Gulf Shores

Gulf Shores
Photographer Patricia Gulick

Thursday, May 9, 2013

3-6-13 RMB Rambling with math 

Dear Rita Mae Brown,
I feel like rambling tonight and since this isn’t being printed right now and sent or posted immediately…I will engage in some self absorbed rambling. 
In my eighteenth year I found myself on the phone speaking to my father, a rare occurrence. He bluntly asked “You’re not turning into one of those California Lesbians are you?” 
Shocked, I laughed and said “no”. The conversation concluded soon thereafter. Conversations with Dad were rare, long conversations non-existent. 
In the days that followed, I posed his question to myself, something I had not done prior to that. First of all I wanted to know exactly what was a “California Lesbian”? Were they a different breed from, say Colorado Lesbians? Were Montana Lesbians taller???
Secondly I wanted to know “Who the hell are you to ask me if I am a lesbian?” I promptly put myself in my place, he was my father. 
He was the father that had not, in my entire life, entered into a single conversation of depth with me about my life.  He was the father that was not interested in seeing my wounds, moms and step moms took care of those. He did not want to hear my feelings, those were irrelevant. He did not want my presence, nor the sound of my voice. 
There was no father-daughter talk, no coming of age “let me tell you about life, my child” conversation. There was work to be done or distance to be respected. Do your best, keep quiet and disappear if at all possible. I tried, man did I try to disappear. More on that later.

Honesty was important, critical to me. I fretted over whether or not I had lied to him. Strange how society reveres truth then teaches us to lie in order to live with one another. Whatever you want to say about Obama, it is on his watch that gay Americans can finally serve their country open and honestly. But I digress.
The young woman that had attempted to draw me out of my cave at fifteen, was out of the picture by the time I was seventeen. I pulled away from her. I was too uncomfortable with the relationship, decided I wasn’t gay,  offered to be friends. She left my life. 
I interpreted my lack of interest in her, as a lack of interest in women. I had never acknowledged, nor acted on any feelings towards any other female. So there you have it…not gay. I thought I was being completely honest with her and I was at that point in my life. I was a shell of a person, barely a person at all. Gayness is inconsequential when your life reaches certain lows. 
By eighteen I had made progress, began to piece together a breathing, feeling, human being out of the shambles.
At the time of Dad’s call, I was dating two guys, the same two guys I dated while with girlfriend #1 so that we would appear straight. She dated a variety of guys too. She enjoyed trying to make me jealous by discussing their dates. I was just annoyed.
I felt bad about dating my guys, because I liked them both. They both wanted to settle down and make babies. I was up front with them. I was not going to be making any babies, no settling down for me. I worried I was wasting time that they could use to find their future wives. When pressed to have sex with them, not by them – by girlfriend #2, I felt that would be too cruel. I knew they liked me. Although I was curious about being with a man, it seemed out of line to experiment with someone else’s heart in the crosshairs. 
The other catch is that, at seventeen right after #1 departed my life, I became involved with another woman. We knew each other only a short time when we kissed. I had no idea she was interested in me that way and I of course had no idea I was interested in her that way either. Although I did not see our relationship going down that path, this time I understood what was happening in the moment and fully enjoyed the kiss, a most memorable kiss complete with a swooning emotional tide.  
Being two whole years older and in the process of rebuilding my life, I was much more assertive. I told her that I enjoyed kissing and would not, under any circumstances, go any further with her. I let her know that I had done my share of experimenting and I was not interested in sex with a woman, end of story. She was several years older. She gave me a knowing smile and agreed to whatever I said. 
Within about six months we were doing more than I had done with #1. By not pushing me, she allowed me to find my way to her. She was smart enough to only touch me in appropriately neutral places, but she touched me often. I began to crave her caresses. I began caressing her back in not-so neutral places, while allowing her more leeway. I surprised myself by finding I could enjoy intimacy with her. I don’t think I surprised her.  
So back to Father Dear’s query, isn’t the definition of “lesbian” a female that only likes being with other females? I was so attracted to the guys and so unsure of what I felt for women, there was no way I was a lesbian…right? Getting into a discussion of semantics with Dad would have been a hoot. 
“No Dad, I am bisexual.” THAT would have gone over well! In childhood I learned to reply to my father in one of two ways, “yes” or “no”, either way followed by “sir”.  I knew I chose the “right” option, be it true or not. Did I mention he was a retired Master Gunnery Sergeant, with over two decades of Marine Corps service, a Marine for life through and through? Marines don’t discuss, they give orders. That description fit the father I knew then.
Going back to math, isn’t there some balance that needs to be established for anyone to be classified as anything, like a white person can be classified as black if they have X amount of black ancestry, (or vice versa) regardless of appearance? If I was dating two men and knew I was attracted to them and only one woman who I was unsure about everything with, wasn’t I tipping the scale away from lesbianism? Or did the fact that I was having sex with the woman, but not the men, establish overriding precedence?
It became apparent why I had not considered the answer to this question before. All this calculating made my head hurt.
I knew no lesbians, hadn’t even heard of any. My existence since I was a kid getting babysitting jobs at age eleven had been: get up, go to school, go to work, go to bed, begin again. 

