Then and Now

Aug 1, 2012 | 2012 Summer - Then and Now, Articles

By Marcia Deihl


And though we live separate, I keep two rooms open,
And one has you in it and the other does not.
And I move in the middle, unsure and protected,
And trip on my rope, vaguely sensing I’m caught.

– Ferron, “Shadows on a Dime”

A love affair. A breakup. Pain and confusion about who I was. There were only two choices then: a woman was either a straight woman or a lesbian. I had been the first, then the second. Neither one fit. I felt there must have been something terribly wrong with me, and there was no one to talk to. It was 1979 and I was 29 years old.

I fell in love with “Kit” on Valentine’s Day of 1978. We were friends at the time, but something about the Blizzard of ‘78 and our increasing sense of joy and relaxation when we were together primed me to accept her proposal on that most love-centered of holidays.

At the time, everything started making sense. I had been one of the few feminists in my crowd to have boyfriends from the early 70s until about 1975, when we were all listening to lyrics like “Lesbian, lesbian, any woman can be a lesbian” by Alix Dobkin and “Sweet Woman” by Cris Williamson. So when I met Kit, it all fell into place. My crush on the gym teacher, my high school crushes on mother/daughter pairs, my diaries that said things like, “I don’t know whether to act like me or a girl.”

I met my first out lesbians in 1970 when I joined a Bread and Roses C-R (consciousness-raising) group during my junior year in college. Women’s liberation was just one of many huge transformative movements that were going on then, including Black Power, the American Indian Movement, and the anti-war movement.

April 15, 1970: “The Revolution is starting. After all my radical conversion and all, still didn’t march today. . . Harvard Square was under siege when I came up at 8:30 to go to the concert. Heavy fighting. I am confused. But I can’t agree with violence at all. I am too idealistic though.”

For four years I’d been living with David, who was gay before either of us realized or admitted that he was. The women in my C-R group kept complaining that their boyfriends wanted sex all the time, but I was frustrated that my pretty John Lennon-lookalike boyfriend couldn’t get beyond pawing and kissing.

July 3, 1970: “Fire Island: The 3 guys were very uptight about the ‘fags’ and I campaigned for Women’s Lib. No ogling and people doing what they want. I can’t convince them that homosexuality is OK. I think it is. Esp. David doesn’t but I can see why.”

I had developed a crush on Diana from my group and watched as Tess came out and moved on to a lesbian collective. The women’s movement was gradually becoming central to my life. And I heard my first women’s music.

May 13, 1970: “Women’s Lib is gradually becoming real to me. . . I think most of them are more together by virtue of their years. I want to learn to give the finger to guys who yell at me on my bike.”

October 9, 1970: “Big dance at da gym for Women’s Center thing—great band & the folk singer but I couldn’t get into some of the heavy anti-male stuff [probably Bev Grant and/or New Haven Women’s Liberation Rock Band].

Famous last words. Five years later, I started playing in a feminist string band called The New Harmony Sisterhood Band, which had grown out of my women’s studies thesis. But I was straight. I often wished I had been a lesbian; it would have unified my politics and my love life so elegantly. I’d had one gay boyfriend who wasn’t interested in sex and then another self-styled blues man who wanted sex with me and anyone else he could find—as much of the time as possible.

I did finally sleep with a woman in 1977, a couple of years after leaving him. My wild androgynous fiddle teacher stayed late one night, and we started a short-lived closeted affair. She was not interested in politics and didn’t want her male band mates to know about us. So, oddly enough, until I met Kit, none of my lesbian friends knew I had come over to their “team.” But when Kit and I got together, I announced it to the world with great relief and joy.

Then why did I leave her a year and a half later?

Marcia and Kit, Then

Remember that scene in “Annie Hall” where the couple’s therapist asks the couple, “How often do you have sex?” He answers “Hardly ever,” and she answers “All the time!” I fell in love like we all do, all that adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin making a cocoon of wanting to be in bed making out all the time. But after about six months, I confessed to my diary, “I guess if I fake it for men, I might as well fake it for this wonderful woman, who is much easier to be with, day or night.”

