As I approach my 50th birthday and celebrated Mother’s Day, I wondered when did I become an older woman? The carefree days of my youth flashed before me. The feelings conjured up memories of sneaking into the gay and lesbian clubs in Washington, D.C., cruising older women who looked at me with lust and amusement in their eyes. I was curious about the lives they led.
Were they out to their families? Were they in committed relationships? Marriage equality for same-sex couples was impracticable at that time. The thought of growing old alone frightened me. Where were those women now? How had they transitioned into the golden years of their lives? I imagined the stories they could tell.
As a little girl, I dreamed of having a wife. I wanted to take care of her the way my grandmother took care of my grandfather. I stumbled through relationships looking for the woman I could spend my life with, ‘til death due us part. The devastating grief from a recent separation pushed those dreams further away. I turned to the one person who made everything better. My grandmother soothed my anxieties about starting the second phase of my life. I was stunned when she told me that one of her oldest friends in her senior building came out to her. She told her about my article, The Closest is Crowded: The Hidden Black LGBTQ Community. I heard the pride in my grandmother’s voice. I listened intently as she told me of Miss Torres’ story.
She had been in a relationship with her partner for 27 years and helped raise her children. They separated years ago, but they are best friends to this day. She gets depressed because she cannot be herself in the senior building. My grandmother said Miss Torres wanted to speak with me. I was anxious as I dialed her number.
“Hola, Mija! Your grandmother said you would be calling. Listen, I must tell you how proud I am of you and how brave you are for telling your story. You will help many people. They will support you because they cannot tell their stories.”
We spent the next hour talking about how difficult it was for her as a young girl to hide her sexuality in a devout Catholic, Puerto Rican household in the Bronx. She spoke in hushed tones of how she would leave the house dressed in girl’s clothes and change into men’s clothes at her friend’s house. I heard the sorrow in her voice as she talked about moving out so that she would not shame her family. Just as quickly, I felt the joy as she reminisced about her first girlfriend whom she met while working on the police force.
“Oh boy! She was the finest thing in the department, and she came on to me. She had two children from her previous marriage to a man. They got a divorce, and we spent 27 years together as a couple. She is my best friend to this day. I wanted her here with me, but someone in this building started gay rumors about a neighbor and me. The girls in the office treat me differently now. I don’t want to lose my apartment. I’m afraid that people will judge me. But, your grandmother, she is my friend. Hearing about what you’re doing made me want to tell you to be bold and courageous. I love to hear about what your generation is doing for our community. We paved the way, your generation must carry the torch.”
Hearing her story lifted my spirits. I thought of the mission of Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE). SAGE is the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) adults. On May 18, SAGE Table events are scheduled across the country. The intergenerational gatherings bring LGBTQ people and allies of all ages together for a meal and shared experiences.
I thought of Miss Torres. She is counting on me to tell our stories, her story.
Monika M. Pickett is a veteran of the United States Army. Her debut novel, PRETTY BOY BLUE, will be available on Amazon on June 9, 2017. Pickett is an advocate and activist for the LGBTQ community. For more information please visit, www.PrettyBoyBlue.com. For other inquiries email firstname.lastname@example.org