Cover Story: Who's That Lady?

A lesbian mother figures herself out

May 10, 2001 at 2:06 pm
Jymi Bolden

Vinnie Ray says she found true freedom after being truthful with herself, her son and her friends and family.

Shhh.... She's that way. What's that mean anyway? My mother always referred to one of her friends' sister as being that way.

I'm not sure I knew what it meant when I was young, but I was sure it didn't mean anything nice. Or something I wanted to be.

And what about "bulldagger?" Where did that hideous term come from? It sounds like an instrument of torture.

And what of the one word closest to describing who I am?

"Lesbian" was not even a word I heard until I went to college.

So what's the big deal about being that way? Why does it strike such fear, loathing and angst in those who aren't that way?

Whenever I saw women who were that way, I'd look for signs showing through. Surely they'd betray what that way meant. I couldn't stop staring. Up and down, around and up and down.

I'm sure these women assumed me a strange child. Never speaking. Only staring. That was my prepubescent M.O. It was some time before I began to understand that that way had more than a little something to do with sex. And not in a good way.

Now here I stand. All grown up, I am the single mother of the best 10-year-old boy. He's fully aware of what that way means.

He understands that way is me, his mother!

He knows that, as his mother, I live honestly, in the full light of my sexuality and everything it encompasses. That is, the literature I read, the movies I see, the women I love and the organizations whose fundamental beliefs mirror my own are end-over-end and unto themselves the sum total of the life-sized, fully realized version of that confused little girl who once sought definitions in the physicality of female strangers.

I sometimes look for the marks on me that might show the signs of being that way. No marks, no signs.

People don't even suspect me, because I don't fit that bulldagger prototype. You know the one: boy haircut, men's clothes and, of course, the walk.

See, they get lost in the Diva. I'm femme, divorced and a mother to boot! But sometimes I feel like an imposter or a poser. I put people at ease, so they speak freely of their homophobia in my presence. Often I have the energy to take people on, but other times I just stand there amazed at the ignorance, fear and hatred.

After four years in a heterosexual marriage and five years with a lesbian partner, I'm out here on my own with my boy, and life is good.

I've feared outing myself, because of what life would be like for me and, more importantly, my son. What would his friends' parents think? Well, the truth is I'd rather not be part of the narrow lives of those parents who wouldn't want their kids around my wonderful son because I'm that way.

I'm out to most of the parents my son spends time with. I've been received warmly. Though some parents might hold certain opinions about my sexuality, they haven't voiced them to me or made them known to my son.

Once my sexuality is known, he spends as much time with his friends as always. I'm not sure if parents fear me less because I look "normal." I think I demystify some of their fears and stereotypes.

Maybe being who I am helps them to better be themselves.

My family is supportive and so is my work environment. What I mean is that I'm able to live my life without always thinking about myself as that way.

I talk openly about my weekend with my family, friends and colleagues without playing the (pro)noun game. Don't know the game? Well, it goes like this: "This weekend I saw the best movie with a 'friend' and then we went to dinner and 'they' ordered the best dish."

If you've never had to play the pronoun game, it probably isn't a big deal. As an exercise in futility, try talking about your life and romantic interests without ever hinting at gender or mentioning names.

And what about all the talk when people are planning weddings? Not a big deal, eh? Well, just wait until I talk about my commitment ceremony with my partner.

A little uneasy? Turnabout isn't such fair play after all.

While I don't walk around wearing a sign or logo, I do feel comfortable living my life without fear of losing my job or alienation by and from friends and family. This skin I'm in is new, a phenomenon as recent as the last year. The demise of my five-year partnership brought with it liberation from the pain it caused and the ongoing fear of being that way.

What's the saying? Out of the closet and into the streets! ©