Excerpts from Dear John, I Love Jane:
You won’t find me rewriting history to say that I was gay all along. I was straight. Now I am gay. I won’t insult my past self by saying I was in denial or confused. I am a textbook example of the fluidity of sexuality. I always thought I couldn’t change. I was wrong, and that freaks out a lot of people who are scared to imagine that one day everything they think is true and permanent could change. I found my knight in shining armor, and she’s a girl.
- Amelia Sauter, "Falling for Leah"
We swim, splash, float under the desert moon. After a hot day and a long night, it is bliss to slip through the water. Later we sit on the edge of the pool, she says something sarcastic, and I laugh, reach up, and briefly twine my fingers through the back of her long curtain of hair. I pull my hand away quickly. Something about this touch is too intimate and I know it.
A few days later at dinner she asks, bluntly. Is there an attraction?
I cling to my heterosexuality, use it as a shield. I want desperately for it to be the truth that will save me from all of this. I’ve never had much of a poker face, and as she holds my gaze from across the table, I see my truth and my panic mirrored in equal measure in her eyes.
We leave the restaurant and return to her office. We sit close to one another on the edge of the futon where her clients sit, and we talk in hushed voices. My head pounds with the magnitude of this night. I cannot focus on the words passing between us, but I know that our hands will eventually connect. This is dangerous, but I cannot seem to make myself walk away. Nothing more transpires between us, but the feeling of her thumb grazing my palm feels more erotic and more forbidden than any sexual encounter I have ever had.
The next day there is a harshly written email; she is withdrawing from my life. In my backyard, I lean back against the weathered wooden fence and sobs roll through my body.
Later that night in our bed, he holds me for hours as I cry. Without question or expectation, he cradles me in his arms and lets my grief and fear pour out of me until the pillow is soaked with my tears. And at the end of all that, so filled with love and gratitude for the man who is my husband, what choice do I have but to trust?
And so I tell him. Everything.
- Jeanette LeBlanc, "Awakenings: Navigating the Spaces between In And Out"
To be clear, men are not villains here. In contrast to the classic stereotype of men as uniformly blocking their wives’ and girlfriends’ processes of sexual questioning, we meet a notably different cast of male characters in these women’s stories. There are men tortured by the loss of women who couldn’t fully love them back; men who give their lovers lessons in their own bodies, lessons that will eventually lead these women into the arms of other women. As one husband told his wife as she wrestled with blossoming same-sex desires, "Sometimes when you encourage people to be all they can be, you get a little more than you bargained for." Some of the men in these narratives resist and denounce; others relinquish and mourn, affirm and accept. Watching women as they struggle to reconcile the past, current, and future roles of these complex men in their lives is one of the most fascinating and original gifts of this collection.
- Dr. Lisa Diamond, "Preface"
Folks you expect to be tolerant aren’t; folks you expect to be disapproving aren’t. A friend with whom I’d been having dinner every Friday night for ten years made excuses to cancel our standing date. One of the women in my writing group attends a conservative church that disapproves of gay marriage. I took her out to lunch, told her of my new love. Not only was she not shocked; the first thing she asked was, "How did you meet Diana?"
- Sheila Smith, "Confessions of a Wanton Prude"
Sometimes I feel a happy bittersweet-sad, as if I had been perfectly content with my cup of Folgers every morning (really—it was fine), and then one day I was handed the most delectable, creamy Caffé Vita breve latte, granules of brown sugar melting into the thick velvety foam, served in a gorgeous Italian china mug with handmade almond biscotti on the side—a delightful gift, but one that renders the Folgers, in comparison, pretty much undrinkable. So the sadness is more of a Smokey Robinson 'a taste of honey is worse than none at all' wistful, nostalgic sadness than an emptiness or a grief. It’s a feeling that brings me both gratitude and heartache.
On my more melancholy days, I long for the ignorant girl who could swig that black coffee out of a Styrofoam cup and think nothing of it. On my more hopeful days, I know there is a world of designer espresso drinks that I will make my way back to someday. On my still-confused days, I put the whole drink order far back on the shelf and let myself awaken naturally, at my own pace, without trying to decide what I want, what I can or can’t have, what I should do, what I want to do, which is better, what I’m willing to fight for, and—these have been the two most interesting questions of the year—what I can live with, and what I can’t live without.
