Open Letter to a Young Lesbian From a Middle-Aged Dyke

Dear Carissa,

Happy 18th birthday! You came to class with a bouquet of cookie roses from your girlfriend, picked out all the chocolate chips, and left the rest. Tomorrow I will lecture you about crumbs and bugs (last week, I found a cockroach the size of my palm behind a beat-to-hell stack of Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth) but today I offer only congratulations. In seven months, you’ll slip the surly bonds of Gila Javelina High School and begin your grown-up lesbian life.

Here are my top dozen tips:

1. Keep being as out as you are now, e.g. out like whoa. Don’t start agonizing over who to come out to, or where or when — even if there’s a scholarship or a job at stake. Fuck ’em. There are other scholarships and jobs, ones that don’t come at the price of your integrity. People’s Exhibit A: Teachers who dither, “My private life is private” when you ask if they’re married. Trust me, they’re full of shit. If they were heterosexual, they’d tell you about their husband or wife as easily as they’d tell you where they went to college. Symptoms of Internalized Homophobia include ulcers, loneliness, and an ongoing sense of nameless dread,  so let my generation be the last to suffer. Leave coming-out anxiety as safely in history as 8-track tape players — everyone but the occasional eBay nutcase has moved on.

2. Know your GLBT history. Butches really did used to get arrested for wearing fewer than three items of women’s clothing, and doctors really did used to give queers electroshock “conversion therapy.” That’s out of fashion now, but be wary of “ex-gay” groups or any other religious organization that tries to court you during your first year of college. At the very least, rent “Stonewall Uprising.”

3. …and “Desert Hearts.” Old, but a magical date movie, as is “Imagine Me and You.” Put one of those in the DVD, make a bowl of free-trade organic popcorn sprinkled with olive oil and sea salt, and prepare for the Getting Your Love On Regional Semifinals. Have a CD mix ready for when you pause the movie; otherwise the sudden make-out silence is too weird. I recommend Ani DiFranco’s Up Up Up Up Up Up (skip the tracks “Come Away From It” and “Angry Anymore”: The former is about heroin — bummer! and the second is too boisterous. It’ll wreck the mood).

4. is fun, but try to meet women in real life. This is why I keep pushing you to apply to Smith and Wellesley — you have the grades, and you don’t know how disheartening it is to try and find a partner anyplace that’s got less than 3 million people. It’s a numbers game, and you will lose in a small town (unless you decide to become a land dyke, in which case, learn to re-wire the electricity in an RV or whatever the fuck those women are always doing out in the middle of Ohio). Lesbians comprise 2% of the population, and of that 2%, at least half are too old/too young/too nuts/in a relationship/ hung up on their exes/chemically dependent/struggling to leave the Mormon Church. All these women seem amazing on Curve, but KNOW THAT ANYONE CAN WRITE A WITTY PERSONAL PROFILE. Eva Braun could have done it, if she’d had the technology. Bottom line: Move to a city, or near a city, and give yourself some geographical options. I hear Madison is great. Iowa City. Austin. I don’t recommend Phoenix. That’s where I met the ex-Mormon. Her cats had middle names.

5. Be careful in bars, especially mixed ones. All-women’s bars are rare, even in big cities, so be aware that it’s a boys’ scene. Even a handful of men in a women’s bar change the dynamic dramatically. Watch your drink at all times; if it leaves your line of sight for even a moment, throw it away and order a new one. If you’re in a strange city and don’t know where the gay bar is, rest assured it’s in either (a) the rough part of town; or (b) in the cute, Disney-fied gay neighborhood all big cities have, the one lesbians can’t afford. Just gay men and their strange little dogs.

6. When you fall in love, remember this: Love is irrelevant if you can’t get your needs met. Does your beloved care about the things that interest you? If you have different interests, does she at least ask about the things you like, and listen when you talk? Does she make you laugh? Is she a considerate lover? Do you trust and enjoy her RIGHT NOW, EXACTLY AS SHE IS, or is this a fixer-upper situation? Beware of falling in love with her “potential.” Lots of people have potential. Eva Braun had potential. Fuck potential. See what’s really there.

