And Then I Met This Woman: Previously Married Women's Journeys into Lesbian Relationships

Book Review by Joy B. Davis

And Then I Met This Woman: Previously Married Women's Journeys into Lesbian Relationships. Edited by Barbee J. Cassingham and Sally M. O'Neil, Mother Courage Press, 1993, Reference List, 176 pages

Barbee J. Cassingham and Sally M. O'Neil have compiled 36 short, first person essays by women from many walks of life with one thing in common: they were or had been previously married when they discovered their lesbianism or bisexuality. After reading their stories, the first thing I wanted to do was to commend each of the women who contributed. Each of the lives profiled spoke of elements of courage and the challenge of self-discovery.

A number of the writers said they got married, even though they had doubts, because that was the norm. As Rosalie, who has been married 6 times and is 59, observes, "nice girls got married" (p. 35). However, each of the women comes to realize that there's much more to her life than wifedom.

For instance, Mari Ann, 28, was married to men twice. When she met gay friends: "I thought 'That's the lifestyle I'd like to lead.'...I answered one ad and got my mail order bride." (p. 69). She and her partner have been together a year and a half. Or Nancy: "In 1980, I made a decision to become a lesbian based on the fact that I was in the fifth generation of very strong women, and I was in a female business...I travelled for two years around the world by myself to think about whether or not this was a good decision for me" (p. 24). When Nancy returned, she asked a friend to "support me in getting into the lesbian community". Her friend introduced her to a lesbian author Nancy had heard about and they were together for 8 years.

The main message from these women is that they are happier now than they have ever been. Quite a few of the writers say that they aren't completely out, although they have changed their lives forever. In more than one essay, women wrote that their kids didn't know or that they weren't sure if friends or family members knew, which I found incredible.

A few of the women have vengeful ex-husbands but there is also Claudia's unique story. Her then-husband's acceptance of her lesbianism "was my first understanding of unconditional love" (p. 137) According to J.C., "I know a lot of really fine people, and the rate of gays and lesbians in our population is not 10 percent. It's closer to thirty! I'll bet you money on that. I've got excellent radar" (p. 66). Lulu writes: "I was terrified to do this, but I did it. It was a real sense of homecoming for me; it was wonderful!" (p. 106).

The book is full of practical advice; for example, several of the women recommend that a woman questioning her sexuality seek out a supportive therapist. Sixty-two year old Jocelyn has a realistic take on bisexuality: "...[A]t my age - how many men are left? It's almost a practical thing if you are sexual" (p. 30). There's not a lot of theory here, just women writing truthfully about their day to day lives and their hopes for the future.

Many of them plan to own or build homes and hope to have a job where they can be comfortably out. Without hitting the reader over the head, these essays speak to the necessity of guaranteed lesbian and gay rights and anti-discrimination laws. The book is a real eye-opener and page-turner for readers who just don't understand what lesbian and gay rights (as opposed to privileges) are about .

Technically, the book suffers a little. Each essay is written like all of the others, leaving little room for individual style and making it difficult to differentiate one woman's voice from another's. I'm not sure if this is a result of the editing process or if the women were asked to adhere to an identical format for the sake of uniformity.

There is little emphasis on how class, culture or ethnicity may uniquely affect the women. A range of ages are represented and some of the older women share their concerns about health, retirement, loneliness and adult children.

How were these fascinating women chosen? I wondered. It might be of interest, particularly to some budding researcher, if Cassingham and O'Neil had described the creative process that led To the book's publication. All in all, I strongly recommend this book to women who are Questioning their sexuality. It also makes an excellent read for the non-academician who is Interested in lesbian identity development and the coming out process.

Reviewer Joy B. Davis is a Ph.D student in the Counseling Psychology program at the University of Southern California. Her areas of interest include the intersection of ethnicity and sexuality. This review was written in 1997.

Review from the International Gay & Lesbian Review, ONE Institute Press, Los Angeles, CA