where is the cerebral jester?

where is the cerebral jester?
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Monday, September 3, 2007

never too late i guess!

At 88, Laguna Woods woman comes out

After spending 44 years with her life partner, a Laguna Woods woman finds the courage to go public with their relationship.

The Orange County Register

LAGUNA WOODS - Loraine Barr placed the typed, four-page essay in an envelope, sealed it, and then, for three days, wondered if she had the nerve to send it.

"Am I really ready for this?" she thought.

For years, Barr had enjoyed the "My Turn" reader essays in Newsweek magazine.

Now, she figured, was her turn.

Still, she wondered: What if they publish it?

Barr's essay was about a 44-year love affair she had kept from her parents, her relatives – even her dearest, closest friends.

"For heaven's sake," Barr said, recounting that day in May when she finally decided to mail off her essay. "I'm 88 years old. What difference does it make to anybody? It doesn't make a difference to anybody now."

Barr's essay appears in the current (Sept. 3) edition of Newsweek.

All week, the calls have been coming in – several dozen messages of overwhelming support from friends, relatives and strangers who looked up Barr's listed telephone number.

"I loved your essay," one man said in a recorded message. He said he was 81 and from Salt Lake City.

"It brought tears to my eyes, and I congratulate you," he said.

The man started crying – the sobs of a stranger, reaching out to another stranger whose story moved him, for a reason he chose to keep private.

Barr is amazed at the reaction.

After all, she didn't write the essay for her friends or relatives.

She didn't write it for strangers.

She didn't even write it for her lifelong partner, who died nine years ago.

She wrote it for herself.


To the outside world, they were roommates – keeping separate bedrooms for appearances.

To each other, Barr and Mary Frances Piercey were the loves of each other's lives.

They felt incredibly grateful to have found each other, and incredibly lucky to have spent more than four decades together.

Barr and Piercey also felt that theirs was "the love that dare not speak its name."

Both grew up at a time when people didn't talk openly about their sexual orientation. "Coming out" as a lesbian just didn't happen back then, Barr said.

So she and Piercey never talked about their relationship – and no one asked.

"It was not an issue," Barr said. "It wasan issue, but it was buried deeply."

Some people knew the nature of their relationship – but nothing ever was verbally acknowledged.

Everything was subtext.

Barr's father, a salesman, once asked a cousin, a doctor, if his daughter might be a lesbian. The cousin said he didn't know, and that was the end of that.

In the 1940s, a man on leave from the war got serious about Barr. One night they danced at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

"Can you imagine?" he told Barr that night. "I wanted to see you more than I wanted to see my mother!"

Although he knew Barr cared about him, he got frustrated. He asked Barr to see a psychiatrist – "to see if anything was wrong with me," Barr recalled with a smile.

The psychiatrist told Barr, "As far as I can tell, there's nothing wrong with you."

There would be other men.

"I dated men a lot; I wanted to be popular," Barr said. "But it was never fun."

Barr's mother hoped she would marry and have children.

Sometimes, she would show friends a picture of Loraine holding a male doll and say, "That's my grandson."


Barr, born in Chicago, spent most of her life in Southern California.

"There's a wonderful line in (the movie) 'Victor Victoria,' where Julie Andrews said to Robert Preston, 'How long have you been a homosexual?' And he says, 'How long have you been a soprano?'

"I always was the way I am – as a child even."

Barr was 28 and a student at UCLA when she fell in love, for the first time, with another woman – a teacher who was married.

They kept their relationship hidden. Barr also was dating the woman's brother, and the four would sometimes go dancing.

That relationship ended after a few years, when the woman's husband intervened.

About a decade later, Barr met Piercey, who had a 6-year-old son from a brief marriage.

Both women were working at the L.A. County Probation Department – both as probation officers (Barr also has been a teacher and employee counselor).

"And so it grew," Barr said of their relationship.

She and Piercey mostly spent time with heterosexual couples, but they had a few lesbian friends.

One time, around 1975, Barr and Piercey came close to coming out, when they were having dinner with a straight couple.

Just as Barr started to tell them, the couple changed the subject.


Piercey died in 1998 of liver cancer at age 79. Barr organized a memorial service for her.

At the service, the minister eulogized Piercey as a quiet, bright listener who gave off a "warm and gentle glow."

He told of her love of art and calligraphy and sculpture, and gardening and shuffleboard.

As she said her final goodbyes to Piercey, Barr did not tell anyone about their relationship.

But, she figured, a lot of people knew.

After her Newsweek essay was published, her assumptions were confirmed. Several friends and relatives said, "We knew all along."

On her deathbed, Barr's mother, Ethel, acknowledged what had remained unspoken between her and her daughter for years.

"I never understood your way of life before," Ethel Barr, 70, told her daughter, "but I do now."

Barr calls that the happiest moment in her life.

"She (was saying), 'It's OK. It's OK to be who you are.'"


Basking in the positive response to her coming-out essay, Barr feels energized.

She hasn't heard much from the community at large at Laguna Woods Village, where she has lived for 19 years.

She's not sure she will. The senior community of about 18,000 has an active gay and lesbian organization, the Rainbow Club. Barr is not a member.

"Only the people who know me have responded so far," said Barr, who has two cousins who live in Laguna Woods Village.

Barr's house is filled with pictures of her and Piercey.

They traveled a lot – to Israel, Ireland and to Scotland. To Italy, Alaska and Spain. To Mexico, France and England.

Barr pointed out a favorite shot of the normally reserved Piercey.

In the photo, Piercey is sprawled out on a sofa with their black-and-white cat, Genny, looking silly and happy.

Barr is not in a romantic relationship now, nor does she expect to be. Her heart, she said, always will belong to Mary Frances Piercey.

She thinks about her every day.

"You know," Barr said, "it doesn't get any easier. Somehow, it's harder now than it ever was.

"But I don't think of her with sadness. I think of her with gratitude, and about how lucky I was – how lucky we were."



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