- Veronica Masen, "Watershed"
I straightened my curly hair, wore my two-carat diamond wedding ring, and smiled pretty for the pictures. I attended piano recitals, soccer games, dinner parties, PTA meetings, and black-tie functions as a happily married mother of two. But when I dared think about the predicament I was in, I envisioned myself as a fraying rubber band stretched much farther than my capacity. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t continue to deny that I was living two lives and I found myself on the verge of one big snap. Horrifying thoughts haunted both my sleeping and my waking hours. Wife and mother Leigh had a lesbian lover. It couldn’t be. Lesbian lover Leigh had a husband and children. That’s impossible. The existence of one life negated the legitimacy of the other, and I was rapidly losing my grip on both of them.
- Leigh Stuart, "Mirror Image"
“What’s wrong, Mommy?”
“Haley, I struggle with the same thing that your coaches do.”
She immediately stopped crying. “Are you coming out to me, Mom?”
I said, “Haley, you’ve teased me for years about being a lesbian.”
At that moment, Taylor walked in. “Mom’s coming out to me,” Haley said. “I need some therapy.” Because I am a therapist, this was a common joke between the kids when something heavy needed some lightness. Taylor’s eyes flew wide open.
“Haley’s hockey coaches are closeted lesbians, and I struggle with the same thing they do.” At the time, I had been married for twenty-three years to my college sweetheart, the son of a very conservative Southern Baptist family.
“Mom, it is one thing for us to tell you that you’re a lesbian. It’s a completely other thing for you to tell us!”
....To step into the authenticity of who you are when you are a closeted gay woman—a mother to three girls whom you worship—married to a man you love and respect (and have great sex with), is a complicated web of paradoxes.
- Micki Grimland, "Living The Authentic Life"
So there I was, in an “official” lesbian relationship. No man around. We could go to Gay Pride and everything. I expected it to feel different than my straight relationship—and it did—but not for the reasons I was expecting. It felt different to be in a relationship where my partner actually loved all of my shortcomings instead of mocking them, where I was encouraged to be who I was instead of being molded into a person that made my partner look better, where the sex was mind-blowingly fantastic. It felt different to be in a relationship with someone who actually wanted children and was willing to work hard at parenting. The relationship felt different, but it wasn’t because my partner was a woman. It was because my partner was Kia. It wasn’t her sex or gender that made things different. It was because I had chosen the right person, the person who loved me for me, and who wanted to be with me.
- Sabrina Porterfield, "We Don't Do Stereotypes"
We walked to my apartment and sat in the candlelit dark, cross-legged on my settee, facing each other, like Jake and Andie at the end of Sixteen Candles. The phone began to ring off the hook.
“It’s Sam,” she said, with a grin.
“I know,” I said, and disconnected it with theatrical aplomb. I was intoxicated, only as the until-recently impotent are, on the power of it all. I had run away with Jill. Now what? Well. We both knew what would make for a really good story. It was just a question of how we were going to get there.
- Candace Walsh, "Counting Down from Ten"
It was such a revelation for me to have sex with a woman, to touch and smell a woman, to feel so connected. I still remember a dinner scene from the boarding school days, when I was in grade eight and almost the youngest at the table, and two girls were “eeewww”-ing and “grroooossss”-ing over the question “Can you imagine what it would be like to kiss a girl?” I remember thinking to myself, Anything you say now is going to get you in trouble. Just shut up. I could very well imagine what it would be like. I’d had some practice at imagining it by then. The stress of maintaining that facade, of watching what I say, who I look at, and how I respond, has gone.
- Ruth Davies, "Marriage Mirage"
One of the things I came to accept was that I came out at the perfect time for me. I had crushes on boys because they were closer to my type than the femme girls I palled around with. My type is an andro-butchy one, and I did not go to school with any of those kind of girls, unfortunately. Had that happened, this would likely be a completely different story.
