Astronomer, 1975

Choragos, Thursday, October 30, 1975

Supportive lesbian group begins to coalesce

by Marcia Blomberg

In talking about the lesbian group forming on the Mount Holyoke campus, many people involved shared the feeling expressed by one: "The important thing about this group is that it gives me the ability to feel positive about where I am, and not suppress it or bring out the negative aspects of it. I want to rejoice in it."

A group of about 30 women met and socialized three times, on Thursday nights at 9:30 in Eliot House, over the last three weeks. The group as a whole is beginning to discuss possibilities of organization, possible directions and priorities, and the extent of publicity which is desirable. More than anything else, however, people involved have stressed their overwhelming sense of relief and joy at having a place where they can go and feel comfortable about an important aspect of their lives. Some of the concerns of the ten women interviewed center on the reactions of the rest of the community to lesbianism, and on the extent to which the group could be political.

The positive feelings of lesbians involved in the group grow out of the uniqueness of the group on this campus and their feelings of isolation and loneliness prior to the group's formation.

"When we went into the group, we didn't know any others, and there's a certain amount of comfort in knowing there are others."

"Last year it was really hard to find anybody to talk to, or know who to go to, or even know how to approach the subject."

"It's nice to have a place to go and feel comfortable about yourself with other people."

"What I like about the group is that it gives lesbians a chance to be whole people in that an important part of their lives is accepted and encouraged as a healthy lifestyle -- a kind of encouragement that does not exist anywhere else on this campus."

"It's such an unusual thing to meet people who aren't taken aback by the thought of lesbianism, and it doesn't matter whether they're lesbians or not, as long as they're sympathetic to it."

Mount Holyoke and Societal Constraints

Many of the women talked about the problems they've encountered in defining themselves as lesbian in a larger world and in a small community where gayness is either ignored or suppressed.

"There's something very strange and very wrong about a civilization which for centuries on end looks upon beauty and exclaims the beast. But the lesbian has been seen with just such jaundiced eyes, and for far too long. In the same way, Voltaire found Shakespeare barbaric because he did not observe the Aristotelian unities in writing. We now find Voltaire's prejudice laughable; we would find the one help against us equally laughable, if it didn't cause us so much grief."

"There is no legitimate existence here for gay women."

"What this school consistently does is separate the woman part of us from the student part of us. Unification of the person doesn't happen here; the school doesn't encourage that unification to take place. If it does, it seems to be in spite of the Mount Holyoke community. That relates back to the lesbian caucus in that if a woman is a lesbian, she must incorporate whatever that means to her in whatever it is she does."

"The most political thing about this group is the fact that it exists on the Mount Holyoke campus; because if Mount Holyoke is a women's school, then it has to deal with all kinds of women and their feelings, and especially those women who love other women. Mount Holyoke has ignored this part of certain women's lives. By ignoring it. it's caused a lot of people a lot of pain and unhappiness. If this is a women's environment, then it's too bad that people have to feel alone or strange in dealing with lesbianism ... at Mount Holyoke, because it is a women's school, above all other places lesbians should feel that can be accepted for what they are."

"Drawing a line between public and private life is done by everybody to a certain extent, but not to the extent that gay women have. Overcoming that distinction is the first small step and probably the hardest. The group makes it easier because you know the other women are supportive. The ideal point would be where you wouldn't have to say anything at all about your lesbianism, or that it wouldn't even have to be considered.

"The ideal would be that the question of gayness would come along, as all other questions of identity, and be considered as a valid alternative. In getting there it entails a lot of gutsiness. You have to be willing to face being considered a societal deviant, first of all by yourself, then by family, friends, and the rest of the world. What's hard to see is that once the process is started... and you have to reall [sic] and what seems to you to be legitimate reasons for your sexuality, then the idea of being looked upon by other as being gay becomes much less frightening."

Arriving at the point described above seems to have strengthened many of the women who have gone through the process. One woman said, "It seems to me that people who are lesbian have done a lot of thinking and questioning to find out who they are, and that they're really alright [sic] and society is out of warp. Many have had to go through that alone on this campus, consequently they're thoughtful, reflective people, and they know what they're about."

Politics, Openness, and Benefits

All of the women interviewed feel that "The most important thing is to meet the needs of the group, whether through social functions or political activity", however those needs and interests are defined by the group itself. Some of the women involved feel that the group is political just by the fact of its existence. Other women are not comfortable with that politically oriented definition. It seems clear, however, that the directions the group takes will be decided on by the group as a whole, and will reflect as closely as possible the needs of each individual. All the women interviewed stressed the importance, not only of accommodating the needs of as many people as possible, but of staying as open as possible to all women on campus who are lesbian or who are questioning their sexuality.

"I think the group should serve the needs of the people in it. For those people who want to be political, they will have the support of others. I can easily see the group having two functions without factionalizing the group. One function would be for those who need a support group, to meet the needs of people on campus: for lesbians, to have a place they can go and not feel strange, and for people who are questioning their sexuality having a place where they can go and talk to other people about it. The other function would be as a base for people who feel a definite need to be political about their sexuality."

"For me, the whole issue of lesbianism is a valid political issue in the larger sense of the word, in that it's a direct confrontation to the partriarchal [sic] structure of the whole society that has consistently and systematically excluded women for years."

"For myself, I don't mind if the group is swept up by people who are into the political activities. The radical fringes are always needed to unsettle things, but it doesn't follow that everyone else in the group will be swept along in their wake."

"I would like to see the group not taking any political action as yet. If we start forming too much of a caucus, or demanding poliiical [sic] rights ... well, it's kind of scary."

"I enjoy the group just the way it is, but you're faced with the problem of not reaching other people if you don't make yourself known. I'm a little leery of making it too public; we might get curiosity seekers, when we want to reach the people who need the group.

"I guess I want to see the group to be a process rather than a static organizatton [sic]. The group should maintain an outward commitment along with its inward commitment. Not only getting people to come to the caucus, but to get other people to think about what lesbianism is: consciousness-raising."

The women interviewed favored as much openness as possible while maintaining the group's integrity.

"I think we have to be careful about calling it a lesbian group because that might exclude a lot of people who are still questioning and who might feel that by coming to the group they're making a commitment that they're not ready to make".

"For straight women who are supportive it's fine (for them to be in the group), and exceedingly positive, but I think it should be a place for gay women, and organized with their needs in mind. I don't think it should be a place where lesbians are afraid to come because there would be people there they wouldn't be comfortable around.

"On the other hand, I don't like the idea of straight women participating in decision-making for lesbian women."

On the benefits of the group:

"If the group produces a framework of strong friendship ties, and you felt that they would support you, then people could feel better about going outside of the group, knowing that there's something to come back to, to fall back upon, should the world prove as dismally unimaginative as it sometimes seems to be."

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