Sometimes I think I should have two biography pages, one for before Past Imperfect and one for after. Because these novels and this site really did change my life. No lie -- this writing stuff is dangerous! Keep that in mind should you ever feel the urge to try it.
The top part of this biography is the Basic Edition. The Deluxe Edition is below the solid line. If you venture below that, don't say I didn't warn you.
The quickie rundown of my professional background: I hold a degree in English literature, but have a strong background in science as well. After graduating from university, I miraculously managed to combine both of my interests in a job at a public aquarium, where I helped manage a corps of 300 volunteers and taught them the marine biology they needed in order to interact with visitors. My proudest accomplishment at that job (besides acquiring several dozen honorary parents and grandparents) was accrediting my 10-week training course with the local community college. That really meant something. Being able to hang out with the animals after hours was very cool, too. I had some wonderful moments when it was just me and the jellyfish.
After seven years of working for love, not money, I parlayed my experience at science writing into a position at the science center next door, working for a state university cetacean research program. Our group studied the migrations and movements of several endangered whale species, and while some of that job was intensely tedious (may I never write another federal grant proposal again, please god), it also gave me some incredible opportunities. I staffed an eco-tour to Baja California Sur, Mexico, every year for six years, and never got tired of seeing gray whales in their breeding grounds. How many people get to pet a gray whale in the wild and collect a paycheck for it? I also went in the field for two month-long research expeditions in the Sea of Cortez and the Gulf of Mexico, which resulted in close encounters with more species of whales and dolphins than any English major has a right to.
In addition to my full-time job, I worked for both the city recreation center and the nearby Siletz Reservation, teaching Pilates five days a week. If you want a way to keep your desk job from giving you a chair-shaped ass, I'd recommend that. I taught for four years, loved every minute of it and hope to pick it up again in my new home.
In November 2006 I resigned my positions with the state university, the city, and the tribe, sold off most of my belongings, packed up the rest, said goodbye to my family and friends, and moved halfway across the globe.
So I guess that would bring us to the personal part of this biography, because I left a few details out of that last paragraph. Deluxe Edition warning!
The quickie rundown of my personal background: I'm an American expatriate, late of my beloved state of Oregon, and now living in southern Portugal. Yeah, they're a little different. I miss Oregon every day, but I couldn't stay because what I needed was here in Portugal: my heart.
I thought a lot about putting this information online, and decided that it's the right thing to do. The online community saved my butt, so it's only fair that I give back what I can. If anyone reading this is questioning her sexuality or wondering about coming out of the closet or just feeling alone, perhaps my story can be a piece to your puzzle.
Past Imperfect was written in my old life, when I was still a heterosexual. A married one, in fact, and my husband beta-read that novel. Talk about NOBODY getting a clue. Present Tension was written a year later, when my denial ability was waning. And by the time I was writing Future Perfect, I knew I was in serious trouble. There's nothing quite so awful as knowing you've made a really huge mistake, and that correcting it is going to hurt, confuse and worry just about everyone in your life, including people you really love and don't want to hurt. And the worst part is -- I'd already come out once, 17 years earlier. But I was only 21 at the time, scared and unsupported and having not a single clue as to where I could find anyone to help. Today's online community would have been a godsend, but it didn't exist in 1988. My first coming out didn't result in any feelings of belonging or freedom, it was just scary and alienating. I gave up the whole thing as a bad job, went back into the closet, and managed to repress all of it so well that I really, truly thought I could live happily ever after with the man I married.
The thing about repression is, there's only so long your brain will allow it. After that it starts to leak out. In my case, it leaked out in the form of fiction, where I wrote about the kind of relationship I wished were possible. Past Imperfect was my safety valve, my dream world, and a way of putting a tiny little sign on the Internet: "Hello? Is anyone out there?"
Turns out there are a lot of people out there. I met people all over the world, heard all kinds of personal stories, and realized that my situation was by no means uncommon. And I finally found the support network that I'd needed all those years ago. These people gave me the strength to do what had to be done, and I am forever grateful to them.
One of them was a woman in Portugal named Maria, whose life experience was remarkably similar to mine. We struck up a close online friendship based partly on that shared experience and partly on the fact that we were both total science geeks as well as literature lovers. The friendship turned into a physical attraction, and that turned into "Holy shit, what the hell am I going to do now?!" and eventually into a face-to-face meeting in the Lisboa airport. By the time I flew home 16 days later, I had finally put a name to all the conflicting and very confusing emotions I was feeling. At 38 years of age, I was in love for the first time. And I was so sorry that it wasn't with my husband.
