My Month in the Land of One Hundred Thousand Welcomes (Part Deux)

Week 2: Friends and Family

Each week of my month in Ireland felt like a different chapter. Chapter 2 began in the lobby of the Fleet Hotel in Dublin.

My friends Christine and Gwyn had flown over to join me for the Pride parade, an idea I had proposed in late March the night I got confirmation I would be going to the writer’s retreat.

They arrived the Wednesday before the parade and I met them at their hotel that afternoon. It was weird and wonderful to see them across the lobby, so far from our usual surroundings.

That was the beginning of five days of laughter and conversation. If the first week of my trip initially involved adjusting and being out of my comfort zone, the second week included a handful of days that felt a little lighter, where I could relax in the company of old friends.

Highlights of our time together:

Guinness Storehouse

The Guinness Storehouse is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ireland, and it was easy to see why. We joined the herd of visitors the first afternoon the ladies were in town.

The place is enormous. It’s also carefully laid out.

The tour of the Storehouse is mercifully a “self-guided experience.” Visitors walk up six stories without a rambling tour guide, so everyone can decide how interested they are in the details of milling, mashing, and boiling ingredients.

Along the way, there are plenty of opportunities to check out old Guinness advertising campaigns and pose for pictures.

The view from the top almost makes circling the building six times on the way up seem worth it. You can sample the “black stuff” while you admire the clear view of Dublin and its surrounding areas out the windows of the Gravity Bar.

On the way out of the building, you and the other mildly inebriated guests are funneled through a well-stocked retail store.

We participated in all of it, and I have to say it was a lot of fun. Hats off to the marketers at Guinness.

P.S. My dad and I enjoyed drinking out of his new beer glasses last weekend.

Gravity Bar view

Trinity College/Book of Kells

Thursday morning we walked around the campus of Ireland’s top-rated university, which is located in the middle of Dublin. The Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels of the Bible, is housed on campus and is considered a national treasure.

We relaxed on the lawn in front of the Old Library while we waited for our entrance time to see the Book of Kells. That gave me time to recover from my harrowing trip to the men’s room. Long story, but as it turns out, “leithreas” does not mean “ladies,” as in “everything beyond this point is a ladies room.”

But anyway, back to the Bible.

Picture lifted from the internet — visitors are not allowed to photograph the book

The Book of Kells is kept in its own darkened room, like something out of a Dan Brown novel. I don’t know why, but I was surprised that we could only see two pages. (Did I think we’d be allowed to leaf through a book that was created in 800 A.D.?)

Hopefully it’s not sacrilege to say I was much more impressed by the library upstairs than I was by the famous book.

The Long Room was one of my favorite places in Ireland.

The Long Room – a working library

We did almost have a minor international incident in the Long Room.

Christine and Gwyn were ahead of me when one of their phones spontaneously started blaring the Indigo Girls. Loud lesbian folk music is generally not appreciated in a library built in the 1700s. It wasn’t clear which person’s phone was the source of the music, so angry accusations were exchanged through gritted teeth until it was determined whose phone was to blame.

Like a good friend, I kept my distance while that got sorted out.

Blitzkrieg Tour of Dublin on the Hop-on/Hop-off Bus

Because time was limited, the Hop-on/Hop-off Big Bus tour seemed like an efficient way for the Virginians to see as much of the city as possible. It did end up being a good choice, especially after our Trinity College/Book of Kells extravaganza. We kicked back on the upper deck of the bus and rode all around the city, hopping off only once to get some lunch.

(In fairness to them, the ladies did hop back on the next day to take in some additional sights while I relaxed at my Airbnb.)

The Big Bus gave us a chance to experience imposing views of cathedrals like this
Hop-off destination

Dublin Pride Parade

This picture captures the tone of the day

There’s a lot to be said about the Dublin Pride parade. It was colorful, well organized, relatively easy to navigate, free of protestors and commercial organizations, and generally well done.

But more important than the nuts and bolts of the event was the atmosphere. I would actually call it joyous. All three of us were taken with how friendly and supportive the crowd was. As Gwyn said, it seemed like the whole country was there and ready to celebrate.

