Simone comes from a long line of Bavarian villagers – she was born and grew up in the southern German state, a place she describes as down-to-earth with a life-embracing culture. Her entire family dating back four or five hundred years is from the area and she believes this has given her a deep sense of belonging and security, something which has helped carry her through what she describes as “the craziness” of her life so far.
Her mother was a music teacher and her father a railroad engineer, and there was always an expectation that she and her two siblings would follow the same path as their parents – build a house in the village and marry someone from the area, get involved in church life. This was never vocalised it was just what everyone did, but it turned out life had other plans for Simone.
She liked her primary school in the village and remembers often staring out of the classroom down to the cow field next door. Simone was the class tomboy and had many friends who were boys, and she spent many happy hours roaming free in the nearby forests:
“I remember I was playing in the forest one day when I was seven or eight and I suddenly realised that my brother would get to marry a woman one day, and I felt so sad that he could and I couldn’t.”
From a young age she had long battles with her mother about not wearing dresses, and in particular not wearing pink. Simone would cry and scream when she tried to make her wear a dress to church on Sundays and she hated having long hair. They finally reached a compromise: she could cut her hair short, but not until her first communion at the age of eight – she went to the hairdressers the very next day.
In Germany the decision to pursue academic or vocational studies is made at the age of ten – Simone chose the former and attended a Catholic girls’ school in Munich, over an hours commute from her village. Being a tomboy didn’t go across well with the nuns or the other girls at school so Simone soon let her hair grow long.
She remembers one day being given a ride home by a “beautiful woman with green eyes”. When she got home she told her parents all about this beautiful woman; she remembers them being a little bemused and even a little irritated by her enthusiasm, although at the time she was too young to realise why.
Then at 13 she saw an advertisement for a ‘lesbian’ film that was going to be shown on TV. She waited an entire week and then taped it on a VHS cassette:
“This lesbian movie was a revelation to me. I thought, this is how I want to live! But it seemed so far away, a galaxy away, that I could ever live this life. I kept the tape in my bedside table watched it again and again…maybe fifty times.”
Simone says she was never attracted to girls of her own age at school; she always had a thing for her teachers. She liked her fifth grade English teacher “more than I guess the average person likes their teacher”, but she thinks her first proper crush was on her biology teacher. This woman had what Simone describes as a “bit of a butchy look” with short red hair and a strong, outgoing personality. She remembers just wanting to be seen by her and always trying to get her attention, although she never mentioned this to anyone:
“I thought then that I know I like women, but it seemed to me something very private, like something secretive that you never tell anyone, and you could stop at any time. It felt like something a little bit dirty in a way, and something that I could just stop and forget.”
She remembers at some point during her teens she decided that she would stop this, and she retaped over the lesbian film she had recorded. She felt it was unthinkable in her little village in Bavaria to ever be out, to go home and say “yes I’m gay”. But then she says at the time it all felt theoretical – she’d had crushes and had seen one film, but she couldn’t say for sure she was a lesbian.
Soon after this, aged 17, Simone went to the US for a year on a student exchange. She lived with a family in Montana and attended the local high school, all of which gave her something else to think about for a while. And it was during this year that she developed her first serious crush on a guy. She remembers him as a really nice person, someone who helped her to find her way in a new and unknown community. Her crush persisted throughout the year until they finally kissed towards the end of her time there, but she realised she just didn’t enjoy kissing him and she didn’t want things to go any further. The irony is that in the same year she found a website of over 100 lesbian short stories read every single one of them.
On her return to Germany she finished high school during which time she fell totally in love with her history teacher. She was 19 and it was the first time she realised that this really meant something:
“I remember thinking, ok Simone this is serious shit, you really are in love with this woman. That was the first time I had spelled it out to myself, and I remember this moment like it was yesterday.”
She realised that this was more than just having a secretive thing for women in theory, although at that point the words gay, lesbian or homosexual weren’t part of discourses in her community, school or wider society. The topic was never discussed at school or at home; there was no one who was out in the community. She had never met or interacted with a person who was visible as gay – that life did not seem like a reality.
