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Couples Chronicles ó Interview 21
Iím Incredibly Happy with This Relationship
by Demian
First published in December 1988
© January 7, 2018, Demian

Elaine Mikels, 67, and Jean Tait, 36, have been partners for nine months. They met through friends, but discovered they had a lot in common when Jean interviewed Elaine for a gay radio program. Elaine is a writer and photographer, having been published under the name Elana and Elana Freedom. She is writing an autobiographical book, ďJust Lucky I Guess.Ē Jean has a Masterís in Counseling and a Master Herbalist degree. She co-owns an herbal and chiropractic clinic as well as a three-unit motel. She is a ďcontact dykeĒ with ďLesbian Connection.Ē Elaine and Jean live in Ojo Caliente, New Mexico, surrounded by hot springs, mountains and untouched wilderness. [Note: Elaine Mikels died on February 15, 2004.]

What is it like where you live?

Jean: Itís a tiny community up in the mountains of north central New Mexico with a grand total of 300 people. Itís about 95 percent Hispanic. People here speak a mixture of old Spanish, Mexican and Hopi.

Have you encountered any racism or sexism in the community?

Jean: Weíve never had any problems. I think this is in part because my working partner and I have an alternative health center; we are the communityís primary health care providers.

Elaine and I are not closeted and we feel total acceptance. A lot of gay and lesbian people come up here and say ďHow can you survive here?Ē Itís because we offer something thatís needed and we love the people. When I go away on vacation and am not around Hispanic people, I feel at a loss and foreign.

What is your relationship with your business partner?

Jean: We were lovers for almost eight years. We moved out here and bought this place together. Then we realized it wasnít working, yet our work relationship was good. Through a lot of rough times we managed to separate the two. We have a lot of respect for each other.

Elaine: They rent their motel to just women or lesbians. So we do have people come up here that think like we do; weíre not totally isolated. We go into Santa Fe, an hourís drive away, at least once or twice a week.

Any other support for lesbians?

Jean: Elaine and I are sponsoring a two-day lesbian retreat here in Ojo [now past]. The topics are relationships and healing. Also, a lawyer is going to talk about legal contracts, Wills and how to legally protect yourself. We hope to do a lot more of this kind of thing.

One of our goals is to provide a safe space for women to come, be themselves, be in couples and not be hassled or have any problems.

Elaine: We also started a lesbian couples support group several months ago. It has six couples in it, the maximum we want.

Jean: We appreciate Partners Magazine [no longer published] because some of the articles have helped us in the support group. I donít feel so isolated and alone, hearing that others go through some of the same things we do.

One article dealt with adult adoption, and this was something we had considered doing. It was good to find out the pros and cons, because we hadnít thought there might be some problems with it. We had just considered the more positive aspects.

Does New Mexico allow adult adoption?

Jean: Yes it does. As long as the parents are not living. Elaine could adopt me, or I her. Age doesnít mean a thing.

We joke, ďI want to adopt you so I could be your mother.Ē

Elaine: A lot of older women say they are not interested in having a younger lover because they donít want to be anybodyís mother. But in this case, we both do a lot of mothering for each other.

Jean: I didnít get involved with Elaine because I was looking for a mother. But there are still those stereotypes.

One of the most interesting things is that people are not so much shocked that I am a lesbian, but that I am with an older woman. Age is more the issue than gender. Itís O.K. for an older man to have a younger woman, but weíre breaking all kinds of taboos here.

Many lesbians experience too much merging or interdependency. Are these problem areas for you?

Elaine: Weíre very conscious of this issue and make an effort to have separate interests and friends. I still have my apartment in Santa Fe. I will sometimes stay overnight, see some friends and participate in activities that Jean is not interested in. She also has friends that I donít know.

