Darlene Vendegna’s Coming Out Story

On this episode we hear Darlene Vendegna’s Coming Out Story.

This podcast series airs every October to celebrate coming out month. As LGBTQIA people we are often seen as different and wrong. By celebrating our coming out stories we see that we are part of something bigger and that there is hope.

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Transcript for today’s show

Please note this transcript has not been edited and is automatically generated meaning certain words will be incorrect. [

coming out stories is a short run podcast exclusive to the lesbian talk show the goal of this podcast is to share real stories from real people in the LGBTQIA community because this is such a personal journey I ask that if you do comments on these shows then please do so positively the more we stand together and embrace our diversity the stronger we get as a community I’m joined today by the fabulous Darlene building yeah Donnie is going to share her coming-out story with us Darlene thank you for joining me today oh you’re very welcome I’m happy to be here what do you do with your life introduce yourself to us in this first well let’s see I still work I’m 63 I grew up in Chicago I currently live just outside of San Francisco I’m married for 12 11 years we’ve been together for 27 years so we’re a couple of old dykes and for work I’m still working I haven’t retired yet unfortunately I work as an accountant for a small company but that’s just my job what I do is a lot of different things I’m an avid reader do a little bit editing not very much mostly reading reviewing my big passion is playing pickleball which we could have a whole chat about that game but that’s so I play pickleball I give pickleball lessons my talk about pickleball I monitor a couple of pickleball groups and I’m a pickleball ambassador which means I promote pickleball what is the short version is if tennis and ping-pong had a baby and it was played on the size of a badminton court that is pickleball so it uses a solid paddle like a giant ping-pong paddle essentially about the size of a racquetball racquet but it’s a paddle it’s solid the ball is hard plastic with holes like a wiffle ball okay and it’s played out of cork the size of a badminton court 20 wide 44 long the net is low a little bit lower than a tennis net that’s it and because it’s a small court it’s 1/4 the size of a tennis court right because the ball is this hard plastic thing that if it bounces once it only bounces maybe 3 feet it doesn’t fly like a tennis ball either so it’s a lot so people who said oh I can’t play tennis anymore my legs my joints my shoulders my blah blah blah they find that they can play pickleball because it also doesn’t take as much power to propel something this size that’s hallow with something that’s much shorter than a tennis you know tennis racket there’s a lot more oomph to it you know and the ball is heavier so I’ve taught people I’ve taught kids six-year-olds and I’ve taught eight-year-olds and then they play together and if they’re just learning they’re perfectly evenly matched you know unless of course the adult has way better hand-eye coordination but it’s a really really fun game and it’s multi-generational it’s particularly popular here in senior facilities and you can play you could play it indoors or outdoors because then that you can have portable nets if you googled pickleball for your area you might find people who play that’s how I found it very cool all right but today you get to talk about your coming-out story so let’s hear it all right so let’s see so again I’m I’m I was born in 1956 so I was 21 in 1977 throughout my life I didn’t really know what I didn’t know that word that lesbian word but I was always the quintessential tomboy always always wanted the play friends when I was little were the boys in the neighborhood you know we played everything from spies to Cowboys to baseball all that stuff and I loved it all as we got older I still played with them but they kind of were less interested in playing those kind of games and they were more interested in frankly meeting my friends you know how that goes and I didn’t get it but it was fine and then I that I just played Sport sport Sport sport Sport sport and I had boys as friends who wanted me to help them with their girlfriends that was it I never thought of my friends as girlfriends for me I just thought of it oh they liked those boys okay whatever I’m not interested yet in that then I got in high school and my friends were all getting boyfriends and I could care less I just would go one on their dates or not or whatever and freshman year my best friend said we’re going to this party you’re gonna be on the make for every guy there I’m gonna put makeup on you and I was like okay whatever I didn’t really get it but you know I met a guy talk to him for a little while and next thing you know he’s asking me out and so we ended up going steady and through high school he was a really really good guy and he totally got that I like hanging out with my girlfriend’s a lot and I think he figured it out before I did in fact I remember when I was a junior in high school I said gee you know I think I’m gonna join the Future teacher’s of America club because I really think I want to be a PE teacher when I went nuts what I want to be and he said dar you can’t be a PE teacher everyone will think you’re a lesbian and I remember being horrified but then thinking oh and that was kind of a little bit of a light bulb for him but I didn’t pursue it but I did because I was one of those kind of girls I was like yeah you’re right I don’t want to do that but yet I spent all my spare time with the gym teachers one of the things when I was in high school was if you were late for gym class you had to come after school to do calisthenics boy was I physically fit in high school