7. Be good to your girlfriend. Invest heavily; talk and play together all you can. Laugh. Find common goals and go after them together. Your relationship should be your own small universe (not like Heavenly Creatures, though!) with its own culture and customs; language and topography. Put her first. Give her your best. And if you grow apart, take what you’ve learned and apply it again. And again. Until the timing and location and personalities finally line up, and you run off to wherever they’re letting us get married in the year 2035.

8. Women don’t catch HIV from each other; if they did, we’d all be deader than smelts. I think there might have been one case — one partner was menstruating and they didn’t wash the toy they were using — but even that may be apocryphal. However, there’s still herpes, HPV, chlamydia, and other non-fatal creepy crawlies. If you can’t stand latex gloves, at least douse your hands with hand sanitizer before sex. Note the places it stings — broken cuticles, etc. — and avoid vaginal contact with those areas. Another way to avoid sitting in a large vat of penicillin for the rest of your life is to lose your embarrassment and ASK: “Do you have any sexually-transmitted infections that you know of?” “Which STI’s have you been tested for, and how long ago?” ASK. The one time I didn’t ask was the one time I should have. Also, if you decide to snort any drug through a rolled-up bill, don’t share the bill. You can get Hepatitis C that way. If you do use someone else’s bill, turn it around and use the end that wasn’t up their nose. And please, see your gynecologist once a year.

9. In every lesbian community, no matter how small, there’s always at least one whackjob who cheats and lies and scatters the area with Bad Juju Spores. Figure out who that whackjob is and stay away from her.

10. Don’t be the whackjob. Behave yourself. You do not want to have to skulk through the aisles of Whole Foods, hoping not to run into someone you’ve treated badly, so be gallant in love and generous in friendship. Feed and water the women in your life with potlucks and picnics and Solstice Caroling parties. This will bear fruit no matter what: If you stay in one place for awhile, you’ll build a lovely family of friends. If you move around, you’ll never really be alone — even if you land in a big city and don’t know anyone. Your assorted beloveds will call, e-mail, Skype, Facebook, send passenger pigeons.

11. Don’t date women with girlfriends or boyfriends or wives or husbands. It’s masochistic. Please see #6 (“Potential”).

12. Be courageous. If something feels wrong, react accordingly. Don’t second guess yourself. Same thing if something feels right (UNLESS it involves the nutjob from #9.) If someone makes you feel small, or infringes on your space, speak up. “No” is a complete sentence. So is “Yes.”

And it’s still not too late to apply to Smith. The undergrad deadline is Jan. 15.


Ms. P

25 thoughts on “Open Letter to a Young Lesbian From a Middle-Aged Dyke

  1. What a lucky kiddo! The closest thing I ever got to a talk about the world from an older lesbian in high school was the director of my school telling me that not everyone could, or should, come out of the closet.

  2. Ahhhh. My fondest memories of my dyke teachers in school. Get this ya’ll. The OUT teachers were of the sports variety. Surprise and surprise.

    All 3 dyke gym teachers smoked. We wee sisters had to play Marco Polo to find each other from all the wafting smoke. *cough!

    Miss P. Hopefully Carissa will stay in touch with you.

  3. Pingback: Advice to a Young Lesbian | Random Ntrygg

  4. Agreed. Apparently closeted headmistress’s mileage varied… but I think she is living openly with her partner now that she’s retired. Sigh.

  5. “Don’t be a wack job” — that is a biggie in lesbian communities. One thing I would suggest is for young lesbians to really work on social skills. Learn how to converse and ask questions of other women. Avoid “instant intimacy or dumping”— e.g. “Hi my name is Sue and I’m an incest survivor,” for example. TMI–too much information too soon is not a good foundation for a first date.

    Knowing lesbian herstory is huge, knowing how to combat heterosexism and what lesbians of the past did to strength lesbian self worth is essential. You can’t know this unless you can learn from the triumphs and mistakes of previous lesbian generations.

    Don’t just hole up and merge. Keep open to other friends. A great failing of lesbian relationships is women spend all their time together, they split up, and then you see lesbians showing up at events. We have a community, not just isolated “family units” and immitating this suburban picket fence mentality will destroy all that’s most powerful about lesbian nation. Or when was the last time you saw Ellen at Michfest….

  6. Great advice, SheilaG — I should have included something about the “Hi, my name is Sue and I’m an incest survivor” overshare; as well as “don’t just hole up and merge.” You’re so right!

