Friday evening, as my husband and I are getting ready for bed, I tell him I think I’ve fallen for a girl. That night we have passionate ‘I can’t stay in this marriage anymore’ sex.
A few weeks later, I whisper into my new girlfriend’s neck, ‘does this mean we’re lesbians?’ Hand squeeze says it all. Coming out to each other.
We (she and I) decide to tell a mutual friend. Picture us sitting, falling silent in the face of visible shock, horror and disbelief. Followed by implosion of our world, our social circle, our community – the disgrace of two mothers in the babysitting club having fallen in love. We leave with our tail between our legs. Embarrassed. Outcast. Shamed. Our husbands receive letters of support.
It’s Monday evening. Our lives are in turmoil — hers, mine, our children’s. I’m determined to do it tonight though, determined to ring Lesbian Line, to catch a waiting-by-the-landline-advice-giving lesbian (Mondays only, 8-10pm). First challenge: how to sneak away from husband, child and mortgaged 3-bedroom home? Second challenge: how to ring the number while braving the cold, the traffic noise, and my fears? Down the Telstra payphone line, I cry as she listens to my coming-out story.
One of the babysitters tells me she’s worried I’ll crack onto her. We stop meeting at the corner for our early morning walk up the hill.
We learn quickly. Don’t tell, don’t hold hands in public, don’t kiss on the bus. Nothing to be seen here.
I come out to my sister who’s also a lesbian. Excitement. Laughter. Acceptance. What, when, where, how… details please? At last someone who understands.
But coming-out to my daughter is not so easy. At ten, the impact is enormous. I explain as best I can, telling her over and over, ‘if I’m happy you’ll be happy’.
My daughter tells me it’s hard at school. She has to decide who to tell. She has to decide whether to come out or not.
I try coming out to old friends, try to explain what happened, how it felt like going from one train track to another. No time to think, to assess options. How my body and heart just took over. I answer their puzzled, perplexed questions as honestly as I can. Go to my deepest feelings. How a heterosexual life is no longer an option, how the impulse was so strong. Too strong to resist. These friends haven’t talked to me since.
I tell my aunt, in her eighties. She says it’s not possible, because I have a child.
Christian parents. This is going to be tough. They know I’ve left my husband, that I’ve broken up the family unit, that I’m a wicked daughter — but they don’t know that I have become the worst of all possibilities, a lesbian. I delay as long as possible. But then, one day I write a considered letter (or so I think), together with a book about how to be the mother of a lesbian daughter. I wait and wait and wait for the response. Eventually a registered letter arrives. One sentence still sticks in my mind: ‘you would be better at the bottom of the sea with a millstone around your neck’.
As for my father, he stood solidly (read silently) behind her. Later, he tried to repair some of the damage. But by then dementia had set in — silence remained his only possible response.
I choose not to come out at work. I learn to use the ‘they’ pronoun when talking about my girlfriend, my lesbian partner, when saying what we did on the weekend.
I come out to a student — accidentally. It was following a sociolinguistics lecture on how pronouns can mark gender and how ‘they’ can be used to hide the gender of our partner. Later she tells me how important this was and how it gave her the courage to be herself. The courage to come out to her parents.
I tell the book club that I am a lesbian because this month’s book has a gay man as the main character. One woman shouts at me because she doesn’t ‘believe’ in lesbianism.
My brother gives me Bible verses to think about. He doesn’t believe in lesbianism either.
Another sister shouts at me. She says my sexuality, my lifestyle, my love of a woman goes against God’s will.
I refuse to go to a family wedding because they invite my child and I, but not my lesbian partner. I refuse to go to my mother’s funeral unless my partner is allowed to come as well. I insist on being out to them.
We pull up at the Coonabarabran motel. My partner stays in the car while I go and check-in, making sure she is not in his sightline. Hoping he doesn’t realise there are two women and only one bed. Hoping he doesn’t insist on giving us a twin single.
How exciting — I see other lesbians at my daughter’s school. We don’t come out to them — they find us… We’ve begun to look like lesbians, behave like lesbians. We start monthly women’s dinners. We start a new family.
I don’t want to tell my GP that I’m a lesbian. I only come out to her once the media has given us the more socially acceptable phrase of ‘being in a same-sex relationship’.
Very sadly my lesbian partner dies. A few weeks after, a tradie rings up and asks to speak to her. I tell him she has passed away. He offers his condolences and asks if we were like uh together, like uh a couple, like uh husband and wife? I whisper ‘yes’. He says ‘I thought so’.
My name isn’t put on the front of the Death Certificate, even though we have been together for seventeen years, civil-unioned for three. I tell the ‘Births Deaths and Marriages’ clerk, over and over (crying, reasoning, reiterating) that this legal document is not a correct record. Eventually they agree to make the changes.
It’s 2019 and I tell the tradie I’ll have to check with my wife. He doesn’t bat an eyelid. We arrive at the Airbnb and the lady isn’t confused because she only has a queen size bed. One of us doesn’t hide in the car while we check in. We tell the GP that we are a couple. We buy a house together. My sister invites us to her house. My brother lets us sleep together, in the spare queen size bed. I tell my colleagues I got married. My daughter is proud to have a new step-mum.
As I write this coming-out story I’m sitting by the lake, tapping away on my laptop, my wife’s head snuggled into my lap. A woman wanders past and we start talking. It turns out she’s also a writer. ‘What are you writing?’ she asks. I don’t let on.
Jo Rendle is a Canberra-based writer and linguist who has recently retired from fulltime academia. She has always written creatively alongside her academic publications and now has the time, space and energy to focus on her creative writing practice. Her most recent publications include a short memoir piece Gilbert St, early morning published in Press: 100 Love Letters and a short essay, Expiry, a Last Breath, published in The Sky Falls Down: Anthology of Loss.