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Living Every Moment In Fear – The Beginning
Today is the 25th anniversary of an event that few other people have experienced; and that is to the good, because every day of my life during the past 25 years has been filled with fear. Putting these feelings into words and the words on paper feels necessary; but the decision to submit for publication is extremely difficult and frightening. Will “they” be shocked? Will “they” publish? Do I really want them to? What will happen if they do? Will I lose readers and followers as I lost so many friends and the respect of family members so many years ago?
That day started as so many other lovely Indiana spring days. I took my children to their piano lessons and used the wait time to deliver some papers to one of my Little League officers. I was the Little League president, but I didn’t really need to deliver those papers…I just wanted to. I didn’t yet realize why it was so important to me.
After ringing the doorbell, an unknown woman answered the door. I suddenly felt violently ill. The woman I had actually expected to see eventually came to the door, invited me inside, and made introductions I never heard. My ears were ringing. My heart was pounding. Nausea was overwhelming me. What was I feeling and why?
As I started the drive back to my children, I played the previous scene over and over in my head. What had just happened? Why was I reacting so severely? When the answer finally took form, I pulled my car to the side of the road. Then I cried, and cried, and cried. What I was experiencing was jealousy, but jealousy of what? What did it mean?
Over the previous few weeks, I had spent a great deal of time with the woman I had gone to see because of Little League score-keeping for ball games. I had already known she was getting divorced and that the divorce had something to do with her interest in another woman. I had been surprised by her earlier revelation, but not repulsed. In fact, I started looking forward to the games we worked together. I started making excuses to see her.
The recognition of the feeling I was experiencing as jealousy was too much to accept. How could I possibly be jealous of the affections of a woman? As a woman myself, I couldn’t be jealous of another woman unless…unless I…unless I was “one of those” people.
When I was young, my mother had often pointed out “those” people (always men) and told me they would go to HELL! My little brother was not allowed in a public restroom because there might be one of “those” people waiting in there to… I was never quite sure what they would do, but I definitely got the message that “those” people did bad things and would be severely punished for eternity in HELL!
How could I be one of “those” people? I was 37 years old. I had a husband. I had two children about to become teenagers. I went to church every Sunday. My grandfather was a minister. This just could not be happening!
For the next few weeks, I existed in a daze. I really wasn’t fully aware of what was happening around me. I cried often, lost weight rapidly, and I reflected on my past. Yes, I had been the typical tomboy. I had always hated frilly dresses and I loved climbing trees. I hated playing with dolls but loved playing basketball with the boys during recess. In junior high school, I paid little attention to either the boys or the girls, but I did have a whopping crush on my P. E. teacher. Back then, I hadn’t realized it was crush (and now it seems so very stereotypical) but it was crush. In high school I had a “boyfriend” who was older, and in the military (Vietnam era); and, thus, I was SAFE in the sense that I didn’t have to go on dates. I hated going on dates.
During college, I dated a male friend from high school; but he didn’t attend my university, so again, the amount of dating was limited. I became very close friends with a freshman who lived on my floor in the dorm where I was a Student Staff. Her name was Barbara. She intrigued me because she was so different from the average “girlie” girl, and we spent a great deal of time together. We often talked for hours.
Before my junior year in college, my boyfriend asked me to marry him. I didn’t really want to get married, but it was what good girls were supposed to do. My family liked him and his family liked me. So I said, “Yes.” Before my senior year, we got married. I cried through my entire wedding. Now I understand what those tears were about.
As time passed, I continued to do what I was supposed to do. I finished my BS in Mathematics, started a teaching career, got an MA in Psychology, and started a family–boy and a girl. Life seemed perfect. When my daughter was about four years old the thought went through my head that “someday her father is going to be very upset.” I didn’t have the correct words to apply, but I was recognizing in her what I didn’t recognize in myself.
As I looked at my past, I realized that I had always been “fascinated” by female couples that I saw at the mall, that there was a girl from high school that I thought about periodically, and that I occasionally had fleeting sexual thoughts about certain women that I always quickly “shut down.” (“I wonder what it would feel like to…?” or “I wish I were a man so I could…”) At the time, I truly believed all women had those thoughts.
