Willow Williams – Identity and Awareness

“I was too young to label myself.”

I had my first relationship while I was at a commune. I had crushes on a lot of the women that were in there. I didn’t label myself as a lesbian, because living in the commune is a little bit like living with 25 brothers and sisters and 25 parents. So, some of those brothers’ and sisters’ parents were telling me that I was too young to label myself at that point, and that it was pretty normal to explore. So I was exploring.

There was no stigma on being gay that I was brought up with. It wasn’t exactly free love there. But, there was a lot of hugging and cuddling, so I was used to doing that. With men and women. I think there was a lot less restriction on how I expressed my sexuality. I don’t know what would’ve happened if my parents hadn’t moved there [when I was 12]. Would’ve I figured it out when I did? Who knows? I have no idea. Just got lucky.

[When I left the commune,] I went to Eugene. I started working in a tree planting group. It was an all-women’s tree planting group, which was 90 percent gay. I did that for a year. Then I decided that I’d switch to a “heterosexual” crew, because I was thinking maybe I was just being gay because I was doing what the Jones’ were doing. [Laughs.]

Within about a month I was having an affair with one of the “straight” women. So I decided that I was probably gay. [Laughs.] I was really just checking to see. I was really pretty deliberate about it. It was like, “Okay, if this is an environmental issue, then I’ll just go over here and we’ll see.”

When I left the commune to tree plant, I would come back for the special events, and [Bonnie] would still be there at those special events. And we still bunked together. I’d come in and be doing something around the farm. I’d get in my car to leave, [my mom would] come over, and she’d say, “So, you just came for dinner?” And I went, “Nah, not really.” She’d say, “Bonnie’s here.” “Oh, okay. Well, I’ll stay.” She shamelessly used that to keep me.

I don’t know of any gay relatives in my family. I think that’s part of what would’ve made me not come out if I hadn’t gone to the commune, because I would never have even known that it was there.

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Source: Interview with Maureen Nickerson, 15 August 2007; transcribed by J. Zander; edited by Laura S. Hodgman. Audio file held in the Museum of Arts and Culture.