because I was always am i late oh okay I’ll come after to the point where my PE teachers I think that I know they got it and looking back they knew damn well what was going on with me you know but anyway so we can’t graduate high school still with the boyfriend we started to get intimate I could care less he was very disappointed that I couldn’t care less and I remember one time him saying doc could you please just stop thinking about softball for one minute and think about what’s happening here you know and I think he clued in that the only time I was ever really interested was after I’d hung out with my best friend I think looking back I think he clued in to that you know but anyway that was that and then we dated we got pre-engaged blah blah blah and then we went to here’s the defining moment for me we went to a Janis Ian concert now I hope you know who Janice Ian is you’re listening to the Lisbon talk show the lesbians all choked on you have a podcast information so in 1975 she she really got came on the scene that was her at 17 song blah blah blah so she really really spoke to me and I dragged him to a concert and during that show watching her and hearing her songs even though she wasn’t out I was like she is singing to me this is me and he was so he just was not getting into the music he could see I think that what was going on with me and we broke up that night I mean I was just like you know what I think I found what’s going on with me and I don’t think it’s being married to you or dating you so after a couple years we broke up blah blah blah I then decided well this is me how can I meet other girls like me oh I know I bet they play softball which I was already doing so I joined like a half a dozen different softball leagues all around the Chicago suburbs so I played softball every day of the week after work changing uniforms in my car driving to different places to play softball and it worked I met I met a couple gals who I thought huh okay they seem very sporty I mean this is this is 1976 right so nobody was really really out but there’s always a little bit of huh those two are walking very close together oh they’re leaving together oh that’s interesting that was 76 that I moved out in 77 just as I turned 21 I moved out and I was like now now is the time and then I met some girls who clearly were lesbian who told me they were lesbian and they said oh let’s go to some bars so enter the gay bar scene and the gay bar scene in Chicago in the late 7870 s there were a lot of lesbian bars there were a couple in particular that were were the older lesbians and remember I’m 21 so these are the 40 year olds where the older lesbians went and my best friend at the time was dating an older lesbian so of course we went to the older lesbian bar and I’m young stuff man I’m you know picture I don’t know how old you are but you know if I was 45 and a cute 22 year old walked in and I’d be like well hello anyway so I walked into my first bar I wasn’t a big drinker but I looked around I was like yeah these are my people you know these are my people and I went back to that bar with my best friend at the time who was straight quintessential femme very tall long hair she looked like what you would call a femme cuz she had one here and I had here like this well I didn’t know butch femme I certainly didn’t identify either way and still don’t but I never forget walking into this bar and there was this old butch sitting at the end of the hour and we walked in and she said huh set your girlfriend and I’m like well she’s really good friend of mine she was like uh-huh so you’re the butcher and like the what now and she’s like well she’s clearly a femme so you must be butch and I’m like I what now she was like well that’s how it goes and that’s like I don’t know if I like that thinking but I said okay I guess that was so then I started wearing flannel shirts so I pictures of me with oh my god flannel shirts slicked hair dorky Derk Derk Derk but that was the look for those but bars then gradually as I met more women I started going to other bars and there was a cornucopia I never had any sort of inner struggle really about being a lesbian I just said oh yeah well that explains a lot of things you know okay that’s how it is and I was really lucky in very quickly finding friends and finding other lesbians and I mean a couple of those friends one of them is the one who introduced me to my wife so and we’re still friends and that gal who in freshman year sophomore year of high school told me that I should be on the make for every boy there we’re still good friends to this day and she I remember being in my apartment 23 years old or so and I hadn’t come out to her yet so we were sitting and talking and I was dating somebody at the time and I was being kind of coy with my friend and I said yeah I’ve got this new friend and we’ve been hanging out a lot together and we really like you all this really coy kind of stuff and she’s like dark are you a lesbian and I said uh she’s like you are I know you are it’s fine I’ve always known so it was one of those kind of things you know so that was great and she’s and we’re still friends to this day she’s a beautiful artist and anyway when I came out to my parents that was I had been with somebody for a couple years we were living together her expenses were my expenses and I was at a welfare this was one all I was the oldest in my family of all the cousins and so one by one all my younger cousins were getting married I wasn’t so I would always get the well when are you getting married Darlene when are you getting married when and I just was so sick of it and so I was hanging out with my dad we were standing around at wedding reception and somebody came up to me again and talking to me and my dad and sister Eileen when what about you and I was like you know I don’t know one of these days