The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Foundations of LGBTQ studies, from a more personal perspective

About two weeks ago, I read a book for my “Foundations of LGBTQ Studies” class that changed my life forever: “A Desired Past: A Short History of Same-Sex Love in America” by historian Leila J. Rupp. I would have preferred to read a book titled “A Desired Present” or, better yet, “A Desired Future”, since I will be graduating in eight months. But, from the first sentence of the book I went from wondering, “What the hell am I going to do with my life?” to “What the hell is my mom doing with her life?” I should have known from the title and cover of “A Desired Past” that this was not an ordinary history book, especially since it started with a personal story.

Rupp opens by explaining that her “Aunt Leila has lived with a women for as long as [she can] remember,” in fact, “they were just like a married couple.” They lived in the same house and shared the same room, although they had twin beds. As I read more about her aunt, my stomach sank as if it were becoming a black hole. Then, I felt as if my whole body were being sucked into that black hole as memories of my mother and her “best friend” started to flash in front of me like a VHS tape gone wild. Then the comparisons between “heterosexual” couples and my mother’s relationship with her “best friend” began to run through my head—they slept in the same bed for over eight years, raised the daughter of her “best friend” together, paid their bills together and have always been inseparable.

I decided to tell some of my friends about my suspicions and to my surprise they were unalarmed! One of them even smiled and said, “Umm, I have always wondered about your mom’s ‘best friend’. You always mention her when you talk about your mom.” I guess it is true. They are not only physically inseparable, but their names are inseparable in conversations! I could not believe that I was the only one who had never questioned my mom’s sexuality. I think it became normal to constantly associate my mother with her “best friend,” since they have lived together for over ten years; it never seemed strange to include her “best friend” in my family’s decisions and future plans.

Before I came out to my mother, I seriously thought she would kill me if she knew about my attraction to women. I am part of a conservative Christian family that owns three Evangelist churches and preaches all over Central and South America. I mean, we are con-ser-va-tive. Growing up, women in my family were never allowed to wear pants, make-up, jewelry or listen to secular music or dance. But now I think I understand why my mother could empathize, to a certain point, with my sexuality. Then again, she has repeatedly said that she would prefer for me to deny my sexual orientation and for her to live a lie, believing that I will one day marry a man. She has even said to me, “I don’t understand, Sara, why you would tell me you were. . . If I liked women, I would never tell anyone, let alone my own mother.” But her love for her “best friend” is so strong that I can only wonder if she has ever considered the possibility of being a “lesbian.”

After reading the first five pages of “A Desired Past,” it seemed there was no question about it: my mom was gay and she would never admit it. However, Rupp later indicates how necessary it is to have terms that help us better understand that love and sexuality do not always have a direct relationship to sexual identity. She also introduces the concept of “romantic friendships” as “passionate, intense, loving, physically affectionate relationships” between people of the same sex. At this point in my reading, it seemed my momma could fit underneath the umbrella of the term “queer,” under a sub-label of lesbian known as “semi-romantic friendship.” In other words, “my mom is gay.”

Does my mom’s intense love for her “best friend” automatically define her as a “lesbian?” But what if a woman has never had sex with another women? Is she still considered a “lesbian?” Could she be “bisexual?” Or is she just “lesbian” who does not know it, or is in denial? Should society be allowed to identify her as a “lesbian” when she herself does not identify that way? So what exactly does it mean to be a “lesbian?” Maybe a general “queer identity” fits better, but if so, what’s the equivalent of “queer” in Spanish? At the end, who is benefiting from stamping a label on my mother’s forehead? Her? My family? Society? The Gay community? Me?

As I kept on reading, I realized that sexual orientation is not a multiplication chart where the results are definite. The thing is that the “sexual orientation equation,” which determines sexual identity, contains multiple variables and coefficients, such as gender, culture and language to name a few. The definition of sexual identity is much more complex than many people realize. I will be using this space to write about issues of gender, sexuality and culture through my own experiences in my personal and academic life.

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