INTERVIEW: A Healthy Lesbian Love Life

ON BEING GAY AND IN LOVE

An Interview

Joh

Joh happy (as usual) at her birthday party

Joh – “I knew that I was different when I was about five years old; when I watched movies, I’d always be (identify with) the guy in the movie, going after the girl, rescuing the girl. So that started the thoughts, ‘Okay… what’s this all about?’

So I know that being gay (or any ‘orientation’) is intrinsic, it’s something you are from birth. You don’t really make the choice at thirteen, fourteen years old: ‘Okay, I’m gonna go ‘girls’, or I’m going to go with boys’. It’s part of you when you are born into this world.”

LIKING OTHER WOMEN
“When I was a teenager, going through puberty, things were clear enough that I knew I was attracted to women. I would have crushes on the girls in class. And guys were just guys to hang out with and beat up; we’d fight with each other, just rough-housing, you know? I never stepped over the line to admitting this to other girls. (That she was gay, or that she was attracted to them) It was always a secret I held tightly to.

I was into my third decade, my thirties, when I started to think, ‘I’ve got to get on with my life; there’s a lot of things I haven’t done that I’d like to do… like find a partner’. (In a love relationship) That became a major thing for a long time – to find someone like me.

I remember crying to myself, thinking that I’d never find anyone; I felt alone in the world. It was a very, very deep-felt emptiness, that I’d be alone for the rest of my life. A deep, spiritual hurt.”

You can overlook what’s inside you during the early parts of your life, through finding various interests to take your mind off it and keep you busy, and through the self-protective desire to live an outwardly ‘normal’, accepted life. But eventually it will reach from inside to grab your attention, and insist on being recognized, dealt with seriously, and come to peace with.

“I’ve always had these creative urges and pursuits, wanting to do creative things rather than your nine-to-five work. I did the shift work for a number of years, but it never fulfilled me. So I would search for other creative people and attach myself to them and their projects.

We always crashed and burned; it was because I never pursued my own dream, my own bliss.”

MOVING TO ‘WHERE IT’S ALL AT’
“I moved to Vancouver and lived there for a couple years, because I thought that everything I wanted would be there – partner, career – because it was bigger, busier, a larger and more diverse community.

It was the worst two years of my life. Everything bad that could happen, happened. The two major things were losing a lot of money to a dishonest and manipulative business partner, and having a bad love affair with a woman.”

FIRST RELATIONSHIP
“I wanted things to happen, I forced the relationship, even though we were very different. Half the time we were fighting; it was very roller-coaster.

She was very intelligent, not overly pretty, but there was a strength to her that I was attracted to. She didn’t know she was gay when we met (or didn’t admit she was), but I wanted to get to know her. It was like she had this void inside her that pulled me to her. I never called her a ‘soul mate’, and never told her I loved her, but there was something there – perhaps just (both of them) not wanting to be alone.

She had an aspect to her personality that I wanted to have more of in myself – a kind of ‘bitchiness’, a tough exterior. I’m a pushover, so I was attracted to her no-bullshit attitude. Opposites attract. But after a year of this, even though I had been the one always not wanting to break up, I finally said we had to, that it wasn’t working out; it was just sex-based to her, and I wanted something more.

So that crashed and burned, and it was the first time I’d ever had a broken heart… even though it was me who walked away.”

THE PEACE WAS MISSING
“There were a number of other unpleasant things happening parallel to each other that were all driving me out of the city, but I won’t dwell on them here. It cost me a lot, in dollars and in spirit, but the life lessons I learned there were valuable. It was worth it. But I was an emotional basket case from just those two years.

I was terribly missing living here in the Okanagan (Valley, British Columbia). The whole time in Vancouver I was fighting that feeling in my gut that said, ‘This isn’t right’. I never felt settled, I kept fighting for things I didn’t want, kept trying to give my life in Vancouver another chance.

When I made the decision to leave Vancouver behind, cut my financial and emotional losses – as soon as I drove into the Okanagan, that feeling in my gut just dissipated. I felt right, like, ‘Aaaaaahhh.’ – I could breathe again.

It was then that I resigned to myself that I was okay living alone for the rest of my life, that if I never met anybody, that would be fine. I just wanted to love living with my family.” (And have that be enough)

PEACE IS FOUND
“I was settled inside myself. I enjoyed the world, nature, around me more.

I filtered through all the emotions, figured out what had happened the previous two years; even though I had ended that relationship, it hurt a lot. You’re always hanging on until the very end, afraid to let go. And wow – I can understand how people use sex as a weapon; it’s so powerful! It destroys you from within. I had to pick up those pieces, build myself up again.

I assimilated everything that had happened in Vancouver. I weighed what was important to me – my personal well-being – and I let go and moved on. I read a lot of books, I struggled deeply with my spirituality. My brother was overseas, my Mom was across the country, so I was alone with the house and yard. I had a lot of time to just ‘be’. I became settled inside myself.”

Joh and Xena

Can’t get her out of that Xena shirt! Xena’s greatest fan.

BUILDING NEW PATHS
“I started to build a stone walkway by my house; I was doing this very physical work, laying down large river-rocks, working a lot of things through my system that way. A friend said I was building a ‘new pathway to life’ for myself. It wasn’t long after I had finished that pathway that the same friend introduced me to a friend of hers (this mutual friend knew they were both gay).

My friend is very intuitive. She knew us both well enough… she knew that although I still had some things to improve within myself, and that (partner) had just ‘come out’ to herself, she still knew the timing was right. It wouldn’t have been right a few years earlier for either of us, but she felt that now we were both at that same place within ourselves.

