Michele O'Mara

Get Real

Filed By Michele O'Mara | November 10, 2010 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: lose your mask, self-help advice

No one is ever surprised when they learn I am a lesbian. Well, I suppose my grandma did seem a little taken aback, asking, "How did that happen?" Interestingly though, aside from my appearance (or some sort of lesbian vibe I emit) I am seriously lacking when it comes to a lot of common stereotypes of a lesbian. get_real_big.jpgMy friends even tease me, saying my card-carrying status as a lesbian is in danger!

Of course we don't actually carry lesbian identity cards. That would be silly. The process is really much more efficient than that. The Bureau of Motor Vehicles provides an endorsement that is placed directly on our driver's license.

Ask your gay and lesbian friends if you can see their driver's license. If they are really gay (meaning they passed the Gay or Lesbian Endorsement Test at the BMV), there should be a faint rainbow that is visible over his or her photo when held at the right angle, in the right light.

Okay, so that's not really true.

Can you imagine if there was such an endorsement? I can see it now - we will all be provided with a government created, computer generated test. I'm thinking the Lesbian Endorsement Test might look something like this (remember, this would be created by the government):

  1. _____Do you hate men? (clearly the test would be different for gay men)
  2. _____Do you have multiple pets that you call your "children?"
  3. _____Do you have a motorcycle, or a valid license to drive one?
  4. _____Do you have season tickets for a WNBA team of your choice?
  5. _____Are you a vegetarian?
  6. _____Were you considered a tomboy growing up?
  7. _____Do you wear patchouli?
  8. _____Can you find whatever you need at Lowes (your favorite store) without asking?
  9. _____Is your hair uncharacteristically short for a woman?
  10. _____Are you currently on a recreational softball team?
Now anyone with any sense knows that this test is nothing but a pile of stereotypes. Obviously. Clearly this test is not accurate. Because if it were, I would not get my endorsement!

I can only affirm two answers, and with serious qualifications on them - number 2 (and if it weren't for my wife and sons I would have no pets) and number 6 (and I have pictures to prove it!). For a long time # 9 applied, but I can't even claim that one now. So according to this test I am roughly 20% lesbian.

The point is, and I do have one, there is no right way to be gay or lesbian. There's only a right way to be you. The only right thing is to be real. Be yourself.

Despite my failure to meet the above qualifications for the Lesbian Endorsement Test, as I indicated already, most people I encounter assume I am gay. And I'm good with that. In fact, I find that it's a good strategy to assume all people are gay unless it is revealed otherwise. I appreciate it when folks get the clue without my having to break it down for them. I want people to know I am a lesbian, and for one reason only, because I am.

Once while shopping for cars with my partner Teresa, the salesman asked, "Are you two sisters?" To which I replied, "No, we are partners." Still not getting it, he said, "Oh, what's your business?" Without skipping a beat I said, "LOVE." He didn't ask us another question.

Those who are heterosexual are quick to talk openly about their boyfriend/husband or girlfriend/wife, and many are so bold they even frame pictures of themselves with their heterosexual significant others, and broadcast their relationship right there on their desk at work! They go on and on about their weekends together, future vacations, house shopping and all sorts of indicators that they are heterosexuals together.

It's easy to know who they are. These people can't stop flaunting their heterosexuality to save themselves! And I love it. Heterosexuals are real in ways that they take for granted. They are real in ways that they don't even stop to think about. They are real about their lives without even thinking because it is socially sanctioned, and encouraged to the point it's not even a thought anymore.

Gays and lesbians on the other hand don't generally feel as comfortable to express their true selves. I find that disappointing. Many of us have been brainwashed to believe that censorship is the key to survival. Perhaps that's the appeal of Halloween. I was reading an article by David Frum online at the CNN Opinion (11/1/10) where he traces the roots of the modern day appeal of Halloween to the gay culture.

The "masked culture" first developed by the gays of San Francisco has reached across the lines of orientation -- and now jumped across the boundaries between nations and languages.

The article goes on to say, "In 1994, University of Florida anthropologist Jerry Kugelmass published a book on the new trend, "Masked Culture," describing Halloween as an emerging gay "high holiday."