Maybe coming out at twelve or thirteen would have given me a different coming-of-age story, but it could have also made my experience much harder. I would have embraced it, sure, but it’s easier said than done. I have many friends whose realizations came along with gay bashings, being called “dyke” in the hall at their all-girls’ school, or sleeping with a lot of guys because they thought they’d need to “get used to it.”
Luckily, that never occurred to me as a good idea. To quote from But I’m a Cheerleader, “It’s easy to be a prude when you’re a homosexual.”
- Trish Bendix, "Credit in The Un-Straight World"
And then, six weeks before Ann’s scheduled arrival, four years’ worth of marriage counseling came to an end and Richard moved out. Days after his departure I called my one lesbian friend, a therapist, and asked her where someone would go if someone wanted to have an affair with someone of the same gender who was coming for a visit from an unnamed East Coast city. And someone’s house wasn’t a possibility because it was where someone’s husband would stay with someone’s children while someone went off for the weekend to have sex with someone she’d never had sex with before (who happened to be a woman).
“It’s about time,” applauded my adviser, who’d had not-entirely-covert designs on me herself. “Go to a gay resort on the Russian River. Try Fife’s or The Woods. And tell someone I hope everything . . . everyone comes out great.” She was still chuckling as I hung up the phone.
I called Fife’s. “I’d like to reserve a room for two . . . ” So far, so good. I was pretty sure the guy on the other end couldn’t tell I wasn’t really gay. Yet. “ . . . with twin beds.”
Long silence. “Twin beds?” he repeated, incredulously. Clearly, this wasn’t a request he got often. “All we’ve got are queens,” he’d answered imperiously, sounding very much like one, even to my uninitiated ears.
- Meredith Maran, "First Date with Ann"
I’ve spent a great deal of time since that first kiss trying to determine how to define myself and my sexuality. How should I label myself? Should I even do so? What I’ve come to is this: I don’t have to. The person I sleep with, fall in love with, am attracted to, is my business. Lesbian, bisexual, straight—none of these labels feel comfortable to me. There is no doubt in my mind that visibility matters and that the labels are an important component in efforts toward equality, but they do not serve me and my journey. I choose to let my personal be my political. Living a healthy, happy, joyful life is what I’m striving for. My girl likes to compare herself to a can on a grocer’s shelf that doesn’t have a label, which I like. And that’s what I go by. At least for now.
- Rachel Smith, "Clarity"
“This is nice,” she said, her curls shimmering in the candlelight. I tuned out the people on either side of us as we talked, gradually aware of the flip-flopping, tingling sensations in my stomach and rushing heat connecting my face, gut, and groin—something I’d felt only with men before.
“Hey, let’s send a message in our dreams tonight,” I said. “Just one image or one word. Want to?” There was an even stronger charge between us that night, and I was sure we could communicate this way, too.
“I’ll send it,” she said, her stare boring into my eyes, “and you concentrate on receiving it.”
“And tomorrow at work I’ll tell you what word or image I get.” I met her intense gaze, and felt giddy. I was eager to get to bed, to carry out our experiment, so I could be with her in my sleep, too.
- Katherine A. Briccetti, "Wedding Gown Closet"
Zoe got the job, and we immediately struck up a friendship. She and I mirrored each other on a wide range of topics, including our humor, musical tastes, favorite foods, and a love of the same obscure television shows. Sometimes at work we would just look at each other and crack up, knowing we were thinking the exact same thing. About a month into our friendship, she revealed that she was gay.
I was shocked and secretly excited at her revelation. Shocked not because she was gay, but because I had never known someone who looked like her who was gay. To know that this beautiful, feminine woman was into other women was . . . sexy. Really sexy.
- Crystal Hooper, "The Claim"
One June morning, on our way into town for the farmers’ market, there she was, talking to customers in the coffee shop where she worked, and when I saw her—short brown curling hair, tattooed arms and legs, toothy smile, and these unthinkably large eyes that stared right down into me—I knew I was in trouble. My heart started pounding so hard I could barely say I wanted a small coffee, to go. My boyfriend, clueless as ever, didn’t even notice the strain in my voice, didn’t notice how quickly I walked away from the counter, grabbed my coffee, and left. I was embarrassed and exposed. Not to anyone else, but to myself. The part of me that I wanted so desperately to be hidden had just emerged. It felt like an unruly monster, something I had to avoid at all costs, lest I disturb my life’s delicate balance.
