I've been thinking about four women who formed two couples in my childhood. I've been thinking about Jane and Carla, Christine and Rachel. (No, not real names). I've been thinking about them in terms of explaining how it is that I, a hetero man, became so focused on gay and lesbian rights.
Until my parents divorced when I was six, we lived in Santa Barbara (my father taught at the university). Most of my parents' friends were academic couples. Somehow, early on, little Hugo figured out that adults seemed to come in pairs, just like my mother and father. In my life, it was obvious that sometimes a pair could be two women. (If my parents had any good gay male friends, I don't remember them). But I do remember Jane and Carla vividly. They had a sailboat, and one particularly happy memory from my childhood is of sailing out from Santa Barbara on a weekend afternoon, Carla guiding the boat, Jane and my parents laughing and watching my baby brother, me munching on chocolate. I felt happy and loved and safe surrounded by these grown-ups who loved us and each other.
The last Thanksgiving that we spent as a family -- before the divorce -- was, as I remember, a small affair. My parents invited just one couple: Christine and Rachel. I was only six or so, so my memories aren't clear. But I remember being clear on the fact that Christine and Rachel went together the way my mom and dad went together. I had no idea what sex was, or what being a couple really entailed. I just knew that most adults paired up, and that it didn't really matter whether men were with women or women with women. What mattered was finding another adult to be with. That seemed to be very important.
Though our early childhood memories can be deceptive, it seems to me that these four women were around at least as often as any straight couples my parents knew.
I haven't seen any of those women for years. My parents divorced, and I moved with my brother and mother to Central California. It wasn't until I was in early adolescence that I realized what the nature of those women's relationships had been. I was perhaps 13 when, in the course of a serious and thoughtful discussion about homosexuality, I rather innocently asked my mother if she knew any lesbians. She laughed and explained about Jane and Carla, Christine and Rachel. I was floored, and then realized "of course!" The word "lesbian" was used as a laughing pejorative by my male friends, who discussed the graphic details of women's sexual relationships with each other with a mix of excitement and revulsion. To be able to connect it to these four women whom I had loved and felt safe with was a profound awakening.
The very word "lesbian" to me still conjures up Carla and Jane's sailboat (that is, when it doesn't conjure up the residents of a Greek island in the northeastern Aegean.) I've got quite a few lesbian friends in my life today -- as well as gay male friendships. Indeed, some of the closest relationships I've had with women in my adult life have been with lesbians. While the stereotype of an older generation of gay women is of folks who were deeply mistrustful of men (often with damned good reason), I note that a great many younger lesbians today are able to form enduring, affectionate, truly honest and "platonic" friendships with straight men. I don't think we're going to get the straight man/lesbian version of "Will and Grace" on TV anytime soon, but we may be on our way.
I've wandered from my topic. Really, it isn't much of a topic at all. It's just that when I think about same-sex marriage or other homosexual issues, I flash back to these women from my childhood. To me, who they were and how they lived seem utterly normal, healthy, and good. It goes without saying that seeing these four women with each other did not harm or undermine me in any way.
And even now, when I hear words like "unnatural" or "immoral", I think about real people whom I loved and who I believe loved me. I think about sailboats, Thanksgiving dinners, and chocolate. And when folks start condemning or pathologizing women and men who lived and loved like Jane and Carla, Christine and Rachel, I get very, very, very angry.