When I was driving to meet my friend and this woman she wanted to introduce me to, the thought just popped into my head: ‘I’m going to meet my future.’ I just knew.

And that person is now my life partner. I can honestly call her my soul mate. You just know inside yourself when you’re with someone who’s so right. It’s been eight years and we’re still going strong. We still say we love each other every day.”

COMING OUT
“It took me a long time to ‘come out’. I was thirty-four, thirty-five years old – ten years ago – before I could actually say to myself, ‘I’m a lesbian.’ And not feel scared about saying that.

You have to be honest with yourself, and I think that moment when you actually come out to yourself – it’s a great moment. And when you can come out to the people around you, your whole universe opens up.

(It took so long because) I didn’t want to hurt people close to me… for example, my Mom: no grandchildren. And then there are the fears of being repulsed or rejected by the people you love. I was only rejected by people who didn’t matter – acquaintances who were never really friends, but more friends-of-friends. There were only two instances in my life – since I came out – where I could feel real tension there (with others) just because of my being gay. Knock on wood – I’ve never had anyone actually violent to me.

I never felt ashamed, or guilty, or dirty about it; I just didn’t want to disappoint my Mom (her father was separated from the family), my brother.”

That is, she never felt that being gay was wrong, she just knew that it might upset others because they might think it was wrong.

“No matter what, I knew it would hurt my Mom, that she’d mourn the loss – not having grandkids. Though finally she did become a grandma (through her son), so I feel off the hook; dodged that bullet! (Ha)

I first started coming out to people who were on the outskirts of my ‘circle’, the people furthest out, because if I lost them, it wouldn’t hurt so much. But all the people who were my friends, who I told, are still my friends.

Then I closed inward on that circle and told my brother; he said he’d always known. Then I told my Mother. She broke down and cried; she hadn’t had a clue. I don’t know why she was so blind to it – I’d never had a boyfriend, never talked about getting married, having babies. She cried for a day or two, and then got over it. Eight years later (now), she sees my partner as another daughter, part of the family.

It always amazed me when people said, ‘I never knew’. I guess they just see you with different eyes. The best reaction I ever had when telling someone… a friend said, ‘It doesn’t matter that you’re gay, I’m just glad you’re finally getting some sex!’ I thought that reaction was cool.

Even the neighbors (around this condominium) have just accepted us as the owners, no one has said anything. And at work (she works occasionally at the same place as her partner) everybody accepts us, I’ve never heard anything negative.”

SOCIETY, HISTORY
“It was really hard to be gay in the 1970’s; it seems to be a little easier on gay people now, it’s more mainstream (a little more ‘acceptable’ to the non-gay public) than it was twenty, thirty years ago. Back then it was this big secret… no one else was like you.”

People were rarely ‘out’ in the open about being gay, so you didn’t see them as existing all around you, in your neighborhood. A leading book on sexuality in the late 1960’s included a chapter on homosexuality. It was written by ‘experts’ of that day, and stated that being homosexual was a sickness, a deviant state, and that homosexuals all practiced deviant behavior – they dressed in bright clothes or leather, hung out in seedy bars, hid in train stations or parks for sexual encounters…

There was no word about them being normal, caring, healthy people, able to have loving, healthy relationships.

“But it’s a human experience. Human beings all have the same lusts and urges; there are some really creepy gay people, just like there are some really creepy straight people. And there are some beautiful ones both ways, too. It’s an individual-personality thing.

I was a kid growing up in the 1960’s, and it definitely influences you growing up, when that’s all you hear about it – that you have to hide, be ashamed about it.

I’ve never felt suicidal, but a lot of gay teens feel suicidal. Gay teen suicide is one of the leading causes of teen death around the world. I hope we’re undergoing some kind of shift now, and that it’s (acceptance of gay people) becoming more mainstream so that kids won’t ever have to feel like that again.

There are a lot of ‘outreaches’ (community help programs) now, where people who want to talk about it can go and get some feedback. And it’s becoming more mainstream in other ways, like television: now there’s ‘Pride TV’ (a television channel dedicated solely to gay interests and shows), ‘Queer as Folk’ (a cutting-edge risqué gay show), even sitcoms with gay characters at the forefront.”

NOW
“We’re constantly aging; this is our one life, and I want to live it, not be afraid of it. I wonder how many people are fighting inside themselves, against something that they really want to be? You hear all the time that gay people get married (to straight people), try to fit into traditional society, have kids – and are miserable. They think they still have to play these traditional roles.

But they don’t. And you hear that years later they’ve broken up the family, finally able to lead the life they could have been leading in the beginning. (If they didn’t have such judgment and pressure from society around them urging them to be ‘normal’)

Now, I can feel a lot safer (but not safe?) coming out to people than in the past; there’s less fear of repulsion and rejection. There are a lot of gay people in our, and every, community, and now they’re feeling safer in coming out of hiding.”

MORE THAN ACCEPTANCE: GRATITUDE
“I want to understand my part in existence, why I am this way; I know I was born this way, and if this is the way God, or the Universe, made me, I’m going to embrace this.”

 

Joh
45

I found it refreshing to know she has a great love life. Even ‘straight’ people can have awful, violent love affairs, sometimes until old age, never really learning what a loving and equal relationship is; yet even given the ‘social handicap’ of being part of a looked-down-upon group, she’s had a clean, clear, very healthy love story. It attests a little to today’s improving social awareness, and a lot to her as a person.

Postscript: About an hour after I finished re- typing this interview in my hotel room, I found out that a group of other guests who came to the hotel late last night are in town for a funeral… the suicide of a gay teen. Would reading this interview have helped him? – That’s why I’m doing this project.

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