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I grew up in a small town.  Well, you really couldn’t even call it a small town, I guess, unless deer and bobcats and crickets can be counted as neighbors. More country than town. Where I grew up made Mayberry seem like a bustling metropolis.

Our nearest neighbors were my grandparents on my father’s side.  When I was about 3, I learned a shortcut through the woods to get there. Even with the shortcut, it was still a 20 minute walk through fairly dense woods, and I had to jump over logs and climb over barbed wire fences to get there, but the trip was always well worth it, because all the magic of my childhood lived at my grandparents’ farm house: warm cookies and milk; books everywhere; creaking floorboards; ghost stories; a dusty attic full of mysterious treasures; hand-churned strawberry ice cream; fried chicken cooked in bacon grease; the overpowering smell of wisteria; fireflies on summer nights; rocking gently on the front porch swing, drinking sweet iced tea and feeling the summer breeze on my face.

But, when I became a teenager, I suddenly couldn’t wait to leave home. I wanted to get out into the real world, where I was convinced that excitement and enlightenment waited.  I skipped 9th grade to hasten the process and made sure to obtain academic scholarships so that my ticket out of the boonies was guaranteed.  I’d just turned 17 when I left home forever, convinced that there was much more to life than could be found in the rural South.

And I never went back home…at least not to stay. In the many years I have been gone, I have only returned for holidays and family events, only to quickly hightail it out of there as soon as possible to get back to my “real life” in whatever city I was living in at the time.

The simple truth that I have realized over the years is: the main reason I avoid going home is because it makes me sad.  When I go back, I feel a yearning for something I cannot put into words; a nostalgia for the simple, pure happiness I knew as a child.

When my father died, my mother moved to an apartment to be near me. I began renting my childhood home to provide a bit of income for her.  After a few rental horror stories, we finally found the perfect renter, who has been there for the last decade.

Until now.  I just learned that the perfect renter will be moving out at the end of August, and now I have to decide what to do with my childhood home and the 80 wooded acres it sits on.

Of course, I could rent it again and I have already had inquiries, but being a landlord long distance is often a lot of trouble, because things break and I am not there to fix them.  Not to mention the considerable headache of finding a good renter.

The obvious solution is to sell it. It makes a lot of sense to do so, both logistically and financially. I am living 700 miles away now and, of course, the money would certainly come in handy.

So: why do I feel like crying at the very thought of selling a house which I have not lived in for many more years than I did live in it?  Why do I find myself dilly-dallying about; procrastinating whenever I even think of making the necessary arrangements to go prepare the house for sale?  Why do I get tears in my eyes just thinking about someone cutting down even one of my Dad’s precious trees which he cared for so diligently? Why do I still dream of being in the cool, dark woods, the silence only broken by the leaves crunching beneath my feet and the occasional bird call?

My spouse, partner, and all-around sweetiepie, Dirt, says that the decision is mine: she says we can move back there if I want.  She is willing to uproot herself from her work, friends, and family to support me if I decide I want to move back there. Her unconditional love and willingness to do whatever makes me happy means more to me than I can possibly ever fully express.

So now I am torn, stuck between wanting to hold on to a place that made me happy and staying in a place that makes me happy now.

I don’t know the answer yet, but I will. And whatever happens, I know everything will work out, because my true home is not a place…my true home is a person.

Truth & “Later-In-Life” Lesbians

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All of us probably know, or at least likely know of, a lesbian who initially married a man, had children (or not), and later (sometimes even much later), finally came out of the closet.  I have known a few myself, and I have heard many other such lesbian-coming-out stories over the years.

Some of the objections to recent posts regarding the question of “Can any woman become a lesbian?” have used this scenario to suggest that it is possible.

Many people also apparently mistook our posts to exclude these women in these scenarios from the category of lesbian, when that is not the case at all.

Although we previously addressed the topic of “behavior versus orientation” a few times in various posts, we neglected to do a entire post focusing on this specific subject.  I belatedly realized, thanks to a commenter, Shine Brightly, that we needed to clarify this aspect of the topic a bit more, because it seems to be a major points of confusion.

So I will attempt to answer this question in this post by using an explanation based on a compilation of all the stories I have heard over the years of various lesbians who came out later-in-life.

So: what is the difference between a lesbian in this scenario mentioned above, versus a “Straightbian“?

The difference is actually quite simple, but the explanation is more complicated.

