In definition, part 2: Bonjour, self
Exploring the concept of lesbian identity in two parts.
This part of a series on lesbian identity. For the first half of this discussion, click here.
Having left the gay comfort zone of San Francisco to move to France, I am (re)discovering that the process of my coming out has the potential to be a lifelong battle. Finding myself in a new culture, in new situations and on the brink of forming new relationships outside of the gay community, I am once again faced with the task of negotiating my identity to those who may not be accepting of who I am. Of course, I can keep my lesbian identity in the shadows, but this leaves me questioning: “Why should I?”
Thinking back to when I made the decision to come out to my family, I realize that I could have used a more tactful method. I was young and I was experiencing my first love with a woman. I was in awe of this woman; I felt proud of our relationship and I felt the overwhelming desire to include her in all aspects of my life, which included introducing her to my family. Our relationship gave me the strength that was needed to expose my lesbian identity, to which point I called my mother and exclaimed “I am in love!” She asked me his name and I corrected her with “well…her name is…” This produced silence on the telephone and unfortunately it came to produce some silence within the family for the next several years.
Without knowing it at the time, the inner struggle of coming out to my family helped to lay the groundwork for all of my future “coming outs.” This process not only showed me how relationships can be altered, but it also taught me that I must be mindful in the ways in which I reveal and share my true self.
Fifteen years later, there is an acceptance of my lesbian identity within my family. I was able to gain their support in my decision to move to France in order to be with the woman who I intend to be with for the rest of my life.
Now I am in a new country, a new culture, learning a new language and I am reminded that I must be mindful in how I share my identity. I don’t want to hide such an important part of who I am because I am unknowingly afraid of individually exposing myself in a new culture. I also don’t want to silence such a large part of my identity simply because I am in unfamiliar territory.
Truth be told, in the states I felt more knowledgeable of the cultural and social attitudes towards the LGBTQ community. I was able to recognize certain social cues, which in turn assisted me in knowing just how much of myself to reveal. Here, in France, I am undoubtedly still learning. I am learning how to live and I am learning how to respond.
So, how can I be free to fully embrace my lesbian identity in culture that I was not born? When I was “jokingly” asked the other day, “Well, you do like boys, don’t you?” what was I to say? When people I meet ask me why I left San Francisco to move to France, do I sidestep the question in order to not mention that the foremost reason I moved is because of love?
Sure, I don’t have to tell anybody anything and I can reveal my true identity to only those who I know and trust within the gay community; however, something about this feels wrong to me—why should others contribute to the feelings of guilt and shame that I struggled with for so long in my younger years? After all, I am proud of who I am.
So here I move forward, learning more and more about how to be in my new home, my new country. I continue to pose questions to you and to the community to seek answers that will assist me in my journey of cultural immersion.