A Web Portal For Lesbians Of Color
Ingrid Rivera-Dessuit says, "Asking me why I am a lesbian is like asking me why I have brown eyes. Because that's my reality. Because that's who I am." Ms. Rivera-Dessuit was featured in the March issues of EBONY where she talked about coming out of the closet, embracing her sexuality and educating others about homosexuality.
At 17, while pregnant, a high school
drop-out, and in an abusive heterosexual relationship,
Rivera-Dessuit courageously came to terms with her strong
attraction to women, and began on a path toward turning her
life around. As she writes, "A slow process of education and
self- empowerment driven by my need to care for the child I
was about to bring into the world helped me leave the lies
and abuse." A teenager and unwed mom, she moved to
Massachusetts from New York to start a new life.
Little did she know her new life would involve making
national headlines while fighting the religious right to
organize the first lesbian, gay and trans pride march in
Lawrence. She is as dedicated to the gay community as
she is to her 10-year-old daughter, Amanda.
On Feminism: "I have to be honest, I haven't thought about the question of using the term that much. I do feminist work--for a movement for social and political change and for equality for women and all people. But I say I'm an activist for women's rights. I don't think I ever seriously considered taking up the term. One reason is that when I think of feminists, the first image that comes to mind is white women. Another is the image of a man-hating dyke. I am not man-hating, but I am a dyke.
Before coming out, when I was still questioning, it was too scary to use that word. But now that I'm out and I know who I am, I don't relate to the word because the movement doesn't encompass and hasn't really shown interest in all women. I have been referred to by others as a feminist--because of the work I do--and that doesn't bother me. But I don't own the term." Source: Ms. Magazine -- March 2001.
A Lesbian Voice In Ebony Magazine:
The March issue of Ebony Magazine, featured "Why I Am A
Lesbian," written by Ingrid Rivera-Dessuit. The article’s
headline is given cover placement with the other feature
stories. Her first-person article was an intimate look at
Rivera-Dessuit’s life from early childhood through the
present. The narrative centered on her trying to deny her
true feelings at first, coming out of the closet, facing her
family’s reactions and dealing with her daughter being
subjected to a homophobic world.
Her story educated readers about what it means to be a lesbian, additionally, Rivera-Dessuit also wrote about the connection between oppressed communities. "I will continue to work in any capacity to ensure that my family, young and old LGBT people and society in general are free from all types of oppression," she writes. "I strive to show my family the importance of linking all struggles and discriminatory acts. With time comes change and, at times, understanding. Society has a long way to go in the struggle for LGBT human rights and it has made some accomplishments. Until we can realize the connections and how oppressions work to conquer and divide society, we will never be a united liberated front."
Ingrid, through her article, serves as a role model by showing how enriching the world can be by embracing diversity and showing that multiple social identities do not have to be mutually exclusive of each other.
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Contact Ingrid Rivera for speaking engagements at Black Lavender Resources, the source for leading Black gay, lesbian, same gender loving speakers.
David S. Neale, Owner & Resource Manager
Black Lavender Resources
P.O. Box 1806
Wheaton, MD 20915-1806
Press on Ingrid Rivera
EBONY, March, 2001
"Why I Am A Lesbian".
Ms., Feb, 2001
"The F Word".
NGLTF, June, 2000
"Ingrid Rivera-Dessuit Named Racial and Economic Justice Policy Analyst at NGLTF Policy Institute".
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EBONY, March, 2001
"Why I Am A Lesbian"
This story was printed from
"Why I Am A Lesbian".
Author(s): Ingrid Rivera-Dessuit
I am a lesbian. I am a mother. I am a woman of color. I am real and visible. I wasn't always--visible that is. I am visible now because at age 20 I chose to come out--out of the closet. Out of the box that was created for me. Out of the idea that straight is normal and any other sexual orientation is deviant, perverted, and sick.
For years that idea ruled my life and almost destroyed it. Because for years I accepted the message society sends us about who we should be, about what it means to be a man or a woman, about what is "normal." No one wants to be viewed as deviant, and I was no different. And so, like millions of gay men and women, I made great efforts to fit into the heterosexual box. There is safety, if not fulfillment, in the familiar. But the physical safety of my familiarity finally became unsafe for me emotionally. After years of suffering and struggling, I could stand it no longer. I jumped out of the closet and into the light. I came out! Out of the idea that men should and would take care of me. Out of a haze that was once too thick to see or recognize my own reality. Out of a denial that almost destroyed me. Coming out was one of the most important choices of my life. Despite oppression and fear of physical harm, I felt it totally necessary to honor my feelings and begin the process of knowing who I am.
