Take Back the Night
Mary Fairhurst Breen
I was twenty-three years old, and had just given birth to my first child. One night, pacing frantically back and forth with my wailing newborn strapped to my chest, I discovered that I was, at the very minimum, bisexual. And it was all because of Robert Palmer.
MuchMusic was new, and I had the television on in the background while I wore a path in the carpet. The now iconic music video for Addicted to Love came on, featuring Palmer’s signature back-up “band” of models with shiny red lips, slicked-back hair and micro-skirts. It’s quite dreadful, really – all those glassy-eyed women fake-playing guitars. I was recovering from an infected episiotomy, yet somehow, in my sleep-deprived post-partum state, I was wildly turned on by them. I thought, “Huh,” and filed the incident away.
My mother had always been my grounding force. She was a scientist and an artist, a pragmatist and a creator. Her death when I was twenty-six left me with only my young husband Dan to lean on, and he was not a solid structure. My intense grief coincided with two conflicting impulses: I decided I wanted another baby; and I fell in love with a woman. Dan had lost interest in sex, probably because he was drinking heavily by this time. This impeded the first situation and facilitated the latter. But having just been through the agony of dealing with one terminally ill and one mentally ill parent with no siblings to share the load, I was determined that Rose should not be an only child.
My professional circle in the not-for-profit sector was disproportionately full of out lesbians, closeted lesbians, and women who, like me, were curious and would later make a full switch. During my mother’s illness, I had gravitated towards my co-worker Joan, who could not have looked more butch, but was married to a man. I obsessed about her, and directed much unsolicited attention her way. Six months after my mum’s death, although I was diligently forcing myself on Dan on ovulation days, I professed my love to her at a Take Back the Night march. I had no clear intentions, just a fantasy in which we absconded from real life to raise babies together. She gently indicated that she didn’t want to leave her marriage (yet… she did come out later), nor did she want to have an affair. It was too uncomfortable to be around her, so I left that job. Immediately upon starting a new one, I got pregnant.
I felt it only fair to tell Dan about my attraction to Joan. He had never been the jealous type, and was remarkably unperturbed. He dismissed my feelings as a reaction to the void left by my mother. He was on board with having another child. He loved our first daughter with all his heart, and was a hands-on, diaper-changing dad.
After I left him, I dated men for another few years, then I took the plunge and asked out another mum at Maggie’s school. Chatter quickly spread among the parents, which struck me as odd. It was a liberal alternative school, and by then Ellen had come out on TV and Will and Grace was a primetime hit. It was uncomfortable to be the object of so much attention. I remember another mother saying to me in a hushed voice, “I saw your ‘friend’ in the paper,” referring to a front-page picture from the Dyke March. She seemed to be going for a wink-wink-nudge-nudge tone, but couldn’t manage the word “girlfriend.” Even Dan didn’t like it when he overheard one mother say to another, “There’s nothing wrong with it, but I didn’t want to have to introduce the subject so soon.” As if the mind-boggling mechanics of heterosexuality require no explanation to a child!
I preferred to keep my adult adventures to myself, but Rose had picked up a suggestive message from my lover on the answering machine, and another grade two kid had told Maggie that her mummy was dating Janie’s mummy. Neither of my daughters batted an eye. Dan opportunistically ventured the opinion that I was adding to the girls’ burden as children of a broken home, but he didn’t really buy into what he was saying, and sheepishly let it drop. We had raised our children to be ambassadors for inclusion, and they had other preoccupations. If asked, they would probably say that the most interesting thing to happen in our family in 1999 was that we got a dog.
After my initial foray into lesbian life (the other mum had several girlfriends, which wasn’t really my cup of tea), I had another quick fling with a married former colleague, whose husband seemed to feel that sex with a woman didn’t count as infidelity, and was probably titillated by the whole thing. When she had an indiscretion with a man some time later, he divorced her ass in a flash. What senseless power penises hold. But not for me. By that time, I was in hot pursuit of the alternative.
Online dating had become the new normal, so I tried my luck on a site called The Pink Sofa. I had just started seeing someone I’d met in cyberspace, when another suitor appeared out of the blue. As it turned out, our meeting was not coincidental, but in fact orchestrated down to the very last detail. A mutual acquaintance had arranged for Kate to attend an Equality Day event where I had a key role, and had fed her as much biographical information as was available. Oblivious, I brought my Pink Sofa lady, confounding everyone who was in on the scheme.
Undaunted, Kate took several opportunities to flirt, sidling up to me at the chocolate foundation and suggestively immersing pieces of fruit. She made an awkward joke about bananas being too phallic for the occasion. Once the dignitaries were gone, I unwound by dancing with some spritely young grassroots activists, inadvertently affording Kate a clear view down my blouse. The next day, our matchmaker was more forthright in her meddling, asking me if she could give Kate my phone number. It was all very flattering.
We had brunch the following weekend. Kate had a second activity up her sleeve, in the hope we’d want to extend our date. She took me to a flea market at a hipster hotel – a fundraiser for a local LGBT film festival. It was a treasure trove of books, which I kept holding up for Kate as I added to my pile. “Have you read this?” I’d ask. “Don’t you love Jane Urquhart?” She mumbled something and wandered off towards the used biker boots. It turned out Kate had not picked up a book since university, and never read for pleasure.
And yet. I did not run the other way, library card clutched firmly to my chest. Instead, I shook myself free of the other woman I’d been seeing, and Kate and I became the epitome of Lea DeLaria’s popular joke, “What does a lesbian bring on a second date? A U-Haul.” I was smug, so sure that at the advanced age of forty-four, I could distinguish love from lust. I convinced myself that house-hunting with someone after four months together was a perfectly rational thing to be doing. In truth, I was ignoring ample evidence to suggest we had nothing in common, stumbling along in a constant post-coital haze. Our lovemaking was affirming and unrestrained, and I was giddy.
I saw no comparison to my first illogical leap into domestic partnership, two decades earlier. I felt utterly comfortable with Kate. We fit together, and we laughed. I experienced a small flutter of joy when her car pulled into the driveway. After so much solitude and plain hard work, I relished our weekend ritual of tea and coffee in bed. Our politics were aligned, so we had things to say to each other about LGBT issues, workers’ rights, women’s equality. We just avoided the dozens of topics which held no interest for one or the other of us. Kate had been a star athlete until an injury ended her promising sports career. I had been the kid with a puffer and perfect grammar.
… Continued in two weeks.
About the Author: Mary Fairhurst Breen is pursuing writing after thirty years in the not-for-profit sector, working in the fields of adult literacy, popular history, social services, community arts and women’s equality. She has been involved in the publication of feminist histories, and had her first creative non-fiction story published in a feminist anthology. This was her first foray into memoir, and led to work on a full manuscript that combines memoir and social commentary. As a lesbian over fifty, she is experiencing both the freedom and frustration of being unnoticeable. Mary has two adult daughters and is a foster parent. She lives in Toronto, where she is chair of the board of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.