There were rainbow flags all over Dublin, and the general sense of acceptance was really touching, especially when I think back to what things were like when I was in my teens and twenties. Being gay at that time was considered strange and embarrassing. Now it’s really not a big deal for most people.

The shift in public perception on this topic has been incredible to watch over the last 20+ years.

The parade was a lot of fun. We saw some of it from O’Connell Street and then moved to an establishment right on the parade route on the banks of the River Liffey.

The most photographed dog on O’Connell Street
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A block-long flag
Bagpipes on Eden Quay along the river
Merrion Square post-parade concert, where Christine got us a loaf of sourdough bread at one of the concession stands.
Move over, corn dogs and funnel cakes

The day after the parade, the ladies’ last in Dublin, was relatively low-key. They toured an art museum and the Jameson Distillery and then I joined them in the late afternoon for dinner, swapping pictures, and rehashing our adventure.

What a great week it was. There’s something to be said for making memories with old friends in a new place far from home.

After the Virginians headed home, I took a day trip to Dalystown, about an hour west of Dublin, near where my great grandmother was born and where my grandmother spent some of her early childhood years.

My initial plan was to see if it was feasible to hire a driver from Dublin to bring me there and drive me around; when I couldn’t line that up, I decided to just get to Mullingar and figure it out.

Train to Mullingar

I took the train to Mullingar and then got a taxi to Dalystown, about seven miles away.

It did take the taxi driver a minute to understand what I was trying to do. I’m guessing he doesn’t get mumbling New Yorkers popping into his cab every day, looking to roam the area in search of old relatives.

Once he did understand, he knew exactly where to take me. First, we went to the pub where my parents visited in the late 1990s.

My mom and Mr. Wallace in the 1990s
A wider shot in front of the same building
The building today. The post office is gone and the façade is updated; otherwise, it’s basically the same after 25 years and is still surrounded by farmland. It seems to be the hub of the village

Next, the driver took me to Clonfad, my great grandmother’s birthplace. It was also farmland with no central village. He brought me to the only church in the area.

Church of the Sacred Heart, Meedin, built 1831

I got out and walked around. The only sound was the wind and the bleating of the sheep on the farm next to the church. It was incredibly peaceful.

Farmhouse next to the church
My great grandmother, Katherine Farrell

I thought about trying to find gravestones marked Farrell in the cemetery next to the church, but we had already been out for 30 minutes, and I sensed the driver was anxious to leave. The church was closed and the cemetery was large.

The only Catholic church in an area that small was most likely my great grandmother’s family parish, and that alone felt like a valuable discovery. I was happy to have come to the area.

The cemetery beside the church

This was the first of several experiences that worked out better because I didn’t have the details all mapped out ahead of time.

The taxi driver, James Farrell (a possible relative? I knew better than to ask), was from Mullingar and knew the area very well. A driver from another city wouldn’t have known the back roads or where to find the old Catholic church.

The second week of my trip was obviously a very mixed bag, with a nice balance of connecting with friends and time for exploration on my own.

I had deliberately left the remaining two weeks unplanned, and though that gave me a pit in my stomach heading into the third week, it proved to be the best approach.

The Road to Veganville

I would love to say that I became a vegan out of some noble concern for the environment or the world’s animal population, but that wouldn’t be true.  I became a vegan as the result of watching a movie.

Last December I saw The Game Changers, a film that makes a compelling case for transitioning to a whole foods, plant-based diet.  The health benefits seemed clear, and more importantly, it seemed that eating this way might allow me to finally lose the extra weight I had been carrying. Along with a handful of friends, I decided to give it a shot.

Why not?  I had tried just about every other diet available on the open market.

A not-so-brief recap of a few of my failed diets:

Weight Watchers:  Nearly every red-blooded American woman has tried this diet; it was tough for me because the strategy is to limit what you eat (huh?) through their “points” program, a calorie-counting approach that was a “fail” for me. I often reached my allotted quota of 23 points by lunchtime, and the rest of the day was a free-fall of consumption. In other words, one tire went flat, so I let the air out of the remaining three.

