By Rae Watanabe
I was having one of those days – the kind where I rushed from place to place and completely violated the idea of being fully present in every moment. I hurriedly stepped out of my car and dashed toward the restaurant for yet another meeting. Two beautiful young women, holding hands and in their own little world, yanked me back into the moment. Then, they noticed me, let their hands drop, moved away from each other, and let tension surge within their bodies.
At 49 years old, I wanted to scream, “No! I have worked all of my life so you can do that!” Instead, I just smiled to let them know it was all right and not to be afraid. The tension in their bodies dissipated and they smiled back. Later, I would realize that I still did not look stereotypically lesbian, whatever that means. After almost 30 years after coming out, older – usually butch – lesbians asked if I was lost whenever I’d wander into a lesbian bar and two young lesbians did not recognize me as “one of them.”
But am I still? A few months after that exchange of smiles between two generations, I would make the conscious decision to date a man. I had dated women all of my life up to that point, but I had also been through some fairly traumatic transitions, which could fill up a book. But that’s another story. Suffice to say, I am now 55 and married to a man who adores me, who supports my career by willingly doing housework, and who treats me the way I’ve always dreamt of being treated – with kindness and respect.
At the age equivalent of the speed limit, I have no complaints about my personal life, for I have discovered what heterosexual privilege is. Previously, I had only a textbook understanding of it. Now, because my husband and I enjoy traveling, I understand it in ways that make me sad – and sometimes mad – for openly gay and lesbian couples: There’s the warm welcome in small towns across America and Europe, there’s the best table with much fawning at fine restaurants, there’s the immediate greeting and superior service at designer to discount stores. I could go on; I won’t because I believe it’s hurtful to my amazing yet slighted gay and lesbian family.
Sure, same-sex marriage is legal now in Hawaii. I have attended some wonderful soirées. I have seen fantastic wedding cakes, my favorite being a tower of rainbow cupcakes! I have even introduced my husband, who is a videographer, to Melissa Etheridge’s music, so that he’d have a more complete offering of soundtracks for newly married fans of Melissa.
My life, my world, is easy now. My life, when I was younger and openly lesbian, seemed fractured in parts, no matter how hard I tried. Work seemed separate from home though I was “out”; I suspect because we live in a heterosexist world. It also seemed more of a struggle simply to exist in a world where I was sometimes not wanted nor welcomed. For me, that struggle is over.
A new one has emerged. While I enjoy my life now, I miss gay and lesbian culture. I make time to see my gay and lesbian friends because they really are the family of my heart, and a few still invite me to “big events” like when Margaret Cho comes to town. Often, however, they just forget to let me know because they don’t see me at “all the usual” places. I don’t take it personally, but I do enjoy going to see Margaret, Melissa, David Sedaris, Wanda Sykes, k.d. lang, etc. whenever they play in Honolulu. It’s just that, now, in order to do so, I have to do the asking. After a lifetime of being asked to events, I have learned to be okay with doing the asking.
Oh! There is one more struggle in my new life. It turns out that my husband, whom other heterosexual women have assured me is typical, hogs the TV remote. I told him that he treats that thing as if it’s part of his penis; he couldn’t stop laughing – though he wouldn’t let go of it!
Rae N. Watanabe has taught English at Leeward Community College in Hawai’i for 20 years, much to the detriment of her creative writing. Earlier this year, she made a conscious decision to return to her writing roots. This essay is one result.