Growing up Gay
Gail was born in 1953 in Covington, TN, raised as a cloistered southern girl in a time where most people didn’t even have a word for being attracted to the same gender, let alone any knowledge of how to explore the culture. But she always knew she was different from other girls. Her indomitable spirit, fiery personality, and insatiable curiosity set her apart just as much as her sexuality. In addition, her brother was clearly gay from a young age, so instead of teaching him about things like cars and guns, her father taught Gail. She came of age during the sexual revolution of the late 1960s and early 70s, and fit right into the era of free love. “The word bisexual came up,” Gail recalls, “and that was what I was, and I was non-monogamous. I knew that word, and I liked that idea. Even when I got married, I was not monogamous, and it was just the expected thing. Sex was something you just did, it wasn’t an urge.”
She married young and birthed her first daughter, Heather, in 1971 but her husband was a Vietnam vet with a host of mental issues. The United States Military convinced her it would be best to divorce him, thus denying her benefits. She graduated with a degree in teaching, but was terrified to start work in Indiana, as Anita Bryant was making her campaign against allowing gays and lesbians to be teachers. Instead, Gail married a wealthy farmer in 1975 and had two more children. Her husband did his best to snuff out the life and joy she brings to those around her, but, as it has been proven time and again, that was impossible. She was non-monogamous with him as well, and he greatly enjoyed setting her out to procure women to join them. His abuse was also physical. Several times, his beatings put her in the hospital. Her mother would come to visit her at these times and ask what she had done to make him so
angry. She wanted a good, stable life for her daughter, she said, and would encourage her to patch things up with him.
In the middle of the night on Independence Day of 1984, Gail snuck out of the farm-house with her children, leaving her husband and his 6,000 acre farm behind to start a new life in
Chicago. After the divorce he began spreading rumors around their town, making sure she could never come back. “Every married woman that was messing around on the side with another woman in Pike County, Indiana got blamed on me. I had ‘brought them all out.’” Gail laughs to herself. “I would have, if I could have, but I didn’t.”
Soon she began a career as a nurse, working in labor and delivery, and, for the first time, fully admitted to herself that she was a lesbian. Her parents reacted poorly to her sudden break with tradition and lesbianism, but Gail was hell-bent to live life the way she wanted, and no one would stop her from achieving that goal. Having been burned a number of times, she had given up any hope of ever finding love, content with a never-ending series of friends with benefits and living, thriving, and earning a name for herself in the Chicago leather scene.
Deb was born in 1968 in Ballston Spa, NY, to stuffy parents, with a deep need to keep in step with social mores. She attended Catholic school in Marseilles, IL, and in the second grade, fell in love with her teacher, declaring that next year she would grow “one of those” and marry her. When her mother found out, she told Deb, “You’re just a girl, and that’s all you’ll ever be,” Deb recalls. “And it broke my fucking heart.” After that, Deb withdrew into herself and became an observer, rather than a participant. In 1984, she came out to her Catholic high school by walking up to the biggest gossip in school, and telling her she was a lesbian. After that, she became even more isolated, turning to writing to express the pain and dejection she felt, contemplating suicide often. “I kind of just hunkered down and decided, ‘Okay, you can hold your breath for three years or 2 years or 1 year until you’re out of here.’” When her parents found out, they told her they would refuse to pay for college unless she dated a few boys and started wearing dresses. Deb flat out refused and threatened to join the Navy.
She attended college, after all, at the University of Illinois in Champagne-Urbana, earning a degree in English Rhetoric in 1990. Still hiding in her shell, so to speak, she didn’t have many friends. In fact, often she was picked on by others. Her compassion was confused for weakness, and was used by flirtatious girls with a curious streak who wanted to lead on a trusting butch lesbian.
Deb continued to write, and began going out to bars in Chicago for dollar drink nights. She met women and made friends, but had no lasting relationships. The thought that she would one day have a family never crossed her mind, and, before she met Gail, never imagined she would fall in love or experience the passion, connection, and respect that would come in the following years. “I had kind of given up,” Deb recalls.