If I had to nail it down, I would have to say that I began my coming out process in 1992, at age 35. That was the year I got online via Prodigy and discovered e-mail and bulletin boards (BBS). In addition to being able to stay in touch with some far-flung science fiction friends, I somehow stumbled on a butch/femme BBS. Stumbled? You may ask. Well, okay, I was “cruising”. I’d had “inklings” and even “urges” before that, but being a single mom who was living with her parents at the time, there really wasn’t much I could do in “real life” to explore any of those. Not to mention working full time and going back to school, too. Social life? Any kind of social life was beyond me then, let alone cruising for places to meet lesbians.
On the other hand, I was an “intellectual lesbian” for ages before I came out. Sonia Johnson, Andrea Dworkin, Lillian Faderman, Mary Daly, all these authors and more were in my regular reading list. On the surface, I might have appeared to be a het single mom, but underneath I longed for wimmen’s land and soft curves. Finding the butch/femme BBS was a serious eye-opener.
Of course, I made comments on posts. I didn’t hide the fact that I had a child, and that I then thought of myself as straight, but… I struck up a conversation with a couple of couples, exchanged letters (how quaint) and photos. There was one young woman who was leaving her husband for a butch woman and moving across the country to be with her. Ironically, at the same time all this discovery was going on, I had connected with a man via my friends’ SF BBS and we were hitting it off pretty well. This guy actually wrote e-mails that were longer than a couple of words. The written word has been my solace and refuge for as long as I can remember, so finding a man who could communicate in that medium was huge for me. Then we began talking on the phone. We liked the same books, had many of the same views on life and values. Long story short, he came to visit me in Atlanta and over the course of a year of correspondence and communication, he asked me to marry him and I agreed. I would be moving from Atlanta, GA to Pueblo, CO, driving my own “covered wagon” across the country, my child and a bit of furniture in tow.
But still, the lure of women beckoned. What was I doing? I wondered, as I continued to correspond with the several female couples that I had seemed to connect with. I found myself drawn to Charis Books in Atlanta, one of the oldest women’s bookstores around. I hung around quietly, looking at the customers, intrigued by the women who came in that were obviously “together”. I was happy about my impending move to Colorado, happy to have found a man I could be comfortable with, but there was still this undercurrent of desire, a need for that “forbidden fruit”.
The move to Colorado was ultimately a good one for me. Finding a job was tough, but after a couple of dead-end temp jobs, I landed a job at an HMO whose national HQ just happened to be in Pueblo. I worked for the regional sales manager, a dynamic Aries woman who everyone else thought was “difficult”. I loved her. She was hands down one of the easiest people I’ve ever had to work for.
After living together for nearly a year, I married my Internet fiancé in May 1994. Around this time, my daughter, then age 11, began to “demonize”. To this day, even after many serious conversations with her, I don’t know what triggered this. Puberty? Resentment about moving? Abandonment issues regarding her bio father? I don’t know. She began running away from home, refusing to do her school work (even though she never cut school), hanging around with gang banger “wannabes”, staying out to all hours when she did come home. You name it. Whatever a kid could do to give a parent prematurely gray hair, she did it.
And the marriage wasn’t turning out to be the best, either. Things were pretty good until September 1995. Then my husband got pneumonia. He was out of work for a month, and after that, he was never the same. It’s interesting to be able to put a finger on an exact turning point in a relationship, but that was it. He was both a smoker and a drinker and his entire constitution never seemed to recover from that illness. After the pneumonia, he could never sleep lying down, so took to actually living in the living room, sleeping in a recliner. His drinking got heavier and heavier, and our physical relationship dwindled to zero. On the other hand, he was never a “mean” drunk, and he didn’t have a jealous bone in his body, and he kept his job and paid the bills on time. He just came home every night, EVERY night, and drank his beer until he passed out in his chair. I cooked, cleaned a bit, had a small garden in our small yard, worked at the HMO, fretted over my daughter, and discovered AOL chat rooms. In particular, “Women’s Space” in the gay and lesbian section.
What a relief. I felt so comfortable there. Accepted. Not questioned. I began to flirt with certain women. It was fun. It was fresh. It felt right—WAY more comfortable than ever flirting with a man, online or in “real” life. Women in that room were having real-time gatherings, meeting each other, some becoming couples. I struck up friendships with two in particular with whom I stay in touch today. I enjoyed it all immensely, but still didn’t think of myself as “gay”. I was just having a good time with some women friends. What was the harm in that?