The Dukan Diet: This gem was made famous by Kate Middleton, who allegedly lost lots of weight she couldn’t afford to lose needed to lose before her royal wedding.  I read about her success and headed straight over to Barnes & Noble™ to get the book, thinking, well, if that schlump Kate Middleton can do it, I certainly can. (Anything she can do, I can do better…) Then I stocked up on expensive meats and vegetables — the only two food groups on this diet — which you’re allowed to eat in unlimited quantities. Binge away!

On Day 1, as I sat in front of a plate of steak and eggs, my third meal of the day at 10:30 a.m., I was disgusted. 

“I’m out!” I emphatically declared to no one as I sat at the dining room table in my empty house. 

I went over to the garbage can, fished out my receipt, smoothed it out (I had arrogantly crumpled it the night before, certain that I would be using the book for more than three hours), and drove back to the bookstore to return the book. 

“Reason for return?” the clerk asked politely. 

“Oh, I won’t be needing this.”

The Ideal Protein Diet: This was my shortest diet foray, in that I quit before I even started. I dubbed it The Astronaut Diet because for a mere $600, you are given an attractive tote bag filled with silver pouches containing meals with names like “Lemony Soy Puffs” and “Nacho Cheese Dorados.”

Before you begin, you have to meet with a medical professional/shill for the company who is legally obligated to share your potential health risks. She began by asking if I’d ever had any “trouble” with my gallbladder. Apparently, the diet might cause a gallbladder attack.


I wasn’t even sure where my gallbladder was located. When I asked if I would I have to go to the hospital for this type of attack, she did her best Kramer impersonation.

“Oh, you’d want to get that checked out.”

She went on to say that fainting was also possible. I immediately had a vision of dropping like a sack of wheat in front of my class of high schoolers (“Sorry, kids! I was just trying to take off 10 pounds in 7 days!”), but I still left with the packets. I had a planned start date; however, after staring at the ceiling at 3 a.m. worrying about the sack of wheat thing, I decided not to even try this diet. 

Not today, Satan!

Vegan:  I made an attempt at being vegan seven years ago after seeing the film Forks over Knives.  This came to a screeching halt on Day 3 when I started feeling weak and just generally awful, with a wanging headache.

I decided to give it a go again this past year the day after Christmas.  This time, I was more prepared, having done a fair amount of reading and planning before I started. Lo and behold, four months later, I’m still going strong-ish.  I heard the label “imperfectly vegan” recently, and that’s how I would describe myself.  I definitely don’t have it all figured out, but I can honestly say that I love eating this way.

One of the main reasons it appeals to me is that it’s very straightforward.  It’s actually similar to how I get myself dressed myself for work.

I pick a pair of pants in the morning.  I have the same pants in multiple colors, arranged in order by shades, light to dark.


Chinos, light to dark.  Flip flops and sneakers not worn to work.

Then I select one of the hanging shirts or one of the polo shirts in the drawers.

Finally, I choose a pair of man shoes, and voilà!  I’m ready for work.


Hanging shirts and man shoes.  Hiking boots not worn to work.

If you concluded that a closet arranged this way implies a certain rigidity in its owner, you would be correct.  The need for this level of organization is explained somewhere in the DSM-5, but here’s the thing — over the years, I’ve struggled to figure out wtf to wear to work, and I’ve also struggled to figure out wtf to cook.  Give me a plan, a roadmap, and I can follow that.

There’s a simplicity to eating vegan that really works for me.  You take the core foods and just put them together.  There are grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. Those things can be combined in a wide variety of ways.  Mix and match.  Take the stuff from the jars and combine them.


Jar labels courtesy of the artist formerly known as Sandy Rizzo.

Now, I don’t actually just throw a bunch of grains and nuts together.  There are thousands of gourmet recipes you can follow, and I have actually been much more interested in cooking than ever before. I even bought a shiny new pot for cooking soups.  I never thought I would utter the words “I’ve been enjoying cooking,” but it’s kind of true.