The key factor is the difference between behavior versus orientation.

In the scenario mentioned above, the woman in question is indeed a lesbian, and she always was.

This woman grew up internalizing all the messages that everyone gets from family, friends, school, church, community, and society in general that being straight is the only acceptable route.

She is likely, although not necessarily, an over-achiever, a “good girl”, an extrovert, and/or a people-pleaser, and she likely received a lot of reinforcement while growing up for meeting other people’s expectations.

She likely felt “different” while growing up, but maybe could not pinpoint why.  She probably had close friendships and attachments with other girls, and likely preferred their company to that of boys.

She likely married young, perhaps to her high school or college boyfriend; and she married him not because she was passionately, head-over-heels in love/lust with him, but because he felt safe, and because marriage was the expected next step in life.

She may or may not have children, but regardless, she really tries to be straight. She tries to be everything that society expects, she tries to be a “good wife”, and she tries very hard to be happy with the life she has chosen.

She ignores feelings of emptiness, boredom, and ennui and sublimates her energy into work, family, volunteering, crafts, church, home projects, etc.

She may stay in this holding pattern for a relatively short time, or she may stay there for a very long time.

She may have some conscious awareness of  her attraction to women, or she may be so practiced in shoving her own feelings down so deep that even she has difficulty excavating them.

Then, at some point, for some reason (and the reasons will vary), she wakes up and she just cannot do it anymore.

She cannot continue to pretend to be something she is not.

She realizes (or has always known on some level, but is just now admitting it for the first time) that her true romantic/sexual orientation is to women.

She starts the process of making the changes needed to move toward an authentic lesbian life.

And even though it is the right path for her, the journey will almost certainly not be easy.  Often the process will be fraught with pain and difficulty.  Many people that she cares about will likely feel hurt, confused, or betrayed.  She will likely lose people she thought she could always count on.

There will likely be much resistance, anger, heartbreak, and angst along the way, but her need to live an authentic lesbian is a more powerful force than the backlash she encounters.

So, yes, the woman in this scenario is indeed a lesbian, despite whether she was married to a man for a couple of months or for 30+ years (or anywhere in between).

There will obviously be variations between lesbians’ individual unique stories, because of each lesbian’s unique circumstances, temperament, background, and situation.

But the general story is universal in such scenarios: genuinely trying to “do the right thing” (that is, what is deemed “right” by society’s standards) by initially attempting to live a heterosexual life before eventually deciding to be true to herself and coming out as a lesbian.

Also, the coming-out process itself will be different for each lesbian, and will be based on individual circumstances and personality characteristics.  Some lesbians come out right away and relatively easily, while others may take months or even years to complete the coming-out process. Some may need therapy to help them sort out a variety of issues like guilt about not meeting expectations, dealing with internalized homophobia, learning self-acceptance, etc.

Again, the key factor to always consider is the difference between behavior and orientation.

In this scenario discussed above, the woman’s behavior (initially) appears to suggest that she is straight (after all, she married a man!).  But: this woman’s true romantic/sexual orientation is really toward women. This woman found intimacy, closeness, love, and “rightness” with a woman that they never even remotely felt with a man, and she moved toward her true lesbian orientation when she was ready to come to terms with it. She did not marry a man for true love, attraction, or lust, but rather for such reasons as familial demands, societal expectations, security, a desire for approval, convenience, religious convictions, companionship, etc.

In contrast, a “Straightbian” is someone who is actually heterosexual but she has chosen to partner with females due to a variety of potential reasons, including, but not limited to: political reasons, being sick of dating men, curiosity, thinking “the grass is greener on the other side”, trauma, mistaking friendship for love, rebelliousness, etc.  The “Straightbian’s” behavior appears to suggest that she is a lesbian (after all, she is dating a woman!).  But:  The “Straightbian’s” true romantic/sexual orientation is toward males, regardless of her behavior.

I hope this post helped to explain the difference between lesbians who come out later in life, after experience with men, versus “Straightbians”.  I realize that it is a complicated topic because no two stories are exactly alike, but the underlying answer is actually quite simple: it’s not what you do, it is who you are.

Getting Old(er)

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Aging has been a topic on my mind a lot recently, because…well…it’s happening, even as I type.

It’s happening to all of us, all the time, albeit in such incremental steps that it tends to creep up on us, unnoticed, until one day we catch a glimpse of ourselves reflected in a storefront window, and think “Who the heck is that?”