maybe we’ll see and then that relative walked away and I said to my dad I’m like dad I am so sick of fielding these questions and she he’s like well why people want to know and I said well dad cuz frankly I don’t think that I’m ever gonna get married and he says well why would he beam and I was daddy’s girl big daddy’s girl said well dad you know I just don’t think I mean you know I live with D and he said yeah and I said and we’re kind of a couple and he said uh he said well you know it’s not like it didn’t cross my mind he said it’s a hard road he said but if all I want is for you to be happy and I said well dad you know the thing is you set a pretty high standard and I’ve never met somebody like you you know so I think I think it’s girls for me and then I said but I gotta tell you I said I really am so much like you I said I watch you I said and I flirt with women like you flirt with women and he just cracked up at that and so that was it that was it and I never really told my mom cuz I was not my mom have a great mom you know devoted and everything else but I think I was so much like my dad I mean I was a tomboy my mom was a model my mom was a beauty queen my mom to this day won’t leave the house without her face on the whole nine yards so I was not that girl my sister she got my sister my sister fills all those nooks and crannies I was daddy’s girl and so it was never I never talked to my mom about intimate things and so but my mom my dad obviously told my but my mom is also one of those doesn’t want to talk about doesn’t want to talk about personal things still doesn’t so anyway that was it so I had no angst and then my brother came out many years later which surprised me too I mean he came to my house and said for a long time now and he’s just like me we look alike he’s much younger than me but he’s gay so my parents have one of each two boys two girls one straight one gay so anyway so yeah so I never had any angst and there were so many bars in in Chicago at that time I mean there was a sporty bar that was a dressy bar there was a dance bar there was an old drunk bar there was a bar we called menopause Manor where all the 45 and olders went and I went mostly to the older bars because I most of my friends were older but then I started meeting more younger women and started going to the younger bars then when I was about 25 a bar opened near my house just kind of a last-minute last-ditch I lived near O’Hare Airport in Chicago and the airport was buying out all the surrounding properties which were hotels and one of the hotels was owned by let’s say the underworld and they decided some of the guys who owned that hotel decided they knew how popular lesbian bars were gay bars could be and how lucrative they could be so they decided that they would use the basement Hotel or basement bar of a hotel until the hotel was torn down they would try to run it as a gay bar and I got wind of this and I went there one night when they were just opening and set asked if they needed any help and they said well we’re looking for bartenders you have bartending experience and I said yeah for sure which my bartending experience was tending bar in my dad’s basement but I had experience making drinks and they it’s like well tonight’s our grand opening if you can bring in some customers you have the job well I happened to be going to a party that night and in those days all the bars were in the city in Chicago which was about half hour to an hour drive depending on what bar you wanted to go to so for us in the burbs and a lot of them were very very closeted most of them were very and still are some of them very closeted we would start the party at a house and then we would all get in our cars car pool and the people who were willing to drive into the scary city would Drive everybody who wasn’t willing to drive we would all go into the city to go to the bars so this particular night I said hey you guys there’s a new bar opening ten minutes away how about if we stop there first they were like yeah sure so I come traipse it into this bar with like twenty five girls and they were like you’re hired so I tended bar there and it was just it wasn’t a fancy bar line it was a basement of a hotel so it was shots and beers and the fanciest drink we ever made was maybe a vodka gimlet I mean it wasn’t a fancy place at all and so I tend to bar there for almost a year it was very fun and that lots of people some are still my friends and it was a good experience I liked it a lot I’m a born flirt so it was great but being a bartender is really hard work and you don’t know how much money you’re gonna make from week to week and I couldn’t handle that because I liked knowing how much my paycheck was gonna be and that I would be able to pay all my bills so as fun as it was I could not make my living doing it but it was a fun little interlude and I’d love to say yeah I attended bar to gay bar so yeah and then I then I got with somebody I met a girl playing volleyball we were together for ten years then when we broke up I decided I was never going to be with another person again and then my best friend said hey my old high school sweetheart from who lives in California now is coming in for Christmas you guys should meet I think you’d like each other and like I don’t be playing matchmaker with me because I’m not interested but we met we had met once before and hit it off a little bit but we were both coupled at the time but when peg came back to town we reconnected and we were both going through bad breakups and we commiserated and then we commiserated another night and then we talked again on the phone another night and then she headed back to California she was heading back to California but she invited me over and we we commiserated some more and then she she came back home and we started talking on the phone no this is 1992 before this sort