Oh, and also, I feel great.  Better than I ever remember feeling, in fact.  There just might be something to this push to eliminate processed stuff and avoid anything that once had a face, a mom or dad, or swam or walked or crawled.

As for weight loss, without ever being hungry or counting anything, I lost weight slowly but surely over the first couple of months. Being home-bound for the last five weeks has definitely put a kink in the progress. There is a surprising amount of junk food that officially passes as vegan, and I have consciously used it to smooth over the rough edges on a number of occasions. (I’m looking at you, Oreos and Coors Light.) I will also admit to a handful of cheese relapses on rainy days.

Pandemic-induced comfort eating and drinking aside, my plan when I started all of this was not to be perfect, but to allow myself the occasional pizza, which truly makes my life better, to eat whatever is served when I’m at someone else’s house (because I’m polite like that), and to be flexible when the need arises.

I don’t think there is a diet program that is The Answer.  I do know that while I was busy bouncing from one diet to the next over the last 20 years, I packed on an inordinate amount of weight.  Being vegan is not a weight-loss program, per se, but so far it has been successful for me in that I feel really good, I have dropped some weight, and it’s easy for me to follow.

Plus, now I get to hang out with other vegan lesbians and declare, “I don’t eat animals!”


The New Land

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. 

With my homeys Jane and Pam at one of our early parties

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?

Me: What?

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. 

Tattoos and Watering Holes

Every gay person has their own coming out story. Mine unfolded over four years.

It began with a tumultuous stretch of time. Within a span of about two months, I learned I was probably not going to be able to have children.  Soon after, I developed a major crush on a woman I met through work.

Coming from a family where things were generally calm and predictable, I am a person who chafes at the unexpected. Two major life curveballs happening simultaneously left me feeling like one of those air dancer wind socks you see outside a used car dealership.

The crush happened when I had been happily married for five years. I was deeply rattled and became quiet and withdrawn for about a month as I tried to understand what was going on. I went on long walks. I had trouble sleeping. I questioned myself. How could this be?  Was I gay this whole time and just denying it?  (Answer: yes.) 

The woman I liked was in a committed relationship of her own and was not interested in me. That didn’t change the fact that a seismic shift was taking place.

The topic came up with my husband as part of a discussion about tattoos. The object of my affection had three, and I announced out of the blue one evening as we entertained friends that I would be getting a tattoo. After our guests left, we talked about my sudden urge to get a tattoo and my withdrawn behavior, and I blurted out that I had become interested in a woman and was thinking of leaving him to “pursue a lesbian lifestyle.”

Yes, that’s actually how I worded it.

(As a side note, out of respect for the privacy of others and to the extent that it is possible to discuss a situation involving two people and only write about one, I am trying to share only my own experience.)

Suffice it to say that the evening and the weeks that followed were very difficult. 

I fluctuated between fearing I would need to leave the marriage and not wanting anything to change. I did not want to be gay.  I wanted to be a mom.  My husband was my best friend, and I had no interest in entering the gay singles scene. 

Ultimately, I decided to stay. I told him, and sincerely meant it, that I was attracted to women, but that didn’t mean I had to act on it. This attraction to women was part of me, but didn’t have to be all of me. I figured I could explore gay culture within the confines of my marriage. I would be a lesbian without being a lesbian!

My tattoo

I have to hand it to myself — I really went full bore. I got my tattoo. (And thought I was so edgy and alternative … even though it was Curious George swinging from a trapeze.) I started wearing thumb rings and Dr. Martens. I read feminist manifestos like The Feminine Mystique and Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women. I started listening almost exclusively to female musicians like Ani DiFranco.

My husband and I moved from one region of the country to another and adopted a son.  Then I hurt my back, and my female physical therapist was very attractive. The same feelings I had had a few years earlier resurfaced.

Like my first crush, the second woman was not available or interested in me.  But then I met someone who was, and that’s when the dam broke.

I had clung to the idea that I could be gay, or gay-ish, and stay in a straight marriage in a healthy and honest way. Now I was forced to accept the difficult truth that this was just not realistic.  The crushes kept cropping up, like a beach ball that refuses to submerge in water, regardless of where we lived or what the circumstances were.  The thought of burying my head in the sand at age 36 and continuing to push this down just started to feel too depressing.  

