OCTOBER 1987

I did not see this one coming.  I was a 32 year-old recently divorced mom working my way up the corporate ladder as a civil engineering designer.  I was from a conservative, Catholic family.  Seriously, it took me by complete surprise when I fell in love with my secretary.

I told Catherine that I loved her, expecting she would be as thrilled about it as I was.  After all, we had spent many evenings together with our two young children, talked for endless hours on the phone, and had recently taken a weekend trip together to the beach.

Her reaction, every bit as startling as my feelings, was to quit her job the following week, pack up her daughter and move to a small town several hours away to marry a man she wasn’t evening dating when I declared my love.

In hindsight, I think I may have touched a nerve.  I’ll never know.  At the time, I was crushed, naïve, and confused.  I didn’t understand what was happening and enrolled myself in therapy.  There, I was introduced to the word “lesbian.”

Since I’d had no previous experience with that word, I had no bias and no fear.  Excited by the suddenly doubled size of my field of possibilities, I embraced this new identity by announcing it to friends, family and coworkers who – for the most part – embraced it right along with me.  I enthusiastically joined a community that up until that moment I didn’t even know existed. Over the ensuing years I’ve learned a lot about the human condition.

I entered the LGBT community in San Francisco at the height of the AIDS crisis.  I watched strangers come together to support each other and families reject sons as they lay dying in hospitals. I volunteered for an AIDS organization where I was introduced to hospice and began sitting with lonely, scared men, holding their hands while they died.  My first efforts at chaplaincy.  All that experience with AIDS would come in handy 20 years later in Africa.

I’ve learned a lot about politics.  The power of protest.  And patience.  I worked phone banks during elections, wrote countless letters to corporations and elected officials, and held signs on street corners when no one seemed to be paying attention.  Last month I sobbed as the Supreme Court award equal marriage rights to same sex couples.  Too many of the men I sat with died believing their love didn’t count.

I’ve also learned a lot about love and gender.  It’s no easier to have a relationship with a woman than with a man. Both exquisite and painful personality traits are shared equally across gender.  Sometimes women are the best dance partners and providers; sometimes men are the best cooks and listeners.  Men can be gentle and sensitive.  Women can be stoic and cruel.

By now I accept that people are people and love is love.  For me the package is not as important as the quality of connection and character.  I have come to identify myself as bisexual, all thanks due to Catherine crossing my path.

Most of the time it’s a blessing to be able to walk in both worlds.  Sometimes it’s just a really big confusing mess.  I have not mastered the realm of relationship.

But I’m NOT DONE YET.

My field is still wide open.  I trust that I have seeded and tended it well and that love will bloom again.