Halloween is not my high-holiday (just another ding on my lesbian endorsement record.) I was never too into costumes growing up, though I did win my kindergarten costume contest. I was an angel. That was the same year I got my tongue stuck to the frozen flag pole on the playground. Priceless irony.

Halloween is now centered around the joy it brings to my sons, and my wife too - because she, who is never mistaken for - or assumed to be - a lesbian, loves Halloween. Her lesbian endorsement is probably safer than mine will ever be because she also loves animals (more than people, really). She drives a big truck. She has read every Rita Mae Brown book written. She was a Martina Navratalova fan before I even knew who she was. And she even had a vegetarian parent who rode a Harley, so she's probably floating some endorsement points vicariously too.

My wife and I are very different "kinds of lesbians." Mostly because we are just different kind of people, and we are people first. We have personalities, likes, interests, strengths and challenges that have nothing to do with our being gay.

If someone offers you advice about how to be a lesbian, I suggest you thank them kindly for their words of advice and immediately erase them all from your short term memory. Then pick up a blank journal and write on the top of the first page "Who I am..." On the second page: "What I think..." On the third: "How I feel..." On the fourth: "What I love..." and on the fifith, "What I dream...".

Fill these pages with your truth. Whatever that is. Start by taking your mask off at home. Then begin to live those pages out in the world. Keep filling them as you age, change, and grow.

I feel so grateful to spend so many hours each week with people sharing themselves honestly and openly, without their masks. It is my favorite thing about being a therapist, and I can't help but like each and every one of the people with whom I work - because they are real.

People who know us best are able to because of one thing: we are real with them! When we are real, people can know us. When people know us, they can feel close to us. When people feel close to us, they like us. When they like us, we feel comfortable to be real. What a perfect circle.

So that's why I say - get real. However that looks for you. Lose your masks, create your own brand of gay or lesbian. Just be yourself.

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ShannonTucker | November 10, 2010 1:52 PM

Michelle, thank you so much for a really important article. I am a transsexual lesbian; woman-identified and woman-oriented. The truths you touch on here are really important to my transition. I sometimes criticize and doubt myself for not being "woman enough." And I ask, "Woman enough for who?" Most of the time I doubt that I am woman enough for me. And that's when I absolutely have to take a step back and remember! MY transition is not really about being a Woman near so much as it is about Me being Me! That I am more comfortable being me as a woman, it is in the end about being me.

Again, thank you for your time and heart in this article. Should be required reading for everybody, gay, lesbian, transgender or straight!

I wish we could make distinctions between negative stereotypes and things which are simply popular in gay culture. I enjoy gay culture and I've learned not to feel guilty about the fact that I like decidedly gay things and talk about gay issues more than others. Subcultures are an interest of mine. And I enjoy the community that exists in subcultures.

Yeah, internalized oppression is a problem, but it still starts from the outside. I never hear people say they should be the stereotype. On the contrary, if you fit stereotypes you're probably going to get shamed for being "too gay." I get crap all the damn time from lesbians for being "too gay." As if I'm perpetuating stereotypes just to make their lives harder.

When I was 12, I cross-dressed for Halloween. My friends and I decided to go as sort of a campy nuclear family, and I got to be the Dad. My Mom said I looked like a dyke. I had no clue what a dyke was, but it sure was fun to get to wear a suit and tie. And I got to do so without getting picked on. Well I mean, any other day my Mother would not have let me leave the house that way.

Halloween, like Gay Pride, can offer a safe space to experiment expressing your true self if your true self is really very different. Which is sometimes the needed first step to doing that 24/7.

Shannon thanks for your comments.

GrrrlRomeo - good observations about the value of Halloween in creating a safe place to "experiment expressing your true self." I guess I'm just saying, for me, that's not good enough.

I welcome the day that we can all do that in society-at-large, like every other teenager trying on his or her identity. I'm thinking there's a problem when we have to put on a mask to find ourselves.... counter intuitive. The gap between what is, and what I hope will be, when it comes to safety-at-large for all of us (gay or not) is still just too great for my liking. That's all.