women and men: and the bride wore lavender

Maria is 28. She has lived with her partner, Tom, for two years. Their first child is due in March. There's just one hitch. She's a lesbian
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"part of me would really love to tell everyone that I'm gay. I have this fantasy about taking a female partner along to a business dinner and watching people start to whisper. But the reality is that if you come out of the closet it changes the way people think about you. Other women automatically assume that you fancy them when you don't. Men just see you as a challenge. The word lesbian has always made me feel funny. I can only ever remember it being used when I was the butt of nasty jokes at school. Who wants to be seen as a joke?

From a very early age I was aware of feeling closer to women than men. During my teens I went through stages of becoming obsessed with particular women or girls at school. The only way to describe it was a sexual charge that I can't remember ever feeling about boys. But the assumption that women ended up with nice men and had families was never questioned at home. Everything and everyone around me when I was growing up was totally heterosexual. There didn't seem to be any other way, so I fell in with what was the obvious norm. I didn't even consider the possibility of a relationship with someone of the same sex. I learnt to bury my latently gay feelings and conditioned myself to start dating boys. James and I met at college and we were together for six years. He was the only man I have ever been in love with and I was devastated when he left me. But all the way through, there was always this little voice inside me that kept on saying "I prefer women to men".

The only relationship I've ever had with a woman began three months after I met Tom. Fiona was the flatmate of a friend of mine. The three of us went on holiday together and I can remember feeling that something was going to happen between us very early on. Looking back at the photos now we always seemed to be touching each other. It was as if there was a real need to be close to her all the time. Although I knew I wanted to sleep with her I was scared to make a pass at her in case it jeopardised our friendship.

After the holiday Fiona and I began calling each other every day and spending more and more time together. The emotional connection was so powerful that a sexual relationship seemed a logical extension of that. Sleeping with a woman felt so totally natural to me. There was no awkwardness at all. I found myself wanting to give in a way that I'd never wanted to give to a man. Our relationship lasted for six months. It didn't work out because we couldn't give each other the level of security we were both looking for. To this day I'm not sure whether it was love or lust but Fiona is still my closest friend.

A few weeks after my relationship with Fiona ended, Tom found a letter from her in my handbag and read it. He had already had his suspicions because he'd seen us out together one evening when I'd told him I was meeting another friend. My instinct was to deny everything but I ended up telling him the truth about my relationship with Fiona. At first Tom was very calm about it. He said he felt that another woman was far less of a threat to him than another man. Now there isn't a week goes by when the subject doesn't come up. Passing comments about women on television I can laugh about. But discussions about our future and the possibility that one day I might leave Tom to be with a woman always end up with both of us feeling really terrible. He is so frightened of losing me that he keeps a lot of his thoughts about the whole situation to himself.

My way of coping with the tremendous guilt I feel is to tell Tom everything because it gives him the opportunity to know the facts and do something about it if he chooses to. Part of me feels that it would be better if he left me because it would force me into a situation where I would actually have to confront my sexuality instead of trying to ignore it.

Now I'm pregnant, it's almost as if we are hanging on in the hope that the baby will bring us together and everything will work out in the end. But it's hard to see a future together. I love Tom and enjoy his company but I have never been in love with him. I stay with him because he gives me so much security and emotional support. I stay because heterosexuality is the accepted thing in the eyes of the outside world.

The only saving grace I can think of right now is that our child will have a father as a role model. Any child that sits outside the norm at school finds it very difficult and I would never want to inflict that pain on a child of mine. Although the pregnancy wasn't planned I've wanted to have a baby for as long as I can remember. I would feel far less concerned about eventually leading an openly gay lifestyle if the baby is a boy. He can spend time with his Dad doing all the things that fathers and sons do. For a girl to know that her mother is a lesbian would be far harder.

If I met a woman I was attracted to now I wouldn't pursue it but I would certainly try to keep in contact with her. How would I have the opportunity to see her and get to know her? Everything seems far more complicated now I am pregnant.

There's always this little hope in my head that by the time I am 35 I will have found the courage to come out. Because the life I am leading at the moment is stressful, it hurts me and it hurts Tom. I use the pregnancy as an excuse not to have sex with Tom at the moment but obviously that can't go on forever. I don't like lying in bed next to a man at night at all. But right now I feel that I have got myself into this situation and I just have to survive it".

8 Interviewed by Beverley Kemp

All names have been changed

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