ON THE SECOND floor of a building on Walnut Street, the women eyed each other nervously. No familiar faces, at least. Dana, a petite blonde with straight, shoulder-length hair, was relieved to see that the women looked just like her. Like women you’d see at the PTA. With nice clothes, jewelry, makeup. Not like lesbians. Fleisher had had them sign confidentiality agreements when they walked in. She made them feel safe. The 26 women sat in a circle, and took turns introducing themselves. A 35-year-old sailing instructor stood up. “I’m married with two kids, and I had no idea it could happen. I fell in love with a friend. Then, years later, it happened again.” In her tight-knit bedroom community, this would never fly. Her eyes welled up. “It’s the first time I’ve said it out loud.”
The rest of the women were teachers, medical professionals, hospitality managers, a prosecutor, and three therapists, from all over the country, ranging from their late 20s to late 50s. Their stories differed a little: One couldn’t leave her husband for economic reasons; one was separated but hadn’t come out; several had just come out; some were in the early stages of discovery; some couldn’t imagine ever leaving their husbands; some had been dumped after leaving their husbands. All knew the same pain. A half-hour into the weekend workshop, they’d bonded through tears and hugs. “We were all carrying this alone, thinking something was wrong with us. It was so freeing,” Dana says.
By the end of the first day, which they spent thinking, writing, meditating, and listening to the advice given by Fleisher and two other counselors, the women were drained. They had dinner and talked some more. Then they stopped at Sisters, marking Dana’s first visit to a lesbian club.
The final exercise of the weekend was to write a letter from your future self. The articulate, well-dressed California prosecutor stood up first.
“Please get me out of this. Please make it end,” she cried, initiating a sobfest. “We know what you’re feeling,” one woman offered. “Like it’s way too much to bear.”
Driving home on Sunday afternoon, Dana realized she’d come pretty far. Before the workshop, she’d sunk to her lowest place, from feeling too much to feeling nothing. Numb. The workshop changed her life. She’d made 25 new friends. (They’re all still in touch.) And she could face herself again. She wasn’t a bad mom. And Fleisher inspired her. She’s decided to go back to school for a master’s in social work and sink the rest of her time into being the best mom she can. She doesn’t know much else. “It’s like you’ve planned and planned for Italy, and you were taken to China,” she says, “and you realize it’s a beautiful place, but you don’t know how to dress, or speak the language, or where to go once you get there.”