of thing and when our phone bills became the price of an airline ticket we decided we should see each other and I came out here and decided yeah I like it out here and her friends all vetted me so we did the back and forth a couple times visiting each other and she offered to move back to Chicago because her family was still there but I said no I’m done with winter I could move to California and so I’ve been here ever since 25 years so and the friend that introduced us was somebody I met playing softball so it worked you are a mover and shaker hey I try if I want to you know if I want something badly enough I try to go for it you don’t just join when softballs like team you join all of you yeah I don’t just play pickleball I teach it everywhere yeah that’s true that’s fabulous so two people who are struggling now with coming up what do you say I say you have to love yourself you have to be you have to be your own best friend you know there was a song years ago I think it was a Helen Reddy song and it was I’m a best friend too I take myself out whenever I’m feeling whoa I said uh yeah I forgot what the song but it’s it was a kind of my mantra because it was like you know what I can depend on me so I have to like me you know and there’s always gonna be people who don’t like you for any reason it could have nothing to do with the fact that you’re gay it could be because you don’t color your hair it could be because you talk loudly these are all reasons why people have not liked me you know just like you know they don’t let you you don’t let them get a word in edgewise you’re too boisterous you’re not boisterous enough you don’t like what they live so you have to like everything about you and find what find your tribe and anybody who’s struggling you’ll find your tribe you will it does get better I mean it when I was in high school I thought well I’m the weird one I don’t you know I’m a Girl Scout I like to do Girl Scout things I don’t want to have a boyfriend I’d rather play with the softball you know but you find your tribe so that’s what I would say like yourself love yourself and love will find you and don’t go looking for it I spent many years with crushes on this one or that one and trying so hard to make them like me that never worked but when I was just like hey let’s be friends let’s hang out let’s you know when I just was me that’s how I got with my first girlfriend and that’s how Peggy and I got together we weren’t looking for romance we were looking for friendship and companionship and just just to have someone to listen to so don’t try too hard to find somebody because if you are a friendly loving person friends and love will find you I think that is absolutely 100% true yeah and but but don’t sit on your back and do nothing go join every single one of the softball teams write anything I mean I a lot of women and me you know and I’m an extrovert so it’s easy for me to say go out and find people but you do have to I mean even but nowadays with Internet I mean I know plenty of people who met their loves through chat rooms through it used to be curve head I think pen pal curve magazine big magazine here Deneuve magazine was the new of now it’s curved they even had pen pal things I think and I know some women who met by that so there’s some there’s no excuse for not meeting people there’s – there’s too much there’s too many opportunities for the most introverted person because even introverts you girls sit at a keyboard and you post on on Facebook or Instagram or or whatever the other ones are so you can find your tribe easily I think I’ve actually through TLR we’ve actually had at least one coupling up and who ended up getting married nice well done you I have you know through pickleball I have I’ve just learned recently that there have been two couples formed from pickleball so one straight one lesbian but yeah it’s kind of fun yeah you find your tribe sure how about you are you are you are you coupled I am I’m very happily married just celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary in the same December last year and you know she’s she makes me very happy that’s great Darlene before we wrap up tell us where people could find you online if they want to connect with you oh well I’m on Facebook and I’m on twitter my twitter handle is just dar just5more – at gmail.com yeah I’m an avid reader I’m friends with a lot of authors and I do reviews from time to time if anybody wants a book recommendation I always happy to give it and uh yeah my my Twitter is mostly promoting comedians I like promoting authors that I like and talking about pickleball although I have a separate Twitter handle for pickleball and that’s pickleball Darr at gmail.com and that’s my Twitter handle pickleball dart people can hook up with you if they want to know more about this magical pickleball that you teach that’s right or if they want to know about comics or books or that’s about it those are my those are my areas of expertise I guess thank you so much for joining me today my pleasure [Music] we thank our guests for sharing a very personal parts of their lives with us and hope that you connected with their journey you can find our guests online check the show notes for links the Lisbon talk show is all about sharing love and connecting with one another and we hope that these stories help you do that because this is such a personal journey I ask that if you do comment on these shows then please do so positively the more we stand together and embrace our diversity the stronger we get as a community please know that you are under no obligation to come out it is a very personal journey and only you can know when you are ready and whether or not it is safe to come out if you enjoy these podcasts consider becoming a patron of the talk show the link is in the show notes I’m Sheena and this has been coming out stories