Then came the really hard part. I told my husband the day after coming home. He wasn't surprised, because he already knew of my physical attraction. I'd told him about that as soon as Maria and I had acknowledged it, because I couldn't stand lying to him. Lying to myself was one thing, but knowingly doing it to my husband was another. His response was that I should go to Portugal and find out what I needed to know. Now, five months later, I knew. We agreed to divorce.
The next day I told my parents. And then my best friend. And then a few people at work, and some other good friends. One thing nobody ever told me (and this really should be in the Lesbian Manual) is that coming out is not a one-time deal. You do it over and over again. Some people choose to do it over a period of years. I'm impatient; I'd already been in the closet way too long. I came out to just about everyone in a period of two weeks. And every single time I told someone new, I cringed, waiting for the judgment. In my case, expectations far exceeded reality. I expected the worst, but found out how cool my friends, family and coworkers really are. Which is not to say there wasn't anger and betrayal and judgment, because there was. Just not as much as I'd expected, and eventually almost everyone got through it.
I moved into an an apartment and spent a year in limbo, sorting out my personal and professional life while preparing for my relocation. Because when I flew home from Portugal, I knew I was going back. Maria has a son and shared custody; she was not free to make a choice. I was. She did, however, come to Oregon and live with me for a wondrous ten weeks. By the end of that time, we were certain of our partnership and had convinced my friends and most of my family as well.
Fifteen months after that first trip, I flew back to Portugal for good. It was the most emotionally wrenching and difficult year of my life, but my single regret is that I didn't do it earlier.
THE UNSOLICITED ADVICE SECTION
There are a few bits of advice I'd like to offer for any readers who are now questioning their sexuality or thinking about coming out. There's no manual for this (though god knows I tried to find one!), but if anything in my experience can help, then I'm glad to give it.
First of all, nobody can tell you what the right choices are for you. You're the only one who knows. But I can assure you, from personal knowledge, that nothing compares to the exhilaration of being free. I lived a lie for 17 years, buried so deeply in the closet that I didn't even know it was a closet. But some part of me did, and that was the part that always wondered, "Isn't there more than this?"
There is, believe me. If you think you lack passion, or simply don't love as deeply as others do, think again. You're not broken. You might find yourself capable of astonishing amounts of love and passion if you follow your dream.
If you feel alone, you're not. There are many, many of us out here.
If you think the lesbians you saw at the bar you ventured into just weren't your cup of tea, that doesn't mean you don't qualify for the club. It just means you're not into the bar scene. Don't give up.
If you're worried that coming out is going to be hard...it will be. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. I gave up financial security, a future I had planned with my husband and thought would last a lifetime, and a home I had worked on and painted and gardened in and loved. And mine was easy. I have one friend who gave up 20 years of marriage, and another who permanently lost close family members as a result of coming out. They would both tell you it was worth it to them.
If you fear that admitting your sexuality is going to cause family or friends to be hurt or feel angry or betrayed...it probably will. But one of the best pieces of advice I received in my own journey was this: THERE IS NO RIGHT WAY TO DO THIS. You will NOT get out of this without hurting someone. For women this is often a particularly daunting prospect; we're socialized not to hurt others, or make scenes, or face anger and conflict. Most of us don't have any practice at it and we don't know how to do it. Just tell the truth, as long as it's physically safe for you to do so. Your truth is your strength.
People can question your truth, they can argue it, they can give you ninety different explanations for what you're feeling other than that you're a lesbian, and they probably will. Most of them will do this because they love you, and they have no idea how hard it is for you to face down all of these questions and arguments and explanations. They don't know that you've already asked yourself and told yourself all the same things. They want you to be safe and secure, and not live a life where you will be discriminated against. And some of them will come to you later (though this may take awhile) and say, "I've never seen you so happy." In the end, the people who love you want you to be happy. It's that simple.
When you do figure out your truth, and come out at last, you will probably feel like the sun rose for the first time and the whole world should be laughing with you. Unfortunately, your family and friends will likely be several steps behind you in their acceptance. Even those who support you and say, "That really doesn't surprise me; I think I always suspected" may still need time to adapt. You've had years to get to this point, but they just had it sprung on them. This part is really, really hard, because there's nothing you can do but wait.
