“What’s wrong, Mommy?”
“Haley, I struggle with the same thing that your coaches do.”
She immediately stopped crying.
“Are you coming out to me, Mom?”
I said, “Haley, you’ve teased me for years about being a lesbian.”
At that moment, Taylor walked in.
“Mom’s coming out to me,” Haley said. “I need some therapy.”
Because I am a therapist, this was a common joke between the kids when something heavy needed some lightness. Taylor’s eyes flew wide open.
“Haley’s hockey coaches are closeted lesbians, and I struggle with the same thing they do.”
At the time, I had been married for twenty-three years to my college sweetheart, the son of a very conservative Southern Baptist family.
“Mom, it’s one thing for us to tell you that you’re a lesbian. It’s a completely other thing for you to tell us!”
….To step into the authenticity of who you are when you are a closeted gay woman—a mother to three girls whom you worship—married to a man you love and respect, is a complicated web of paradoxes.
This excerpt is from Micki Grimland’s “Living The Authentic Life,” one of the many hard-hitting, poignant, confusing, and often sexy real-life stories in Candace Walsh’s new book, Dear John, I Love Jane: Women Write About Leaving Men For Women, which was just published by Seal Press.
I’m thrilled Mothering Outside the Lines is part of the book’s blog tour. Before I could even crack the cover, a friend (who left her husband several years ago after she realized she was a lesbian) snatched my copy away from me.
I asked Candace about her life, her work at Mothering, and Dear John, I Love Jane.
JM: How did you first get started at Mothering magazine?
CW: It was so serendipitous. My friend Ana June was working at Mothering in the production department, and she passed along a job opportunity back in 2005: Mothering was looking for someone to fill orders for back issues and other items in their Mothering shop. My daughter was three and my son was almost one; I wasn’t thinking I could actually work somewhere without having to put my kids in daycare, which was not an attractive idea to me at the time. However, this gig would let me bring my kids to work, and I definitely felt in alignment with Mothering’s values. It was a great opportunity, so I sent a cover letter and my resume. Peggy and I met and hit it off. She loved that I had lots of editorial experience from my years as an editor and freelance writer in Manhattan, and so she hired me. When an editorial position opened up, I was promoted.
JM: What do you like best about your job?
CW: I love reading submissions. I love to read, and I love reading about big picture Mothering topics as well as the tender, honest and powerful personal essays that come in on a daily basis. I’m also a maven—so I love reviewing products.
JM: What’s the hardest part about your job?
CW: The hardest part is doing justice to the sheer volume of submissions that do come in. I wish I could be more communicative, that I could coach writers more, but I just don’t have enough minutes to do that and also fulfill my most pressing responsibilities.
JM: How did you get the idea to compile Dear John, I Love Jane?
CW: Well, when I was freshly separated and on the path of exploring my interest in pursuing a same-sex relationship, I didn’t feel like there were a lot of resources out there for women like me. I enjoyed anthologies that existed, but they were ten to twenty years old, and didn’t really speak to my experience as much as I had hoped they would. I wondered if there were other women out there with stories like mine—but further along, and I wanted to read those stories! So I wrote up a call for submissions. The response was strong.
JM: How common is it for women in America to leave their husbands for women?!
CW: I don’t think there are any statistics at this point that I could cite. As much as I wish that nobody ever got divorced, about half of all marriages end in divorce for a multitude of valid reasons, and many women are deciding to follow up on their pull toward a same-sex relationship.
JM: What are you hoping readers will learn from Dear John, I Love Jane?
CW: I see it as a resource for women who find themselves in this unique situation. I also see it as a model for women to notice how they might be eliding their own needs and not nurturing themselves, whether that has to do with making time to be creative, or for solitude, or for spirituality, or time to pursue a hobby.