But it was too late.
- Sara C. Rauch, "I Knew What I Was Giving Up"
I am still open to dating men, but I am more excited about dating women. There may be men out there with all of the emotional nuances that are quite comparable to the characteristics I like in a woman. If I find one, then maybe I’ll keep him. Until then, I’m open to what comes my way.
I opened up about my experiences to free myself and partly in defiance of the stereotypical myths. I am including women in my private life not because I was molested, am a man-hater, didn’t have my dad in my life, secretly wanted to be a man, was promiscuous, was confused, was raped, loved rainbows, didn’t receive enough hugs, am a feminist, had short hair, coached, preferred pants over skirts, liked sports, didn’t attend enough church, am running out of options, don’t have children, or because I am now over thirty-five. I welcome women now because my horizons have expanded. Women are beautiful. I listen to my spirit.
- Aprille Cochrane, "Love and Freedom"
My relationship with Noah fizzled out after that, but I barely noticed. I was too busy embarking on the first affair of my life that could be termed “steamy.” It was a tabloid headline writer’s dream: HORSE CRASH VICTIM AND BRIT BACKPACKER IN LESBIAN SEX ROMP. It was intense; all thoughts of Leo evaporated, and my every waking thought was Terry. As if this weren’t exciting enough, our relationship had to continue in secret: we were both living in the rooms above the Commercial Hotel, separated by the thinnest of walls from Ian and Maxine, Terry’s mother, both of whom were unaware of their favorite daughter’s deviance.
I had entered a strange realm where people appeared sexless. I was attracted and repulsed by everyone in equal measure. I could no more decide on which particular sex to pursue than I could proclaim to only be interested in people if they were exactly 5’4”. This didn’t stop constant speculation around me. How could I simply have changed? Did I not love boys as I always had? Was I a lesbian now? I recoiled at the label, but could not pretend to be straight; and as the dust settled over my feelings for Terry, I started to notice other women. Women had been so much white noise before Terry, interference that I largely ignored, but it now felt like someone had changed the focus on my lens. Now it was men who were blurry and featureless and women who were crystal clear.
- Holly Edwards, "Beyond Sexuality"
On the third day, Rita invited me to explore the train with her. “Don’t you want to practice your Russian?” she asked. It didn’t matter that my knowledge of Russian was limited to basic greetings and single-digit numbers. Of course I wanted to explore with Rita. As we moved deeper into Siberia, I couldn’t stop thinking of her, the way she caressed her hair when she talked to me, the way she touched my shoulder when making a point.
One night, while the rest of the group went to a dance performance, Rita and I swigged beer in her hotel room. She showed me her new acupuncture kit. “You could practice on me,” I said. Rita demonstrated where each meridian point was on my hands and arms. When she touched me, my body tensed up. Goosebumps rose from my arm. She continued to touch my arms and show me meridian points. For a moment, we locked eyes. I told her I needed to use the bathroom. Afterward, I asked her how long she’d been with her ex-boyfriend.
“Two years,” she said. “And you?”
“Too long,” I said.
Now when I looked at her, all I could see were her sensual lips. All I could do was turn away and imagine my lips on hers.
- Lori Horvitz, "A Hushed Blue Underworld"
When my husband and I got married nearly thirteen years ago, I would have never dreamed that seven years later I would find myself in the process of coming out. Nor did I foresee during that process that I would still be married to him five years later as an out member of the GLBT community. You never know where love and a little honesty might take you.
My husband and I met at our small, liberal arts university, which also happened to be filled entirely with Evangelical Christians just bursting at the seams for Jesus. The school was located in isolated, bumblefuck Indiana, and was like a petri dish for growing the conservative, right-wing leaders of tomorrow. He and I were the leaders of the pack, as we were two of three students to have received the coveted Christian Scholarship; there were high hopes in our Jesus-filled tomorrows. To seal the deal even further, we were both pastors’ kids: Christian full-breeds leading the charge. To say I was not well acquainted with the lesbian lifestyle would be a comical understatement.
