JOURNEY TO WHOLENESS
No Secret Anymore
By Jude LaClaire, Ph.D
Adrienne Rich in her book, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence (1979) says, ‘Women’s love for women has been represented almost entirely through silence and lies. The institution of heterosexuality has forced lesbians to dissemble, or be labeled a pervert, a criminal, a sick or dangerous woman, etc., etc.” Though these words may be less true today, they still affect younger women, and the effects on women of earlier generations are still very much an issue for many. This is not just a social or political issue as belonging and acceptance profoundly affect our mental health.
In over twenty years of writing mental health articles, only two of them dealt with LGBT issues. It is true I have been on panels, given talks, and worked politically for the rights of LGBT people, along with other minorities for many years. As the culture becomes more open and accepting, I have become more aware of my unconscious ‘lies’ about myself.
In 1977, I came out to myself, my siblings, and a few friends and colleagues. I left my marriage and Kansas City, moving to Minneapolis, thinking I would never tell my parents, whom I feared would probably have heart attacks on the spot. My mother persisted in her questions about my life and I wrote my ‘coming out’ letter to my parents. Upon my return to Kansas City, I gave my mother the book The Church and the Homosexual by John J. McNeil, a Jesuit priest (expelled by the Jesuits in 1986 for ministering to gay and lesbian people.) Neither my mother nor father ever discussed it again. My partner and I were accepted as part of the family, unlike many others, even today, who are rejected by their families.
As a counselor, I was not out publicly as I saw children, families, and couples. I shared this information selectively to protect myself and my daughter. In 1984 I nearly lost custody of my daughter in a court battle with my ex-husband. Their case was based entirely on the prejudice that I was an unfit mother as a lesbian. These kinds of experiences tend to silence us in ways we may not be aware of at the time.
As with any minority, our stories are important, and the recognition and acceptance of one’s identity as the ‘other’ is so important. Reading books by women of color like Isabel Allende, Amy Tan, Maxine Hong Kingston, Alice Walker, and others, helped me as I saw them, through their amazing writing, embrace and courageously affirm their otherness, that was disdained and persecuted by the culture. Lesbian women have been, like many other women, silent about who they are.
Two women pioneers that helped Lesbians affirm themselves healthily were Del Martin (1921-2008) and Phyllis Lyon (1924-2020). I found and eagerly read Lesbian/Woman (1972), which became a foundational text for lesbian feminism. The documentary, currently on Amazon Prime, No Secret Anymore (2004), details the amazing lives of these two women. Their home of over sixty-six years in San Francisco was just unanimously granted city landmark status. They were founders of a group for Lesbian women called Daughters of Bilitis in 1955. They spent their lives working for justice and equity for, not just lesbian women, but all women, founding many other groups. They were both journalists and wrote other important books and articles.
The need for belonging and self-acceptance is necessary for our healthy growth and development, and our success in relationships and areas of competency. Wanda Sykes in I’ma Be Me (on HBO, YouTube) says it is “harder to be gay than black.” She very humorously talks about not having to come out black to her parents. She brings out a lot of the prejudices against gays; not born gay, influenced by gay people (seduced and recruited) by them, God doesn’t like it, etc, etc. It is a very humorous and truthful perspective on being gay in today’s society. She shared that when she spontaneously came out at a Prop 8 rally in California, she felt liberated and can now speak freely about herself.
A 2008 study, “Coming Out For Lesbian Women” (Jordan, Deluty) found that the more widely lesbian women disclosed their sexual orientation, they were less anxious, had more positive affectivity, greater self-esteem, and received greater levels of social support. The Supreme Court decision approving gay marriage (2015) redefined new dimensions of freedom for new generations. By approving the validity of personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, gay and lesbian people can positively define their personal identity and beliefs.
My personal experience as a woman and a lesbian has challenged me to form my own perspective of myself rather than accepting that of the society; its culture, religious beliefs, and definition of a healthy person. It is our challenge to acknowledge and affirm each aspect of our identity in a healthy, positive, and productive way so that no part of us is left in silence.
Jude LaClaire, Ph.D., LCPC is a counselor and educator at the Heartland Holistic Health Center. She is the author of the “Life Weaving Education Curriculum” that teaches creative, effective, holistic problem-solving. For counseling appointments (confidential video sessions), seminars, in-service training, or speaker’s bureau, call 816-509-9277 or firstname.lastname@example.org; www.heartlandholistic.com. Some pro bono and lower fee sessions available at this time.