Whether it was my Kinsey number, my youthful insecurity, my past stories of trauma, I don’t know to this day. But “faking it” at night in order to enjoy blissful days eventually caught up with me. I had also gotten into a recovery program for compulsive overeating and had lost the weight that I’d carried since I was a fat, bullied teenager. I couldn’t deny that men were looking at me for the first time. I left her for myself, not for a man, but I knew I wanted to go back to men.

I braced for trouble. My band was made up of five women. We started out with one lesbian in 1974. As time went on, the other four of us fell in love with women, too. It was a microcosm of the second wave women’s movement, where the oft-repeated mantra was, “Feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice.” I was so happy to have arrived in that culture, and I didn’t want to give it up. With the inexperience of youth, I searched for how to proceed.

May 14, 1979: “Loved seeing Kit again, though . . . I’m so lucky to have her for yes, a lover. If I keep telling myself I’m bisexual, what’s the problem? Still, I foresee future problems over my acting out.”

Then, when I turned thirty, my public musical life collided with my personal life. Acting on a dare, I planned to throw myself an “I’m Settled” party, as a sort of claim that I, too, wanted the furniture and family heirlooms that my brother got when he was married. I even wrote a song for the occasion, with lines like “No hubby, no house, no car, no kid, and no regrets for what I didn’t or I did.” Fifty friends came to my house to celebrate. Kit was there, but she wasn’t celebrating. It had become clear that we were in the process of breaking up. [See Bi Women, December 1999/ January 2000, pp. 6-8]

July 26, 1979: “Not a fun day by any means. She knows what I want to do, but I want her to know why and know me. I can’t keep this up ‘because it would hurt Kit.’ Of COURSE it’s hurting Kit, and me too. I bawled and screamed but remain convinced it’s the right path. As I told Kit, It’s absurd on one level that I’m doing this party—settled? Mostly because of her support and now I’m throwing it away. But what I can’t tell her is that I’ve wanted this cleared up for months.”

December 18, 1979: “In fact I feel more and more hetero lately. I just didn’t want to admit such I’m sure but it took two years. What a funny world where I go to a shrink to ask permission to be hetero!”


In 1980, I went to a coming out class at the Cambridge Adult Ed Center, where there was one lesbian, several gay men, and me, a self-identified bisexual. The lesbian in the group informed me that there was no such thing and that it was a copout. (Years later she wrote me that she had come out as a bisexual.) I wrote in my diary that I’d probably end up with a gay or bisexual (“I guess he would have to be”) man—a prophecy. [See Bi Women, Summer 2011, p. 12]

A year later, I attended a Tuesday night bisexual rap at the Cambridge Women’s Center, but there was no click of chemistry among the women there to continue meeting. But in 1982, I hit paydirt. I met Lisa Orlando and Robyn Ochs. [See Bi Women, September/October/November 2008]

September 22, 1982: “Bi discussion at the women’s center. Met Lisa Orlando who’s like me! A fag hag punk woman.” September 7, 1983: “Good BiVocals meeting at Megan’s. Monogamy I.” September 14, 1983: “Bisexual Network Meeting.” September 28, 1983: “Bi(rthday) Party – first one for the BiVocals. I made toys, Lucinda did a neat ritual where we said one word about the others. I was ‘flash’ –’‘creative’ –’‘independent’ – ‘humor’. I like it. I love these 5 women. Gee.”

In therapy, they call it “reframing.” Just as I had looked back at my life and found all the obvious lesbian signs, I now looked back and found more bisexual ones: crushes on brother/sister or girlfriend/boyfriend couples and attractions to girly boys and boyish girls. I’d started referring to myself as bisexual in college, after meeting Diana. The bisexual label was not new to me, but the community was.


After thirty years, BBWN and thousands of other bisexual groups in the world have created a safe haven. I hope countless younger (and older) women won’t have to reinvent my wheel of pain. I am delighted to be one of the Boston pioneers of the label that has to keep on speaking its name. Robyn has been tireless in spreading the word about healthy sexuality, the freedom of choice, and how to work with our allies. I fought in the 1990s to get that “B” in there in my various queer organizations. Now even the mainstream media know what GLBT means.