When I was a young girl I had no idea what a lesbian was. I have always had crushes on women. Most of my childhood sexual developmental play was with girls. I allowed myself to feel those feelings because it felt right and good. As I got older I realized that "it" was not the right thing to do. All of my friends either had boyfriends or longed for them. I did not. I longed to have the normality of my peers, thus a boyfriend would have to do. I did not hate boys. I had nothing against them. I even enjoyed their company and made long-lasting friendships with ex-boyfriends.
The crushes, the fantasies, the need to be closer to a woman in a way that I could not explain was so far from the reality of my life that I could not see a way to ever fulfill them. And so I settled. I unconsciously decided to settle for relationships with men and the dreams that girls are supposed to dream of. I met an older man and, at a very young age, left home and became pregnant. Life with this man was unfulfilling and burdensome. The energy involved in maintaining a facade was draining, debilitating, and eventually too much to bear.
Throughout our relationship, I continued to have feelings for women. Deep feelings. Feelings I could not ignore. I didn't know what they meant or how I could process them. As a result, my relationship with my boyfriend began to unravel. While drug, emotional and physical abuse all played a part in its destruction, the driving force was my need to be myself and love a woman. Although the situation was unsafe--not just for me but for my unborn child--I stayed long after I should have left. This was the life that I was told was right. The life I was told was "normal." As bad as the abuse got, I saw no way out. I could not see a way to escape the lie I was living. Soon, feelings of confusion, anger and bitterness consumed my very existence. Thoughts of ending my life crossed my mind daily. Some days they were so intense my body would go limp. Limp enough to numb the nameless--but all-consuming--pain, but not enough to end it.
A slow process of education and self-empowerment driven by my need to care for the child I was about to bring into the world helped me leave the lies and abuse. But when you're pregnant and 17, it isn't easy. And so I took small steps. First I got my GED and took Lamaze classes at an adolescent center providing support, education and health services. The experience helped me to realize I needed a change and gave me the courage to make it. I left my boyfriend and began the process of understanding who I was. Having no place to go, I ended up living in shelters. My journey to self-awareness led me to leave the mean streets of New York and to a new life in Massachusetts. As a single mother on welfare, I found a cheap apartment and enrolled in community college. It was the beginning of my transformation. At college, I met diverse people, people who by their very existence dispelled years of invisibility. For the first time, I met gay and gay-friendly people. People who accepted my sexuality. My socially constructed push toward relationships with men ceased and I was a new woman.
I finally began to accept who I was--a lesbian. One day I just came out. First I came out to myself. I said it out loud in the mirror. I shouted it. "I am a lesbian!" Then I came out to my daughter, friends, teachers and family. After all those years of questions and praying for death, the simple act of my self-acceptance gave me inner peace. I prepared myself for the next step--social and family acceptance.
Telling my mother was a difficult task. She took it very hard. While she ensured her love for me, she said she could not understand how I was a lesbian. "You have dated men and you have a daughter," she said with a perplexed look on her face, not fully understanding what a lesbian is. "I cannot accept that you are a lesbian, but you are my daughter," she reluctantly assured me, and I felt lucky. I had spent my entire life running from who I was, but I was determined to stay and face reality. My parents tried to get me to see a psychiatrist, but at least they remained in my life to an extent.
While they knew I was gay, I was never able to talk about it. "Why must gays push their lives into our faces?" my mother would ask. She took for granted the many times she has told people that she had a husband, thus identifying her as straight. She didn't understand that every day was a day I had to choose to either "push my life into someone's face" or hide my life. "Are you married?" my gynecologist would ask, then scold me because I didn't use birth control. Strangers told me that I needed to find a nice young man to help me raise my daughter. Every day was a struggle. Every day I came out to someone. Every day I educated someone.
I'm proud to say my best student has been my 10-year-old daughter, Amanda. She has been at my side in this struggle. She has also been hurt deeply by the inability of society to accept that her mother is gay. She feels the pain of homophobia. She must decide whether she can tell her friends. Will they accept her? Will their parents let them come over? She has lost some friends and a baby-sitter because of prejudice.
