If you’re reading this letter, chances are you’re one of the only lesbians in your town—or at least you feel like you are. You may feel lonely, disheartened, and maybe even scared if you hear homophobic vitriol being spoken by the people around you. As someone who grew up in small-town USA, I get it.
I grew up in a tiny town in the middle of Pennsylvania, the kind of place no one has ever heard of unless they’re from there. I knew I was a lesbian long before I even knew there was a word for it. The town I was born and raised in had as many bars as it did churches and very little else in the way of places to go. Most of my friends had blue-collar parents or grew up on farms, and we were surrounded by folks who knew very little about the world outside of our rural area. Because of my upbringing in rural America, I know a little bit about what it means to feel different from everyone around you, feeling disconnected and searching for people like you—people you aren’t even sure actually exist.
We do exist. In fact, lesbians exist everywhere, no matter where in the world you live (even if they are in hiding or closeted or there’s just a small handful!). As a matter of fact, many lesbians call rural America “home”. National surveys indicate that between 3-5% of the population in rural America identify as part of the LGBTQ community. That’s proof that we don’t all live in cities.
Sweet baby dyke, being a lesbian is not easy no matter where you live, but can be especially challenging in a small town where people fear anyone who is “different”. In rural America, being different from the norm can result in nastiness slung your way, gossip spread like wildfire about your sexuality, and worse still: being shunned by your community—the very people you grew up with, love, and rely on. So many rural lesbians choose to stay in the closet not out of shame but out of survival. Because we know the risk of coming out and having the information spread through the gossip mill faster than the news about the new Walmart opening up in the next town over.
I was outed in a painfully terrible way in high school. During rehearsal for my high school graduation, someone yelled “dyke!” after my name was called, and the principal waited to shake my hand on stage. In that moment, I wanted to melt into my chair and die. But I lived.
Even though things are much different than the world I grew up in as a junior lesbian (hello, we have the internet now), some things remain the same. I know all about how you long for love and care and affection from another lesbian, just like my generation and the one before me and the one before that. Your desire and longing is one that we have all experienced. And your fear of rejection is not new, but it’s so very real.
As an old and seasoned lesbian, there are a few things I want you to know:
You are not alone. When I got called a dyke in school, I wanted nothing more than to fall into someone’s arms at the end of the day for comfort and love. I didn’t have that luxury, and sometimes it was so f*cking lonely I thought the grief and isolation would swallow me whole. But your lesbian elders are standing as beacons of strength and hope for you. And I promise you there are other baby dykes sitting quietly at the lunch table while all of their friends talk about “hot boys” in your rural high school, there are other closeted lesbians in college dorms in the South, and there are countless other baby dykes who peruse the internet for gay content—but only once everyone else in the house is asleep. You aren’t alone, baby dyke. Not now. Not ever.
You are stronger than you think. Sometimes it feels like this world isn’t made for you, and that you just can’t go on anymore. I know how exhausting it can feel to be the different one, to feel so alone. But you are stronger than you think. Whether you choose to stay in your small, rural town or escape to a bigger city, your strength will continue to surprise you as you go about your journey in life. If you’ve grown tired of carrying the weight of your secret (if you’re not out yet), or if you’ve grown weary of the homophobia surrounding you, please reach out and find your people. We’re here, and we’re strongest together.
You are worthy of love. Maybe you are surrounded by people who don’t understand homosexuality or even find it “gross” or a “sin”. Don’t let their ignorance and hate kick you down. You’re worthy of love, and not only do you deserve it, but it will find you. When you realize that you’re worth it, that you can rise above their ignorance and homophobia, you can stand in your truth and hold your head high. Seek support and friendship wherever you can get it from straight people and your fellow gays, no matter if you know them in person or online. You may be surprised by what (and who) you find.
Baby dyke, maybe your walk through life isn’t the easiest one. You’re no stranger to challenges, to being different. Remember to show compassion for others and yourself. Know that you may feel physically alone, but you’re never truly alone. You have your lesbian sisters to reach out to, and we want all good things for you. We’re here for you. And although it may sound trite, I’m here to tell you: it gets better. I promise.