Read this article.
It's a sweet-yet-also-sad story of an 88-year-old woman who is, for the first time, publicly coming out as a lesbian. As she says, "It took the death of my dear life partner for me to find the courage to come out of the closet."
It's when I learn of stories like hers that I stop and think to myself "Wow, despite being slow, and dangerous behind the wheel... old people can still be gay."
I'm kidding, I'm kidding!
Seriously though, it's when I heard stories like hers that I wonder how many gay and lesbian people throughout history have settled and lived a heterosexual life, or, what some would call a "normal" life. How many people who romantically and sexually linked better with people of the same sex, instead, due to societal and familial pressures married someone of the opposite sex? Implicit in this question, of course, is the old "homosexuality is a choice" argument.
And so yes, you can "choose" whether to marry a man or a woman, you can choose whether to have sex with men or women (or both), but you can't choose which behavior makes you happy. You can't choose what kind of romantic partnership fulfills you. And that's why I believe that sexual orientation has to do more with what's inside a person than in what behavior he or she outwardly displays.
I'm not a historian, but I have read many books and taken several courses in LGBT history, law, and psychology. It is also something that I continue to study on my own. That people would still "choose" to be gay in the face of beatings, McCarthyism, and regular raids on gay bars is a testament to how sexual orientation, that inner part of a person, is not, in fact, "chosen." And, it's a testament to how relatively lucky we (meaning gay people) are now- with our gay bars and clubs (in some cities), our gay pride parades (in some cities), and some legal protections (in some states). It's not enough, of course, but we can at least look back and see that progress has been made.
And, as someone who as a child had the luxury of believing that I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up, I have great respect for women who found ways to live with other women during a period when women had severely limited career options and often had to rely on a husband('s salary) to get by. And because of these limited career options, it should come as no surprise that the numbers of lesbians, historically, have been lower than the numbers of gay men in the population.
In sum, at the end of her essay, the author questions her courage. I don't. Even though she is just now coming out, she had the courage to live her life with the person she loved during a time when the world was mostly hostile, sometimes indifferent, and rarely accepting of her love. It is very likely that her family and friends knew her secret as most people know that "roommate" is very often a code word for a same-sex partner. (Especially when you've never been married and have lived with the same woman for 44 years.)
So yes, people knew. But she still lived her life the way that was right for her.
So here's my shoutout to Ms. Barr!
(and here's a shout-out to Genevieve for sending me the story!)