Gulf Shores

Gulf Shores
Photographer Patricia Gulick

Monday, June 10, 2013

4-8-13 RMB Differences
Dear Rita Mae Brown,
Closet vs Open: the differences
I know you are aware of all of this, but I also hope that others are reading these letters; and if they are reading, than they are probably aware of this information as well, however, in my experience words and information are tools; tools for sharing; tools for showing.
I have never been a “good lesbian” either. I mean that in some different ways than you have meant it and in some similar ways too. I rarely, if ever take a stand on my own behalf. I don’t back down or cower either, when confronted. But, I avoid confrontation. I find it creates resistance. If I have a point to make it will be less likely made if served up hot. However, if I can serve it with warmth, gentleness and vision, it finds its mark more often than not.
I have used other’s words, your words and those of other people long before I heard of Rita Mae Brown, to illustrate my points. Maybe someone reading this, who is trying to show something to someone else, can use these words as their tools.
Why are closeted relationships mind splitting, spirit deflating and heart breaking?
Phone calls: Be careful not to call too often, or speak on the phone where others can hear. Don’t call the one you love at work. Spouses can do that. People in open relationships can do that.  If friends call too often it is suspicious. Imagine someone telling a man he can not call his wife because he already called her once today, or once this week, whatever the acceptable amount may be. Try telling a woman that she can’t call her boyfriend when he is with his parent’s because they can’t know about her; can’t know that she is someone that would be calling him.
A closeted loved one must first think before they pick up the phone, who else will be there? Who might hear this conversation or know I called? Will my lover be upset because I called, because I risked something just to hear my lover’s voice or to make arrangements for later or whatever? Can I justify needing to make this call to the one I love, to myself? Do I have to call, can it wait?
Holding hands: Never hold hands in public, of course. But there is more. Don’t hold hands when any other person is present. Don’t sit too close. Don’t look at the one you love too much. Imagine those directives to a straight couple. How long would that relationship last???
While riding in her car as my second girlfriend drove one day, I reached for her hand. I know I had held her hand in the car before, but perhaps it was in the evening or on an empty road. I was not as aware as she was, not as fearful of the world knowing. She recoiled from my touch. I wondered if she was mad at me. “No,” she said, “people can see in the car.”
I looked around realizing she was probably right, we were in the middle of a lot of traffic…how stupid of me. I stared out the window, watching other people, angry that because they were there, I could not hold her hand. Angry that we live in a world where I could not hold her hand whenever I wanted to; angry at myself for not being able to make better choices, for not even knowing what “better choices” there were.
Not caring for her, not getting into the relationship at all would have been someone else’s definition of a “better choice”. That was unacceptable to me, to deny feelings, to define any love as wrong. Some would have refused a love that could not be shared openly, being more willing to face the repercussions from others than the ones we faced from within. I could not refuse her love.
Loving someone of the same gender places you between a rock and a hard spot. If you live closeted, you face the issues here. If you live openly you face constant backlash from society, from so called friends and family. I could not force her into the pain that living openly would have caused her. I thought the path we carved was the lesser of two evils, but it left its scars.
That day, that moment when she recoiled, left a scar. Years later, in my third closeted relationship, I walked on a pier with my girlfriend. She was far more open. Her family lived in another state, no chance of them walking by or knowing someone we passed. She was freer with her affection. I reached for her hand. She recoiled from my touch. We were walking to the car and once we got in she turned to me. “I wasn’t sure it was safe there.”
She had felt my reaction, felt how it hurt. At least she was more understanding, tried to comfort me. She held my hand once we were safely in the car. Again, I wondered if I should have known better. I would be willing to stand up to a stranger. I would be willing to take some blows for what is right, but I would not be willing to put her in harm’s way. If holding her hand meant I was endangering her…how stupid of me.
I looked at the pier, at the people there, I thought it safe enough, but in her mind there were doubts. Again, anger rose for the prejudice that denies simple affection; for its affect on people, on her.
Holidays and family gatherings: Although there are plenty of straight couples that would like to get out of family gatherings with in-laws, it is another story when you are banned by the silent rules of the closet. Don’t show up, don’t call and don’t spend the day together. Pick another day to celebrate together. Form another family with just the two of you as members. As cozy as that is, there is something missing during the time when you are with family; your other half is missing.  There is something missing when the two of you are together alone…the rest of the world, the rest of your life and loved ones.
Pictures: There are no pictures of you together, holding hands, holding each other, no third person around to take them, and even if you confide in someone that could take the photos, pictures together are damning; telling. Even carrying pictures of each other is a risk. Avoid them. Explain that concept to a straight couple.
Code words: Learn to say what you want to in code, even simple phrases “I’ll see you later.” “Meet you at your house…or mine.” “Call me when you can.”
Private intimacy: Finding time alone together is more difficult than you’d think. People expect a certain behavior; track your movements, unconsciously. How often does a coworker say “How was your evening, do anything interesting?” How often does a straight person have to make something up, or leave out details? How many times can a straight person say “We celebrated our anniversary by…”? How many times can a closeted person say the same? It is a daily maze to maneuver.
And when you are alone, how do you suddenly become someone different from your public persona. Alone you can hold hands, look at one another, embrace. But after hours of avoiding that, the mind and body, form habits. You are distant with one another because you have trained yourself to be. Holding hands feels odd. You can fool yourself into thinking that makes it special. But you understand when your other half doesn’t respond or when it takes more time, more effort to respond, because you feel the same way, the same inner resistance to do the things you crave; to do what you have denied yourself, denied one another, simple affection, passion, love.
Self respect: It messes with your psyche, to be two people, a public person and a private person. Is your public self too ashamed of your private self to let it be public too? Is your private self ashamed of your public self for forcing it into the shadows?  There is already the disrespect shown by society, in both subtle and overt ways. Then there is also the self struggling with self worth. How worthy am I, whose hand can not be held when I reach for the one I love?
Even couples that are out and some couples of different ethnicities or some that have suffered other obstacles to be together, experience the affect of society in their personal interaction. They are more reserved, touch less. Watch couples and you can tell how much others have accepted their relationship by their behavior. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it is strikingly evident. With many same gender couples it is strikingly evident.
Love: My definition is that you would do anything for the person you love; anything to make their life better; anything to help them on their journey; anything to protect them; shield them from any pain, including any that you might cause yourself.
In light of that definition, how can you love someone of the same gender when the love itself causes such turmoil, such injustice to be brought to light, such conflict. I struggled through my relationships; never finding the perfect balance, never knowing exactly where to stand so that the world, my world, our world, made sense. 
Every couple faces trials. Some, straight or gay, young or old, face incredible hardships, harsher than I ever faced, I am not saying I had it worse than anyone else, but I know it could have been better. If our world were kinder, more accepting, it could have been better. We are capable of being better humans than we have been. And that is why I write these letters.
Wishing you well,

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