When I was younger, I naively thought I might be (at least partially) immune to being sensitive about the changes aging brings on in our looks.  I rationalized all the crap that popular culture tries to sell us: “Age is just a number”, “40 is the new 30”, “50 is the new 40”, etc. Mind over matter and all that.

And, since I have always primarily lived in my mind, rather than solely focused on my body, I thought maybe I would be spared some of the insecurity about appearance that aging often brings.

I was wrong.

Lately, I find myself bothered by the inevitable march of time.  Just this morning, I wasted an hour searching Amazon for “best anti-wrinkle cream”; a precious hour of my life that I can never recover.

Although there is some truth that we perhaps have (at least partial) control over our looks through diet, exercise, clothes, hairstyles, and the myriad anti-aging and beauty products filling the shelves vying for our money and our hope, I fully realize that the bottom line is: I am never going to look the same now as I did in my 30’s.

I could slather 10,000 ounces of the finest anti-wrinkle cream on myself, and guess what? I would still not look 30. Or ~ who am I kidding? ~ not even 40! I would look like a well-moisturized version of my current age.

I am quite obviously not at the acceptance phase of aging yet, and I strongly suspect that it will be an ongoing process with newly discovered issues cropping up on a regular basis.

But: I am in the process of accepting some facts about my age. I have accepted, for instance, that I now have to work out twice as long to get half the results. I have (almost) accepted that I will need to work my ass off (pun intended) for the rest of my life to maintain a healthy weight, particularly since I battle with hypothyroidism. I have not yet accepted the fact that I will need to eat less and drink less than everyone else at the table to maintain a healthy weight; but I now can at least acknowledge the truth in that statement, which is the first step to acceptance.

It helps me to have a supportive partner, who loves me unconditionally and who likes to eat healthy and to also work out herself.  It helps to have a partner who helps me cognitively process that everyone is bound, in varying degrees, by the societal “gender straitjacket” which, among other things, dictates our subconscious opinions of attractive/unattractive, and my partner helps me to always question and challenge all underlying beliefs.

It also helps to constantly realize that aging is certainly better than the alternative.  My friend Debra died when we were only 32 ~ long before it was time to worry about wrinkles. From many conversations with her in the couple years of her illness prior to her death, I know for a fact that if fate had given her the choice, she would have chosen wrinkles over death.

So, I am now trying to focus on the benefits of aging, while simultaneously trying to accept and make the best of the drawbacks.

The best benefit of aging, so far, is my ever-increasing willingness to say what I actually think, rather than walking on eggshells all the time, trying to mollycoddle people’s feelings.

And that is one Hell of a benefit ~ one that I would not trade for the dewy skin of youth.

The Outsider

I have always been different, quirky.  I cannot remember a time when I didn’t feel like I was an outsider looking in, trying to figure other people out, like a nerdy scientist in a very long social experiment. That is probably why I studied psychology, naively thinking that all the mysteries of humanity would perhaps reveal themselves to me through copious amounts of education.  Yeah, right.  It didn’t happen…people often still puzzle me as much as ever.

I was a sensitive child, in every sense of the word. I was so sensitive to textures that I could feel every seam in my nightgown touching me and the sheer torture of it all could keep me awake all night.  My father teasingly called me “The Princess and the Pea“.

But it wasn’t just clothing and textures that I was sensitive to as a child.  I felt everything, and felt it deeply. I worried that the grass hurt when it was mowed. I worried about the animals along the highway near my house being hit by cars.  (I was rather a serious little thing, as you can see by my picture, below).

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I loved animals with an overwhelming intensity, and soon, people learned that if they put an unwanted dog out on the road in front of my house, it would be guaranteed a home. Soon, I was the proud mama of multiple canines of all sizes, breeds, and ages; a motley, protective crew who followed me everywhere.

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Skeeter, my aunt’s chihuahua: I loved him so much I just wanted to squeeeeeeeze him!

Upon my (much-dreaded) first day of kindergarten, I was stunned into silence by the activity, noise, and unbridled silliness of my classmates.  I much preferred my beloved books, neatly stacked beside my bed, to the brouhaha of humanity. To say I was different than my classmates would be a colossal understatement. They were seemingly carefree, laughing, running, giggling, teasing, rolling, wrestling, playing. I was quiet, reserved, standoffish. I did not understand this whole thing called “play”.  I soon also discovered that none of my classmates could read yet (much to my dismay, since talking about books was the only conversational gambit I had).

