Growing up, I had a best friend whom I did everything with. During the summer months, we were practically together from sun up until sundown. Now, back in the day, we didn’t have cell phones and texting or even email (yes, I’m that old) so we had to wait until a respectable hour of the morning to get together and, in my mothers words, “run the neighborhood”.
My friend’s father was in the Air Force. They managed to stay settled in one place for about 6 years but he got reassigned to a base in Texas when we were both in 8th grade. She moved and I never saw her again. Oh, I talked to her on the phone a few times but again, back in the day, long distance phone calls were pretty expensive so we eventually lost touch.
When I look back now, at my friendship with her and later at those with two other young women that I met as a result of that friendship, I can see that I had a romantic attachment to her of sorts. It wasn’t a full-on crush mind you and there was no physical relationship, but all of the other “relationship” signs were present. I realize now that I loved her very much. When I figured it all out, I immediately realized that I had out-and-out romantic crushes on the other two friends and in both cases, in different ways, my feelings were returned. In one case our rivalry to get at the other was so intense we blocked out everything but each other when we were in the same area at the same time. In the other, we couldn’t wait to see each other and talked via phone when we couldn’t – which was most of the time since we lived in different school districts and had different schedules and commitments.
Where am I going with this? Well, I think all of us that now identify as gay or lesbian but who didn’t always do so, can look back into the past and pick out the points in our lives where we were in relationships that should have been a sign of our true sexual orientation. Researchers have deemed these sorts of relationships as “romantic friendships”. Interestingly, through the late 1800s, intense romantic friendships, and in some cases sexual relationships, among adult women were, while not commonplace, pretty widely accepted as a fact of life.
In her book, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America, Lillian Faderman, Ph.D. has documented very well the history of lesbianism beginning with the age of acceptable romantic friendships, moving through the sexual awakening brought by the roaring ’20s, the freedom of the free love 1960s and the feminist movement of the 1970s and ’80s to the world we found ourselves in at the dawn of the 1990s. Faderman examines butch/femme, feminists, lipstick lesbians and everything in between. She’s a scholar and an academic with a natural talent for taking an intense reasearch topic and translating it into a fascinating and entertaining read that you won’t want to put down.
From the Library Journal:
Faderman charts the evolution of the concept of the “lesbian” as a 20th-century social construct and shows how love between women, once known at the turn of the century by such terms as “romantic friendship” or “sentimental friendship,” came to be called “lesbianism.” What was once not a realistic alternative to marriage became possible as women became educated, demanded equal rights, and came out of the home and into the workforce. With increased opportunities for independence, women no longer needed men’s financial support to survive and, as a result, love between women was no longer perceived as innocently as it had been in the past.