Interweave Interlude

This is something I wrote for my UU church newsletter. 

As I write this, the Supreme Court hearings about Prop 8 and DOMA are much in the public eye, and I mean the whole world public eye. My friend who lives in Chile forwarded me a post from another ex-patriot there, a straight woman, who wrote about Edith Windsor, plaintiff in the case before the Supreme Court to overturn DOMA. The post heading was, “The sweetest little old lesbian I’ve ever seen!” and went on to call Edith “adorable”.

I found this post so interesting, because that is not how I would describe Edith Windsor. When I look at her, I see a very powerful person, who, after a lifetime of abuse by a homophobic society, is fighting back and doing some very serious ass kicking. I see someone, who, even though she is a lesbian, a woman, and decidedly in the twilight years of her life – all of which are things that have most certainly been used against her in the effort to shut her up – has found the energy and courage to give an unjust system what for.

The tone of the post from Chile reminded me of another time, in another town, when I had to do a double take. “Oh, she’s just the funniest little lady!” was the remark, made in passing, by a straight woman. The person she was talking about, a local lesbian business owner, was someone I, too, had noticed around town, someone who appeared to me to be hard working, complicated, attractive and extremely competent. I could hardly recognize her in the straight woman’s off-hand remark.

I asked my friend in Chile if she thought the post she forwarded me was meant to be supportive. She said she thought so. I think so, too, but is it a real, lasting and substantial support? Calling someone “little”, “adorable”, “funny” feels dismissive to me. Like the support could vanish in a heartbeat if the lesbian stopped being attractive or amusing, like those folks wouldn’t even notice if they came across a lesbian who was not little or adorable or funny.

Part of the problem is that our society is currently so homophobically skewed that fully realized and detailed descriptions of lesbian life, whether in the news media, movies, literature or art, are incredibly hard to come by, at least any that make it onto the heterosexual radar. If you’ve been exposed to untold numbers of heterosexual stories and maybe just a handful of homosexual ones, it’s going to affect how you see the world. I hope that this is changing, and certainly if the Supreme Court does the right thing, our society will have taken a step in the right direction. Until then, let’s do what we can to make room for the stories that so often get overlooked. They are devastating, fierce, arousing, unique, riveting, inspirational, ordinary, spiritual, and some of them are even seriously adorable. But not one of them is simplistic or one dimensional. Just ask any of us.

“Interweave Interludes” will be offered occasionally by different members of our Interweave Chapter.

Our chapter of Interweave Continental is a member-based, grassroots church group providing the church LGBTQQIA community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex and Allies) opportunities for fellowship, support, spiritual growth, social justice work and community activism within the congregation as well as within the wider community  and beyond. 

 

Published in: on March 31, 2013 at 6:11 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Comes to That

This past Saturday morning, I was spinning. My community organizing work had boiled over, I had several writing deadlines and a bunch of stuff to do for the kids and I couldn’t make up my mind which of the many pressing issues I should put my very limited time and energy to. So mostly I was whining.

 

“Go take a walk without the dog. Now!” said Tex. She knows, does my darling husband, that a walk always helps me sort things out, and without the dog, I can carry on as I will without cramping his style (I tend to want to walk more quickly, and I don’t need to stop, sniff, and mark).

 

Of course, a walk can also generate more ideas, which this one did. Is there a 12-step group for this? Too Many Ideas Anonymous? “Hi, my name is The Total Femme, and I think too damn much.” “Hi, The Total Femme.” And then we have donuts and coffee in Styrofoam cups and the whole time I’m trying to figure out a way they can make this meeting more green and if there are Too Many Ideas Anonymous meetings just for queers and if not how can I get one started, and then I notice that there’s an empty bookshelf in the room and I start scheming about getting books the local library routinely throws away to put in the bookshelf for people to take for free, well you get the idea.

On my walk I did manage to wrench my day into order somewhat, take some notes for this post, for a future post, and for something I want to write for church. Feeling pretty good, pretty reigned in, I decided to go a different way than usual. In the distance, I could see someone else walking on my path, and in good New England fashion (I’m from the Midwest, but I’ve lived here a long time), I considered going back to my usual route so I wouldn’t have to pass the guy (I could see now that it was an old guy), but I made myself continue, because, my goodness, it won’t hurt me to say “Hello” once in a while. And as I walked along, still thinking of ideas, I smelled shit. Human shit. I looked down, and saw a trail of little plops. Dismayed, I made the connection: it must be the old man’s shit. I slowed down, keeping an eye on him to see if he needed help, if he was sick, and only went on my way when I saw that he was turning in to his driveway.

