ah the adventures of being a woman who likes women. this month is actually 14 years since i’ve come out in all areas of my life and its been quite a ride.
i’ve never felt ashamed of being gay but what i have had an issue with is the word “lesbian”. i think it would be helpful to start with my coming out story.
i knew i was attracted to girls since i was about 5 years old. of course i didnt have the vocabulary to match the feelings but i had crushes on female teachers and female characters on tv shows. i wasnt allowed to watch tv during my childhood but as a reward for good behavior in school i’d get to watch barney and man did look forward to that because i was smitten for kathy.
she was my “first crush” (and the first sign that i would later in life have a preference for white women). as i got older, i didn’t quite realize what i felt was different from what the “norm” was but somehow i knew enough to keep it to myself. during 5th grade i broke my ankle and spent a lot of time in the library after school waiting to be picked up since i couldnt walk home. i was a huge reader as a kid so i took this opportunity to attempt to read virtually everything in the library and connected through some book my feelings to the word “gay”. (i never read from the childrens room). in the matter of a month i had read every book the library had on lgbt issues, EVERY book. this resulted in me having a pretty clear understanding of what the word “lesbian” and “gay” meant when i began to identify myself as such during the final months of 5th grade. so here i am, 11 years old and saying proudly in school that i’m a lesbian. 6th grade starts and during the first few months of school a parent-teacher meeting gets called. i didnt think much of it because i was in trouble a lot in school and the particular teacher who suggested it hated me and i hated her. during this meeting, ms. martinez proceeds to tell my mother that i am going around “telling all of the students i am a lesbian and it is disrupting their learning”.
that was the first time the word lesbian was attached to an incredible amount of shame. i knew i wasnt disrupting learning – if anything, the straight students having boyfriends/girfriends, having oral sex in school and crying all day from the drama of breakups/makeups was their own sexuality disrupting their own learning. single me saying i was a lesbian was the least of their issues. yet – i was punished for that.
my mother was beyond heated. BEYOND. that was when i learned just how anti-gay and homophobic my mother was. a few months later she checked my backpack and found a note i wrote to a teacher telling her i was really sad because i had no one who could understand how i felt being a lesbian. my mother says to my at 7am with a look of horror and disgust on her face that i will never forget in my life – “lesbian? i dont want any f****s in my house” and told me to go. obviously being 12 (at this point) the only place i had to go was to school, so i did.
as middle school carried on, i remained the only kid out and though at the time i thought i was okay with that, in retrospect, it was painful and has contributed to this massive amount of defensiveness i walk around with. in a school of almost 800 students, everyone knew me and everyone knew i was “a lesbian” so anything thoughts and ideas they had about homosexuality- it was directed to me. i was never teased because i had to build a tough and aggressive vibe quickly so no one would crack jokes and everyone would stay on my good side while still not understanding it. teachers would discourage me from saying anything gay related and my mother well, she made it clear that it wasnt going down in her house.
years went on, a lot happened, multiple school changes, multiple moves, first girlfriends and first heartbreaks. as i got older i started to realize the word “lesbian” was perceived to be a very sexual word. people heard “lesbian” and its like i just said sex. i’d say yea im a lesbian and the conversation would get completely sexual. i didnt have a problem talking about sex but it disturbed me a great deal that they’d automatically assumed i was all about eating a girl out and we would go straight to debating my virginity (that argument happens til this day). no one asked about love or relationships, feelings or attractions, emotions or anything…..lesbian meant sex.
i felt like in the eyes of others i was this hyper sexual being who didnt love or have heartbreaks – i just had sex.
i dont think sex is “bad” and know its healthy but i was taught early that that type of sex (lesbian sex) is a bad thing. sex is okay and normal as long as its straight sex otherwise – its something thats exotic OR needs to be kept in “the bedroom”.
