I am 63 today and I am involved in a passionate relationship with a 41-year old woman. Being a lesbian is still about holding a space for woman-loving in my personal and public life. It is still about the heady first kiss-this time between two women on a moonlit Hebridean beach. It is about the unique scent that rises in the heated space between breasts and between hips.
It is deeply unnerving to me to know that in certain circles within the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-intersex-queer-questioning (LGBTIQQ) community, the word “lesbian” and its association with feminism have become so charged that it is actually considered by some to be old-fashioned, or downright oppressive in itself. In this context, to insist on space for lesbians who are woman-born woman who love women-born-women is seen in itself as a kind of exclusion of others rather than an acknowledgment of our particular history, a celebration of a uniquely empowered and utterly exquisite identity which we have struggled through centuries to claim.
Lesbian, as a descriptor, is simultaneously being vilified and drained of its meaning within parts of the LGBTIQQ community even as the mainstream straight community continues to conflate all LGBTIQQ people into a single male-identified adjective like “gay” or “homosexual.”
Every time I hear a lesbian describe herself as “queer” or “a gay woman” I feel my life being disappeared. It is about language-the power of language-and the adjacent power of disapproval, peer pressure, subtle forms of woman hatred and homophobia to silence the naming of ourselves as lesbians.
The challenge for lesbians who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s in the midst of the women’s liberation movement-where we fought to hold a space with straight feminists as we all fought to create space for all women-is to hold on to a feminist vision of the world which is inherently inclusive…one where a queer consciousness which recognizes the fluidity of gender can coexist with a woman-centered lesbian sensibility and culture.
This is to reject all subtle and obvious impulses to create a hierarchy of suffering in which members of the latest “most oppressed” sexual minority feel entitled to appropriate lesbian space and simultaneously collapse our identity with a critique which defines our very existence as out-of-date and, intrinsically, discriminatory.
Soon I will travel to Scotland to meet my new lover’s parents and friends. From decades of experience, I anticipate they will be confounded by a simultaneous emotional attraction as well as a resistance to me related to what they “think” about who and what I am. This will create a very complicated reaction that each one of them will have to navigate. Perhaps they will ignore the fact of my being a lesbian. Perhaps they will put me in a category of my own, “not like the others.” Perhaps they will be civil but not friendly. Regardless, I will stand in front of them, a blazing lesbian, fully formed and proud of my identity, my sensibility and culture.
This simple act of claiming space for woman-loving is what it means to me to be a lesbian. It is a bridge that I rebuild over and over again to that singular moment in the late night December darkness in 1963. Over and over again, as I honor my lesbian self, my life is refreshed from the arid, two-dimensional terrain of invisibility into a lush landscape that I now inhabit effortlessly—one where I have planted melodies and love relationships and a life-affirming vision of the world that nourishes me and those around me.
Margie Adam is an integrative counselor committed to creating a safe, empowering, and joyful environment for women exploring recovery, aging and project completion issues in Berkeley, CA. (Phone sessions are available @ 510-517-5013.) She is also a singer-songwriter-pianist and one of the founder-organizers of Women’s Music, a Second Wave feminist cultural initiative fueled by lesbian passion. www.margieadam.com