I was the only obvious lesbian for a number of years in Australia.
This woman is a proud lesbian who started many lesbian organizations in Melbourne, Australia in the 1970s and beyond. Read and listen to her incredible story to understand her passion for creating awareness around internalized homophobia. The story was told in an apartment building lobby in Washington, DC.
I grew up in a time where the word "homosexuality" was never spoken. I’d never seen it in print.
I have never been attracted to boys. I had a friend from the age of 5, who told me he was a homosexual when we were in High School. No one ever told me what that word meant. He then proceeded to tell me that I was a lesbian.
I never thought about sexuality, I mean, no one thought about sexuality back then in Australia.
I said to him, “How would I know that I’m a lesbian?” All he would have had to say would have been, “You're in love with your English teacher.” I was madly in love with my English teacher. John didn’t say that, he told me I was a feminine girl, so I would be attracted to masculine women. I tried to think of a masculine women, and I thought of one that I saw in the street the other day. I realized I was not attracted to her. My English teacher, who I was attracted to, was quite feminine, so I just forgot about it. I asked him “what makes you think that I am a lesbian?” He said, “you’re the only girl in school who is not attracted to me.”
One of the things that I later became interested in was internalized homophobia because I began to see the damage it was doing to gay people.
John had a bad case of internalized homophobia. I could not possibly see what was wrong with being gay, even though I did not identify as gay at the time. I spent a lot of my time trying to talk John into feeling good about being gay, and hence getting rid of any trace of internalized homophobia I might have had. To me, John’s life was practically destroyed by his internalized homophobia. It was terrible and it was just an internalization of the homophobia that was around us...not so much for women because no one even thought about lesbians at that time. For men, it was terrible.
I was at the University of Melbourne when I figured out that I was a lesbian.
When I figured it out, I called John and told him. He started being helpful and tried to find lesbians for me to meet. He introduced me to people with whom I couldn't relate very well at first. Eventually, I met some lesbians whom I had things in common with, and started dating a little bit. I was trying to figure out who I was as a lesbian.
I was involved in setting up the first open lesbian organization in Australia.
I knew I wasn’t the only lesbian on Earth, but I had no idea how to find other lesbians. I became the contact person of the organization that I established with another woman. Gay people lost their jobs all the time back then for being gay. I was at the University of Melbourne, which was quite a radical place. It was during the Vietnam War, and quite a few of the professors were involved in protesting the war, so it was quite radical even though there was nothing gay there. I felt safe enough to be out at my job.
Lesbians of all ages would call and tell me their story. I was 19 years old at the time, and I was hearing stories of wasted lives, horrendous misery, and loneliness.
Some women would be forcing themselves into marriage, or being forced into marriage by their families. Many women did not even know there were other lesbians like them until they heard of our organization. They didn’t have a concept of a lesbian being an ordinary, decent person. I would hear these stories over and over, and my job would be to try and talk them into coming along to the organization we established so they can see for themselves that we were just ordinary people that had a sexual orientation that society hadn’t gotten used to yet.
A therapist tried to abreact me from being a lesbian, and tried to give me LSD.
I realized that there wasn’t much help around for lesbians, and that’s why I became a psychotherapist. I talked to about one hundred thousand lesbians. I am not exaggerating. The second organization I founded got national publicity immediately both on television and the national women’s magazine “Cleo Magazine”. Cleo Magazine did a very comprehensive 6 page article with pictures that painted us like ordinary people who were different in a particular way. The article demystified us. So, I became a psychotherapist to help fill that gap in Melbourne. The organization had become big and it was the second one I stared in 1974. It is still going on about 45 years later.
We have yet to get angry as a people.
What has been done to us as a people is horrendous. And it’s not very well understood. The stories I would hear from lesbians back then were too much to bare. I listened to thousands and thousands of stories, and for most of the people I listened to, I knew they would never be able to make a life for themselves; they were too damaged. It was too late for them. My partner died about twenty years ago and I’ve dated a couple of women.
I certainly want to find a partner. One of the reasons why I moved to the United States was to find a real lesbian community. Finding a real healthy lesbian community, and a partner, was one of my many motivations.
It is very hard for some demographics of lesbians to meet and find other lesbians. Now that I’m older, I am in that demographic where it is harder to meet other lesbians.
I’ve had difficulty connecting up my lesbian peer group since I’ve been here in DC. I went to Seattle, and I couldn’t find any lesbian groups that suited who I was. I figured there must be more of us, so I started another lesbian organization that is still going. Again, I haven't met anyone here in DC. I wouldn’t know what to do. I can’t figure it out here. I don’t know what’s doing.
I believe that internalized homophobia is at the base of an enormous number of issues that lesbians and gay men face.
Back in 2002, I did a whole lot of searching through literature about internalized homophobia and found almost nothing. I went online and did a huge study of lesbians all over the world. I got responses from over 80 countries. I then created a test to work out how much people were affected by internalized homophobia. I did that because most people don’t realize that it affects them.
I’ve been a relationship therapist and coach with lesbians for a really long time. I can tell that 30-40% of the issues that I’ve seen in relationships is internalized homophobia. It is much harder if one partner suffers from it, and the other doesn’t as much. The test I provided gave a bunch of information to everybody about what their level of internalized homophobia was likely to mean in their life, and how it could be affecting them. I then created an e-course for people to do. I had responses from people that said “you have saved my life”. It has continued to confuse me that even though gay marriage is legal in this country, homophobia is still ruining lives.
I have a PHD in human sexuality.
A lot of lesbian bed death is caused by internalized homophobia. There are all these jokes about how lesbians don’t want to make love, and how we aren’t proper women because our sexuality doesn’t work properly. It’s garbage, and it’s bloody social homophobia. We swim in a soup of homophobia every day, and it takes a very strong person who can stand up to that without being damaged by it. If I were to share any advice, it would be to look to your internalized homophobia, really try hard to find out if you suffer from it, and then fix it.
*John, who was mentioned throughout this story, was sadly the first gay man to die of AIDS in Australia. Th storyteller mentioned this fact once the recording ended.