  7. Yeah, I’ve often thought it might be helpful to have more workshops and programs so lesbians can get some social training. It is the one group that consistently has one of the worst records of social skills anywhere.

    The overshare used to disturb me so much, that it will be a complete deal killer on any potential friendship with a lesbian who does this the first time I meet that person.

    What I find odd, is that there are hardly any workshops for lesbian couples, and this seems a strange omission when you think of the big push to have “lesbian marriage.”
    I’m not so sure our community is emotionally mature enough to handle marriage, and it is very rare to meet many lesbian couples active in the community who are in very long term relationships. Almost none. Of all the lesbian couples I have known for the past 30 years, or over a 30 year period, none of them are still together.

    When I meet lesbians who start showing up at community events, I can be certain they are in the process of splitting up with a girlfriend. So if we want a strong community, I think we need to build up the social skills, become better conversationalists, and be more mindful of each other. I can see this great contrast in social skills when I go to hetero women’s events compared to lesbian events… it’s very striking.

    On the Internet, I don’t think I see any of this discussed very often, if at all. Some of my young single lesbian friends express a kind of disappointment that more lesbian couple role models aren’t at events. It’s usually a singles scene or very isolated holed up friendship groups. I’d love to see some statistics or data on all of this.

    But it’s useful to know this, because I believe the emotional drain of multiple split ups over time takes a huge toll on lesbians. Why should this be? It doesn’t have to be this way at all. Hope this helps the cause for a stronger, nicer, emotionally more sophisticated community.

  8. I’m longing to meet some lesbian couples who’ve been together 10 years, let alone 30. I wonder if the average lesbian relationship lifespan, i.e. 2-4 years, has something to do with a lack of modeling — lesbian couples haven’t been accepted or visible in mainstream society for very long, so we haven’t had a chance to see those couples day in and day out. Also, maybe straight couples would also break up after 2-4 years if they didn’t have kids (and family/church/society/economics pressuring them to stay together.

  9. “I believe the emotional drain of multiple split ups over time takes a huge toll on lesbians.”

    I agree — it’s really rough on a woman’s heart, mind, and spirit, and it has an embittering effect. Disappointment after disappointment; heartbreak after heartbreak really makes you want to stay at home — or merge immediately with each new partner in hopes that she’s The One.

  10. it’s hard to have a relationship when you have to hide it

    that wears on a person and wrecks havoc in the relationship

    so it’s no wonder it’s always one after the other

    which is why gay marriage will do more to change the gay and lesbian community than anything else

    marriage encourages people to form long term pair bonds, reduces the spread of STDs and all kinds of other good stuff

  11. heck

    I’m the only out gay person in my generation of my family

    but, of my three older cousins – one has never had any acknowledged partner, one is on her second marriage and the youngest is in a living together relationship, after years of back to back long term boyfriends.

    my younger cousins, 2 divorced with one of those on a second marriage, 1 married for under 5 years

    I’ve outlasted my sibling and my cousins for a serious and long term relationship

  12. I know this is anecdotal, but at least it might be heartening: I know a whole bunch of long-term lesbian couples. I’m in my late 30’s, just to give you a sense of what sort of time frame I’m talking about; and out of my graduating class alone, two of my friends have been with their partners since 1996 or so. Others, not in my class, but friends, have been with their partners for over 10 years as well. Some of them have had kids as well! Another random coincidence happened along when I facebook-friended a woman I casually dated back in 1994, and saw that she was also fb friends with a woman who was one of my (few) friends in grade school. I asked how they knew each other, and my grade school friend replied, “She was my partner for 7 years!”

    I think it’s just hard for couples to stay together, and your observation that het couples often stay together “for the children” or because one of them is supporting the other is spot on, in my book. Also, it’s true that churches and families put pressure on het couples to marry and remain married.

  13. One of the most disheartening things is that so many of us want to be in long term couples, that often, we get too lazy to go out and meet someone and settle down

    and there’s a thought of “Oh, I want what you two have, so I’ll break you up and get with whichever one I can pry away from the other.”

    Seriously, we’ve had to stop being friends with certain single lesbian pals, who don’t seem to understand that our relationship isn’t invitational.

  14. I turned 18 a few weeks ago, and all I can say to this is… I wish I had had you for a teacher, or someone very much like you. I really could have used this kind of wisdom as I grew up, confused and repressed, and I can use it now. Thank you.

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