Sometimes you may have to wait for someone you love to stop being edgy and jumpy around you, and that's painful as hell. Even the most open-minded people sometimes discover deeply-held prejudices within them. If they love you, they'll work past them. But you have to give them time, and you have to be a steady rock for them. What they need to know is that you haven't changed. It sounds self-explanatory, but it's not. Their view of you has just taken a huge left turn; to them it looks like you've changed a hell of a lot, and they're busy questioning everything they ever thought about you. They'll need time to realize that it's not you who has changed, but their perceptions of you. It may take awhile.
Living a lie gradually shuts a person down. When I found my truth, I felt like the Grinch in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." I'm not kidding; it really felt like my heart grew three sizes larger. And there is nothing, simply nothing, to compare with the exhilaration of being free. I carried a huge, debilitating, shameful (I thought) secret for nearly half my life; pushing that burden off my shoulders was the biggest high I've ever experienced. I'm still high more than a year and a half later. Past Imperfect was about the kind of love I wished I could feel; but I don't wish for that any more. I'm living it. The road to this point wasn't easy by any definition, and I never want to do anything like that again. But it was absolutely worth it.
If you're anywhere along this path, I salute your courage and wish you the best. May you find the happiness you seek...or may it find you.
~ Fletcher DeLancey
update, may 2009
It's been two and a half years since I packed up and moved halfway across the planet in search of love (though I have no idea how that much time went by so quickly!), and I thought perhaps it was time for an update.
The move to a new country was neither simple nor easy, and Maria and I had to get over a few bumps in the road. Besides dealing with the language issue, which gave and continues to give me fits (I'm very good at English and suck at everything else), we also had the issue of Maria being snowed under her Ph.D. for the first 1.75 years. I've heard from friends that Ph.Ds break up a lot of relationships, and can certainly see why. A dissertation demands huge amounts of time and focus from the writer and huge amounts of patience and understanding from the partner. One advantage we had in dealing with this was that I'm a writer too, so I have a bit more understanding of the nature of the beast. Plus, give me a laptop and a story idea and I'm pretty self-entertaining.
We learned a lot about communication -- both verbal and physical -- in this process. Ironically, our long-distance email courtship gave us the perfect foundation for this because we were totally honest with each other then (it's easy to do that when your confidante lives 8,000 km away!), and have never gotten out of the habit since. In fact, we made a promise to each other that we would not allow the fact of our living together to change that early honesty, and we've lived up to it, though I can attest to the fact that it's harder to do in person than via email.
I had some pretty severe homesickness that first year, and still miss the heck out of my friends back home, most of whom don't have the knack of long-distance communication. Fortunately, I've made a bunch of new friends who do have that knack -- all of whom came into my life via my stories -- and they have been simply wonderful. And I've fallen in love with the Algarve, the southern portion of Portugal in which we live. So much so that when we went back to the States for a month last September, I was homesick for Portugal!
Maria successfully defended her dissertation in October 2008 and is now Professor Dr. Maria, which makes me ridiculously proud. Two months prior to that, she and I werein a beautiful, very relaxed ceremony in Canada. Having done this once before, I was unprepared for how very different it would feel to be married to Maria. After my first wedding -- conducted in front of 70 guests and involving the fancy dress, the reception, the professional photographer and the whole shebang -- I felt oddly unchanged. After my second wedding -- conducted in front of four guests and involving no dress, no reception and decidedly amateur photography -- I felt as if something magical had just happened. Maybe it's the fact of being denied recognition that makes the recognition so important. Maybe it's because my mom was there, and her acceptance meant so damn much to me. But I think it's because Maria was there, smiling up at me with a joyful expression that I will never forget. We were so happy, and that happiness was being witnessed by family and close friends, and really, isn't that what a wedding ceremony is all about? Bearing witness to love?
My ex-husband remarried as well, three months before I did. He's quite happy, and his new wife is great for him -- better than I was, not even counting the obvious. That particular closure was good for me, too, because it showed that not only did I do the right thing for myself, I did the right thing for him as well. I believed that at the time, but there were moments when it was hard to keep that faith in the face of all the anger. But two unhappy people are now four happy ones, and nobody is keeping deep dark secrets.
So...it all worked out. But I still suck at speaking Portuguese.