Simone applied and was accepted to university in the small Bavarian town of Passau near the border with the Czech Republic. She had found a place to live and packed her bags, then at the last minute she received an acceptance letter to study in Berlin:
“I accepted the place to study in Berlin for one reason – I wanted to see the gay scene…The course would probably have been better in Passau, but the reason I went to Berlin was very clearly to explore this road further.”
So she moved to Berlin – things went slowly at first and her focus was definitely on studying, but Simone made her first openly gay friend and soon after confided in him that she liked girls. She was still scared about revealing this to the world and would feel nervous just picking up a gay magazine. She knew where some of the lesbian bars were but at first she only ever managed to walk past, not yet having the courage to actually go inside. Bit by bit she worked up the courage – first chatting online, then going to a lesbian film festival, then to a gay party with her friend.
“I was 21 but still quite young, and I still didn’t realise that nobody in Berlin really cared about my sexuality. It still felt like something forbidden, like something I shouldn’t be doing.”
Towards the very end of her one-year course in Berlin, Simone went to a screening of the US TV show the L-Word, and that was the night she met Marina.
She went alone and soon noticed a girl with long curly hair. They exchanged a few glances during the evening and as the girl and her friends went to leave Simone decided it was probably time to go too. As she stepped onto the street someone asked her for directions to the nearest subway, and just as she was struggling to remember the way the girl with the curly hair stepped in to help. They all walked to the subway together and then decided to continue on for a drink. They stayed out all night and she remembers a moment when the sun was rising that she felt an incredible energy between them. They exchanged numbers, but this girl, Marina, was already in a relationship which made things very complicated.
Simone now had only a few days left in Berlin before returning to Bavaria. On her last night they agreed to meet at a big lesbian party at the ‘Palace of Tears’, a building which had formerly been a border checkpoint between East and West Germany. The next day would be Marina’s birthday, and at midnight Simone kissed her:
“At midnight I kissed her. Six hours later someone tapped us on the shoulder to say that the party was over and we had to leave. It was the first time I had ever kissed a woman. That kiss finally made it very clear to me what I wanted; that kiss changed my life”.
Simone says she fell madly in love with Marina, almost from the moment she saw her. But she left Berlin the next day as planned, spending the summer working furiously so she would be able to return in the autumn. She believes she would never have moved back to Berlin if they hadn’t kissed that night; she thinks she would probably have returned to Bavaria and continued her studies in Munich.
Marina was a little shocked when Simone returned to Berlin as she was still in a long-term relationship with another girl; they separated within a few months but it was a difficult time. Simone found the first year of their relationship hard to navigate – Marina needed space after having been in a relationship for five years; Simone on the other hand was desperate to spend time with her but didn’t have the experience to deal with her emotions. Lesbian sex was also what Simone describes as “not super intuitive” so it took her time to figure things out.
So Simone found herself in a relationship with someone seven years older, 28 to her 21, who had been in several relationships. Marina was from Berlin, was out and proud and had a wide circle of lesbian friends; Simone on the other hand felt herself to be the village girl, new in the big city with no lesbian friends at all. This affected the power dynamic in their relationship in the first few years, although their relationship evolved and developed over time.
She describes Marina as being her source of strength, but never her source of adventure. She thinks now that their relationship may have lasted as long as it did because they spent large chunks of it living apart meaning that Simone could pursue her adventures during the week, then recharge with Marina during their weekends together:
“Marina was my source of strength – when she was sleeping next to me I slept more deeply than I ever had”.
Simone spent the next six years in Berlin studying. She told her siblings very early on about her relationship with Marina – her younger sister was completely unfazed; her brother had no issue with her being gay, more that he had to keep the fact a secret from their parents.
However Simone didn’t tell her parents until just before she headed to graduate school in the UK in 2009. She had almost totally shut them out of her Berlin life since she moved there and was always nervous when they came to visit or when they called and Marina was with her. She says she felt very sad that they didn’t know who she was or what she was doing in her life; she felt very disconnected from them, almost like a physical pain:
“I didn’t tell my parents for so long because, as I had never even heard them say the word ‘gay’ and we had never ever talked about sexuality, it seemed to me they wouldn’t be able to deal with it, but this turned out to be very wrong”.