- Michelle Renae, "Walking A Tightrope in High Heels"
Despite losing my home, two pets, a partner, a job I loved, friends, and much of my family, I am unreasonably happy. That isn’t to say I have it easy. I feel the burden of inequality every day. Sometimes I miss being able to hold hands with my partner in public without stares, or sharing weekend stories with coworkers without worrying over pronouns. However, I make no efforts to hide my sexuality or my relationship. I have worked too hard to get here to let someone else’s prejudices become my problem. I am working in the school system again, and I am teaching writing classes at the local LGBTQ youth center. Even my relationship with my mom has improved— she finally acknowledged my current relationship and has let go of my past marriage. Lately though, I am especially frustrated that I can’t buy a ring, hop a plane to Vegas, and legally call Abbie my wife. But no one has it easy, and this is our cross to bear at the moment. What I do have now that I didn’t have before is a guilt- and shame-free me. Authenticity is priceless.
- Amanda V. Mead, "This Love Is Messy"
When your life is tightly wrapped up with a bow before you turn forty, the thought of unraveling it on purpose is almost impossible to comprehend. Your name is on a mortgage for a nice suburban home. You have a husband of eleven years, two sons, an SUV, and a community where lots of people know your name. You get lost in day-to-day plans of playdates and Disney vacation dreams, and pound on the granite kitchen countertops trying to decide what to throw together for dinner. You’re a lot like everyone else. You fit in. That was me.
I was just another person in line for a latte at the neighborhood Starbucks.
Then I fell in love with a woman. I was shocked and I was immediately absolute. I wanted to be with her for the rest of my life. And for a brief moment, I would think, there’s too much to undo.
Trendy it is, women falling in love with other women for the first time in their lives. A short while after it happened to me, the topic was hot on Oprah and in various magazines. I never set out to be a trendsetter, had never identified with “Girls Gone Wild” or set out to shock people (though I admit the shock factor has been rather fun). I just wanted to be happy. I wanted to be with the person I realized I loved, who happened to be a woman. I didn’t want to have to undo everything. But I began to.
- Erin Mantz, "Undoing Everything"
For some reason, I remember one day in particular: I was dressed in a denim maternity jumper and red knee socks, standing in the middle of the living room, contemplating driving to Corpus Christi to find a female prostitute. Learning how to have an orgasm had made me begin to think of what turned me on the most, and evidently that was women’s bodies. So, the frequency of John’s and my lovemaking tapered off, and bedtime once again became fraught with tension, guilt, and, sometimes, anger and recrimination. I consented to sex every few weeks out of guilt and obligation, and I lay there hoping it would be over soon. When we did have sex, I envisioned the woman in the video. I did not share these fantasies with anyone, but for the rest of my marriage, which was about fifteen more years, I fantasized about women when I was fantasizing at all.
- Kami Day, "The Right Fit"
Lucy was small, with black hair cut bluntly across her forehead; she wore a peaked cap and tight jeans. Her voice was melodic, coquettish. She called me a “dreamboat” in her Brighton accent. We met while waiting in line for supper; we spent the week together, and by the end we were holding hands. Lucy was twenty-nine years old and pursuing a Ph.D. in women’s studies, writing her thesis on gender-neutral pronouns. I couldn’t believe the way she looked at me—softly, the way I used to look at my boyfriend. She batted her eyelashes and purred at me; it made me feel so masculine, so desired, so in control. I didn’t know what to do with the power Lucy gave me.
On the last day of the festival, Lucy left me a note saying that she wanted a kiss goodbye. I was terrified. I contemplated hiding, but before I had the chance I saw her, standing at the edge of the festival grounds with a friend. She was wearing a shirt patterned with tiny hearts. Our eyes met, and we drew together. I pulled her in for a hug, so conscious of the fine bones beneath her skin, savoring the feeling of this stranger now pressed close against me. As we came out of the hug, I leaned close and we kissed; it felt so natural that I was relieved. Lucy looked naughty and interested. The girlish, flirty way she looked at me still felt alien, unexpected. I felt dizzy, drugged. I wanted to move my hands all over her body. I loved, more than anything, the feeling of freedom, of moving through time and space without chains or walls, and just enjoying all the infinite possibilities of being together in that one, simple moment.
