Probably the closest I’ve ever come to being a victim of a mob assault was when I casually mentioned to a roomful of lesbians that I didn’t really like dogs.
“Did you just say you don’t like dogs?” one of the women asked with thinly-veiled contempt.
“Not really,” I glibly replied.
Everyone stopped talking. Silence fell over the room.
It was a scene straight out of one of those EF Hutton commercials from the 70s. But, like, not in a good way.
My friend Deb had come to the party with me and was just meeting this group of people, and she correctly sensed the hostility brewing. She protectively positioned herself between me and everyone else.
“She doesn’t like dogs, but she doesn’t hurt them or anything!”
I tried to backtrack, but it was of no use. They were clearly disgusted with me. Soon after that gathering, I started seeing those women less and less.
Coincidence? I think not.
This was early on in my career as a lesbian, and I had a lot to learn.
Fortunately, I had good company for the ride. As I was beginning to explore the culture of this new world, I connected with a subsect of the lesbian population — a group of women who had also previously been married to men.
Just before I left my marriage, I had started going to weekly meetings at Whitman Walker, a non-profit organization that provides support for the LGBTQ community. They had a peer group called Women Coming Out of Marriage, which went by the acronym Coomers (the W is silent, apparently). I always thought they should have called it the “Whoops! I Married a Man!” group (acronym WIMM), but I didn’t get a vote.
Anyway, the women I met through this group became the nucleus of my gay social life. We were a collection of people who had professions, and kids, and mortgages. Many of the women were in the process of ending marriages to men we categorized as “nice guy husbands,” guys who were heartbroken about losing their mates. Many had kids who were struggling. It was helpful to have people to talk with who were in the same boat.
We also had a ton of fun together. We went to concerts and gay bars. We threw parties that offered an opportunity to let loose. There is an episode of Malcolm in the Middle where the mom goes to a book club meeting, has too much wine, goes wilding in the neighborhood with other drunk soccer moms, and ends up hiding from the police in a dumpster. Our gatherings didn’t quite reach that level, but some were pretty close. It was great to hang out with women who had bucked convention to be true to their own nature, however late they came to it.
Beginning to date in the lesbian world was a whole other matter. I found it both thrilling and baffling from the start.
The devotion to dogs was just one of the conventions I either didn’t know about or wasn’t prepared for. I had never heard that many lesbian relationships become so intense so quickly that there is a running joke about how one party always shows up in a U-Haul on the second date in order to move her stuff in. This is a joke, but the struggle is real. The dynamics of two women together just yields a different level of intensity. I remember a conversation with a girlfriend that went something like this:
GF: Your eye just twitched. Were you having a feeling?
GF: What did that eye twitch mean?
Me: I’m not sure. That my eye needed a blink?
I also had no idea that many lesbians remain close friends with their girlfriends long after breaking up and expect to socialize with them. I mean, I’m all for being cordial, but does it make me a huge jerk if I don’t feel like having candlelight dinners with my new girlfriend and her overly-accepting ex?
Perhaps the biggest surprise was learning that when you skip adolescence, it waits for you. If you missed the dating part of adolescence, as I largely did, you can look forward to acting like a teenager at 36, complete with poor decision making, giddy chats where you resemble a character in a Judy Blume novel, and trying on different “looks” as you search for your signature style. Fortunately, I had learned my lesson about bad hairstyles after sporting a permed mullet in the late 80s, so I was ahead of the game there.
I’m reminded of Tom Hanks’ character in the movie Big. He’s dressed in adult clothes and reports to an adult job, but he’s a kid on the inside. The irony was not lost on me that some days I went to work and scolded students for acting like teenagers, then went home and acted like one myself.
I should acknowledge that I didn’t skip the dating phase entirely in high school. I did have one boyfriend, but only for five days. He broke up with me as we walked out of social studies. Said he just wanted to be friends. Body blow!
I still think of him every time I hear the Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers duet “Islands in the Stream.” It was our song. (I’m not sure he knew that.) But enough about him.
Without discussing the particulars of any of my relationships with women, which I feel is the only respectful thing to do, I will say that it was clear to me right away that I had made the right decision to switch teams. Throughout this adventure, I have spent time with some wonderful people and I am grateful for the dating experiences I have had.
I have learned a lot about myself over the last 15 years. I’ve been surprised at how insecure and anxious I have felt in my relationships with women. I’ve also felt calmer and more whole in many respects since switching over, and that comes from knowing that I am in the right place, and knowing that all the turmoil involved in making that change was the correct thing to do — for me — in the long run. There has been great joy in finally feeling comfortable in my own skin.
I’m on the sidelines these days. My college friends used to say the drama with my girlfriends sounded like high school. As I grew slightly more evolved in my dating behavior, they would say I had moved up. (“You’re in junior college now!”) I would say these days I’m in grad school, living off campus. Working on my dissertation, maybe.
2 thoughts on “The New Land”
This makes more sense now when I didn’t know what “coomers” meant yesterday.
But this makes me think of leaving the church. Like the first time I wore a sleeveless shirt in public I felt like I had neon shoulders. I went to a group for ex-Mormons and we had coffee- and wine-tasting parties to help us acclimate to the real world.
I would have traded my entire collection of baseball caps and cargo shorts for a group like that when I came out at 36 after a divorce. Fine, it was really just the one pair.
I am happily married now but this type of community, which my wife experienced in college, is something I missed out on. I never think of anything as being too late, it’s not like that, but being settled I wonder if this is a phase and experience I will quite simply have to mourn.
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