My moment of truth came when I was sitting in my car, listening to the radio at a red light. A thought popped into my head. It was clear and startling. I thought: I don’t have to be a lesbian anymore. It was 1993. Bill Clinton had just become president. A wave of anti-queer sentiment was engulfing the nation as politicians debated gays in the military. On the radio, the usual suspects were calling us predators and sex addicts. The best any of the commentators could say about us was that queer service members who lived openly and honestly would disrupt the military.
I was in so much pain I could barely breathe. The yammering on the radio about the horror of us queer folk was background noise to my personal anguish. My life partner had died of breast cancer a few weeks before, and I was struggling to raise our 7-year-old son alone. I was trying to be a good mother; I really was, but I hurt. All I could think about was what I had just lost.
Patty, my late partner, had been the solid warmth that tethered me to the earth. The first time we went out, we sat in a booth at a cafeteria and got so engrossed in our conversation that the bad food didn’t matter. We laughed so long that the place emptied of people and closed around us.
When we moved in together—marriage wasn’t an option then—we often marked the evening by dancing, arm in arm, in our own kitchen. Our only musical accompaniment would be our own slightly off-tune singing. Night after night, we fell asleep in each others’ arms. When Patty’s double mastectomy made that impossible, we lay on our backs, side by side, holding hands until we dozed off.
After nearly two years of doctors, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation treatments, healing crystals, visualizations, and even a laying-on of hands from an evangelical friend, Patty died. I was left alone to sit at a stoplight and listen to people spew hate and ignorance about our relationship. I was left alone to ponder whether I still wanted to be a lesbian at all.
The question didn’t pop into my mind because, as the so-called ex-gays argue, I was desperate to heal from the alleged “horror” of my lesbian life. Looking back on it today, I think I was simply worn out by being a scapegoat.
Every queer soul on this planet has been a target at one time or another. Sometimes the attacks are physical, like the bashing that killed Matthew Shephard. Sometimes they’re verbal or political. They come from co-workers who make gay jokes, and strangers on the street who shout at us for looking different or holding hands. They come from the many Mormons, Catholics, and evangelicals who dedicate their lives to making our children less secure by banning our marriages.
On that day in 1993 when I had just lost the woman I loved, I had simply had enough. I thought: I don’t have to be a lesbian anymore. Patty’s dead. I could pretend to be straight. I could turn myself inside out, lie about everything I’ve ever felt or known to be true. I could find a man to marry and never be a target again.
My heart didn’t even take a single beat before I knew what I wanted. “Nah,” I said out loud and smiled.
It is easy to get caught up in the political dramas of the day and to forget the true worth of being GLBT. Love and community draw us in. But we remain in our queer lives because we know the importance of living authentically.
This is a gift we give to ourselves, and a gift we bestow on the heterosexual world that surrounds us. Do you think it’s an accident that the term “coming out” has become part of the English language? These days heterosexuals talk about coming out as model railroaders or comic-book enthusiasts. Some even declare that they’re coming out as conservatives or Christians.
The heroic journey that each of us takes to come out as queer provides a blueprint for all of our heterosexual neighbors. We provide hope to secret novelists who toil as bookkeepers because they fear setting pen to page. We supply courage to housewives who pretend to love husbands they long ago learned to hate. We give inspiration to doctors who yearn to be farmers and to attorneys who daydream of becoming ministers.
As we sift through the debris left by our political defeats, it’s worth remembering who we really are. We’re the heroes who dare to live the truth.
Diane Silver is a former newspaper reporter and magazine editor, whose freelance writing has appeared in Ms. magazine, Salon.com, and other national publications. She can be reached care of this publication or at PoliticalIQ@qsyndicate.com.