In 1988, I came out of the Closet. Not only did I come out, I blew the damn thing up!
The year started quietly enough–I had a nice home, decent furniture with a few antique pieces I’d refinished, rode horses with my friend of four years, and attended college to become a veterinarian. As the year progressed, that seeming normalcy shattered. My friend and I became an intimate couple–in the Deep South, in 1988.
Now, I’d always enjoyed my friend’s family as I didn’t have one of my own–big Sunday gatherings and lots of visiting back and forth–right up until I learned about the herd of pink elephants stampeding through her life. Suffice it to say that her family did not take her sexual orientation well. Her mother, a fundamentalist Christian, was certain that her daughter would go to Hell–and that was only because my friend had decided to divorce her abusive husband. With that reaction in mind, we didn’t apprise her of the change in sexual orientation. If it had only been her mother, we might have stayed and tried to work it through, but other family members felt that the use of violence would realign her orientation and wipe away her desire for a divorce.
Faced with a choice of using violence to counter extreme violence, in a state where a man could with impunity beat his wife but heaven help the woman who fought back–prison, psych wards and increased violence against such a woman–we decided to leave the state.
She left everything she had worked over eleven years to help accumulate including her beloved horses; walked away from a Bachelor’s of Science degree that lacked one quarter to complete, and packed what she could in an old cedar chest and a used van. I, too, walked away from home, material possessions that couldn’t fit in a couple of cardboard cartons and the van, my horses (we arranged with a supportive friend to come and get all of the horses and rehome them), and my dream of becoming a veterinarian.
We crossed the country with her old German Shepherd dog and my Pit Bull, driving for hours to exit the state and begin to feel a little bit safe. California was filled with crowds and congested cities, so we continued traveling, stopping here and there to find work, always labor and always paid in cash. We parked in rest areas and slept in the van; sometimes, awakened by the pounding of a night stick on the metal side and the order to move on. We bathed in sinks in the rest area bathrooms, in a bucket inside the van, and every once in a while, at a mission. The women there, waiting in line for their turn at the showers, frequently let us go ahead of them so we could get back on the road.
Oregon felt decidedly unsafe. A few weeks before a young gay man had been severely beaten on an Oregon college campus. Work on a couple of horse farms and a sheep farm and eventually a donut shop got us enough money to head for the state of Washington.
Years earlier, I had lived in Washington before I moved to the South. The memories of Western Washington held the promise of diversity and, perhaps, even acceptance and safety. Funny how having been heterosexual during my earlier sojourn in the state had drastically impacted my life; things had changed and not just my sexual orientation. Washington was, indeed, more tolerant than the Deep South–usually–if you were careful where you went–if you stayed aware of potential attackers around you–if you could find a landlord/landlady willing to rent to a couple of lesbos–if you could find a job where your sexual orientation didn’t matter if you could do the work—if, if, if……
Even on Capitol Hill in Seattle, LGBTQ Land, lesbians were waylaid, stalked, beaten, raped for being lesbian, and sometimes for just being female. It became difficult to tell which was the greater crime. We turned our anger to action and joined with other lesbians in an effort to change the world, or at least our little corner of it.
Over time, we found a wonderful landlady and worked temp labor at Labor Ready where they didn’t care if you were an omni-sexual purple alien; we reconnected with some friends of mine and made new friends, and we enrolled in college again, though not on our original track of studies. Slowly, we rebuilt our shattered lives.
My wife and I have been life partners for over twenty-six years, now. In spite of the sorrow and pain we endured, we grew closer to each other, strengthened each other, and have never rebuilt our Closets. It is heartening to finally have the vindication of the Supreme Court decision. Our marriage is, at last, legal in all fifty states.
Will the Supreme Court decision make it easier to come out? For some, yes, but those are the fortunate ones. Those types of families and friends; co-workers and professors, are becoming more and more common. Yet still for some lesbians the day they step from the Closet, they will face violence, and ostracism from those closest to them.
There is still a lot of work to do.