We donít feel that differences are threatening. As we get to know each other better, we are finding where there are differences, and we go through them, saying ďthis isnít threatening to our relationship and itís a good thing. Weíre not each otherís clone.Ē

Jean: We try to maintain that consciousness and autonomy. If Elaine says she wants to go see a movie and decides to not go because Iím not interested, Iíll say ďWait a minute! Why donít you go with so-and-so?Ē Sheíll say the same to me. We remind each other that we donít have to do everything together. Itís been important for us and we found that it enhances our time together.

What are your financial arrangements?

Elaine: Although Jeanís income is more than mine, we share most expenses. When we needed a refrigerator, Jean bought it because she owns the house and property.

I have my name on Jeanís savings and she has her name on mine. We havenít gotten to the point of having a joint checking account. It turns out that at the end of the month we might have put about the same amount into our savings accounts. We use that when we go traveling.

I havenít changed my Will from my last relationship, but Iíll change it at our retreat. We also want a Living Will and Power of Attorney.

Were you concerned about your age difference when you met?

Elaine: I had said Iíd never have anything to do with a younger woman. Against my better judgment, we are now in a relationship.

She told me she was 37. She thought her real age, 36, would seem too young.

Jean: The problem is that people claim I look in my twenties, so I was pushing it at 37. I finally confessed Iíd lied about my age.

Iíve always been attracted to older women. Iíve had trouble relating to women my own age, in part because my father was terminally ill when I was young. I had to become the primary money-maker when I was 13. I grew up very fast and found something lacking in women my own age.

Are there any age-related difficulties?

Jean: Weíve talked a lot about the potential problems. We havenít experienced too many. One of the challenges is for Elaine to let me experience things. Sheíll say to me ďIíve been through that so many times, I know where that leads.Ē But sometimes I still need to experience it. At the same time, she has saved me from making a lot of mistakes that werenít necessary for growth or learning.

Her eyesight and hearing arenít as good as they used to be, and mine are very good. We kind of balance the experiential and physical abilities for each other.

I feel really fortunate with Elaine. Sheís in wonderful physical condition and has a lot of energy. Sometimes she wears me out. My last lover, who was 42 years older than me, simply didnít have the energy. I had to learn to compensate and deal with that difference. With Elaine, we have much in common, like liberalism; things that might upset someone else her age. In some areas sheís more liberal than I am.

Elaine: Radical.

Jean: Yes, and thatís been exciting for me. I have a strong lesbian-feminist consciousness and it hasnít been easy for me to find that in an older woman. Itís very special. Elaine has said she wishes she could find my qualities in an older woman, but she hasnít.

She has a wealth of experience and background. Itís given me a strong sense of my own history and that of gays and lesbians in this country.

When we come up against issues that could be age-related, the most important thing weíve learned is open, honest communication. Thatís been the bedrock of our relationship. We talk a lot and donít let things hang or get buried.

What I thought would be problems because of age are not age-related at all. They are communication problems and would happen regardless of age.

The time will come when she will experience physical and health problems. I feel that weíll deal with all those just fine.

Elaine: I think the only problem is that Iím retired and Iíve had to accept the limitations of not being free to do things while Jean is tied to her job.

In terms of the physical, sheís able to do things that I canít. Also, I might be forgetting more things, and sheíll remember. Actually, thereís a lot of advantage for an older person in my position.

Initially, I had the apprehension that sheíd find another, younger woman and go off in the sunset. Itís taken me some time to realize that Jean has never been attracted to younger women. If anything, sheíd go off with an older woman. If anything, Iíd go off with an older woman. But we seem very committed to each other, and itís a ďmonogamousĒ relationship.

Jean: I think itís important to bring up sex. Iíve heard people say ďit must be difficult for you, being young and in the prime of your sexuality, to be with an older woman.Ē I have not found that to be a problem. We seem to be very compatible in that area.

Our sexual relationship has been tremendous, very active and very alive. She wears me out. Itís been wonderful for me.

Any other common interests?

Elaine: We care a lot about people. We like the country and outdoors. We have mountain bikes and we do racquetball, hiking and camping. Jean is going to be teaching me cross-country skiing this winter.

Jean: Our politics are real similar.