Weekends were for working more hours. After high school, there were some college courses here and there. At one point I worked at three restaurants at once, sometimes all in the same day, open here, mid-shift there and close across town, a 7am to 1am kind of day, no problem. I was living with my head in the sand.
Worst of all, I had not discussed the topic with anyone. Both girlfriends were closeted and had so little experience that they seemed to think of it as exploration, not a defining principle. Both had not only insisted we date men, but talked about one day settling down with them. I felt like screaming “HELLO, I am right here listening! What am I, what are WE, chopped liver???”
Don’t rock the boat, don’t rock the boat…instead I said, “Yeah, he is nice. You would get along well together.” Ugh!!!
Numero dos and I lasted a few good years, followed by several more not so good years. By good I mean, we enjoyed our life together, our time together, being intimate and feeling encapsulated from the rest of the world when we were together. By not so good years, I mean drifting apart, intimacy evaporated, time together grew thin in amount and content. I had watched her go through crushes before, but the last one was the hardest. I knew that one would take her away from me, sever what was left of our bond, and it did. 
Don’t rock the boat. I wished her well. It was what she wanted, what she had always wanted, to live without secrets, to be whole. I felt I really was chopped liver. Only years later did I realize, it wasn’t me, it was the life, the secrets, that was chopped liver. I don’t like liver. Just thought I’d throw that in.
A lot of people talk about their closeted relationships and say they would have made it together if it weren’t for the hoops you have to jump through, the double life you have to lead. I could say that about this relationship, but I’ll just think it instead. Truth is we don’t really know, none of us. 
What we do know, is that we all do what we think we have to do. What she and I knew was that if anyone found out we both had a lot to lose, family and friends, possibly our jobs. I could whine that I had already lost my mother because she saw me with girlfriend #1 and shortly thereafter, at seventeen, I was told to get out of the house, but that relationship was sinking for more reasons than that. It didn’t stop me from needing to pay three months past due mortgage payments to help keep the family house a while later. Bitter? No, not I.
Can any couple look at one another and say “I really like being with you. Hey, let’s say to hell with the rest of our lives, family, friends, jobs and go live happily ever after?” If you want to be with someone of the same gender, in our society, there are repercussions no matter what you do.  
As my girlfriend and I drifted apart, my fellas each found someone else to settle down with. By the time I was theoretically available, they were not. My heart was not available anyway though. It had some serious healing to do. Healing that took about a dozen years. My thirties were completely dateless, celibate. 
I realized why I disliked the words gay or lesbian so much. If a girl dates a girl and then settles down with a guy, does she turn straight? If a woman divorces her husband to be with another woman, does she become a lesbian? Is there a limit to how many times you can flip in one lifetime? Is someone keeping score?  
How can you truly be bisexual? Does that mean you HAVE to be involved with both genders at the same time? Or within a certain time period? Because otherwise, aren’t you straight, gay or a lesbian???
I have settled on “open minded” as my own status. I believe you fall in love with a person, not a gender. I got the impression you believe that as well. 
One day, in the midst of all that calculating and figuring, I was riding in a car with the mother of a seven year old. She said she heard that her son’s karate teacher was gay. Some parents had taken their kids out of the class. She thought the teacher did a good job and didn’t see a reason to do that. Besides, she thought she wasn’t really gay because she wore make up.
She asked me if gay people wore make up. I said I didn’t know. I didn’t. I wore make up. I must not be gay. I found that humorous. Here I was weighing issues like sexual and physical attraction. All I had to do was look in the mirror to know I wasn’t gay.
I’ve rambled enough. Thank you for listening, even if this letter doesn’t get posted, it allowed me to vent. I might use it as is. Someone might find something of value here. I fear that I have vented too much. I’ll read it in the light of day before I decide.
Yours truly,
PS. Day has dawned (actually several days, had to think about this one a lot) and I have decided to leave this in the mix. One of the reasons for writing these letters is to show something to someone. Like showing the picture of my extended family of two moms and three boys in effort to shed light on a different kind of family, here is an example of one life. This life, one person’s experience, shows a path taken, thoughts thought, different from most, yet similar to some. 
When I became more vocal, supportive of the gay community, I attended PFLAG meetings to help families dealing with gay family members. I found they wanted to know “How did you know? When did you know?” The funny thing is that there is no answer to those questions. That is like saying “How did you know you were you? When did you know you were you?” 
I have always been me. “I am what I am.” To this day, I am me, not someone else’s label. Just as I could say that you can call me “white”, but most often I relate more to my Mexican heritage. I won’t insist you call me a Mexican. It wouldn’t fit your description of what you see in me. I won’t insist you call me open minded, rather than a lesbian or bisexual or whatever else you see in me, but that is what I believe fits me best. 
One of my favorite labels is American. You can be white or black, Mexican or Italian, Catholic or Jewish, gay or straight, a cowboy or surfer dude, any mixture of races, religions and lifestyles and still be American.
That is why I like “open minded”. You can be straight or gay, a man or a woman, a republican or democrat and still be open minded. 
Why use words that divide us when there are others available that unite us?

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