Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Growing Up Lesbian

This diary was inspired by the national gadfly’s brilliant article I Was A Teen-age Sexist Chicken. It started as a comment and then with the  kind urging of Michelle Marshall it started looking like a diary. Michelle then really dug in, helped me with some editing, and provided the awesome pics. Thank you both for the inspiration and perspiration. I also want to thank Ani and my mother and my agent…uh…sorry, just went over the deep end there for a moment;~D

I think I was born a ‘radical lesbian separatist feminist from hell’.  And yet I am still a chicken when it comes to women and feminism.  These are issues for which I do not have a map and am fairly certain that is true for most of us.  I only have my personal experiences to draw upon. As do all of you.

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Growing Up

My earliest memories of gender and sex were different than everyone else around me (or so I assumed). Until puberty, I thought that God had mistakenly made me a girl. I identified with boys and had crushes on girls and women. I discovered quickly this was not acceptable behavior or thinking in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, and I learned to curb and hide any sexuality. After [redacted’s] mother caught us kissing in the fourth grade, I learned to be very careful.

As for the issue of gender, all I can say is that I was a complete tomboy, and I learned to be a feminist at a very young age. As long as I had to be a girl, I absolutely thought I could do anything a boy could. However, life and people worked hard to show me that I was wrong. In the summer, at our cabin, everyone knew me and accepted me for who I was. However, we moved a lot, and in the winter some teachers and other kids worked hard to teach me how freaking weird I was.

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While I had a couple of secret girlfriends after that, I learned that no matter how much girls would touch me, hold my hand or arm, or lean on me in public; I could not touch back.

After growing up overseas, my family moved to northwestern North Dakota, where my parents found work in a small town school system. We were in the middle of a flat, desolate, and sparsely populated part of North Dakota, fifty miles north of Minot. Upham was more of a cultural shock for me than was Tehran. After two long years there, my mom decided to get her Masters degree at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. She did it for herself, but did it for me as well in an attempt to bring me to a better place to live.

It worked. I came alive.

Coming Out

At the age of 18, I went to one of the first meetings of the UND Gay and Lesbian student group. While I was still a high school senior, I petitioned the superintendent to allow me to take classes at the University. No one had ever done this before, and I had to threaten to drop out of school to get him to let me off campus. A high school diploma was not required at UND. I only needed three classes to graduate and wanted to do something useful, rather than spend it at Central High.

University was awesome. I was not the best student unless it interested me. But it opened up a whole new world for me. At 15 or so I tried once, unsuccessfully, to talk to my Mom about being a lesbian. I chickened out. I never told anyone I was a gay until I moved to Grand Forks. Once I began classes, I started to get involved with student activities. My first big involvement was the newly formed gay and lesbian student group. One night in early fall, I mustered up every bit of my courage, and went to a meeting. Soon after, I came out to my parents, and became deeply involved in the group.

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Those first couple of years I majored in Dances 101, student speaking tours 102, conferences 103, and concerts 104 and 105.  I also helped start the Association for Women Students and was a intern and caretaker for the Women’s Center. We had an amazing array of speakers, musicians, and conferences over those years.  I met Bella Abzug, Kate Millet and Angela Davis, just to name a few.  I helped produce concerts that included Chris Williamson, Deirdre McCalla, Lucie Blue Tremblay, Teresa Trull with Barbara Higbie, and many more.  I got a minor in Women Studies.  I considered myself a radical lesbian separatist feminist from hell (my own creation).

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I was also a student senator for a couple of years and fought like holy hell to get funding for multi-cultural organizations.  We helped create a unique funding branch for cultural student groups as the Student Activities Committee were the most horrifying group of Reaganites I have ever met. Ok, the Student Senate was pretty bad as well.  We were fortunate to have a strong supporter in the Director of the Student Union and a lot of faculty and staff worked hard to create the Women Studies minor. UND has a strong Native American Center and Studies, Women’s Center, Black Student Center, Peace and Justice initiatives and many other activities for diversity.  It was fun times.

Feminism and Sexism from the Front Lines

I learned at some point that men are really not the (entire) problem and that feminism could be as rigid and dogmatic as any church or doctrine.  This disturbed me.  When we returned to the U.S., I realized we had fled one fundamentalist revolution only to return to another (think moral majority and Ronald Reagan), so I recognized the symptoms.  

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I do not like political correctness. I would rather that people think about what they are doing and saying, and not be so frightened to speak up. Whenever I want to know about something that is sensitive, I ask the person what they think about the issue.  Everyone is an expert of their own issues.

