4 min

Pride and grief

The cost of being a lesbian

As I stood at Nanaimo’s city hall watching the raising of the rainbow flag to declare the beginning of Gay Pride Week, I felt my throat tighten with emotion.

I felt a great deal of pride in myself and the many other LGBT folk who have fought homophobia and struggled to have equal rights. And yet, even as supportive words were spoken, I felt like crying.

Later, after rainbow cake, I had time to contemplate the emotion I was feeling-this mixed feeling of both pride and grief.

It seemed very easy for me to understand my feelings of pride. After all, I have been active in the lesbian movement for 35 years and have seen and experienced many positive changes. I have felt proud for not only surviving with my own good self-esteem but also for putting myself out there as a strong, proud lesbian helping other lesbians to feel good about themselves and helping straight people to love and respect us for who we are.

So why that big lump in my throat?

The answer, I realize, is grief.

I now understand that, along with the huge reservoir of pride I carry around with me, I also carry around a deep, deep feeling of sadness.

Indeed, looking up both the words pride and grief in the thesaurus I do experience all of the stated feelings – self-respect, dignity, self-esteem, and sorrow, heartache, pain. Ironically, many of the same experiences I have had that fill me with pride are the very ones that fill me with grief.

The grieving process is new to me. Not new in the sense that I haven’t known intellectually that grieving is important for emotional well-being. And, of course, I’ve also known that the numerous losses through death, relationship endings and coming out rejections have left me full of grief.

But grieving is new to me in the sense that I have found it very difficult to face and accept my sorrow, never mind actually letting myself express it.

Now I more fully realize that my fervent commitment to being a strong, proud lesbian trying to prove to the world that being a lesbian is truly a great thing to be has, in fact, resulted in the burying of my grief.

For me, it seems the feelings of pride and grief could not exist at the same time. Looking back, I think I feared that allowing myself to experience the sadness that being a lesbian can bring would only act to discount the very real pride that I felt.

Therefore I have never really allowed myself to grieve over the losses that come with being a lesbian.

The grief, for example, that comes with never really fitting in to society, never experiencing heterosexual privilege, always living on the edge of acceptability.

Or always having to work so hard to hang on to feelings of self-worth because one is constantly aware of the fact that the majority of the world’s population thinks you are a bad, abnormal human being and, at worst, would kill you and, at best, simply not accept you as an equal.

Or the grief of living without a sense of stability and security as one constantly has to decide if it is safe to come out or not.

Or the pain of remembering that lonely, scared-to-death 16-year-old girl in small town Saskatchewan who had the courage to come out even though everything she had ever learned about being a lesbian was that it was sick, unnatural and sinful-so how could she ever expect to have a decent life and be loved and accepted?

Or recollecting the heartache of hiding my true self from my parents until I was well into my 30s because I was so afraid that if they knew I was a lesbian they might change the way they loved me.

These examples of loss could go on and on. However, what seems to be the important insight is that while I truly believe that being a lesbian is absolutely fabulous and I am very proud of who I am, there has been a cost.

The cost is losing energy. The bottom line is that it takes a tremendous amount of energy burying one’s grief while trying to be a proud lesbian.

And so, the grief I have felt being forced to spend a lifetime expending so much energy just to feel good about myself-which should be my birthright in the first place-has exhausted me. Holding it inside has simply taken up too much precious energy.

So as I currently recover from burnout and depression I cannot emphasize enough how devastating using up all one’s energy is.

I can’t afford not to have abundant energy. As a mid-life lesbian I am not only dealing with the usual menopausal challenges, I am also facing the reality of aging in a culture that barely recognizes that LGBT seniors even exist.

I know that to thrive into my old age with any sort of grace and dignity I will need to acknowledge and express both my pride and grief so I can muster all the energy I can.

So if you see this big butch lesbian weeping, do not be alarmed. It is a good thing. I’m finally allowing myself to be vulnerable enough to grieve.

Vulnerable enough to face the sorrow from being who I am while also feeling really proud of it.

The blessing in this life lesson is that this grieving process I have finally started can only enhance my life as it frees up a huge amount of energy.

So look out world, this aging lesbian is going to be a power to reckon with!

Look for me. I’ll be the one with a hanky in one hand and a rainbow flag in the other.