An early encounter with a lesbian couple
My second encounter took place in 1968 when I was doing graduate studies in Berkeley, California, the hotbed of social experimentation. In the context of a course, Human Sexuality, our professor invited a lesbian couple in their late 20s to share their stories. Both women gave detailed accounts of growing up in middle-class families, of dating boys, and of discovering that they had little or no emotional interest in getting closer to boys. What they did relish, however, was a series of crushes with girls. As such, they gradually realized that they were “abnormal.” Then, they met each other on the Berkeley campus and secretly felt strongly attracted to each other. With time, this hesitantly revealed the “abnormality” of their mutual attraction to each other. This was a great relief and jubilation because they finally had found someone who validated their same-sex attraction. The explosive sex that followed was a confirmation of what they had always dreamed of and never thought possible. Even before they had a word to describe themselves, therefore, they had plunged into a committed union. I thank God that I had this very positive experience at a time when I was still only mildly hostile toward lesbians and gays. Here are some of the ways that I was touched by this encounter:
- The stories of these two women persuaded me that most or all lesbians are not scratching messages on bathroom walls nor answering ads for sexual encounters. Indeed, it illustrated for me how most lesbians are initially confused and afraid when they discover how “out of step” they are with respect to the rest of their companions, whom they would describe as “normal” in so far as they embody the “norm” as far as sexual attraction is concerned.
- Prior to this encounter, I was under the impression that a “normal” person could spot a “queer” a mile away. All one had to do was to notice the effeminate gestures in boys or the absence of femininity in girls. With these two normally attractive women, there was nothing about the way they dressed, moved, or behaved that allowed me to even get a hint that they identified themselves as lesbians. They had to tell me, or else I would never have known. Hence, this encounter enabled me to challenge and to give up a stereotype that was dangerous and misleading.
- Thirdly, this experience opened up a whole new world that had been hitherto “closed to me.” I was now talking and listening across the boundaries. I was now hearing how these two women had moved from “trying desperately to fit in”[i] by imitating the coy and flirtatious mannerisms exhibited by their female friends. Then, after years of frustration due to their inability to have a deep, emotional bond with a male, they slowly came to the frightening realization that they were “queer.” This destroyed any positive self-image that was left to them. Now they hated who they were. They cringed at the prospect of having to tell their closest friends or their parents that they were “lesbians.”
- Fourthly, there was the “ecstatic realization” that there were others out there like themselves who might welcome an intimate relationship with them. After many trials and errors, they eventually recognized their “soul mate” for the first time. This realization came so naturally and so spontaneously—without any effort. They were overwhelmingly surprised that another human being could mutually feel what they feel and cherish them to the core of their being. Mutual love blossomed and ushering in a self-acceptance and self-surrender that exceeded human understanding. This is what “falling in love” is all about.
- Fifthly, I came to realize from their stories that, even given the healing power of love, this lesbian couple still had disagreements, they sometimes hurt each other, and they felt pangs of jealousy–the whole host of human emotions that heterosexual romances pass through.
- Sixthly, in the months following this encounter, I realized how tragically mistaken it was for the hierarchy of my Church to presume that they could accurately judge what was lawful before God and what were the appropriate life-style choices for lesbians. Deeply listening to these two women made me feel humble and utterly unable to offer them any sound guidance whatsoever. Anyone who listens deeply to their story knows first-hand how inappropriate and dangerous it would be to rush forward and propose “solutions” or “judgments” that originate in my male, heterosexual way of seeing things.
- Finally, after a few years, I realized that for me, as a heterosexual male, it was far easier to imagine lesbian sex than to imagine gay sex. I remember the shock that I felt when, in my late-twenties, I first saw a handsome Black man walking in the park with his arm around a blond White girl. My head told me that a man’s ability to love and to cherish someone is not determined by the color of his skin. My gut, on the other hand, was churning and screaming out, “Something is very wrong here!” I had to deliberately imagine myself as being that Black man and imagining for myself the pride and joy of having a companion like the girl I saw that day. Gradually, over a period of months, I was able to quiet my gut feelings and to replace them with feelings of pride and joy. I share this experience because it indicates the route whereby I was able to gradually diminish the “utter disgust” that male-to-male sex evoked in my gut.
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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Endnotes and Leave a Reply~~~~~~~~
[i] To appreciate the full scope of “fitting in” to the dominant heterosexual culture, consider reflecting on “30+ Examples of Heterosexual Privilege in the US” (http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2012/01/29-examples-of-heterosexual-privilege/).