Gwen was an older black woman, I think older than my sister. I came to know of her whenever I was around 10 or 11 If I remember correctly. She was, however, different from the other adults I knew because all of the adults around me were straight. Lesbianism gave Gwen a sort of supernatural power in my young mind: she was able to transcend the wants and desires of men.
By that age, I was already experiencing men making comments about my budding body. These experiences made me feel more adult than I truly was. Back in those days, there was MTV and music video channels on loop in my house. I was conscious of how I looked at those women, how their bodies made my own react. My heart raised, my eyes lingered on their curves, I licked my lips and turned away to make sure no one noticed me as I did so. By 10, I knew I liked girls. Gwen stood out in my life in those early years.
I wondered if she could tell I was like her. When I hung out with my sister and her boyfriends, I often hoped Gwen would suddenly appear. As I got older I lost my connection to my sister and subsequently to Gwen. I thought about her often as the first lesbian I ever knew, especially when I finally came out myself.
I remember wishing I had the guidance of someone like her during those years. I spent time being a substitute therapist for my mother, I babysat for parents that were often a little too comfortable with sharing things about their lives with me; I was told I was very mature for my age from the time I was in my single digits.
Hanging out with older people came naturally to me; I was on their level emotionally and socially, or so I thought. I kind of wish I still had a relationship with Gwen. At 28, I do have relationships with older lesbians that I credit for being part of the source of my pride for being a lesbian. Or, if they were out, it was not as safe as it is for me.
These relationships are wildly important to me, and I cherish them greatly. When I was around 21, I met Kim. Kim was 43 at the time. We met in a dimly lit bar in my city that was primarily populated by gay men. She was alone, I was with friends, and I was immediately drawn to her.
In those days, I was very interested in getting different women in my bed, especially ones that seemed unattainable for a variety of reasons. When I did eventually approach Kim, I learned that she was recently divorced from her ex-wife and that the split had deeply hurt her. I asked for her phone number and we began an emotional relationship for a number of weeks. I wanted more than anything for the relationship to be physical, but more often than not, Kim and I would spend our nights talking about how much her divorce hurt her.
Kim was heartbroken, and a voice in my head told me she was too heartbroken to give me what I wanted — a passionate love affair with an older woman — but I continued my relationship with her until Pride that year. The night I met Kim, the friends I was with were very adamant that I leave her alone. Not because they had better judgment than me, but because they were grossed out by my interest in a woman over the age of In the car ride back to our home base, they laughed and asked me what the fuck I was thinking.
Looking back, I think part of my fascination and desire for connection with older lesbians was that I wanted to be seen as a real adult, on par with their level of maturity. I wanted to allure and excite them as much as they did me. I wanted their trust in the ways I had earned the trust of older women as a child. As Kim began to trust me more, I betrayed it. That afternoon as I walked around Pride, she told me she was at a booth with her job and to come meet her.
I used to wonder — if the relationship had ever turned sexual — if I could have learned from her and she from me. I wonder if we could have loved each other, or if we both were selfishly seeking something from the other. Me, a fling I could write poetry about; her, a fling with a younger black woman. I love older women; I find them very sexy. Many lesbians in my age range are currently dating or trying to date women with 20 years on us.
I know that not every older lesbian is a beacon of wisdom and sexual prowess. Maturity is a range, but in my experience, it definitely comes with age. A part of the change came for me when I got sober, but also, I started to recognize that friendships with people my age were not the only ways I could be in community with lesbians as I craved to be.
While I understand the impulse behind the narrative that all age gap relationships are predatory, I think it lacks nuance and is pretty deeply embedded in cis and heteronormative culture. Yes, we have seen many older men become obsessed with younger women with nefarious intent.
On a basic level, this idea also robs lesbians of community. Knowing and befriending older women is a part of knowing and understanding lesbian history. To position that kind of relationship as inherently predatory is doing a disservice to all parties involved and ignoring lesbian history. When we talk about how age-gap relationships are predatory, we are having a conversation about power.
With an older man, younger woman relationship, the power imbalance is clear. With two women of different ages, that power imbalance is less clearly defined. Women start to be treated as though they are disposable once they hit 35 or so, they are no longer seen as young and valuable even though being in your 30s is still… young. Add to that fact that this woman is gay, and she becomes even less powerful in a heteronormative society, less visible.
I came out at 12, so I have 16 years of being gay under my belt. A woman who is 50 but only came out at 49 has less experience being openly gay than me; I have a lot of knowledge and resources she may not. If access to those resources is concentrated in communities populated by younger people, should she exile herself from them and the social connections in them? A few of my older lesbian friends are women that came out later in life. Women that were married to men for some years, realized they were gay sometimes through having affairs with women and left their husbands for the lavender fields.
These friends often express to me that they had suspicions that they were gay during their younger years, but the culture of the time, fear, strict parents, kept them from exploring their desires. Now that they are out, in long-term relationships, or married to other women, community with women that love other women is extremely important to them.
I did come out at a risk to myself, but I was already an outlier. The friendships that I have now make up for what I lacked in childhood. I have real friends that I can come to when I have a problem, real friends that can share with me how they have dealt and would have dealt in similar situations to my own. My love for being a lesbian does not exist without these women. Gwen was a giant in my life. I saw lesbians as superwomen, women that had defied the rules set out for their gender. That made them, us, so powerful.
I revel in that power now and admire it when I see it, especially how older women hone and harness it. Though our interactions were superficial and brief, Gwen meant more to me than many of the adults I had grown up with. I want to find her and ask her if she saw me, if she knew me before I knew myself. I would hope Gwen would be as open with me. I would ask her about her first time falling in love with a woman, her first big heartbreak, and what she learned from it. I would open up to her about my own coming out process, how my family reacted and how that changed me.
I imagine a sense of family and tenderness between us when I envision these talks. What she represented for me is too cherished. I am grateful to her and every older lesbian in my life for seeing me and holding me the way that only they can. Dani Janae is a poet and writer based out of Pittsburgh, PA. When she's not writing love poems for unavailable women, she's watching horror movies, hanging with her tarantula, and eating figs. Follow Dani Janae on Twitter and on Instagram. I had a similar figure — my high school biology teacher — who likewise influenced me a lot more than she probably realized.
I grew up regularly visiting my queer aunt and her friends, and it had a huge impact on me, in terms of being able to see myself as an adult and learn what kind of adult I wanted to be. These were — still are — people who show up for each other in hugely important ways, and without even realizing it they were doing the same for me. I also work in early childhood education these days, and have regular contact with alumni families, as well as with my friends who are parents, and I have regular contact with children of all ages through those connections.
Thinking a lot about this one. As cool as it is to be thought of as a cougar, we 40 and somethings come with some pretty decade-specific baggage. So much on this site tends to fly right over my head- the cultural identifiers we related to in our 20s are no longer in play.
I really have to come to terms with the fact that I 41 am an elder lesbian now. Most of the time I still feel like a year-old that plays being an adult.
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