3 min

My big lesbian Guatemalan wedding

Women all over the world find their courage

Credit: Capital Xtra files

We step out of the 4×4 and into the blistering tropical sun. The weather is so fierce here in the high mountains of Guatemala, everything is intensified – the air thinner, trees and flowers vibrantly electric with colour.

Land drops away immediately at the road’s edge. Wooden houses with tin roofs cluster here and there along the incline.

The only way to travel is by foot down narrow pathways washed away by torrents that gouged the earth during the rainy season. My breath is ragged. My lungs hurt. I try to maintain my footing, closely follow the guide’s lead. He is so nimble, sure-footed.

We make our way toward a low white building. He stops in the doorway, waiting for me to catch up. Finally, I can look at him more closely. He is short and thin, as so many of the Mayans are. But his dress is North American, sleek raven hair is pushed back from his face, gold-framed aviator glasses, dark linen pants, white shirt and a purple and ebony woven vest. With his chiseled features, he could be a movie star.

This building is a cooperative. Inside, women and children sit by looms or on small three-legged stools knitting. A clutch of them crouch against the walls, drawing needles through cloth. The women stand and gather when we enter. Their embroidered blouses have garlands of flowers stitched across their shoulders, around their necks. Heavy woven aprons cover their long black skirts. The women begin to tell me, in Mam – their indigenous language – about their work, their lives. He translates for me.

A young woman, her face lined beyond her years due to the hardship of her life, says this group first needs to thank an older woman, Isabel, who is standing next to her. Isabel looks down at the floor. She had the dream that women could come together to work, discover the artistry of their hands and improve their lives. She had courage, the woman adds, when we were told we could not do this. She led us by example.

Isabel, a slightly stooped woman, steps forward. Back before we came together as a community, she explains, a woman was the property of her husband. Our lives were confined to housework or, during the harvest season, hard labour in the fields that our men did not want to do. But now we have created a space, found our way. We share with our daughters and they learn they can make choices, raise their voices, be heard.

As I stood listening, I thought back to the night before I left Canada. Unlike the primary colours of Central America, Ottawa was a black and white world. A gentle but persistent snowstorm was layering the city. Inky trees and shrubs were weighted down with snow. I made my way carefully along the greasy road. I pulled into a parking lot and crossed into a building.

I was there to celebrate 25 years of love and commitment between a lesbian couple. The children from their earlier marriages were there to help them celebrate. Perhaps it was just that it was winter, but in that dusky room lit by candles, everyone was dressed predominantly in black elegant clothes.

I knew I would know some of the women at this celebration. But they had not arrived yet. Although I recognized a few who had already gathered, I had never had the opportunity to talk to them before. I began to circulate and introduce myself. The common question we asked each other, after introductions, was the connection to the couple.

Almost every guest told me that their connection went back to the ’70s, to the feminist movement, to women’s centres. Consciousness-raising gave them the freedom to speak out. This gave way to awareness that their sexuality was different, unique. Some left husbands and boyfriends; others faced rejection by parents and friends.

And there to lend sympathetic ears, to offer words of counsel, was this couple. They helped the other women along the path of their own choosing and in their own time. The two women had already had the courage to leave their husbands and bring two households of children together. Each guest I spoke to credited this couple with continuing to be there for them through the years, whether in times of laughter or in times that required difficult personal decisions. When I mentioned to the couple the mentoring role they played, the two smiled, modestly said, “Well, we are older then the others… it’s just that we had arrived there first.”

After the dinner and the speeches, the guests took to the dance floor, spinning and whirling to the soft music. Their movements accelerated and slowed as the beat changed. Patterns formed and dissolved. I thought of all the personal dramas within this community of friends. Their stories were the history of the Canadian lesbian movement over the past 25 years – the excitement of discovering one’s voice and then sexuality, the inevitable broken hearts followed by new-found loves, the determination to redefine community and family. And there in the centre, moving slowly among them on the dance floor, was the couple whose lives changed 25 years ago and who, as a result, helped change the lives of so many of those gathered tonight to celebrate lesbian love.