Death of a Reluctant Lesbian - Ode to my mother
It is therefore, with great honor and pride, that I share her story, in her own words under her real name, Shelley Adler. Today I celebrate her true identity and the rights she and all who have reluctantly or otherwise gone before, fought so hard to secure.
Laying Claim to Our Own Identity
I donʼt know whose clever idea it was for us to “claim” our own names, for us to call ourselves gay and lesiban, faggot and dyke. It bothered me at first, for about three years. But I worked at it. I called my friends and I called myself those names, and they donʼt hurt anymore. I donʼt know why it happened; I donʼt care. I call myself those “awful” names and sometimes I laugh and sometimes I donʼt, but I feel good.
Now after all that time and all that work, somebody is trying to take my names away from me. Maybe one of “them” found out those names donʼt hurt “us” anymore, found out we like those names; so now weʼre not entitled to those names anymore. Weʼre not even supposed to talk about “them”and “us” anymore. But there are differences between them and us. Iʼm glad there are those differences. Theyʼre the ones who want us to pretend weʼre all the same! We are not. We are different. I am not like them; often I do not even like them. I know many of them do not like me. Who would want any of us to really believe we are all the same? Our leaders, our doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs have enough to do to keep busy protecting our national, historical, cultural, social or whatever group welfare. They could not and should not pretend we are all the same, we are all equal, we are all free citizens entitled to our rights under the law. (There are just a few problems that still have to be worked out concerning jobs and housing and freedom from fear of homicidal homophobics, a few details . . .) They will protect us from the kids on the street corner who call us names and throw stones at us; but if weʼd just behave a little more decently, you know, dress more properly, walk right, act straight, they could do their job so much better: those kids wouldnʼt know who we are!
What happened to “weʼre all the same, weʼre all equal?” Admit it. There is a “them” and there is an “us”. I donʼt know who “they” are. I donʼt know who most of “us” are. Most of us are still in hiding. I do know to be careful of the kids on the street. Iʼm just now getting smart enough to watch out for those, whoever they are, who want to take my names from me.
I began to learn in a (nameless) therapistʼs office about “them” and “us”. He told me I should lie to protect myself, but he had no need to lie. He was definitely one of them, but I didnʼt make such distinctions then. I didnʼt think it was necessary. I was upset about a lot of things (who isnʼt?). I did not have enough of the doctorʼs experience, education, or expertise to know what to do about whatever it was that was really bothering me. I just knew there was one secret burning question that was driving me crazy: What? I a lesbian? I couldnʼt even say the word. Every time I did mention my “issue” he told me that wasnʼt the issue I had to deal with. I never did find out what the issue he wanted to talk about was. I didnʼt care, or care why he didnʼt want to talk about my issue. Was it all so simple? Was naming myself and accepting the name, the beginning of my “cure,” the end to my “illness”? He didnʼt seem to want me to find out; but I did.
I left my therapist. I went to my local clergyman, in my case, a Rabbi. I told him my dreadful secret. He said I was confused, I was naughty, but I was not a lesbian. He said there was no such thing.