I am no longer tripping on any rope, like in the Ferron song; I’m solidly at home in both rooms of identity, and I enjoy the transits between them.

I love the variety and surprises of a bisexual life. Recently, I met a woman in my church who identifies as bisexual and had attended a BBWN group, even though she is married to a man now. She gets it. When one of the other members said to her, “You know, Marcia is bisexual . . . “ my friend smiled and said, “Me too.” The other woman looked a bit puzzled. These small stories take place all the time, all over town, thanks to BBWN.

When I sing “I’m Settled” at open mics, I say that back then I was a “vaguean”—vague about my sexual identity, vague about my life’s path, full of bravado and fear. Then I add, “Now I’m sure of who I am. I’m a monogamous bisexual!” which for some reason makes the audience burst out laughing. (Isn’t that impossible? Don’t you have to have one of each? )

The struggle some of us faced over leaving the lesbian tribe was referred to in a recent movie about the second wave women’s movement in Boston that was shown at the Brattle Theater as part of the WAM women’s film festival. In “A Moment in Her Story,” there were clips of our band singing at a rally about the joys of self help: “Get your speculum at the neighborhood clinic/Learn about your cervix and what’s in it!” But the filmmaker made it clear that within the Boston area second-wave women’s movement, if you weren’t a lesbian, you were “sleeping with the enemy.” Some straight and/or bi women who were interviewed thirty years later talked about their pain back then.

The great news is that as one gets older, one gives less of a shit. As a young woman I worried that “They” were judging me, and I know now that there is no “They.” There are compassionate people and there are fearful people. These days, women of my age are more interested in working together to keep the gains we won than from being rolled back even further. Many of our friends have died, reminding us about what’s really important. We’re simply happy to see each other around in this cold, supposedly “post-feminist” world that has no idea about those groundbreaking days when women found magic and power in each other.

And what about Kit? For a writer and diary keeper like me, riding my bike past her old house every day on my way to work can’t help but conjure up memories. We’re both alive and well. She married a great woman, and I went on to have three more boyfriends, the last of whom was a bi trans man and the love of my life who died a year ago [see Bi Women, Summer 2011, p. 12)

There’s a photo of Kit and me laughing together on the web site of a GLBT awards dinner in 2010. We meet at least once a year just to catch up. For years, I’d always be sure to bring up how sorry and confused I was, as part of the 12-step program of making amends. After a few years of this, she just laughed and said, “Oh, is it amends time again? Come on, enough’s enough. We were both young then, and it was like we were playmates.” You mean I wasn’t such a devastating heartbreaker? What a comedown.

At our most recent lunch, we talked about role models. I said, “You had your former boss as a role model.” She answered, “I had Marcia Deihl as a role model.” Huh? Then she added something that warmed my heart: “We were each other’s role models back then.” We talked about former friends that we missed—Kay Gardner and Rita Arditti. And I admitted to a mad crush on Janet McTeer after seeing the film Albert Nobbs.

“Then and now,” for me, comes down to that moment. I have now what I didn’t have then: the freedom to tell the whole truth, without hesitation. Our love, our painful breakup, my going back to men, and my crush on Janet McTeer, are all of a piece in my bisexual life.

So then why did I go home and have a little sob into my pillow after our last meeting?

She was the most sane, creative, compassionate, funny, and attentive lover I had ever been with in my sixty-two years. We were so good together, except for that one thing. Ah, but sex is not a small thing and neither one of us could endure an affection-only “Boston Marriage.” Today I know male/female categories are becoming obsolete. Will I ever be with a woman again? Who knows.

One of my writing courses was called “Discover Your Life By Writing It,” and I see that almost every intimate “secret” I’ve ever kept is now in the pages of Bi Women. My tears are just fine. They are a tribute to Kit and the risk inherent in any love affair.

I’ll sign off with a toast to thirty years, using the farewell that my long-time bisexual friends Norm Davis, Robyn Ochs and I always use, preferably out loud and when we are in public: “Bi.” “I know you are.”

Marcia is a founding member of BBWN.

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