How I Learned About the Power of Lesbian Community

I came out as a lesbian eight years ago, in a radical move that took me from Tiny-Town upstate New York to the center of San Francisco. I was 52.

Why, you might ask, did I wait so long? The easy answer is that I was raising children – a son and a daughter – and finally, when they were old enough and moving on in the world, I felt I could leave. These are the facts of the matter.

Yet, behind that, is a more subtle reality. For years, decades really, I wasn’t entirely sure I was gay. Not only that, I fought being gay.

I didn’t want to be gay. The very word ‘lesbian’ annoyed me. I had no idea how to even go about ‘being gay’ … though I was 100% certain I was attracted to women. The entire idea filled me with fear. And dread.

Keep in mind I came of age in the Seventies. This was just on the heels of the Stonewall and Compton Cafeteria riots. As recently as the 50’s and 60’s, the FBI and the US Postal Service secretly tracked the comings and goings of out queers. As for me, I was raised by parents who thought gays and lesbians were subjects of ridicule and scandal.

When I left to attend Wellesley College, they warned me not to let the “lesbians get me.”

Basically, I managed to keep my sexual orientation under wraps until the grave day when I finally sat down with my husband and told him how it was. He was ultimately supportive – and bid me well the day I drove my tiny rented UHaul out of our driveway.

I made my way to San Francisco where I walked up and down Market Street, marveling at gay everything in the windows of the Castro, under the biggest rainbow flag in existance. And eventually, after some upheaval, I found my way to the East Bay – Oakland and Berkeley, the home of the lesbians.

Today, I can’t imagine not being out and proud. It seems, actually, that ‘Pride’ is kind of beside the point. For being queer is so common here that no one really has a reaction either way – which is just how it should be. As one friend put it to me, “We don’t put rainbow flags on our bumpers because, basically, nobody cares.”

As I write this, three women in our community are upstairs having coffee with my wife. They dropped in. One of them just returned from three weeks of living at a hospital, serving as care partner to a lesbian friend who just had a lung transplant. The others showed up to drive her around today, since she is visiting and doesn’t have a car. And we just got back from picking up an enormous PA system to haul to a gig for a friend who can't lift them.

This is the kind of thing we do for each other. This community is beyond tight. One of my friends even belongs to a group of women who support each other with their home repairs. The group includes an electrician, a handywoman and other tradespeople, and they've been helping each other home improve for decades.

How cool is that?

In my 35 years as a straight woman who was afraid to come out, I never knew the selfless friendship that I see around me in this tight group of East Bay lesbians. We are queer women who truly have each others backs – and so it should be.

I may have been a ‘slow learner’ as someone put it, but finding my way home has well been worth the wait.

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Suzanne Falter writes poignant, true … yet purely lesbian fiction. Try out Driven: An Oaktown Girls Novel.

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