My late sister, Hillary, came out of the closet in 1976 when she was twenty-three, not exactly a cultural period conducive to acceptance of homosexuality, especially for lesbians.
A few days after Hillary announced that she was a lesbian I encouraged her to tell me how it was going: “What’s life like for you right now?” I asked. “You have no idea,” she answered sadly. “Like holy hell.” And then she showed me a note our mother had written to her: “Hillary I didn’t realize how much you hate me. Signed, Mother.”
Since her untimely death at the age of 52, I’ve sought a way to create a tribute to her memory and her personal struggle. I’m a documentary portrait photographer, and I’ve made a series of photographs — -formal street portraits of lesbian community members using an 8x10 view camera and asking them the very same question: “What’s life like for you right now?” Their handwritten responses which are paired with their portraits, are generally upbeat and filled with optimism, although some express the need to cope with difficulties. Nevertheless, as one young woman wrote, “To be genuinely authentic and carry no shame is a beautiful thing.”
My sister would have appreciated knowing that.