On the other hand, I believe that sexism may very well be the blueprint for all other discrimination. When someone in your life is considered inferior — your mother, sister, daughter or partner — it is my opinion that sets the paradigm for relationships with those who are different from us.  I believe that sexism, racism, and homophobia hurt everyone, even those who might appear to benefit from the oppression.

Embracing My Own Version of Feminism

I think I finally learned to appreciate being a girl/woman in my late teens. I remember the Gay and Lesbian movement of the late 70’s very well. I realized that I was a lesbian and
tried to come to terms with that identity. In doing so, I started reading every lesbian book I could find. Then I started reading feminist books, and found a real affinity for the feminist movement of the late 70’s and into the 80’s.

I no longer want to be a man.  I really do not want to be a man.  I like being a woman, and yet I am not sure what that means.  My Native American friends call gays and lesbians “Two Spirit” people.  I like that, as I feel I walk in both worlds.

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Am I a feminist?  Yes, but I no longer identify as solely a lesbian feminist, and I am certainly not a separatist any longer.  I have really good friendships with men.  My best friend is a gay man who is the same age as me.  I have two wonderful friends who I worked with when I was at the county.  They were both (initially) conservative, retired Master Sgts who liked to hunt and fish and do other traditional guy things.  I get along with most men I meet.  I get along with most women I meet as well.  I guess all I require in a friend is a good brain, the capacity for compassion, and the ability to change.  Oh and a sense of humor is essential.

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You may wonder why I think I am a chicken.  Frankly, I am a bit frightened by women and am sometimes uncertain about my feminist cred.  I will say again that I learned to be very careful with women.  Women still occasionally get touchy with me and cling to me.  Straight women will sometimes flirt with me.  It usually makes me uncomfortable, and I do not really understand why.  Perhaps I am still afraid of [redacted’s] mother.

I am not sure what feminism is anymore. I think that human beings are restricted by false roles and beliefs. Men should be strong and [fill in your favorite stereotypes]. Women should be compassionate and [fill in your favorite stereotypes]. In the real world, every human being is unique. All of our stories are different and yet the same. I don’t believe in required gender roles. Be who you are! I have learned not to give a shit what people think about me not fitting in. I believe I have had one of the most interesting lives I know of, and yet, perhaps I am just still afraid of the Director of the Women’s Center.


85 comments

  1. Holli,

    I am willing to bet that you have a copy of this book on your shelf right now:

    As do I.  

    I too believe that nuclear family sexism reinforces and demonstrates inequality to women.  It is the same model used for race, class, age, religion and any other form of oppression.  All work on equality is important.  No one’s suffering is more important than anyone else’s.  However, if the model of oppression within the family is not called out for what it is and then altered, then other gains will be lessened and possibly reversed.

    I’m just saying that I agree with you.  100%.

    -gadfly

  2. louisprandtl

    I am jealous that you met all those cool folks in person (Bella Abzug, Kate Millet et al) whom I only read about in books and news articles and columns. Your commentary on militant feminists’ rejection of men is well taken. However I always perceived that to be on the fringes orbit of feminism.

    While reading your diary, I was also perusing an article by Zubeida Mustafa and a girl named Guna Mina from another part of the World (Swat valley, Pakistan) where women are being denied education and other basic human rights in the name of religion. In this case all levers of the societal powers lie with the Men..

    http://swatstory.wordpress.com/

    http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/co

    The dichotomy of this World never cease to amaze to me.

  3. sricki

    And poignant. Many props to Michelle for helping you, too. This was a brave thing to post, even among friends. It’s hard to talk about this sort of thing publicly.

    For chickens, you and gadfly both are very brave ones indeed.

  4. Kysen

    I am glad you no longer adhere to the ‘radical lesbian separatist feminist from hell’ movement because this man loves ya, and is uber proud of ya right now.  😉

    I agree with sricki….for being ‘chickens’, you and Sir Gadfly are mighty brave.

    I am one who tends to watch from the sidelines during the discussions on feminism…ergo, I am one of the true ‘chickens’. I think it is great for the Moose to have these discussions….I know I thoroughly enjoy reading them.

    Sock it to ’em, Holz!

    /hugs

    (rumor has it you are forming a cult…can I get an application?)

  5. Jjc2008

    Poignant and worth the read.