you’d think as a teenager i didnt care about such things but remember – i came out at 11 so my sexuality and sexual identity started its growth process a bit early. i had to process a lot of feelings by myself so by the time i was 17/18 i was extremely sure of myself sexually. i knew what i wanted, what i didnt want, i had experienced pretty strong feelings in the love dept as well as the heartbreak dept. unlike most straight people my age, i had to have a face to face with my sexual identity every single day that i couldnt talk about crushes without awkward silences or couldnt dare speak of a girl at home. i developed a huge sense of shame around being called a lesbian during my senior year of high school. i had enough of the sexual association it seemed to have with both kids and adults (you’d be suprised the comments adults made as well). thats when i waged war with the word lesbian and told everyone to never call me that – to call me a gay girl. the word itself has never done anything to me, its the shame and pain that has been produced with the word by others that did something to me but i couldnt separate it at the time. i was still trying to make sense of the increased deep feelings i was having for girls as does every kid turning into an adult as well as dealing with the rest of my life.
now i can start to process the naming of myself but the word “lesbian” still sounds like “sex” to me. i still feel embarrassed when the word is used by others. it still is a painful word to me and a word full of shame. the word queer also got popular as i was growing up but i never really identified with it. for me, it just sounds like something else i have to explain to my straight family and friends. i know i really dont own anyone an explaination but i think that for the sake of my heart and the beatings its taken from those closest to me – i’ve learned to keep it as simple as possible and say “im gay”.
the funny things is when i think of the word gay, i think of white gay men. when i want to know about another woman, i think “i wonder if she likes girls” (not is she gay or is she a lesbian) which is a really elementary way of saying it but it calls attention to how i had to learn to ask these questions: at a young age and with myself.
my straight friends havent completely turned my gayness into a sex show. every now and again, they find a bit of discomfort in me talking about women sexually though but overall they dont equate lesbian with sex. i always felt like straight women could talk about men in whatever capacity they’d like and get as detailed as they wanted but if i talked about a woman in the same sense, there would be a a wave of discomfort in the air. this would come from my friends too early in some of my friendships until i pointed it out to them. how come as a straight woman you could say that he has an amazing body, wonders how large his penis is (i’ve learned penis size means A LOT to straight women) and all the things you’d do to him if you guys were alone but when all i said was “shes sexy as hell”, thats an issue. eventually they understood and recognized their discomfort stemmed from some homophobia they swore didnt exist.
in the mean time, it made for tense conversations because i had no intentions of “filtering” myself for their comfort when i’d always have to listen to stories of small dicks that were the root of break ups or large dicks being the reason they’d keep in contact with ex-boyfriends. i personally dont mind listening to that but if i do, you will hear how i feel about this….
maybe one day i’ll have a change a heart and get comfortable with calling myself a lesbian. maybe it’ll be the day one of my family members or friends actually say it themselves and begin to make amends for the way they’ve used it to cause the shame produced around it. all of my family knows that i’m gay but its not talked about in the sense of asking do i have a girlfriend or anything that gets asked to my straight cousins. its like my straight cousins love lives (or lack of) is acknowledged and mine is just dodged my mother well…she has “accepted she has a daughter who is gay” but she hasnt accepted me. to her, they me and me being gay are two different things and she doesnt have to “deal” with me being gay for now. i asked her very randomly and boldly one day about what she will do when im actually in a relationship and she said its not something she is looking forward to and wants to think about but it is what it is. she has made progress, especially coming from a country where homosexuality is a punishable crime. does her “progress” make it any less painful? nope. i’m getting older and thinking more and more about marriage, my dream wedding and settling down with someone. i’m just like the next 25 year old swearing i need to be married by 30 and on a search for my soul mate. it would be cool for someone in my family (or my mother) to acknowledge this fact but the reality is…..no one has yet to even say my name and the word “lesbian” in the same sentence. if they cant do that – can they talk about me marrying one? buying a house with one? starting a life with one?
you see how much is attached to a name? people never used the word in conversation to hurt me but it still happened. now think of the words that are meant to hurt.
a name is never just a name. theres a story and history to it, feelings behind it and a future to it. the lack of a name, usage of a name or denial of a name can mean so much.
so when you call someone something or dont call someone something, think twice about it. think about the context you use it in, what you mean behind it or what you associate it with.
my experience with the word lesbian runs so deep and this post is just the half of it. a word is never “just a word” and each time its used it either supports an experience or takes away from one. it adds to pain or takes away from it. it can heal or it can kill – literally.
we seem to think words mean nothing or “how much power you give them” but the power is already in the word! the word already holds the power as it leave a mouth or fingers and by the time it gets to your brain or heart, it has already made its impact whatever that may be.
so. yea – thats my issue with the word “lesbian”.