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First day of first grade; and still not having fun.

My mother had shamed me into learning to tie my shoes, telling me that if I could not absolutely master it before my first day of kindergarten, I would be the only one who was so far behind that the other kids would laugh at me.  So, as if I weren’t already stressed out enough about having to uproot my routines and go to this unknown Hell called “school”, I laboriously learned to tie my shoes into perfect little bows.  It was difficult for me, because fine motor skills are not my strong suit, but I did it.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived the first day and found that none (that is right, count them…NONE!) of my kindergarten cohorts could tie their shoes. (It was not the first time my mother had lied to me, and it wouldn’t be the last).  Suddenly, I was deemed to be an expert shoe-tier.  I somewhat reluctantly became everyone’s helper, and I tied more shoes that year than I have tied in all the years since. It became my way of socializing with peers.

My young self suddenly realized that I might not understand other people, and they might not understand me, but that day I had inadvertently discovered that, by-golly, I could certainly make myself useful.

And that sums up approximately the next 40 years of my life.  I made myself useful, even indispensable.  I made myself into the “perfect” model of a variety of roles: student, employee, psychologist, friend, citizen, volunteer, partner, runner, baker, upcycler, hostess. It was a way to relate to other people; it was a way to be needed; it was a way to gain approval; it was a way to avoid the inner loneliness and unidentifiable wistfulness I felt every time I slowed down long enough to hear myself think. I put more faith into what I could do than in who I actually was. I listened to all the voices telling me to “be normal“, to “be nice“, to “fit in”.

What’s funny, though, is that I always knew that I could never truly fit in anyway; as a femme Lesbian in a heterosexual world, I was always on the outside, always different, never fully understood or accepted; so a huge part of me always knew that it was always a fool’s errand to even try to assimilate.

Nonetheless, I did manage to obtain all the trappings of a so-called normal life (basically, the Lesbian version of the Great American Dream).

Then a health scare (in addition to the increasing boldness that often accompanies simply getting to a certain age) precipitated a spiraling series of changes.

Mainly, I stopped being so darn nice and polite. I didn’t taper off and gradually acclimate those around me, like I know you are supposed to do with big life changes…oh, no.  Nope. Not me.

Once I recovered my voice after thyroid surgery, I just went cold turkey.  If I didn’t want to go to that Mint Julep party where you were supposed to wear all-white, or to the Carolina Cup, or to my friend’s cousin’s nephew’s wedding shower where the cheapest thing on their registry was $189.99 plus tax, I simply didn’t go.  I didn’t even attempt to think of elaborate excuses.  “No, so sorry, I can’t do it” became my mantra.

And what I learned in the process that followed was: Sometimes you have to lose everything you have, in order to gain who you really are.  Since then, nearly everything in my outer life has changed. Gone are the (so-called) friends who dumped me as soon as I quit doing everything they wanted.  Gone are the people who just wanted to be heard and to not hear me; those who wanted me to be their idea of a “perfect” complement to the backdrop of their own lives.

I gradually started hearing something I had not heard in a very long time.  My own (quirky, different, not-always-socially-appropriate) voice; as Mary Oliver said much more eloquently in “The Journey”.  I started to embrace the “odd” little girl I once was and still am…the girl who makes impractical wishes on shooting stars and four-leaf clovers and who is more interested in reading a good book than in socializing with peers. The girl who speaks the truth even when others don’t want to hear it; the girl who feels things more deeply than could ever be expressed in words.

I learned to listen to that voice inside that tells me when things aren’t right…and when they are. I have since found the love of my life, someone who loves and supports me, not in spite of my quirkiness, but because of it.  Someone who doesn’t try to shush me nor plead with me to fit in with the crowd, but rather, someone who encourages me to be whatever I want, and to say whatever I want. Someone who loves me unconditionally. And the feeling is mutual.

My point is that it isn’t always easy to find our true way with all the pressures and “shoulds” of the world ~ actually, it is usually downright difficult. But the alternative of remaining the person who pleases everyone else is like being sucked into the black hole of others’ expectations. And that is not a good place to be. Much better to embrace uniqueness and let the chips fall where they may.  For better or for worse, at least they are my chips.