I also felt that if I stayed I would likely develop some kind of serious side issue, possibly with alcohol, and probably end up cheating at some point anyway. It felt like the healthier thing to do was to leave with the integrity of the relationship intact. I decided to end the marriage.

Then came the time to tell people.  I had already talked with my siblings about it and they were both wonderful. I was extremely nervous about telling my parents, though.  No one has ever mistaken them for hippies. Their household was not an “anything goes” kind of place.

I spoke with my mom first, and told her that my husband and I were separating and putting the adoption of a second child that we had been planning on hold.  (My son was two at the time.) 

She asked what had happened. I told her it was kind of a heavy story and I was planning to share it in phases. She said, “Well, I’m here to listen if you want to talk.”

It felt like one of those moments where you fall and hurt yourself as a kid and the only person who can comfort you is your mom.

I immediately spilled the tale of falling for a woman. She listened quietly to the whole story and then said, “Wow.  That is heavy.  But I know I can speak for your father when I say we would never turn our backs on you.  We love you so much and you’re very special and we’re just sad for all three of you.”


I’m still stunned when I think about it. I called my mom on a random Wednesday afternoon and told her I was leaving my husband because I was gay and she didn’t bat an eye — she just let me know how loved I was and made me feel like everything was going to be ok.

My dad was equally as supportive in his own way but it came out differently.  He called me the following day.

“Um, Suz, yeah, um, obviously, I talked with your mother and uh, obviously, we love you and support you, and uh, this must be very … uh … uh … difficult.”

I agreed and thanked him and then his worries tumbled out.  He asked if I could lose my teaching job over this. 

“What if someone sees you with a woman in the afternoon at a movie or at a watering hole?”

Watering hole? 

Hmm.  I didn’t realize anyone used that expression anymore.

I told my dad that I knew he and my mom would worry and this was part of why I had not talked with them earlier.

“Oh.  Well, that shouldn’t be your primary concern.  Maybe your tertiary concern …”


I guess that means 3rd?

Perplexing vocabulary aside, my dad may have led with a question about watering holes, but I fully understood that his angst was based on concern for my well-being and the well-being of my son. I never once felt that he was rejecting me in any way.

Given the fact that my parents were raised in a different era, in a religion that does not accept homosexuality, their response was remarkable. Their support started then and has continued every step of the way over the past 15 years, and it has allowed me to be at least mildly grounded as I have navigated some very choppy waters.

My alleged doppelganger

Like my parents, to a person, my friends were immediately supportive and understanding.  One friend told me she was surprised, but not shocked. My college roommate said her father recognized that I was gay the day he dropped her off freshman year; another friend told me I reminded her father of Jo from Facts of Life. (I’m not sure what he was talking about.  I didn’t part my hair in the middle.) Basically, people already knew on some level, and it didn’t change how they saw me.

The hardest part of this was knowing I would be hurting someone I truly loved. That never goes away. Nor does the guilt of forcing a child to handle two very complicated issues, divorce and having a gay parent. I guess I’ve just tried to do the best I can with both situations, and that’s all I can do.

The Mary Oliver poem below is a little bit cliche, especially in the gay coming out community, but it really resonates with me.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Kleinfeld and Me

Because my childhood ambition was to play in the NFL, the furthest thing from my mind when I was young was what kind of wedding dress I might like to wear someday.  While other girls were keeping up with fashion trends like over-sized pocket combs, velour shirts, and culottes, I was sure that my most stylish outfit was Toughskins jeans, a ratty T-shirt from a garage sale, and my New York Yankees wristbands.  While they were passively playing with Barbies, I was playing Kill the Carrier with a pack of boys and slinging playmates to the ground by their necks. While they were squealing over David Cassidy and Leif Garrett, I was lighting up every time the impossibly cool Kristy McNichol appeared on the television screen. 

So the day I found myself standing on a pedestal in the middle of a brightly-lit dressing room at the Kleinfeld bridal salon in Brooklyn, I felt like Scout Finch in a pair of overalls.