Elaine: Our lifestyle is quite similar. As the days go on, we find ourselves more compatible and our relationship very satisfying.

Jean, tell us about your background.

Jean: I was born and grew up in Indiana. I always knew I was a lesbian, but didnít have a word for it. There was no support for it.

I came out at 27 when I was a graduate student at Purdue University. Thatís when I had my first woman lover. That relationship lasted almost eight years. We came to New Mexico together and started our clinic.

I got involved with someone else since Iíve been here, and that lasted four years.

How has your family responded?

Jean: I have never had a problem with them. My father died when I was 16. My mother died five years ago, but I had come out to her and her response was, ďIf youíre happy, thatís all that matters.Ē My brotherís attitude is, ďYou do what you want, itís your business.Ē

My sister thought it was great; that I added spice to her life. Being able to tell her friends she had a hippie, lesbian sister appealed to her.

Elaine, tell us about your personal history.

Elaine: I was raised in Los Angeles. The first three relationships I had were with straight women in the forties. They went on and got married. I had never known anyone gay and we had never talked about it.

After the Second World War, I was working in Germany with the Quakers. It was under the auspices of the State Department and they found out that I had a psychiatric record. (I had a breakdown at college over the break-up of a relationship.) The State Department told the Quakers to get me out of Germany within 24 hours.

When I got to New York City I went down to the Village where I stayed for two months. I decided that if I was going to be persecuted for being gay, I was going to be gay, and went to my first gay bar. This was in 1949 and Iíve been in gay life since then.

I had dreamed of travelling around the world after finishing my service in Germany. I just couldnít go back home. So with two hundred dollars and a one-way boat ticket, I went from New York all through Europe and the Middle East for two years.

In 1951, I ran out of steam and settled in San Francisco, where I was a social worker for about 20 years. There, I was active in the Mattachine Society when it first started and was the distributor for One magazine. I had a major lesbian relationship in San Francisco for three years, and another for about five years.

In 1967, I dropped out and joined the anti-war movement, and I never dropped back in again. I got into lesbian-feminist communities in Oregon. There, I started a seven-year relationship that continued in North Carolina, where I did peace action with lesbians in Durham. When I got burnt out, I went up to Maine and lived in a little fishing village on the coast for three years. Then I came to New Mexico.

Were you always political?

Elaine: I didnít start getting political until 1967. Since then Iíve done a lot of civil disobedience, gotten arrested and gone to jail. It was a great experience for me because I had always been very conforming. It gave me the courage to stand up for what I believe.

I was in the Village at the time of the Stonewall riot and went to the first gay liberation meeting. Dropping out like I did and being in the protest movement helped to free me to get into lesbian feminism. For the first time, I felt good about being a lesbian. I had been feeling guilt until the í60s, living a very closety life.

I feel very fortunate that at my age I was open to the movement. I see so many of my old friends still stuck there in the í50s. I feel real sorry for them. They are missing an awful lot that I am getting.

How would you describe your relationship with your parents?

Elaine: My mother was always trying to fix me up with some friendís son. She never quite accepted the fact I was gay, but it never bothered her. She always accepted my lesbian lovers and she and my sisters were real sweet to them. I was fortunate.

Actually, I went with men until I was about 45. Every time I broke up with a lesbian Iíd go with a man, and vice-versa. I wasnít really bisexual, I was trying to go straight.

There were so many positive things about being straight and not very many positive things about being gay in the í50s and í60s. I didnít like bars, yet that was the only place I could ever meet anybody. I lived a very schizophrenic life at that time.

What is the future of your relationship?

Elaine: Well, we got one dog together, two days ago.

Jean: And we bought a computer together.

Elaine: I havenít thought about the future. Weíre so busy living the present. Jean: We try to take it one day at a time. Realistically, I know that things change, but thereís no question of what I want now. Weíre living for the present and enjoying it as much as we can.

Weíve talked about getting married, but havenít decided. We feel very committed. So far as Iím concerned, this is it for me until one of us dies. Iím incredibly happy with this relationship and what we have together.

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