How did you meet?
NANCY: We met through a mutual friend in Salsa Soul Sisters Third World Inc. I was told that she had four children. I went over to her, said hello Barbara and Goodbye.
BRAHMA: I let her think my name was Barbara for a while. She had a wonderful smile and I was interested in seeing her. My ex had four kids, I didn't have any children. We exchanged phone numbers, but, Nancy didn't call. I waited and called her. I asked her out on a date to Chinese (food) and movies.
NANCY: We never had the first date. We sat on he couch and talked all night long.
BRAHMA: It was very important to talk. I had just gotten out of a four year relationship. I had issues about being in a new relationship so soon. I felt vulnerable and didn't want to make quick mistakes such as going to bed to quickly.
NANCY: We did not become intimate until some time afterward. We could hold hands, cuddle and talk. When she went to bed, she always wore these all in one outfits and I couldn't figure out how to get her out of it. (laughs) It was a long time before we had sex.
How did you manage to avoid or work through relationship pitfalls?
BRAHMA: As time went by, I realized there was some baggage I had brought into the relationship. I was 30 and she was 45. At 30 I still had a lot issues I hadn't worked out. I found a need to sabotage our relationship.
NANCY: She would never say I love you. One time she did and even then I shook her until she said it.
BRAHMA: Saying it meant that there was some things I had to give up ie., my apartment. I didn't want to be put out. The apartment was security for me, just in case things didn't work out between us. Saying, "I love you" and being committed meant that I had to eventually let go of those things.
NANCY: She was insecure about monetary issues. It caused a rift when we were planning to move ahead. She was never ready to do so because she felt that she wasn't ready monetarily. I had baggage myself and I really wanted this relationship. I signed us up for a therapy group and didn't tell Brahma. She felt betrayed. It was the only way I felt I could get her to do it. When we got involved we both realized we had things to take care of. We both got individual counseling and we still do. The friendship and camaraderie over those 8 years helped build my self esteem and helped us recognize that we could not be joined by the hip and we needed individual activities. If she's out late, I don't worry. Our trust factor is high. We have different friends and have similar friends. We could go somewhere and be in different parts of the room but we know we're going home together.
BRAHMA: We love each other enough to let each other go. We'd be together as long as we loved each other.
That's rare because people usually say forever.
NANCY: We learned that loving each other meant letting each other go.
What other factors contributed to your longevity?
BRAHMA: We make sure that once a week we go out on a date: dinner, movies, a show, or a concert. We both look for an activity. We make sure one day out of seven we do something together. Sometimes we'll trade days for another when something comes up. We usually try to do it on a Thursday. Our friends know not to call, we don't answer the phone.
NANCY: At least every 3-4 months where we sit down and talk. The only thing you can talk about is what you want from the relationship; the other person can't answer you for a half-hour. It's just what you want out of the relationship but you have to listen. Listening is important. Lots of couples stop listening to each other and take things for granted. As years go by, you change, your goals change, your outlook changes. Things in your life change. Our relationship is constantly being re-evaluated.
What advice would you give to young couples?
NANCY: Keep your relationship current. What I mean is to make sure you are aware of your partners needs and desires. Never let the romance go out of the relationship. After a long time the big things don't matter, it's the little things that matter.
BRAHMA: Be more vocal. Say what your wants and needs are, your likes and dislikes. Your partner doesn't read your mind: sexually, physically and emotionally.
NANCY: Take should out of your vocabulary
BRAHMA: Annoyances are not a reason to break up.
NANCY: If you're in it for the long haul, you have got to be able to accept the person no matter what the physical changes are, weight gain etc. If you're with a person for physical appearance, as that person gets older appearance changes. You must love the person from the inside out. Love goes beyond the physical
What do you think of roles such butch and femme?
BRAHMA: When we first met you were either a butch or femme. I was called a "Sooner". I'd just as soon be on the top or on the bottom. I always felt that we loved each other and that we should be able to make love to each other. I never saw it as one person gives and not receives.
NANCY: I am the more aggressive, but our relationship is task oriented not role oriented.
BRAHMA: Nancy is an excellent cook. I never considered myself a cook. My partner said that I didn't have to be a cook. She does the majority of the cooking. I love washing dishes. We both take out the garbage.
How did your friends feel about that?
BRAHMA: The majority of our friends from the old school were also task oriented even though they dressed up in their bulldagger outfits. This is especially true if there were children involved.
NANCY: You did what you had to do. Sometimes it meant switching roles.
When did you know when you were in love?
BRAHMA: For me when we went to visit my mother. Mom said you are gong to take care of my daughter. She put me in Nancy's charge. I realized I could voice it when mom said it was going to be all right. My mom loved you.
NANCY: Her mom and I were able to talk as friends. I can't put my finger on a moment. I don't think there was one point; it sort of built up.