I was 26 and getting ready to marry my boyfriend, and I didn’t know a cap sleeve from a spaghetti strap or an empire waist from a chapel veil. What I did know was that I was now a lamb being brought to slaughter.

It would be 10 years before I would find my voice and realize that I had ignored dozens of obvious clues that I was gay.  But for now, in the spring of 1995, I was relieved to finally get in step with my female peers.  Though I always had friends and was never quite an outsider, I had always been keenly aware and mildly ashamed of the fact that I was not like other girls. 

Somehow, when I was in my 20s, I had lucked out and found a great guy who enjoyed watching sports and drinking beer with me, and now I was going to have a full-blown wedding like all of my friends.

“You should go to Kleinfeld!” people had told me.

“What’s Kleinfeld?” I asked.  

 “It’s where everybody goes.  It’s the best place to get a wedding dress!” 

Actually, it’s not just where “everybody goes” – it is such a quintessential model of high-end bridal fashion that the cable channel TLC later decided to film a show there called Say Yes to the Dress.  When you are a member of the Future Lesbians Club, it’s the best place to go if you are looking to feel as out of place as possible. 

Garage sale T-shirt

This over-the-top establishment, with its high ceilings, ornate chandeliers, and white carpets, is full of pushy, intense New York women with really long nails who can’t wait to tell you what you should be wearing.  Many of the brides-to-be at Kleinfeld have been dreaming of coming to this salon for years; the only issue that has been holding them up was having to find a mate first. 

 “What are you lookin’ for, doll?” Regina, our bridal consultant, asked me.

 “Well, I … I don’t like anything up around my neck, so I guess just nothing that’s like a turtleneck?”

Regina looked at my entourage, my mom, my sister, and our neighbor, and said, “Is she kidding?”  Apparently, she hadn’t worked with too many brides nicknamed Sporty Spice.  She seemed genuinely surprised that I did not already have an air-tight vision of what kind of dress I wanted.

In my rolled up Toughskins jeans

Then she started to consult with my people to figure out what I might like.

A few minutes later, as I was led through a room lined with dozens of bejeweled gowns, it brought back memories of how I used to have heated debates with my mother every time I had to wear a (stupid) dress, and how I acted like a prisoner trudging along on a chain gang when I inevitably lost the argument and had to wear that dress to Sunday mass or a family holiday gathering.  Now I was voluntarily walking through the vaults of a place that was the height of femininity.

After feeling mortified for an hour as I was helped in and out of each dress I tried on (I never grew accustomed to Regina rearranging any body part she thought was out of place), I selected a silk shantung gown that had a long train and weighed approximately 700 pounds. Scarlett O’Hara would have been proud.

When I went back for the final fitting several weeks later, the seamstress cinched up the corset they had made for me.  It was modeled after an instrument of torture from the 1800s, with lots of rods and clasps.  I could barely breathe.  

I was 125 pounds and didn’t need a garment that restricted my organs.  What I should have said was, “Absolutely not.  Sew a couple of tube socks in the chest and we’re done!”

But I didn’t say anything, and consequently, I spent my entire wedding day feeling as if I were in an iron lung.  Bonus: it was over 100 degrees out.

After the Kleinfeld makeover

I did manage to march down the aisle in a rather masculine fashion, keeping my steps wide in an effort to handle my high heels, pointing my flowers at friends and saying things like, “What’s up?” and “Hey!”

Turns out that what Betty White said in the Gingey sketch on Saturday Night Live was accurate: “You can put that lesbian in any kind of dress you want, and you know what you’re going to end up with?  A lesbian!”

So although the marriage got off to a good start, everything changed five years later when I fell head over heels in love with a woman.  The interest was not mutual and nothing came of it beyond a few Ani DiFranco concerts and long dinners.  But it started me down the path of examining my choices, and eventually I came to the conclusion that wanting to fit in was not going to keep me going for the next 40 years. 

I realized that I would need to risk losing the approval of my parents and my friends and leave the safety of a loving relationship with a very good man to forge my own path and become fully myself.