Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Often when I think about lesbian mothers I think about foremothers. Foremothers are generally women that I haven’t met and women that I admire profoundly. Women after whom I want to emulate my life. Foremothers are important to me as a lesbian, but this isn’t about foremothers. This is about my lesbian mother. That term feels a little too familiar, since I haven’t talked to my lesbian mother in years now – long enough to elicit enormous guilt in anyone let alone someone like me who me prone to guilt. Nonetheless, I still want to pay homage to my lesbian mother.

What is a lesbian mother? A lesbian mother is a lesbian who meets and befriends you early in the coming out process, often before you can even say casually and aloud, I am a lesbian. A lesbian mother is the woman who helps you understand what it means to be a lesbian beyond the pages of a book or the confines of a barroom. A lesbian mother is first and always a friend and not a love interest. A lesbian mother is the woman with the confidence of being a lesbian herself who inspires you to want to be a confident lesbian yourself. A lesbian mother is the person with whom you can practice your lesbian look. A lesbian mother will gently correct you on all matters of lesbian etiquette from hair and clothes to dating and socializing. A lesbian mother will comfort you during your first rejection and celebrate with you after your first kiss.

My lesbian mother was a woman named Lynn D’Orio. I met her in the late 1980s. She was a member of the feminist collective at the Women’s Crisis Center. I joined immediately and she schooled me in the nature of consensus decision-making, understanding empathy in a group process, and having humor in the face of the impact of patriarchy on women’s lives.

Lynn was nearly twenty years older than me. I don’t remember her exact age because it wasn’t important. What was important is that she was older and wiser and most significantly she was able to share her wisdom without judgment. Lynn lived in a large and lovely house in Ann Arbor; I know because like all good lesbian mothers she invited me to her home and treated me as a friend and family member while I was there. She had matching furniture and a well-stocked kitchen. These are things that I aspired to have in my lesbian future.

More than physical things, however, Lynn had a confidence in herself and the conviction that she would do what she wanted to do in this lifetime and live the way that she wanted to live. This may be what I admired most about her when we were friends. It is definitely what I took with me from her as my lesbian mom.

Lynn’s confidence and conviction were tested when she was my lesbian mom. She and her partner of many years broke up. That brought her great sadness, but she handled it with strength and grace. During my own break-ups, I’ve chided myself for not emulating her more. Lynn went back to college to become a lawyer and in doing so left behind her life as a saleswoman. Now, years later and about her age when she befriended me, I find myself getting a master’s degree surrounded by young men and women in their early twenties. I now realize even more the challenges she must have faced returning to law school. I admire Lynn and even though we haven spoken recently, I remember her as a source of strength in my own journey.

I don’t think that I ever adequately honored Lynn as my lesbian mother. So writing this is in many ways my honoring of her friendship in my life. Lynn was a great lesbian mom to me, and I’m sure, as it’s her way, to many others.

Thinking about my lesbian mom makes me wonder: Who was your lesbian mom? How have you honored her? To whom are you a lesbian mom? How can you honor our community by being a lesbian mom to someone who needs one?

Julie R. Enszer is a writer and poet who lives in University Park, MD. You can read more of her work, including her blog, at www.JulieREnszer.com.

This is column #7 dated July 24, 2007 in the series, CIVILesbianIZATION.

Word Count: 696

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


A friend of mine has a four-year-old son. I have to admit, although it exposes my own internalized homophobia, that the first time we had my friend and her family for dinner, I worried. What would they tell Noah about me and my partner?

I’m used to heterosexual parents, who say they are fine with gay and lesbian people, fumbling with what to say to their children. Many times I’ve heard, “This is so-and-so and her friend,” followed by a quick subject change, or worse shushing of a child’s continued questions. I sold my friend short, however. She knew what to say.

She told Noah very clearly that this is the home of Miss Julie and Miss Kim and we were celebrating a very special event with their family, Passover. Noah, at four, didn’t need much more information. He knows that we live together, and we are a family like he and his mother and his father. He’ll get more information as he grows up.

Noah is one of the many reasons I always look forward to our Passover seder. Each year, Noah participates more in the seder; already he is asking about when he can find the afikomen. It’s these traditions, these shared, family traditions, that are going to make a difference for gay and lesbian people and our acceptance.

While our Passover table has never been as uncomfortable as the dinner table in Little Miss Sunshine, the movie demonstrates the same principle. It is fine to tell children about gay and lesbian people.

In Little Miss Sunshine, at the dinner table, over the protests of her father, Olive’s uncle explains to her his suicide attempt and that he was in love with a man. She dismisses his love for another man, but Olive’s life has been changed. She now knows gay people exist. As she grows up, she’ll learn and understand more, but for now the existence of gay people, the possibility of love between two men, exists for her. That changes her world, and it changes our world.

Sometimes heterosexual people ask me how they can support gay and lesbian rights. I’ve fumbled in the past, but now I know what to say. Tell your children, or your grandchildren, about gay and lesbian people. Make it simple and straight-forward. Do it with words they can understand. But tell them. Make the families and relationships of your gay and lesbian friends and colleagues visible to your children.

The time of believing that sexuality and sexual orientation are something in the adult world from which children must be shielded is over. Gay and lesbian people are a regular part of our everyday lives.

Whether we are partnered or not, whether we are raising children or not, whether we are your next-door neighbors, your teachers, your coaches, or your friends, we gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people are in your communities. Some of us still feel the need to render ourselves invisible; some of us still remain in the closet. More and more, however, we live openly as gay and lesbian. To continue to be open, to continue to live our lives visibly, we need the support and affirmation of our heterosexual counterparts.

You know us, and your children know us. Talk to them about gay and lesbian people. Keep it simple. Make it natural and in ways that they understand. Talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people to your children, no matter what their age, makes a difference.

It makes a difference for them as they grow up. Your children may be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, and knowing people who are from a young age will have a profound and positive effect on their ability to understand and accept themselves. Your children will meet other peers who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender; they can be a voice of support and compassion to other young people who may be confused or upset and who may not have parents as open as you. Your children will work with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people; they will live with them, and they will share with them throughout their lives. Talking with your children about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people now will make their lives easier in the future.

Help children to know gay and lesbian people early in their lives; help them to understand different families and different ways that people organize their personal and intimate lives. Don’t hide gay and lesbian people and their lives from your children. It makes a difference for them, and it makes a difference for us.

Julie R. Enszer is a writer and poet who lives in University Park, MD. You can read more of her work, including her blog, at www.JulieREnszer.com.

This is column #6 dated July 10, 2007 in the series, CIVILesbianIZATION.

Word Count: 776