As a writer, I simply cannot just “change my profile” or hit the “like button” on a red box to tell of my journey of acceptance of gays. I needed to write it down, so I finally knew what I thought.
As a young girl, growing up in a small town, whose population was predominantly white and Catholic, I had little exposure to anyone considered a minority. There was Jon, an African-American, who worked at my dad’s shoe store. Inherently funny, and creative, I never saw him as black, only a person in my father’s employ.
There were the Puerto Ricans, yes, they were from Puerto Rico, which Lorain County at the time had the highest population of Puerto Ricans per capita, other than New York City. They were customers at one if my father’s store, which had been located in South Lorain, known for its crime, yet my father and uncle still chose to situate a store there to serve that population. When working in that store, I learned a new language, and watched many customers pay using food stamps. I often wondered about my father’s choice in location, but he never shied away from assigning us duties there. I can’t say I accepted or denied the existence of Puerto Ricans as minorities. After all, they were bascially the entire customer base. But I did treat them like anyone else shoe shopping, and, they had the BEST taste in shoes.
In high school, I recall one young woman who we always suspected of being a lesbian, and as young people, we all threw around the terms of gay, lesbian and homosexual, as if we knew what we were talking about. We were so naïve.
As I went off to college, my field hardly allowed for exposure to gays. The math and sciences were dominated by young white, Asian, Indian or other foreign-born males. The gays were majoring in other fields, more artistic endeavors, at least that was the perception in the 80’s. However, I did feel myself the minority within these male circles, and fought to overcome my insecurities every day. I could never discern if Lebanon-born Maher was approaching me for a date, or to converse in COBOL but we persevered regardless, and I was blessed to attend his citizenship ceremony two years later.
Later began a series of jobs, undertakings which took me inside the corporate world, but never inside the world of where the gays lived. It was only known to me that in Cincinnati, Northside supported a strong population of gays.
Then, I met Phebe.
I had been active in a writing center, Women Writing for a Change, for several years, having had outstanding support during the publishing of my book and other endeavors. I was leading a group of women who were creating a new podcast show for WWFC, and someone mentioned asking Phebe.
I had heard Phebe’s name in other circles at WWFC, but we had never met. All I knew of Phebe was that she had gone through the WWFC leadership training and she was a lesbian. One day, my husband and I were in, of all places, Northside, and bumped into Phebe at a lunch spot. We had just been in contact with her to join our group, so she and I both considered the run-in fortuitous.
I could not know in that instant that Phebe was a rock star in the Gay-Lesbian world in Cincinnati, having been the archivist of the GL archives, that she had promoted diversity before I had been born, that she was a poetess extraordinaire, who, as I discovered when I read her poetry, saw the world in the same way I did, or better yet, captured it in word in the same manner as myself.
As I began to know Phebe better, I watched her, as she struggled to find a meaningful relationship. She was approaching or maybe had hit sixty, and this seemed to elude her in life. Perhaps it was because, for Phebe, the act of loving a person wholly and committing to them for one’s entire life had been considered a sin, an act of treason against the sanctity of marriage. I always wonder if that had held some back.
One afternoon, she arrived for a meeting, literally floating on air. She had met Judy. I swear Phebe stayed afloat the entire length of the meeting, and probably drifted back home, unable to recall the events of the meeting, or the commitments she had made.
We, my circle members and myself, watched in awe as this sixty something became a teen, anxious for phone calls from Judy, coffee with Judy. The relationship progressed and the excitement heightened as Judy moved in.
I have been fortunate to meet Judy, hosting her in a writing circle, and embracing her during events at WWFC. I feel like I know her, in the same way Phebe would embrace my husband Mark and my kids.
In my darkest times, Phebe not only brought me joy, and modeled happiness and reckless abandon and love, but she taught me a lot about self-care, as she instituted it for herself. Her emails to me, when I had to back out of commitments due to parent duties or shoulder rehab were full of reminders to care for the self first. “Go slowly and let everyone else wait,” were words that echoed inside my head each day.
Phebe is at once friend, writing sister, and mother. To many writers, she is a mid-wife of their words. When it was time for me to return to a writing circle, I chose one Phebe was leading. I was in need of a mid-wife and mother.
I often thought it was a shame she didn’t have children, even though she owned a few dogs. If she had had children, or for any child with gay parents, I would hope they would not similarly be knocked over by the pendulum that has been swinging back and forth on the issue of gay marriage.
Perhaps I am a bit like Rob Portman, impacted only when coming face to face with these issues. I always said though, if people knew Phebe, they would never take a stand against gays or lesbians again. I also believe gays and lesbians are some of the truest people I know. They have done the soul work. Their commitments run deeper because they have had to dig deeper to make them.
So, I will stand tall in defense of Phebe and her choice to love and marry, despite the great struggles it brings, despite what the courts decide. The pendulum has swung. I hope we don’t knock everyone over once more.