Determined to educate myself so that I could educate others about the horrible effects of this prejudice, I earned my bachelor's degree in human studies and a master's degree in sociology. I was able to get off welfare and move back to New York. I was so happy to come back home. I enrolled Amanda in a Brooklyn public school and was very excited to have her go to school where she would be among her peers. My excitement was short-lived. The reasons were many: The classrooms were overcrowded, the teachers frustrated and underpaid, and the school was a clutter of chaos, and lacked in accountability. Worse, other children hurled taunts of "faggot," "dyke" and "nigger" on a daily basis. Not only was homophobia a problem but racial issues were as well. My daughter felt threatened and hurt by her peers. Going to school every day was a struggle and she began to isolate herself.
Fortunately, I found a school with which I am very happy. Before enrolling Amanda, I met with the principal and explained our dilemma. I was pleased and comforted by assurances of my child's safety. My daughter's first day was exciting. We hiked up the long flights to the top floor--out of breath and somewhat disappointed. "Not again," I thought, noticing that my child was the only Black child in the class. A repetition, I thought, of her Massachusetts school days. As we watched child after child walk in I saw her face light up when she saw a familiar face--another Black girl! Then two others came along with other children of color. Now my daughter is a happy, healthy, well-rounded, educated and socially aware individual. When she is asked about her parents, she proudly says, "I have two moms!" Gayness is not an issue for her, societal ignorance is.
I met my partner Shantal four years ago during Gay Pride Weekend in New York City. We fell in love instantly. After going on several dates and traveling back-and-forth from Massachusetts to New York to be together, we decided to move in together. In the second year of our relationship, Shantal and I had a commitment ceremony. It was one of the happiest days of my life. Although we do not get the same rights as heterosexual married couples, we felt the need to share our love with family and friends. Our ceremony was unique. Shantal, Amanda and I recited vows to one another. We felt strongly that our commitment was a family commitment, which included our child. We all exchanged rings that have three women symbols interlocked, showing our commitment and unity. Shantal's last name is Dessuit, and Amanda's and mine is Rivera. After our vows to one another, we decided to hyphenate our names. We are the Rivera-Dessuit family.
Barriers of society and institutional oppression constantly stump us, but we educate ourselves and learn along the way. When I came out about nine years ago I began my life's mission for equality. In college I started a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) social group and club. Since then I have worked for numerous organizations to promote gay rights, and now I head the Racial and Economic Justice Initiative at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force: Policy Institute. This initiative seeks to add economic and racial-justice priorities to the agendas of mainstream LGBT organizations and to educate non-gay civil fights groups working on race and poverty about their LBGT constituencies. I will continue to work in any capacity to ensure that my family, young and old LGBT people and society in general are free from all types of oppression. I strive to show my family the importance of linking all struggles and discriminatory acts. With time comes change and, at times, understanding. Society has a long way to go in the struggle for LGBT human fights and it has made some accomplishments. Until we can realize the connections and how oppressions work to conquer and divide society, we will never be a united liberated front.
Asking me why I am a lesbian is like asking me why I have brown eyes. Because that's my reality. Because that's who I am.
NOTE from Ingrid Rivera-Dessuit:
'WHY I AM A LESBIAN' ESSAY IN MARCH ISSUE OF EBONY
MAGAZINE Hello all Just wanted to send out this e-mail so all of
you can check out the March issue of Ebony Magazine. A POC
(African American) straight magazine has published an Essay of
mine. In fact Ebony called me to do the article. The article is
entitled "Why I am a Lesbian". The magazine is running a special
annual women's issue and I was very happy to have been included.
Please e-mail or write to Ebony letting them know that they need
to have more of our voices included in their magazine. People
need to know that GLBT people are everywhere and we are of every
racial/cultural/ethnical background. Thank them for venturing
out. If they get a lot of positive responses--who knows what
could happen :) Thanks all. Ingrid Rivera-Dessuit Womyn of
color/ activist/ mother/ lesbian
This article and the above email can also be found at: http://www.angelfire.com/pa4/nlgjaphiladelphia/notes0302.html
COPYRIGHT 2001 Johnson Publishing
in association with The Gale Group and LookSmart. COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group
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