Dear John, I Love Jane: Women Write About Leaving Men for Women is a collection of love stories. Most beautiful, some sad, they are in many ways like any love stories – except before the authors found love with women, they had lived with (and often loved) men.
In the inspired introduction, editors Candace Walsh and Laura Andre talk about what makes the women in this collection different from those in the few previous works by women who found female partners later in life. Unlike the women in From Wedded Wife to Lesbian Life: Stories of Transformation, and many of my clients at the time I read that book, women who love women are now less likely to lose their children in custody battles, lose their jobs and lose the support of their communities. But sadly some of this loss still occurs and it is in this book. Amanda V. Mead in her essay “This Love is Messy” did lose her public school teaching job in one of the many states that offers no protection from sexual orientation discrimination. A few others lost friends and family. But, more often than not, as Erin Mantz wrote in “Undoing Everything”:
And then it happened: nothing. At least, not to my face. Not yet.
Falling in love with a woman at thirty-nine may have turned my life upside down, but the friends and family all around me are still standing.
There is another difference between Dear John, I Love Jane and other “coming out” stories: many of the women were truly happy in their relationships with men. While there is certainly a good bit of reflection about early attraction to women that the authors suppressed or ignored, few of the authors lived actively closeted lives. They may have taken some time to find what they wanted in their lives, but by and large, when they found it, they pursued it. And some, like Veronica Masen in “Watershed,” stay with their male mates – not as sexual partners but as parenting partners making a happy family though mom is a lesbian.
This is not a collection only to be read by women who are questioning their sexuality or who have been in relationships with both men and women. These stories are about the journeys of women you know. They are about finding out who you really are in the face of culture and family telling you who you are supposed to be. They are about searching for happiness. They are about being honest with yourself and the people you love. These stories are universal. And they are well-written, filled with experiences that are familiar and positive.
“The Right Fit” by Kami Day is haunting. Raised in a strict and insular Mormon family, Day believed what she was taught about the spiritual necessity of marrying the man who was her destiny. When sex was painful and unpleasant, she and her husband ultimately went to a psychiatrist who taught them about sexuality. While this helped Day find sexual pleasure, her relationship with her husband did not improve. Year after year, child after child, Day endured years of obligatory unpleasant sex in a loveless marriage. One would think this was a very sad story, and to me it is. But in Day’s extraordinary essay one sees that in her own assessment of her life, finding your great love when you are forty-four is as wonderful as life can be. She had left a long marriage and the church in which she and her family had lived for generations. But her essay resonates with joy and contentment.
In “Running From the Paper Eye,” Susan White lyrically presents scenes from her life: her mother’s rift with her own lesbian sister blamed on the death of an Easter chick; White’s toddler self-perception she was a boy as her mother jammed her little body into dresses; the perceptive aunt who questions her decision to marry. In introducing the demise of her marriage, she is lovely and stark:
Wes blamed our divorce on the poison oak. Sure, let the plant take the fall. A natural disaster.
Dear John, I Love Jane is fascinating, enlightening and, finally, hopeful. Not every love affair lasts but, in the end, these women are happy with their lives.