Even with all that reflection, I still could not accept myself as a…dare I say it? As a Lesbian? I needed to talk to someone who might understand my confusion. All of my friends and family members were very religious people. Indeed, every person in town fit that description. There would be no understanding from anyone there. The person who finally came to mind was Barbara. She had moved to Colorado immediately after she graduated, but because she visited her parents in Indiana and generally visited us at the same time, we had stayed close. During our college days I had always believed she was a lesbian, but we had never discussed it. I knew for sure that she had a gay brother, so I felt she would listen without telling me that I was going to HELL! I called her and asked if I could visit-saying that I needed to talk.
Barbara believed that I was coming to tell her that I was getting divorced. When I finally worked up the strength to tell her why I was really there, she stood up and left the room. I didn’t understand. When she finally returned, she explained that exactly the same thing was happening with her in Colorado. She had left to room to ponder why I had entered her life at that specific time and to consider telling me about her own struggles. We had both found ourselves attracted to unavailable women and wondering what to do about it. As we talked, it became clear that the lesbian label was undeniable. A new life, along with its set of fears, started for both of us.
We started looking for helpful information in lesbian bookstores. I hadn’t known such a thing even existed. We discussed ramifications. As teachers, we were painfully aware that if anyone found out, we would lose our jobs. I had the added complications of a husband and children. Could I continue to be married and just pretend to be heterosexual? If I decided I couldn’t, would my children be taken from me? At that time, lesbians were considered unfit to raise children.
I returned to Indiana with very few answers. My husband took care of first question a few days after I got home. One night, after we had gone to bed, he turned to me and said, “Are you a lesbian?” I was momentarily shocked into silence. Finally I managed a shaky “Why would you ask that?” “I found this book,” he answered as he pulled out my recently purchased “Our Right To Love.” I thought I had so carefully hidden this book in a cabinet he never opened. I remember looking to the sky and thinking, “Thanks for your help!”
I had never lied to my husband. He was my best friend. So, I told him the truth. “That depends on your definition. If you are asking if I have had sex with a woman, the answer is no. If you are asking if I now identify myself as a lesbian-a woman who prefers the companionship of a woman-then the answer is yes.” To his credit, my husband was wonderful. We talked long into the night. He understood this wasn’t something he could fight. We discussed options and ramifications. I told him I felt I needed to move to Colorado Springs both to be near Barb and to get away from Indiana. He initially decided to move with us and he helped us move and get established in Colorado. In the end, he decided he couldn’t stay in Colorado; but I will forever be grateful for his help and support. I still wish we could have stayed best friends as he had promised.
Life in Colorado has been more difficult and frightening than I had ever imagined it could be. A bitter divorce, constant financial worries, raising 2 children without their father, building a new relationship with a woman, dealing with my partner’s issues surrounding childhood abuse, teaching in the environment of fear of discovery created by Focus On The Family and Amendment 2, raising a lesbian daughter, raising a teenage son in a house full of women, learning to accept myself as a lesbian, learning how to be a lesbian, having no friends, and constantly fearing for the safety of all of us were just a few of the issues we faced; and all of this will be the material of another article.
Initially, the decision to write and submit this article seemed very difficult; but when I think of the young people who get bullied at school, who question who they are, who get kicked out of their own homes, who feel there is no hope, and who think suicide is their only option, the correct decision is obvious. I will always feel so very sad for my students who obviously–to me–needed help but didn’t get any from me due to my own fears. I still feel ashamed of myself for not being stronger then. I now understand that we must all FIGHT THE FEAR. We must do so for those who will follow us. Hopefully, someday, no one will need to live in fear for who they are!
Am I afraid to hit the SUBMIT button? Absolutely! Barbara has watched me cry as I have been writing and mentally re-living it all. She just asked if I want to reconsider. Absolutely NOT! But when I ask myself why I haven’t written this sooner, the answer is that I have been afraid. Why can I write it now? I simply must. One of the magazines I write for chose FEAR as the topic of the month…and, sadly, I have become an expert on fear!
NO ONE SHOULD HAVE TO LIVE EVERY MOMENT IN FEAR FOR WHO THEY ARE!
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