Pat and Paulette are a loving, vibrant couple who have been together for 5 years and married for 3. They live together in East Harlem and met at an event ran by SAGE. They’ve lost 56 years collectively living closeted
The couple are featured in the “Not Another Second “exhibition alongside 12 other elders, who, for a variety of reasons, felt forced to live cis-gender lives—many for decades. Collectively, these 12 elders have lost 485 years living double lives or otherwise suppressing their authentic selves.
The exhibition tells their stories dynamically through AR technology and is free public and socially distanced viewings every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from Jan. 19 through March 2021 at The Watermark, in Brooklyn Heights.
Paul and Paulette emphasized that the key aspect of the exhibition for them was to create an intergeneration LGBTQ+ community—a positive network that has been barely explored.
Pat and Paulette had very different journeys in terms of living their sexuality. Both grew up in NYC—but a different kind of NYC, where neighborhoods were communities and everybody looked out for each other.
By the age of 16 Pat knew she was sexually attracted to and interested in women. She was known and accepted on her block as a tomboy and never decried for dressing in a way that was non-status quo. When Pat came out in 1969, she was embraced by her friends and her family, by everyone she cared for—aside from her mother.
Indeed, it was this lack of acceptance by her mother that led to Pat’s only regret in life. While watching the historic June 1969 Stonewall Protests on TV, Pat leapt up to grab her coat and join the fight. Her mother blocked the door and said. “If you go out that door I will murder you. I will kill you. You will not go there.”
Paulette knew she liked girls since she was seven. But her journey could be considered more complicated. She told amNewYork Metro that her “goal in life was to have children and no husband.”
By the time she was around 17 or 18, Paulette had two children and, given her competitive nature, when taunted one day by her grandmother that no man would want to be with her because she had the “baggage” of two children—that awful “damaged goods” scarlet letter—Paulette replied, “We’ll see.”
Not long after this provocation, Paulette was married to a member of the armed services who could provide her now three children with the quality of life that they deserved. This act of defiance to her grandmother transformed into a kind of trade-off that she “deeply regrets, because not only did I have to suppress myself, I wasn’t even able to be true to who I am to my children.”
Interestingly, but not uncommonly, Paulette’s internal anger over not being able to live authentically, coupled with the fear that somehow somebody would “discover” her secret lesbianism was sometimes homophobic in her high school and later years. For her, this was a self-protective measure. As, Paulette says, “I didn’t hate who I was, I hated my circumstances and it was easier to fit in to what the so-called norm is than not.”
By age 40, Paulette had an epiphany moment, decided she had had enough and was moving her and her children to Hawaii to live her authentic self.
The emotional toil of being trapped in her marriage was significant. Paulette powerfully likens her years of living as a “straight, married woman” to being trapped under a manhole cover that was nailed down. “It is was horrific and emotionally damaging, “she stated.
As LGBTQ+ African Americans, race created another persecutory layer. From the 70s through to the 90s Pat described how for her and her friends, clubs they knew had no entry fee suddenly did. And if she went to a bar alone it would suddenly be “at capacity,” or she wasn’t “dressed appropriately.”
Adding a third dimension, Pat and Paulette are both deeply religious and attend Baptist churches that are accepting of LGBTQ+ people. They consider themselves lucky and acknowledge that the majority of religious institutions remain intolerant of LGBTQ+ people.
Pat and Paulette are passionate activists; they regularly hold workshops on issues such as bullying within the LGBTQ+ community, on sexuality and women of color and talks on HIV/AIDs. They coordinate these events through their Harlem Yes initiative, which aims to strengthen marginalized communities. Paulette has also recently created an organization called the Masculine Identified Lesbians of Color Collective.
While Pat identifies as a lesbian woman, Paulette, as a male-identifying lesbian, feels there are unique issues that come with this such as being “not invisible,” more susceptible to misunderstanding and more likely to be publically persecuted.
Of the spectrum of sexual identities that continue to expand in our times, Pat laughs fondly. Although the original rainbow pride flag’s colors were all tied to multidimensional worldly and spiritual categories such as “Life,” “Nature,” and “Spirit,” she knows now sees the flag as a symbol of sexuality being recognized as prismatic and proliferating.
Although young people can speak to each other about their sexuality and gender identity via online communities, these are often organized into age ranges, “Not Another Second,”and Pat and Paulette’s key message is to make the most out of an inter-generational community. Pat remarked, “If you’re feeling confused about where you fit, ask an elder. There is somebody out there who has been where you are at—no matter where they are at on the age spectrum.”
To find out more about Pat and Paulette’s communities and activities go to www.harlemyes.org or https://www.facebook.com/HarlemYES/. For information on the Masculine Identified Lesbians of Color Collective go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/495098097981088/
Visit the “Not Another Second” exhibition at The Watermark, 21 Clark St., Brooklyn Heights for free every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Go to www.notanothersecond.com to reserve your spot.