    I find it interesting that I share so much with you…..in the “not fitting in” category.  I embraced feminism because of my childhood.  Like you, I was a tomboy.  LOVED playing sports, loved chemistry, math and all the boy things and was told that so many of the things I loved were off limits. I am a bit older having been born in 1945 and was a child in the 1950s.

    The only difference is that I am heterosexual having had crushes on athletic boys and men since as long as I can remember.  In some ways, I wished I was a boy but not for any other reason than being allowed to do things I was told were off limits.  If I could have changed, then I would have been a gay man…..because my chemical attraction to men is at times overwhelming.

    Not only do I love men (in the physical sense), I generally am chemically drawn to hard bodied jocks, some of who were hard bodied jerks.  

    I long ago learned that your physical attractions are no more of a choice that your physical tastes in anything.  Some say I am wrong.  But intellectually, the system turns me off. No matter how strong the animal attraction is to some, the prospect of living with them, marrying them and becoming subservient (which was the model I saw) was not an option.

    All in all, I have come to the conclusions that the most contented of us, learned early on to find our own paths….the road not taken and follow where the path leads.  That seems to be what you did.  Often that is scary and sometimes it seems simpler, on the surface, to just give in and be what others want you to be.  But you did not.  And that is the best story of all.  

  6. Neef

    Wonderfully written, and to me an incredibly valuable insight into a part of life I know little about.

    I may understand what you mean when you say “I am not sure what feminism is anymore”. I went through a disaffection thing with “afrocentrism” a while back. There are parts of it I admire, but I think the whole is flawed.

  7. fogiv

    …all I can say is “Wow”.  Thanks so much for sharing this amazing story with us.  Here’s what really struck me:  despite how different you and I are “on paper” (from gender, to sexuality, to background), I completely identified with many of the situations and emotional circumstances you describe.  Sure, the context and the variables may be different, but I susupect the feelings are very similar.

    At the end of the day, its a person’s failure (whether by ignorance or choice) to recognize the common humanity that links all of us together—no matter what we look like, who we love, and where we come from—that enable all the -isms.

    The indefatigable honesty in this diary is palpable.  What you’ve done here is perhaps more powerful than you recognize, Holli. Your words have the ability to change minds and warm hearts.  

    Huge thanks to Michelle for encouraging you post this.  Though we’ve never met, I’m happy to know you and count you among my friends—my world is the better for it.  

  8. What a thoughtful, honest and well written diary. I love your bravery and feistiness in the past, but also your openness and doubt now. I wish I too could understand quite what feminism means (or would mean) in a world/country/state of female equality. We’re not there by a long shot, but I know various women in senior professional positions (I have a thing for strong women evidently) and I see them also struggling how to marry solidarity with the kinds of competition society expects; I see them struggling with their own stereotypes of how their male and female children should be. I devoured Millett as a student, but now I find her analysis of patriarchy/male power to miss the nuances of the US or UK in the early 21st century.

    But I know a good and open mind when I see one, Holli – and that’s you.

    All your sentences bear repeating, but I liked this thought particularly:

    I no longer want to be a man.  I really do not want to be a man.  I like being a woman, and yet I am not sure what that means.  My Native American friends call gays and lesbians “Two Spirit” people.  I like that, as I feel I walk in both worlds.

  9. spacemanspiff

    bravo clap Pictures, Images and Photos

    Masterful. Looks like a dash of gadfly and a pinch of M&M destroyed the writers block.

    I hope that all those interested in joining Holliwood’s cult are serious about this. I’ve been devoted to the cause since it got its starts and it has really changed my life for the better.

  10. a deeply touching, interesting and relevant diary…  wonderful.

    i love this piece so much i would flirt with you a little but i wouldn’t want to make you uncomfortable 😉

  11. psychodrew

    ….that end up in this territory.

    I no longer want to be a man.  I really do not want to be a man.  I like being a woman, and yet I am not sure what that means.  My Native American friends call gays and lesbians “Two Spirit” people.  I like that, as I feel I walk in both worlds.

    As human beings we dichotomize and categorize things.  You have to be male or female.  In a relationship you have to have the “male role” and the “female role.”  I just wish we could all be people and the rest doesn’t matter.

    FYI, I love being a gay man.  I get to be a man and I get to have sex with men.  The best of both worlds in my humble opinion.  😉

  12. Holli De Groote

    It is so cool that there are so many peeps here. Thanks for all the nice words (and new rules on flirting with Holli).

    It was Ani’s birthday today and we had a really nice day. However, I am really beat and am going straight to bed. I really look forward to responding to more comments later.

    Have fun you little curlies;~)

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