Back in the eighties, when I was just graduating from high school, there were girls who seemed, to me anyway, self-aware, unselfconscious, and brave. I envied them even for the small acts of courage that showed them forging their own paths in the face of parental and societal pressures—defiant subversions of the school’s dress code, or ditching the uniform altogether at the end of the day to grab a quick beer at the Annexe, precious fake IDs in hand. And there were the very quirky girls, whom I admired for their brilliance and determination to change the world, even as they became more and more marginalized. There was something especially loveable about them, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Michelle Feder
Michelle Feder

They seemed startlingly unfettered by the traditional, risk-averse norms that I had somehow absorbed from my environment or, worse, imposed upon myself. Keep my shit together, stay focused, fit in (sort of), have fun, but God forbid not too much fun because, you know, don’t let the doors close on my future. There were many crushes, but as I now know, this is quite typical of the lesbian experience: I didn’t know if I wanted to be those girls or be with one.

I married and had children and lived very happily for many years building a life that was a bit traditional but also very much not—homeschooling, entrepreneurship, a little farm. I had long lost touch with my bisexual best friend and the gay young men I had worked with when serving tables during my years at Uni. With the notable exception of my own daughter, I had no queer friends anymore within my small circle. But I always hovered at the edges of the community, observing whom I thought were the coolest people living their best lives, feeling some of their special light land on me.

After my marriage of 20 years ended, and only three years ago, she did eventually come into my life—just showed up one day at a lunch with colleagues. And I was powerfully attracted. We quickly became the “best of friends”, and it still took more than six months for me to understand where the relationship was headed. It has been as wonderful as it has been extraordinary to realize just how blind one can be to one’s own true nature. 

At work, with my family and among friends, there have only been well-wishing and expressions of support for our love and our lifestyle. The only questions have been “are you happy?” and of course “were you always?”, which makes me smile. At the office there has been gentle and respectful encouragement for me to make my orientation visible—there are few leaders in the organization who are openly members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, and it’s seen as a positive contribution to inclusion that I be as open as I’m comfortable with. It’s a lovely attitude, but I’m not sure I represent the community, although it is good to remember that every experience is unique and legitimate. I am proud of our organization and consider it to be a positive role model and influence—a respectful, supportive and interested environment that is not posturing, but which understands that people have lives and that they should be free to live them. In her unequivocal support of me, my own leader demonstrated that the culture of any organization is made “real” by its people and particularly by the behaviours of its managers. Managers who are genuinely friendly and kind, unfussed, but ready to support if needed, are gold. 

I was fortunate that my coming out was a “non-event”, without pain or drama, but that is not by accident. I am grateful to those from within the 2SLGBTQIA+ community who were brave and self-confident when I was not. Who faced discrimination, rejection, heartbreak and crushing self-doubt, and who chose to live authentically anyway. Those who fought the good fight on my behalf, so that my experience could be normalized and made safe for me to come out, later, without my life being turned upside down. It’s not by accident that the reaction of my workplace was “Oh yeah? We wish you lots of happiness! Let us know if you need any support. Now let’s get back to work”.  

It may be the standard, but it’s still not the norm. There is so much to celebrate, to be grateful for, and still much work to be done. Perhaps I am now brave enough to add my voice to the community. Who will join me?