Simone didn’t even think her parents would know what a lesbian was, but she says in reality they reacted very sweetly and seemed more shocked and sad by the fact that that she had assumed they would not be accepting.
Shortly after she told her parents, Simone moved to Oxford to continue her studies. Whilst at Oxford she began to feel that hers and Marina’s lives were moving in different directions and she sometimes resented having to go back to Germany in the holidays. She also enjoyed having a group of lesbian friends for the first time in Oxford – Marina had always been against the Simone socialising with other lesbians, believing that someone would only go out in the gay scene if they were looking for a partner.
Simone says before she went to Oxford everything had been good with Marina and she thought she would want to move to Berlin, but after Oxford she couldn’t imagine going back. Instead she applied for and was offered a job with the UN in Geneva, and she moved there as soon as she had finished the course.
“Geneva was a different life, not easy on the relationship. I very quickly found my way into the lively expat gay and lesbian scene…met very many interesting people…and a woman who definitely had a part to play in killing the relationship”.
Commuting back and forth between Geneva and Berlin soon took its toll. She felt very lonely at first but she met a woman a few months after she arrived, a New Yorker working for another branch of the UN. They quickly fell for each other but she felt horrible about these feelings for someone other than her girlfriend of seven years and felt sure that she could not leave Marina.
Simone was determined to make their relationship work and promised Marina she would move back to Berlin after a year, but as the deadline loomed she just didn’t feel ready to leave Geneva. When she tried to renegotiate Marina ended their seven year relationship very suddenly. She had to learn very quickly how to be on her own for the first time since she was 21.
Simone dated a few women after the break-up which delayed the impact a little, but eventually she found herself facing a long winter alone in Geneva. She focused on keeping to a schedule and staying healthy. Then, as spring came around and she came out of what she call her “total hibernation”, she met Hanna.
Simone met Hanna at a dinner party, which she later found out had been organised in order to set her up with another woman (not Hanna!) Simone barely noticed her intended date for the evening, she saw only Hanna, a striking Hungarian human rights activist. She soon found out that Hanna was not gay, but the pair struck up a friendship and they started going to plays and film screenings together over the next few months. When summer came along they travelled to the Arles photography festival in the south of France together.
Simone made the travel plans and without any ulterior motive booked one hotel room. She had feelings for Hanna but she respected the fact that she was not gay. It turned out that when Hanna received the booking confirmation email she thought this was a very clear message from Simone, one that it turned out she was very happy about!
So in a café in Arles Hanna shared her feelings, although Simone’s initial reaction was less than enthusiastic. She had just started to feel happy on her own and wondered whether she was ready for her newly ordered life to be thrown into chaos again:
“She said to me, ‘I need to tell you I’ve got feelings for you’…It was just when I had finally managed to be happy being alone…I wasn’t enthusiastic, I was more like, ‘do I really want to have chaos again in my life? I’m not quite sure if I feel like opening Pandora’s Box again right now.’ But, because of one room and one bed, you know, it kind of opened itself!”
They soon embarked on a serious relationship and Simone began to feel like she could really settle long-term in Geneva with Hanna. They would host big dinner parties together and discover Geneva and beyond in their spare time. But in the end Simone realised that they had a very different long-term vision: Hanna was a single parent of two young girls – she wanted a girlfriend but not a new family; Simone didn’t want just a girlfriend but a partner with whom she could build a life. She knew that the relationship was not going in the direction she wanted in the long-term, and she and Hanna took the difficult and painful decision to separate when Simone was offered her dream job back in Germany.
Late last year Simone started work for the German Environment Agency; as the role could be based in Berlin or Leipzig she first chose Leipzig which was touted as the next big thing, and it was also far from her ex-girlfriend Marina in Berlin. She soon discovered that there was little to no gay life in Leipzig and she struggled to meet anyone, straight or gay, that she could socialise with. She discovered some great kayaking but she realised “I do need two things in my life – one is kayaking and the other is lesbians!”
After eight frustrating months in Leipzig she moved to Berlin, bought an apartment and is now happily settling in to her new home and her new life. She recently joined a queer tango class and went on a lesbian kayak excursion. She says the she couldn’t say whether she will stay in Berlin forever, but that is definitely where the next chapter of her life will take place.