love psychoanalysis queerness

Lesbian pain

A backlit girl in silhouette has her hands raised in a door-like opening. Beyond the opening there is a large body of water, out of focus. The larger context, which I have cropped out, suggests that the girl is about to jump into water, or use a zipline. The cropped image gives a sense of isolation, surrender, and a jump into the unknown.
Photo by Марьян Блан | @marjanblan on Unsplash, cropped by me.

1. The other day I quoted three lines from Gentleman Jack — I am sure they are pretty accurate but I am quoting by heart.

2. As always, I can’t write in full discursive paragraphs about this because my mind is tired and fragmented, so let me use again numbered paragraphs.

3. I have always known that being a lesbian made my life difficult, but this TV show, alongside painful and incremental seeing of myself as someone who had a lesbian childhood/adolescence/twenties/life in analysis, ripped a veil of not-knowing.

4. Women go to great lengths to convince themselves that “it’s nothing.” Gay women, straight women, trans women, all women.

5. Ann Cvetkovich talks about lesbian trauma (trauma qua lesbian) in An Archive of Feelings, which I read years ago (this is not a perfect digital copy but it’s free so THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH to those who put it online!). The second chapter, “Trauma and Touch: Butch-Femme Sexualities” does particularly good work at describing the kind of pain that butches, and femmes, in different ways, accrue simply in virtue of being. The kind of butch the chapter describes is very much not the kind of butch I am, though, so, even though I was really taken by this chapter, I couldn’t apply it to me.

6. Still, if you don’t know anything about lesbian pain and lesbian trauma, this is a good thing to read. It’s particularly good because it emphasizes how femmes and butches heal each other in ways that an uninformed, quick-judging eye would find dysfunctional (hint: it’s not dysfunctional if it helps).

7. My non-lesbian, lesbian-ignorant analyst has brought me here. She has created a space in which I can grieve decades of ungrieved lesbian trauma. Sometimes you need a lesbian therapist. Other times you just need a good therapist.

8. The instant the veil of not-knowing was ripped I knew everything. The parts fell into place like tetris bits. I knew and knew and knew. And I knew that this pain started pretty fucking early.

9. Parents of queer girls: don’t underestimate the suffering of teeny tiny queer girls in playgrounds, day cares, and kindergartens. The world is truly, really designed to make them feel like they don’t belong, however good the intentions of those who surround them.

10. [flashback of tiny me tantruming in my underwear because my mom wanted me to wear a skirt].

[flashback of early grade-age me approaching the director of the choir I sang in and loved days before Christmas night because he had said, “Boys wear blue pants and white tops, girls wear blue skirt and white tops” and I knew that a) I would have to miss Christmas if he didn’t allow me to wear pants and b) I would (probably) have to lie to my mom as to the reason why. People: I loved that choir. I loved it so much I was crazy about it. And I. would. have. missed. Christmas. night. mass. Small me approaches director: “Can I wear pants?” Director looks at me puzzled, waits a beat that lasts a lifetime, then, barely thinking, says, “I don’t see why not.” People: this kind of relief, you get it a handful of times in your life. I ran all the way home and jumped on all the little walls and cavorted like mad in the street because I could sing at Christmas night mass].

11. But no, no, no, these are not good examples. These things are easy for an aware parent to catch. This is what is difficult:

When your little girl’s heart is silently and inconsolably broken because the little girl she is friends with and loves passionately does not love her passionately back because she, your girl, is just too different and the games she, your girl, plays are not the games the little friend plays and yes, yes, they are friends, but the little friend is mostly friends with other girls who are more like her. And your little girl bends herself over backward to find points of commonality: she asks to do homework together, she walks her little friend home, she brings her cookies — she tries all the things. And her hopes are raised with each successful and intimate encounter, then dashed like clockwork the following hour or the following day.

Your little girl has awesome little boy friends she gets along with like a house on fire, and a beautiful little girl friend you can do absolutely nothing to convince to passionately love your girl back.

12. Sometimes the little friend is her sister.