Lesbian Identity and Intergenerational Understanding

Sometimes it's hard for baby dykes to understand the issues faced by older generations of lesbians.


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I am a 24-year-old out and proud lesbian, part of the emerging young, increasingly unapologetically gay generation. We came out very young and we really don’t care who knows we’re queer. We dress and act as we wish, and enjoy being visible. We come into our own acceptance early on and are less concerned about what society and even our families think. We believe this kind of adolescent pride is good for our community. However, this early acceptance of our sexuality makes it hard for baby dykes to understand the issues facing older generations of lesbians.

When sexy actor Kelly McGillis of Witness and Top Gun came out last year, I was surprised by some of the reactions of my fellow young lesbians. As one of the most recognizable ’80s icons, having McGillis come out at all—no matter how late in life—is a huge step forward for lesbians everywhere. But some of the responses I got were disturbing. “She’s 51, why the hell did it take her that long?” Or “It took her two marriages to figure that out?” If these were the responses of a few people, it would be easy to shrug off—but I heard similar comments from nearly all of my young dyke friends.

Our community is huge on not judging, but when it comes to our own, we can be the harshest of critics. It turns out the reason my friends had such a hard time understanding McGillis’ delayed announcement is because they couldn’t fathom waiting so long themselves. However, in the case of my older lesbian friends, there was a completely different tone—one of triumph and empathy. This really brought to light a generational disparity in understanding.

It’s easy for younger lesbians to forget that twenty, or even ten years ago the world was different place for us queers. Many older dykes had no publicly out figures to look up to, their families knew nothing of PFLAG and the public message was that homosexuality was wrong and sinful. Until 37 years ago, homosexuality was considered a disease requiring hospitalization and shock therapy. And we know that without a supportive base around us, it is hard to act and live as ourselves, a luxury many of the younger generation can relish in.

This is not to say that those same pressures and expectations are not present in today’s society. They are, but because of women like Kelly McGillis, Melissa Etheridge and Ellen DeGeneres, we younger lesbians are able to walk an easier road.

So this month, I urge my fellow young dykes to show respect for the lesbians who have paved the way for us. Next time you kiss your girlfriend in the street or take her to dinner with your parents, take a minute to remember the women who made it safe and possible for you to do that.

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