Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Women that have made a difference to my life

Last Sunday was International Women's Day. What does this day mean to you? Like many other special days, International Women’s Day has never meant all that much to me. I thought that perhaps it was about time I changed this, so I sat down and thought about what this day could mean to me and I came to the following conclusion.

When I think about a day that is all about women, it makes me think about the women that are important to me. More specially, those women that have made a difference to my life. Hence, an article was born.

My mother

The first woman that has made a difference to my life is my mother. You can’t write about the women that have had an impact on you and skip your mother. My mother is the greatest mother in the entire world. Ok perhaps I am exaggerating a little bit, but she sure is awesome.

She is a very dominant and stubborn woman who showed me from an early age that you don’t really need a man (or anyone for that matter) to take care of you. She wasn’t very strict and growing up we had very few rules.

Whenever I wanted to do something that was obviously foolish (like getting my ears pierced when I was four or riding the go carts when I was 8), she just let me do it so I could experience firsthand how stupid it was.

This usually meant I ended up hurt and next time I would think twice before wanting to do something that my mother thought was a bad idea. This kind of upbringing taught me how to think for myself and be independent, but it has also made me hate being told what to do.

My mother not only made me into the stubborn insubordinate smartass I am today, but she also gave me something much more valuable. She always told me to do whatever makes me happy. Ok, her actual words were “I don’t care what you do with your life, as long as you are happy” and she really meant it too.

This has helped me throughout my life, not only to make any life decisions without being too worried about the consequences, but it has also made me see happiness as my one main goal in life. I might want a lot of things, but in the end, all that really matters to me is that I am happy. Happy with my life and with who I am.

Fictitious women

I have spend a large part of my life reading books and watching films and television, so it is not surprising that some of the women that have made a difference in my life happen to be fictitious women.

With that I mean book, film and TV characters that spoke to me and who I identified with or looked up to. There are quite a few of those, but when I think about it, four female characters come to mind immediately that I cared about the most.

The first female character that I loved dearly and still do to this day is Madelief from the Dutch children's book series by Guus Kuijer. These books tell the story of the daily life of Madelief, a little girl who is a bit of a tomboy.

Come to think of it, I am not even sure that she is, but she likes to play with both girls and boys and is just as happy playing house as she is climbing threes. More importantly, she does not really get why she should act in gender confirmative ways.

She doesn’t understand a lot of things that people do or don’t do and she is always asking questions about it. As the only girl in my class who preferred to play “boy games” with the boys, Madelief made me feel like I wasn’t that weird. Although of course she was much cooler than I ever was.

The other three female characters that were important to me are from TV and film. I thought they were so cool, I wanted to be just like them; Watts from the eighties movie Some kind of wonderful, Emily Valentine from the original Beverly Hills 90210 and Suzanne Lievegoed from the Dutch medical drama series Medisch centrum west.

All three of these characters were exciting and intriguing to me, because they weren’t very girly and they had their own awesome individual style. They were girls that were different, but they did not really care about that.

I wanted to be just like them. It was only when I got older that I realized that my fascination with them might not only have been about wanting to be like them, but I had a little crush on all of them as well.

This is not really all that surprising, because you probably all agree with me that each of these characters should have been gay. I mean, c’mon, look at that hair! I only now realize that they all had similar haircuts.

Women in the spot light

There’s also been a few real women in the spot light that have been important enough to me to get a mention. The first celebrity that has made an impact on my life is Madonna. Growing up in the eighties, I was a huge Madonna fan just like every other little girl I knew. I had the posters, the t-shirts and the 7” singles, not to mention the sunglasses and bracelets.

The highlight for me was when I was 7 or 8 and my parents drove my little sister and me to the stadium where she would be playing. I can still remember vividly standing in front of the stadium listening to the concert singing along at the top of my lungs.

During the eighties everyone loved Madonna and no one seemed to think there was anything she couldn’t do. At least, that’s what my perception was as a little girl. I was totally intrigued by her style, her music, and her attitude.

I never wanted to be her or even be like her, but she did give me the idea or helped me with my conviction that girls could do anything they wanted to.

Once I got older I became a fan of several different musicians. Some were pretty great and some were really horrific (I even went through a boy band phase. Don’t judge). Those that stood out for me were always those singers or bands with strong independent women.

The most important of these women during my twenties was Tori Amos. Yes, I know, lots of lesbians love her, but it’s not really surprising, is it? I mean, the woman is awesome. I am not easily moved, but I remember watching her in concert years ago, just her and her piano in a totally quiet music hall. It was breath taking.

Apart from being a wonderful musician, I always loved Tori Amos because of her quirkiness. She made it ok to be a little unusual. She was also the first artist I came in contact with who freely wrote about her feelings and desires.

As a little undergrad, I played her Under the pink and Little earthquakes albums over and over again, totally identifying with everything. Not that I knew exactly what she was singing about, but that really didn’t matter. For many years her music was the soundtrack to my life.

Do you notice a theme here? All the women I can think of that have been important in my life have been strong, individualistic and independent women who live their life the way they want to. In other words, they are themselves and don’t let other people or society tell them how they should live or be.

You might think that gay women are a little under represented in this list, but I am trying to do this somewhat chronologically and the fact that I am so very gay is a fairly recent development. Let me elaborate.

The women of AfterEllen

I never used to be very gay. I mean, I was always gay, but I made it such a small part of my life you could almost forget it was there. It took me forever to come out of the closet and once I was out, I decided I was fine with being as low key about it as possible.

After all, being gay wasn’t a big deal, so why should I emphasize it? This sort of worked for me for a number of years until I moved to a little town in Germany. Having to build up a completely new social circle, I found myself with a lot of free time on my hands, which I mainly spent online.

That is when I discovered AfterEllen. What initially attracted me to the website was that it was a lesbian site, but the emphasize wasn’t on gay stuff like issues, politics or dating, but fun entertainment instead.

I started visiting the site more and more, reading all the articles and eventually commenting on them too. At first I did not really care about any articles that talked about lack of lesbian visibility or anything that took a critical look at society and how lesbians are treated.

I just wanted to hold on to my “it’s no big deal” illusion, but I found it harder and harder to do the more I visited AfterEllen. Not only because of everything I was reading and learning, but also because of all the fun I was having. Then when the whole vlog thing started, it gave the women of AfterEllen a face, made them more real somehow.

I’d never before seen so many awesome lesbians, who were not only very gay, but also so happy and unapologetic about it. For example, if you have a wonderful woman like Bridget McManus repeating over and over again, “I’m so gay and it’s awesome” it is very hard to not agree with her and say, “Yes, being gay is awesome!”

At some point, AfterEllen started to feel like a place where I belonged and I had to admit to myself that the main reason for that was because it was so gay. It was the gay part of myself that I never allowed to blossom before, that I was finally able to fully embrace.

More specially, I started to enjoy the gay part of me and at the same time, I became much more aware and interested in the political and societal aspects of being gay.

I will probably never be that political or become one of those “angry lesbians”, but the fact that I am now doing something so gay as being an editor for eurOut is a huge change from what my life was like a few years ago. I don’t think I’d be doing this if it weren’t for the women of AfterEllen.

Which women have made a difference in your life?

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