How would you describe love?
NANCY: If you have that feeling continuously [being in love], then you're in a constant state of infatuation. I feel I'm in love with Brahma but I also feel I love her. When I say I love her it means I trust her; we're friends. I can come to her with anything. You have to reach the point where you love unconditionally. When you're in love, you see only sparks and fires and nothing else. It's a state of constant infatuation. The one thing that is constant is that I feel love for her and it's reciprocal. M. Scott Peck wrote The Road Less Traveled. There's a chapter that takes you through the steps of love. If you go beyond your perception of flaws, then that's love and it's a level beyond being in love.
Do you think that your attitude towards relationships changed?
BRAHMA: There was a time in the early part of my relationship that I thought I was going to be taken care of. I thought because she was more aggressive, that I was supposed to be taken care of. I learned that from the other women in the community; their partners were taking care of them. At least that's what I perceived. It was like a heterosexual relationship. But I had a rude awakening. Nancy let me know that she wasn't going to take care of me. And that's when changes took place, when I realized that I was responsible for my own well being. I became more of an adult because I thought I was supposed to be taken care of.
How would you say our community itself has changed?
BRAHMA: There are more opportunities open to us that we didn't have in the past. People are making more money. Things are acceptable more so than in the past.
NANCY: When I first got into the community, there was more cohesiveness with gay men. Even though a lot of lesbians are involved in the AIDS movement, gays and lesbians don't stick together like during my day. For example, each year a bunch of (men and women) would go on a ski trip. At the hotel, a man and woman registered together. When we got to our rooms, the man went with his lover and the woman with hers. I guess we needed each other then. Now, there's this separateness.
BRAHMA: The younger ones (lesbians) don't make connections (with gay men). Older lesbians have kept our connections with them; our male friends have aged along with us. But it's all separate now. It's like men are not needed.
NANCY: I don't believe that everything that makes me a well-rounded person I can get from Brahma or other women. Sometimes, I need another point of reference and I will seek a male perspective. Rather than favoring one over the other, I take the best of both perspectives into consideration.
Was it hard to get family acceptance?
BRAHMA: Yes, it was a process. When I was at home and dating women, I never invited them inside. One day my mom was waiting for me. She said she would appreciate it if I would invite my friend inside and that's when I felt comfortable. Prior to that, I was afraid to tell her. I found out that she loved me enough to try to understand. She said, "You're my daughter and I don't understand but that's ok because I love you."
NANCY: My mom always knew. I knew as early as age 11. From 16-22, I tried my mother's way. I got engaged 3 times. Out of all of them, I only loved one. Even then, I couldn't stop seeing women. I would break dates with him in a minute to go out with a woman.
My mother accepted Brahma and that was the best she came around. Once I got into therapy, I got to know more about my mother's background. We had different ideas about love. Her background taught her that showing love meant providing food, clothes and shelter. Once I understood her perception of love, I knew that it [the distance in our relationship] didn't have anything to do with my lesbianism.
If I'm attracted to someone else, does that mean I don't love you?
NANCY: Even though you love someone, it doesn't mean you're not going to have stirrings for other people. You are a human being not a robot. Can you be adult enough to have those feelings and not act upon them while in a relationship? If you do act on those feelings, you need to check yourself and check your relationship.
BRAHMA: There are logical consequences for acting on things. Nancy and I can admire the same person and see something we find very appealing and that's as far as it goes. We'll even laugh afterwards. It's acting on it that makes the situation difficult. You have to tell yourself, "I may loose my lover/partner, if I act on the feeling. Am I ready and willing to risk that?"
I've learned that it's ok to discuss with your partner different needs. If you're partner doesn't do certain things, then it has to be clear if you need to get your needs met in a certain fashion.
NANCY: The main problem with couples today is that they don't communicate. They don't listen.
BRAHMA: You have to know what's okay.
One problem is that younger couples have seen few examples of committed lesbian relationships lasting several years. It's rare to find a couples that has been together for more than ten years. Where are the examples of long terms relationship in our community?
BRAHMA: There are groups that no longer exist. Les Amies is a couples group that is no longer in existence anymore. Les Amies never recruited young people in their core group. No one left to take their place. Some people have passed on and the history is lost.
NANCY: One young lady came to me and asked me to teach her. She needed Butch lessons.
BRAHMA: We used to call it Butch lessons when folks got out of line and needed mentoring.
NANCY: That's when I realized I was older. In my day, If you were in the company of older lesbians and they saw you doing something wrong, they would pull your coat, especially in a relationship. Femmes would ask older Butches (mentors) to be mediators. I've seen a lot of changes in these last years. I wish I could see older lesbians taking younger lesbians under the wings, but there isn't respect from younger lesbians today. Nowadays, kids don't have to respect anyone. It makes you fearful about bringing someone under your wing.