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After launching my second podcast in April, Companies That Care, I’ve started alternating each week. This week on the Finding Fertile Ground podcast, I interview Dr. Ruth L. Schwartz, a poet and writer, teacher, and consciousness-shifter. Ruth has published eight books and taught at six universities, and now she runs the Conscious Girlfriend Academy, the leading global program supporting lesbians and queer women to date wisely and love well.
Ruth's parents were only 18 and 20 when she was born. Her mother had never even held a baby before and they didn’t know they had to burp a baby.
They all had to learn together how to be parents. When her dad was off at a college class, she and her mom would be sat home, crying together. "This is kind of a little microcosm snapshot of my life right there.”
Her father was brilliant, but his life was a cautionary tale for Ruth.
“I was definitely a daddy's girl…no one could tell him what to do; he was going to do it his way. He raised me to be like that too, except he didn't like it when my way was different from his side.”
He changed from a magical figure in her early childhood to mentally unstable, volatile, and addicted to speed when she was 10. As an emergency room physician, he was a thrill seeker until he lost his job and ended up on the streets addicted to heroin. He died earlier this year at the age of 79.
Ruth places a big emphasis on trying to make use of things that have happened to her in life.
“You often hear that the wounds become the gifts, but also the gifts become the wounds.”
Because of what she has accomplished in her life as a writer, academic, and teacher, people are shocked to hear that her father was homeless.
Ruth came out as a lesbian at the age of 20 when she was in college.
“I'm pansexual, but I love the complexity of being with women. I love the depth and the sense of freedom of getting to be more self-defining, not having as many cultural scripts written for me.”
Skewing heavily toward women, she describes her sexuality as not black and white. She likes the word “homoromantic.” She is drawn to people who are gender complex.
Perhaps because she’s drawn to complexity, some of her relationships have been complex as well. When Ruth was 28, she fell in love with a Puerto Rican woman named Gladys whose kidneys failed a few years later.
“I donated my kidney to her because I loved her. It just seemed like the thing to do. I had two. She needed one.”
Then several years ago a long-time partner transitioned from female to male. They started Conscious Girlfriend together in 2013 to teach other queer women how to be conscious girlfriends. As Ruth describes on her website,
“Michelle and I worked closely together in Conscious Girlfriend until 2017, when Michelle transitioned gender and became a man named Max. As Max emerged, his relationship needs changed. Over a number of months, we navigated huge shifts together with love, consciously transitioned our marriage to a friendship, and dissolved our business partnership. It wasn't always neat and clean and easy. There were plenty of tears. Yet we are proud to say that our Conscious Girlfriend skills served us well, and we were able to deeply honor our care for each other, even as our path changed. I've directed CG on my own since 2017, while Max offers Conscious-Girlfriend-style tools to the trans community through his new organization, Transresilience.com."
In the past 7-1/2 years, women from 22 countries have taken Ruth’s classes.
“There is such a hunger and need in the lesbian community…because relationships with women are intense and nobody has taught us how to do this.”
Her students who come out later in life are often floored at the degree of intensity that exists in relationships with other women.
I shared with Ruth my observations, raising three sons and living with four men in my house. Even though they are all sensitive, compassionate males, the way we process our emotions is different. And in friendships, there tends to be more teasing and less drama.
Ruth shared that when her former partner transitioned, a different personality emerged because of the male hormones. We talked about how lesbians tend to stay connected with their previous partners and how they often commit much more quickly than straight couples. Women often bond much more quickly, as I’ve found with my women friends.
“That's why I say my sexual orientation is complexity, because I'm okay with men's bodies. But I crave that extra degree of intimacy, and some straight women think, ‘keep me away from that extra degree of intensity.’”
Ruth teaches queer women how to navigate the complexities of relationships with women and how to date more wisely.
“I think most of us tend to date according to chemistry…not just physical chemistry but whatever that mysterious thing is that happens when you meet somebody and your whole being starts opening up to them… lesbians tend to bond so quickly. It's like ‘Oh my God, I've only known you for a few hours, but I can just tell you're the person I've been looking for my whole life…I know that none of the issues that I've had with other people are going to come up with you because it feels so right with you,’ and then we get extremely emotionally involved very quickly. I call it bonding with lesbian super glue.”
Ruth says many women, including herself, have had this experience over and over again. The Conscious Girlfriend Academy is a worldwide community of women who thought they were the only ones who had experienced these things. What Ruth enjoys the most is helping women find other likeminded, growth-oriented women.
“Women who are involved with women and having a community where they get to talk about these things and hold each other accountable and laugh and cry…it's such a beautiful thing to be part of and to witness.”
Before Ruth founded Conscious Girlfriend, she wrote poetry, taught creative writing, worked as a health educator, and earned a PhD in transpersonal psychology.
I asked Ruth about mistakes she’s made in her life. She reflected on the fact that she is an impulsive risk taker, and sometimes she would like to temper herself and take more advised risks.
“Fortunately, I've come out ahead more of the time than behind. I've taken some big emotional and romantic risks in my life and I'm still here to talk about it.”
Toward the end of our conversation, Ruth recommended a poem by Wendell Berry called the “Sycamore,” about a tree that has woven all its accidents into itself:
“In the place that is my own place, whose earth I am shaped in and must bear, there is an old tree growing, a great sycamore that is a wondrous healer of itself. Fences have been tied to it, nails driven into it, hacks and whittles cut in it, the lightning has burned it. There is no year it has flourished in that has not harmed it. There is a hollow in it that is its death, though its living brims whitely at the lip of the darkness and flows outward. Over all its scars has come the seamless white of the bark. It bears the gnarls of its history healed over. It has risen to a strange perfection in the warp and bending of its long growth. It has gathered all accidents into its purpose. It has become the intention and radiance of its dark fate. It is a fact, sublime, mystical and unassailable. In all the country there is no other like it. I recognize in it a principle, an indwelling the same as itself, and greater, that I would be ruled by. I see that it stands in its place and feeds upon it, and is fed upon, and is native, and maker.”
“That's what I was thinking as you and I were talking…how these things that are either random or devastating, how both you and I have woven them into our purpose.”
And I mentioned a poem I’d recently heard by Kahlil Gibran called “Fear,” which inspired me about the place I’m at in my life:
It is said that before entering the sea a river trembles with fear. She looks back at the path she has traveled,
from the peaks of the mountains,
the long winding road crossing forests and villages.
And in front of her,
she sees an ocean so vast,
that to enter
there seems nothing more than to disappear forever.
But there is no other way.
The river cannot go back.
Nobody can go back.
To go back is impossible in existence.
The river needs to take the risk
of entering the ocean
because only then will fear disappear,
because that’s where the river will know
it’s not about disappearing into the ocean,
but of becoming the ocean.
Ruth is inspired by the women she works with every day through the Conscious Girlfriend Academy. She told of a recent conversation with a woman who suppressed her own sexual identity because she lives in a conservative area in the south. Now she is meeting other women with similar stories, and she's getting to talk about her relationships in ways she has never had the chance to before. She describes it as grit and resilience all the time.
“I feel very fortunate that all the ways I've woven all accidents into my purpose have led me to this place.”
Next week I interview Julie Allen with Mary Rose Boutique NW and Mary Rose Foundation on Companies That Care. Julie’s created a clothing boutique where every woman can leave feeling beautiful, and her sister foundation raises money to pay for eating disorder treatment for girls who cannot afford it. The following week I’ll be back to Finding Fertile Ground with Melissa Pierce, who was widowed with two young children at a very young age.
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