Like it or not, a significant percentage of marriages, despite the best of intentions, do end in divorce. That’s just the way it is, though it’s not what anyone would prefer. So how do you help the parents to heal, to make the best of it, and how do you support them in being there for their children while also taking good care of themselves? Would you rather have a parent who got divorced and then remained depressed and flattened for the rest of their life, or a parent who used the crisis as an opportunity to grow into a better, happier, braver, more resilient person?
Many of the women who sent stories to DJILJ had already ended their last relationships with men before they fell in love with women. Some are still married, struggling with feelings they haven’t acted on—and may not act on. Some have decided to have open relationships. (That wasn’t an option for me, but far be it for me to judge when everyone involved seems content with the arrangement.)
When people get divorced, you generally don’t probe into the reasons and then judge the heck out of them. You accept it and support your loved ones as best you can. The cliche of husbands leaving their wives for younger women is not challenged, although it is a source of eye-rolling. People get divorced due to incompatibility, stubbornness, the inability to forgive, abuse both verbal and physical, and betrayal … the list goes on. Now there’s a new category—spouses leaving each other because one of them is gay. In the past, it would have been a secret kept, or something the straight spouse deliberately overlooked. Or, the divorce would have happened, but the gay element wouldn’t have been named.
It’s not so much that people are doing a new thing—it’s that it’s being done more truthfully, because there is more acceptance of people in same-sex relationships, and the need to conceal and deceive, to pass as straight, is not as great.
I often think of contributor Sheila Smith, who spent decades standing by her man even though she noticed after marriage that she had strong attractions toward women. Her husband left her for his much-younger female grad student. She stuck with her commitment, but her ex-husband didn’t—and because he left his wife for a younger woman, people’s eyes rolled but he wasn’t exactly run out of town on a rail. It seems so poignant that she made that sacrifice, yet received those results.
JM: Does the fact that the majority of readers of Mothering are in heterosexual relationships (at least for now), and you are very open about your divorce from your husband and current relationship with a woman, present you with any unique challenges?
CW: As someone who breastfed, co-slept, had midwife-attended natural childbirths (one at the hospital, one at home), doesn’t vaccinate, and strives to cook healthy meals from local, organic food … I relate to Mothering’s values and its readers very personally. I also relate to Mothering’s heterosexual readers because I identified as heterosexual for most of my adult life, and was married to the father of my kids for seven years. I also relate to the divorced and single moms, of which there are many, and the queer mamas too, as I am now in a committed same-sex relationship. I grew up in a born-again Christian family and thought it was wrong to be gay until I was eighteen. So I relate to people who feel strongly in that direction—I used to feel the same way, and I understand the thinking behind it. It clearly doesn’t resonate for me anymore, but it’s not incomprehensible.
I can’t really say that it presents me with challenges. Mothering is about authentic parenting, and I am a very authentic person, given that I’m not pretending to be happy in a marriage that was unsustainable, or valuing the status quo over what feeds my soul and animates my life. When a parent is living his or her own truth, while esteeming and being truly present for their children, that is a beautiful gift for a child to witness.
I can’t imagine being closeted when I have such an otherwise transparent relationship with Mothering’s readers in my blog and editorially. Who would that benefit, and how?
JM: Any parting thoughts?
CW: When we were being interviewed for Globe and Mail, Laura André, my co-editor and partner, explained that, “We didn’t want to glamorize or promote infidelity in any way. We thought of the book as a resource for women who were finding themselves in this situation. I would advise any woman about to embark on a same-sex relationship to make sure that her previous relationship was cleaned up, and to live with integrity, which means being respectful to your current or former spouse or boyfriend, as well as to one’s self.”
Readers, is this a book you’d be interested in? Have you ever been in a same-sex relationship or considered being in one? I’m eager to read your comments … On the subject of comments, a huge thank you to everyone who participated in the blog give-away last week. I’m reading all of the comments and will be announcing the winners (who will be chosen at random) this Friday. And I’ll also be filling you in soon on my poison oak disaster (my eye has been swollen shut, which is why I was off-line last week). So please check back soon!