theme song from “The Big Bang Theory” to begin to play but the young man was unfazed and commented that he watched the show as well.
The call was from my wife. She was still in Philadelphia after seeing the eye doctor and was quite upset. The pressure in her eye was high and there is concern about her optic nerve. New medication, she has to go back again in another week and oh, by the way, it looks like surgery is going to be necessary. I know this worries her and now I’m concerned that she has to drive over an hour to get home.
The next time the phone rings I’m expecting it to be her telling me she’s home safe. But instead, she’s calling to tell me that Phoebe is still vomiting and she’ll be going to the vet at 3:30. I have a 4:30 dentist appointment so I can’t go with her. We text back and forth while I’m in the dentist’s chair — x-rays and bloodwork – what are they looking for? – an obstruction or pancreatitis — and as my worry for our baby is increasing so are the dollar signs in my head. Just as I arrive at the vet she’s ready to go. It’s good news, there’s no obstruction and she doesn’t have pancreatitis – whew, no surgery – but they still don’t know what it is. So they’ve hydrated her, given us a can Rx dog food, three medications and lots of instructions. We get home and Phoebe has a little dinner (she would’ve liked more) but she still isn’t herself and just curls up next to us. We’re all glad the day is over.
This morning Phoebe still isn’t quite herself although she does seem a little better. So it should be a good day. On my way to work I start thinking about yesterday and suddenly the tears start to flow. Were they tears of sadness or frustration? Well, they were sort of a mix of joy, of frustration and of sadness. I had started thinking about the experience being in the vet’s office yesterday. It really was a little thing that most people take for granted but we know we cannot always take such things for granted. The people in the office were so kind (as they always are) but it just struck me how they treated us exactly the same way they would have treated any other married couple. There was no derision, no sideways glances, no “Oh, you must be sisters” comments. It was just a normal and natural interaction between the vet’s staff and a couple whose dog was ill. How odd that a simple common courtesy could start the tears flowing.
On one hand, the tears were tears of joy – that we can be recognized and treated with the same respect that other married couples, or even unmarried couples, can take for granted every day.
But there was also a sadness in those tears, knowing that we haven’t always been able to expect such respectful treatment and that, in fact, we still can’t expect it everywhere. If we have to go to PA for the eye surgery, our marriage will not be recognized there. I’ll simply be a friend with no legal rights rather than the spouse that I am. Yes, there is a sadness from the twenty years of not being able to expect to be treated with a simple common courtesy, twenty years of being told and being treated as though we were somehow less worthy of such dignity. And there is a sadness that still, while we have been blessed to be granted this respect, this dignity, these rights around our home in NJ, we know that elsewhere, there are those who are granted more legal rights to ignore and deny our legal married status, to take away our rights and treat us with disdain.
Have you ever been acutely aware of when you and your spouse were treated with respect as spouses or even simply as a couple deserving of respect? Is it the kind of thing that presses into your consciousness every day? It seems a little thing, to be treated with the same respect as any other couple, married or unmarried. It may be a little thing, but it’s a little thing that can mean so much to those for whom it has long been denied.
Yes, it’s always the little things – the little things that can make an ordinary day feel like it’s spiraling out of control, and the little things that can make the difference between feeling like an outcast and feeling accepted as a fully equal human being.
It’s always the little things, whether it is the straw that broke the camel’s back or a simple word that can empower the disenfranchised. What little thing might you do today? Will your words, your actions, even your presence break a camel’s back or will you empower someone who has been disenfranchised?
My dear friend, Becky, has been pushing me to start writing a book or a blog, and another friend, Russ, has encouraged me to blog as well. But, aside from the encouragement of my friends, why would I want to start a blog? Just a few reasons might be that I like to ponder theological questions, I have tremendous empathy for those who suffer, I love tracing my family history and trying to find my way through/around brick walls, I am passionate about justice for all (not just a privileged few), and I enjoy writing and am an avid photographer as well. What better place than a blog to sharpen my skills in writing, photography and analysis, while also sharing a little fun, inspiration, fascination, and compassion with others?
What you may see here from time to time are
- my own struggles,
- some words of compassion and hope,
- things that make me laugh,
- reflections on what it means to me that we are called to see the face of Christ in all persons,
- stories about my ancestors or about how I’m stuck trying to find them,
- pictures of the everyday beauty that surrounds us, or of the absurd that astounds us.
Do you need to know who I am to appreciate this blog? Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Knowing who I am may encourage you to read my posts, or it may encourage you not to bother – but that will say more about you than it says about me! So, just in case it matters, I can tell you that I am a progressive, white, middle-class, middle-aged, pro-choice, married, lesbian, American, Episcopalian woman who has studied psychology, theology and liturgy. I work in a church as well as being a reverse mortgage counselor. I am well educated and fairly well-spoken. But, I’m neither pretentious enough nor arrogant enough to think that my words will change attitudes, much less lives. On the other hand, if my words or images can open a window to another way of looking at something or if they can provide comfort or joy, I know I will be blessed in return.