Time passed. The HMO that I worked for had merged and morphed into something different and HQ had moved from “lowly” Pueblo to Woodland Hills, CA. The powers that be decided to close everything but bi-coastal offices, and I was soon going to be out of a job. However, because I worked in a regulatory area, that meant I would be one of the last to go—but I would have to work from Denver, 120 miles away. I negotiated a 4-day work week, Monday-Thursday. Hubs had taken a job where he worked Thursday night – Monday at a company in Colorado Springs making computer chips, so it seemed ideal. I got online and found a women’s list (i.e. lesbian) in Colorado and found a woman who was willing to rent me a room in her house for a minimum amount since I would only be there basically 3 nights a week. OMG, I was going to be living with a lesbian!
I managed this arrangement for a year and a half, until I was one of the last 3 people at the HMO, and my time was up. During this period, I actually had TIME to myself for the first time in ages. My roommate had a different schedule from me, so I had time in the house alone, and I found places nearby to walk and explore. I journal-ed (this was pre-blogging), I meditated. I practiced yoga. I cried. I wrote poetry. I realized I could not stay married to my husband much longer, but also that I had to let “things” take a natural course. Throughout all this, my daughter got pregnant, so that was just a wee bit of extra stress. I came as close as I ever had to considering suicide during that time, and I firmly believe that my “blue sanctuary” as I called my rooms in Denver, saved my life.
At the end of September 2000, I came back to Pueblo and 3 days later, started a part-time job as a paralegal for a woman who had been a former boss at the HMO. She had quit that job to pursue her life-long dream of being an attorney and we had stayed in touch. I worked for her 3 days a week for a year and a half. At this time, my daughter and 1st grandson were living with us, along with her boyfriend. When I wasn’t working, I helped baby-sit, and my daughter looked for a job while my husband sank further and further into his near-continuous drunken stupor. The end came in September 2001, when so many other things ended. My daughter announced that she was going to move in with her current bf, the baby’s father having taken off months ago. I realized that there was no reason for me to stay.
I had begun meeting with a women’s circle in Pueblo. It was a quasi-pagan group, and we met for full moons and to celebrate the pagan holidays. I got great support from these women, and finally, in October, I knew I had to make a move. I looked in the paper for apartments, called 3 numbers, and got 1 call back. I had a VERY specific amount that I could afford to pay for rent. He quoted me that price. I made an appointment to see the apartment and the moment I walked up the stairs, I knew I had to live there. I made no bones to the landlord, I wanted that place. The next day I was approved, and paid the deposit and first month’s rent and moved all my papers and my computer that night. The next night, I got some of my circle friends to come and move my few belongings and just get them into the apartment. I had told my husband the night before, and even though he was never a violent or aggressive person, I felt very strange sleeping in the house that final night. I would not spend another night there. I also made it clear to him that I wasn’t angry (I wasn’t) and I wasn’t judging him (I didn’t), but that I could no longer live with him and watch him kill himself. He said he understood, but he was barely able to stand up due to drinking, so I’m not sure what he understood or not. Less than a year later, he was dead.
Moving into that apartment was like taking a great gasp of air after being under water for too long. It was truly MY space. I remember standing in the middle of the living room and just taking great, huge breaths, feeling as if I would float off the floor. I continued to meet with my circle of women, and then the questions came—was I dating, was I going to “get in the game”, etc. It occurred to me then that, having lived in Pueblo for 9 years, I knew NO men. None. Well, I knew my mechanic and I had a couple of gay friends, but that was it. Nine years and not ONE man could I just call up and say, “Want to go for coffee?” And then I realized that was perfectly all right. Why? Because I was a LESBIAN! There! I finally said it out loud to myself, and it was true. It was true and real and comfortable and NORMAL. What a relief to finally KNOW. I mean, it wasn’t a matter of feeling guilty or feeling like I had some deep, dark secret. It was more a matter of finally feeling my whole SELF just click into place. At fucking last. After that, I began hanging out with “the girls” more often which then was a pretty even mix of gay and straight women. In May, 2002, a friend arranged a dinner to jointly celebrate my birthday and welcome an old friend who was visiting her from out of town. We had a fun dinner at a local Mexican place. Another friend brought one of her new acquaintances. I saw her getting out of my friend’s car and remember thinking what a cute little butch she was. Seven years later, we are happier than ever. She was the best birthday present I ever got!
Never be afraid to be who you really are.