PAMME, age 62

Describe the community/environment that you grew up in and how you feel you fit in (or did not fit in).

Classic early 60's new-track-home neighborhood, bordered by glorious orchards. Kids played hide-and-seek all summer long. I fit in most of the time, but high school threw me for a bit of a loop. Games people played, judgments, accusations, uncertainties, insecurities; lots of fun times for sure, but an opportunity to begin learning about other ways of viewing humanity, little did I know...

Growing up, did you ever feel like you were straddling more than one culture in your life?

Not really--I was fairly unconscious as far as different cultures went--however, our next door neighbors were Japanese, with a terrific work ethic and solid commitment to their cultural traditions, so we joined in with their celebrations a couple of times a year..."boys day"...or "sons day" comes to mind but I didn't look at that from any sort of feminist point of view..not then, anyway. One family had a Hispanic background but no obvious traditional things going on. Growing up, we had foster kids--at one point we had a Hispanic foster sister for quite some time. However: I viewed kids around me whose parents were going through divorces or times of great emotional and possible physical upheaval (I had my suspicions about some friends' environments) as being such moving "cultural" experiences; I felt both compassion for their experiences but also great gratitude for my own home environment...despite the fact I had a dad who was an alcoholic.

In what ways have you struggled with your social and cultural identity?

I had semi-low self esteem as a teen, played out in many ways. As an adult, married but separated due to numerous relationship issues and on the receiving end of frequent verbal abuse, with 2 kids, one of whom was adopted and one of whom was a more needy child due to behavior + documented ADD issues, I literally fell in love with someone---who happened to be female.

There was a minister who counseled my ex-husband during that emotional time who stated to my ex that women "who were considering separations within the marriage were often sexually confused about what to do with their emotional baggage", who "leaned towards same-sex relationships due to conflicts when they weren't comfortable or unwilling to deal with" those conflicts" (Note: that gentleman was eventually removed from his church due to infidelity...hmmmmm)....I did my best in reconciling differences, through different communicative means with my then husband, without success. Helped me in the long run however. I do remember being somewhat fascinated by my "sudden onset" preoccupation with a woman, feeling uncertain, feeling amazed at what had occurred, worried about the effect on my kids, and found myself diligently combing the local library for something, anything, that could explain my emotional feelings towards a same sex person. Now THAT was an exercise in a examining a huge range of information.

Did you ever face any social or cultural prejudice/insensitivity growing up? (Doesn't have to be an isolated incident--these experiences can often be subtle and can be on-going.)

Growing up, homosexuality was obviously the big bad H-word...eventually the big, bad G-word. I surely heard preconceived notions of what a homosexual lifelstyle "meant". For many years I believed there would be a "guy" person and a "gal" person in a lesbian relationship. Interestingly enough, I recall a handsome, straight male co-worker make a comment to another co-worker that my life partner was one of the most beautiful women he knew, and how "surprising" that was, based on the fact he knew she was gay. I also recall a Respiratory Therapist (straight + female) state to another female physical therapist (heterosexual, married-with-kids, who came to our 15 year Commitment Celebration in 2007 with her family) when she was offering her opinion of my partner and I: "what a waste of two beautiful women".

Has your view on culture and identity changed as you’ve grown older? How did it change? When did it change?

I quickly forgave a seminar buddy for his views on lesbian relationships when he asked which one of us was playing "the man" role. He wasn't hostile, derogatory, offensive, flippant...merely uneducated and curious. He was a great mirror for me during what became a very important part of growth while seeking guidance in family matters related to my son who was in a behavior modification facility in Samoa. My son was there due to our effort to avoid paying for a funeral, due to his erratic, self-destructive actions. Very, very important times back then as far as supporting his growth, but more importantly helping my partner, daughter and myself grow ourselves. Helped me to really look at my own prejudices and judgments, and quit focusing on others negative behaviors. So, big changes began during those times in the empowerment seminars when we (my partner and I) had to open our hearts and reveal our inner most feelings, leaving fear of judgment behind, and it was an AMAZING journey that affected many who previously held judgments.

Were there any major changes in your environment or in your life that helped you to view your outlook on identity differently?

Eventually realizing I was attracted / in love with a woman so therefore "must be gay"---therefore realizing such huge stereo types existed re: gay folks and how society affects them. Honestly all I wanted to do was hold hands in public with the person I love who just happened to be a woman---who would care? She cautioned me, and I just didn't (initially) "get it". I realized the challenges that were involved during a woman's softball tournament when an obnoxious, drunk guy became highly irritated (to say the least) when neither I nor my partner was interested in his verbal / physical advances...actually very scary when he became incensed over our disinterest and began viciously verbally shouting at us, all sorts of interesting "gay slurs".

Has your awareness of discrimination or prejudice changed as you've grown older?

Yes, but I believe I've always been somewhat of an advocate of those experiencing discrimination--from humans to animals.

Do you feel advantaged to have a unique outlook on life because you view the world from many different perspectives?

Well, absolutely.

What advice would you give to someone struggling with social labels and identity?

Please do not focus on the negative in what you may be experiencing--it'll just bring you more of the same. Shift Your Thoughts and Be a Decent Human Being. I DO believe that. Actually I believe we are moving in a very decent direction--maybe that's just me, but why not? The younger generation is truly our salvation in that direction. My daughter is SO centered and balanced, has a fabulous partner, despite having had what some might think is a deck being stacked against her (adopted, an Asian in a Caucasian family, eventually the product of divorce and acrimonious divorce proceedings, having a beloved brother who experienced prison, lived in a 99.9% white community...and being a child raised primarily by two women from the age of 6 until graduation from high school...and, the additional "inequity" of being female).

What do you think the future holds when it comes to accepting cultural differences?

I think it's going in the right direction, for sure.




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