A Daughter and Mother Talk about Sexuality

(1971-72) A CWLU member writes about her coming out and her mother responds. by Elaine and her Mom (1971-72)

(In November of 1971, a Women's Union member wrote in the CWLU newspaper Womankind about her gradual self-realization that she was gay. In the January 1972 issue of Womankind, her mother answered with a letter.)


I was walking down the road holding hands with the woman I love. It was late at night, very dark, so no one could see us. I didn’t really care whether anyone saw me or what people would think, but she was embarrassed about showing our love when straight people were around. I didn’t care what they know; for me it was a great act of courage to openly show affection for another woman.

I haven’t always been like that. Most of my life, I couldn’t bring myself to show affection for women, for fear of being thought a Lesbian. In high school, the boys teased girls who were involved in close friendships with other girls. Ironically, I generally wasn’t teased because I kept away from such friendships. But at the same time, I was reluctant to get involved in “normal” relationships with boys.

When I was 20, I was a camp counselor for teen-age girls. I held myself aloof from the girls — even when they were going through some crisis, I couldn’t touch them or show any affection. Somehow it just didn’t seem quite right.

Even after I became involved in the Women’s Liberation Movement, I was disturbed when I saw women acting affectionate toward each other. Once when I saw two of my friends with their arms around each other, the only way I could justify that in my mind was to think,”at least, they aren’t Lesbians!” (That was a year and a half ago. They may not have been gay then, but they are now.) And when women talked of the beauty of other women, I hid behind my camera and told myself that the only reason why I admired women’s beauty was that I was a photographer and had a purely esthetic interest in it.

But gradually things changed. I developed friendships with women of a sort that I hadn’t had since before high school: close, trusting, loving relationships. I found that being a Lesbian is not as bad as I thought, to love another woman can be a beautiful and enjoyable experience.

And the change is not only within me; it is among a great many women I know. Within the last year or two, many women have become freer in their manner of relating to women. These are women who don’t necessarily define themselves as gay, but they feel free to show their love for women. Not too long ago, I again saw two women I know with their arms around each other. These two probably consider themselves straight —— at any rate, one is married and has children and the other is living with a man. I didn’t think that they were or were not Lesbians, because it doesn’t matter to me anymore.

your mother should know... by the mother of Elaine

Dear Daughter,

A few weeks ago you wrote an article for WOMANKIND on Gay Liberation. I read it and enjoyed reading it because I’ve read a lot of your writing and like it. Ever since your first story appeared in a nursery school bulletin—— “I saw a bird and another bird” —— I loved reading your writing. As much as I loved reading, I haven’t ever stooped to reading anything you haven’t permitted me to read.

In the same way I have always permitted you to read some of my letters, but not all.

I really have no comments on anyone’s sex life which may be part of my growing up with all the taboos or an enlightened idea that sex is not the single most important issue in the world that interests me.

In watching and helping you grow up, I followed a basic rule. Whenever you told me you were ready to do something on your own —— you did it, but as long as you wanted help it was given. So, in your growing up I came across A.S. Neil’s Summerhill which reinforced my ideas of children being allowed to develop at their own speed. Gibran’s The Prophet with the advice to parents that they can’t control their children’s thoughts or lives in their own images.

The pill came into existence during your teen years. I was appalled at a few parents of your friends who supplied their daughters with the pill. - It seemed to me that they were encouraging their daughters to enter relationships with boy friends earlier than they were prepared for emotionally. I was appalled because it seemed to be license and parental approval, but I knew that these parents also feared raising babies of their babies. But I never openly judged the parents too harshly.

On the other hand, interracial marriages were more close and I had to think out an answer of what I really thought. So, my answer that a man and woman can mate as a natural law whether their skin colors coordinate or their languages do, has nothing to do with the man-made laws of civil marriages.

So I’ve read a lot of writing on gay and not so gay liberation and my ideas are still pretty much unformed, but like any other union, it’s a decision between two people and needs no approval or disapproval from me.

You may have been born from my body (with a little help from Daddy) but you grew up outside of my body and you are not mine in a selfishly possessive sense. You are you.

Do you think I am avoiding the discussion of sex? I am not. Our whole relationship is just that. A whole. I really trust your judgment on what you want to do. When you want to do it. With whom you do it. This goes for the books you read, the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the people you know, the liquors you drink and your sleeping partners. And the mistakes, too. The whole shit. I love you very much.