- Vanessa Shanti Fernando, "Wanting"
I was thirty-four when I jumped the fence. I didn’t put it that way at the time and only learned this phrase a few months later, when a friend told me a male colleague had used it to ask her if that’s what had happened—if I’d become a lesbian. At first it seemed like a crass expression. Were heterosexual women kept behind chain-links? Was there a line between straight and gay that could only be crossed by leaping? Having lived as a lesbian for a decade and a half now, I understand better where the metaphor comes from. Mainstream culture likes to see things in black and white, with barricades to maintain order and stability. A straight woman who leaves the fold disrupts the pattern and must chart a new course. She has to put up her own guideposts and decide which directions to take.
My adult life so far divides evenly between two marriages and two ways of being a wife. When I got married the first time, I wanted to make an honest woman of myself. I had moved in with this man, and marriage seemed like the way to get back in the good graces of my community. The second time I married, having lived with my wife-to-be for eleven years, very little in the culture supported our union; in fact, forces were conspiring to eliminate this right. The clock was ticking on Proposition 8—the ballot initiative that would amend the California constitution to ban same-sex marriage—and we had a limited amount of time to get legally hitched. Different sets of pressures at radically different moments in history.
- Audrey Bilger, "Over The Fence"
I remember one day walking through Omaha’s Westroads Mall, at the age of fourteen, when my mother and I passed two women holding hands as they peered into a Benetton store window display. We stared at them as we approached and passed them by. My mother hissed, “My God. Get a room,” loud enough for only me to hear. I stared at my mother blankly. “It makes me sick to see those people being so inappropriate in public places . . . out there for everyone to see,” she said, with such contempt in her voice that it still chills me to the bone. In that moment I wanted to ask her why two women holding hands was any different than a man and a woman holding hands, but instead, I remained quiet and just kept walking.
Sure, my mother mentioned gay male friends of hers who were hairdressers, or fun, flamboyant coworkers every now and then, but not once did I ever hear her use the word “lesbian.” Being a lesbian was unfathomable. I was raised in a conservative household; homosexuality was about as far from appropriate as you could get. Though gay men seemed harmless, even humorous, providing the color to some of my mother’s more entertaining stories, lesbians were another subject entirely. They were far too inappropriate to recognize, let alone talk about.
The moment in the mall was about as much as she’d ever said, but it was more than enough for me to understand that being a lesbian was a vulgar thing.
- Libbie Miller, "Leap of Faith"
That fall, for a road trip to visit my parents in North Carolina, I checked out a book on CD from the library. The title was She Is Me by Cathleen Schine, and I knew nothing about it except what the turquoise cover revealed: three women, a mother, daughter, and grandmother, and a line about the unexpected twists and turns of their lives. What unfolded as I made my way through Virginia and across my home state proved so uncanny, I longed to bypass my exit and drive to the end of the story.
I was spellbound as the story unfolded: Greta, age fifty-three, married, unexpectedly falls for another woman. It was as if a benevolent voice was speaking to me through the story, offering reassurance that my new feelings were okay, normal even. Greta spoke my own fears: What is happening to me? I’m not a lesbian—am I? How can this be? What would my family say if they knew?
- Susan Grier, "A Door Opening Out"
I recognized my story in these essays: in the tales of having sex with a woman for the first time, how great it feels to be making it all up, how disorienting it is to have a new identity (lesbian) descend on you like a Civil War costume. If you’re unsure that the new identity fits, you wonder if you’re just scared, or you are, in fact, on to something?
....Falling in love with a woman, as a woman, is deeply linked to feminist endeavors. By that I do not mean that you are a better feminist if you are gay or bisexual, but that falling in love with a woman enables you to overcome, and perhaps heal from, some of the worst wounds of patriarchy. It challenges the voice that says women’s bodies are disgusting, the sexual persona that is passive or must be desired rather than desire, and provides an avenue to sexual pleasure for the body that has been exploited or violated. Falling in love with a woman can free you from the trap of reflected glory—if you once saw yourself as valuable because you landed a certain kind of man, this new state of affairs forces you to derive your sense of worth from yourself.
- Jennifer Baumgardner, "Epilogue"