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SUCH CHARMING EXILES: How Two Gay Women Learned to Live Openly and Love Fiercely by Marilyn Mehr and Betty Walker

SUCH CHARMING EXILES: How Two Gay Women Learned to Live Openly and Love Fiercely

by Marilyn Mehr and Betty Walker

204 pages
How honesty and courage transform lives of two gay women.

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Category: Biography
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About the Book
Betty Walker and Marilyn Mehr met in 1970 in a final graduate seminar on Humanistic Existential counseling at the University of Southern California. They were drawn to psychology, especially to the program at USC because it emphasized the power of the individual to change. Humanistic Existentialism focused on a person’s innate search for meaning and showed how conscious choice and action can give purpose to one’s life. These ideas echoed those of students everywhere questioning the traditional assumptions of parents, government, and culture.

Although they shared the same professional aspirations, they came from very different backgrounds: Marilyn grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles, in a conservative Mormon family. Betty came from a broken home in the South Bronx; her mother was both a hard worker and highly unstable. Neither of their fathers had graduated from high school. Both sets of grandparents were immigrants, Betty’s from a little village in Hungary, Marilyn’s from St. Gallen, Switzerland. Still, they were attracted to each other at once, as much for their differences similarities.

Shortly after they met, they became lovers. Each had erected her own closet of deceit, acknowledging their feelings only to a few close friends, never to their families. Living together, they did not march boldly out of their separate closets telling the world. They closed the door even tighter as they received our doctoral degrees in counseling psychology and accepted jobs teaching college level courses for the military in Frankfurt, Germany. Even though they were fervently opposed to the Vietnam War, they believed they could challenge their students to question authority and live authentic lives.

Although they had both become adept at hiding our sexual orientation from others, they were not prepared for the rigidity and homophobia of Army life. After two years, they returned to L.A. and found the courage to come out and help others to do the same. Not only were their lesbian and gay friends coming out of the closet, but were protesting about their oppression. The Stonewall Riots in 1969 had spurred gays and lesbians to become visible by forming social action groups. As they joined others in social protest, they experienced the euphoria of freedom unknown to gays and lesbians in history.

However exhilarated they were by being able to speak out about the destructive effects of discrimination, they were still neither looking at nor speaking about the habits and attitudes they had developed to hide from society’s condemning eye. Speaking out publicly in protest movements was not enough. They had to look to their silent selves that were still deceiving their families and covering their feelings with too much alcohol and too many affairs. As a result, they were both miserable. After several crises, they summoned up the courage to commit themselves to honesty: they confronted each other, found a good therapist, walked into an AA meeting, and began to unravel their self-deceptions. Their biggest challenge was to speak to their families-- Betty’s mother and Marilyn’s Mormon parents -- about their love for one another. To their credit, they offered only love and acceptance in return.

Theirs is actually a classic American story with a gay twist. It is the story of how through self-awareness, determination, and commitment, two women learned how to embrace who they are and to declare their love openly for all to know.

 

 

About the Author
Marilyn Mehr and Betty Walker The authors are psychologists, professors and activists who have been together for over forty years. They have worked courageously to change history: protesting the Vietnam War, working for civil rights and achieving equality for gays and lesbians,

 

 

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