About 10 years ago some friends and I were sitting in the indoor space at Washington Park on Chicago's South Side, waiting for the Affinity Community Services annual Burning Bowl ceremony to begin.
There was a wonderful mix of women of all cultures and ages filling the room and my imagination. I softly whispered to CJ, "What if I created a brochure of sexual positions for women approaching 60?"
She quickly responded in a dry tone, "That would probably be a single-page brochure."
For the rest of the afternoon we could not stop laughing. I seriously thought I had a rich idea. CJ, on the other hand, thought it was a joke and further intimated that the nearing-60 lesbians were no longer having sex. When I shared my brilliant idea with the rest of our group they too thought it was a joke.
Although I laughed, I was serious. I did my best to pull it together, remain attentive to the program and look respectful in spite of the irrepressible giggles and my growing curiosity about the seasoned life. I started looking around at the women in the room who seemed to fit that demographic. I imagined myself innocently going up to them with a clipboard and questionnaire, inquiring about the state of their sex lives and waiting for the unexpected answers.
Seeing these women reminded me of what I often heard about older lesbian couples; who began as lovers then grew into a relationship equal to roommates. It was thought that they would become a pair of sexless friends who shared memories of their pasts. Many of the seasoned women I met in my youth talked a lot about activist topics, wrapped in feminist ideologies. Their "butch" counterparts, even in safe spaces, waxed on about sports, current events or music but rarely about the joys of sex and romance.
In being around these older lesbians, I was hoping to get some pointers on lesbian sex 101. After all, I was shy and slightly nerdy then. However, on the flip side, when I was around similarly aged straight women, they often had celebratory tones and glee talking about "dick."
This selective, intimate sharing still happens among some women, even with topics other than sex. Two times this past year I heard stories about two different seasoned women, part of a couple, who remained silent about a lump in their breast. With each situation ending the same, these women passed away shortly after sharing the news to their partner and doctor. They were too late to have broader options of care. Perhaps their secrecy was based on the fear of becoming involved in the cancer industrial complex and a reluctance to navigate an often-intimidating and confusing system of treatment. However, I pose a different scenario, though no less heartbreaking ( and accept that I could be completely wrong ).
I imagined the butch partner in these couples as the one hiding her discovery of a breast lump. Perhaps she was never comfortable being a woman or having breasts and all that it meant. Maybe she was hiding, not only that lump but also decades of unresolved shame, angst or discomfort. Years ago If you were a "top, butch, stud," you often dictated what happened in the bedroom which meant, "I touch you, you don't touch me."
The story of these women made me sad because I felt that maybe these couples no longer shared the type of intimacy that would have allowed an earlier discovery by both partners. Even sadder, I know that I could have easily grown into that kind of "butch" partner, based on my youthful persona.
However, now I am officially part of the seasoned lifethe life that starts between the late 50s and 60s. I now fully understand how this life can wither any woman's sexual desire: between menopause, illnesses, care-taking of loved ones, grief and loss. I have experienced all of these things in route to my own initiation to the seasoned life.
Yet, this has given me more credibility to laughingly answer the questions from 10 years back and my conversation with CJ. I've now promised myself to keep doing my stretches and remain prepared to possibly model for my very own Sexual Positions for Women Over Sixty, single-page brochure.
Jano is a writer with an insatiable curiosity who has also written for the Chicago Defender, Chicago Sun-Times, Out Magazine, Fisk University Almanac of Popular Culture and more. She wrote a column for Nightlines, a sister publication to Outlines ( now Windy City Times ) in the 1990s.