 

In my early 30s, when I worked for the Evil Empire*, one of my office mates, probably in her 50s who was dealing with a chronic illness, told me about how she had shit herself on the T. I was completely horrified, putting myself in her position and concluding that I would probably rather die than have that happen to me. 20 years later, I put myself in the old man’s position and just felt compassion. Have I turned into an OWL**? I don’t know about that, but who among us has not been humiliated by shit, our own or someone else’s? Diarrhea, childbirth, colonoscopies, enemas; parenting, pet owning, traveling, owning a house. All these and more! When I passed that old man, shit all over the cuffs of his pants, I thought, “Ah, it comes to that.”

 

I think of a story Jewish Buddhist teacher Sylvie Boorstein tells about how members of a meditation group she leads take a few moments after every session to say things they’re thinking about, worried about. They’ll say things like, ‘I’m worried about my son’s medical results,” or “Please keep my friend in your thoughts because she’s lost her job.” One day, somebody said, “Everything happens to everybody!”*** So true.

 

How do I decide which project to work on, which idea to pursue, when to rest, when to push myself, which goals are reasonable, which are pie in the sky? How do I combat the niggling sense that I should actually be doing something else, something more important than what I finally settle on? I still really suck at all of that. In an essay I just read by Barbara Smith, a black lesbian feminist revolutionary who has been an agent of positive change since the 1960s, she says, of a spiritual revelation she had upon moving from New York City to the much more conservative Albany,  “[Y]ou have to brighten the corner where you are, which meant to me that I had to do the most effective and needed political work I could in the situation where I was. The conditions for making social and political change are never perfect; if they were, you would not need the change to begin with. Serious activists know that they are a part of the struggle for their entire lives, which means that success must be measured with a very long yardstick. Committed organizing guarantees not just a lifetime of very hard work, but the most incredible triumphs” (italics mine).****

 

Are you spinning, too, my beleaguered, plugged in, maxed out, information-overloaded sisters and brothers? Maybe we can take a few deep, cleansing breaths together (the boys love it when I suggest that to them when they’re upset!). Maybe we can remember that we’re in it for life, wherever we are working for change, parenting, church, school, small town, big town, in our families, in our world, and look on it as a blessing, not a curse. It also helps to remember that at the heart of it all, our best bet is just to love each other. All through the arc of our lives, until we shuffle off this mortal coil. I can deliberate for months before I make my choice of what action to take, what to write, what to work on, or I can shut my eyes, spin around, go with whatever my finger lands on. Either way, if I continue to work with love, I will be putting more love back into the world.

 

I want to rest in the knowledge of that incredible triumph, when it comes to that.

 

*Harvard

**Older Wiser Lesbian (Duck and I just watched The Owls http://theowlsmovie.com/index.html)

***I’m pretty sure this is from Happiness Is an Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life by Sylvia Boorstein

**** “Doing It From Scratch: The Challenge of Black Lesbian Organizing” by Barbara Smith, in This is What Lesbian Looks Like: Dyke Activists Take on the 21st Century ed. by Kris Kleindienst

 

 

Published in: on March 21, 2013 at 10:50 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Magic Circle Butch

 

Recently, in the fabulous pilates studio I frequent, as my classmates and I worked our inner thighs and did secret upper ab curls and frogs and stomach massage and other exciting pilates moves known only to the select few, there was a butch having a private session on the cadillac directly across from my reformer.

I know there are a couple of other lesbians who take classes there, but usually I am the only queer in the room. All the instructors are lovely and I feel pretty relaxed there, but it is nonetheless an incredibly straight, incredibly girl environment. My heart went out to that brave butch. Was she there to recover from an injury? Does she have back issues? A hip replacement? Whatever the reason, there she was in her sweats and big t-shirt, surrounded by straight women in skin tight pilates wear, being bossed around by one of the more diminutive instructors. Who, as I watched, produced a magic circle, which is a circle made from thin, flat, springy metal with pads on two sides so you can squeeze it. The instructor had the butch lie down on her back with her knees bent, legs apart, and put that magic circle right between her legs.

“Now squeeze! Be determined!” urged Miss Diminutive.

*          *          *

Even when people know that I’m queer and am married to another female, they quite frequently use male pronouns to refer to Tex. This is really no problem at all, but usually they get really embarrassed about it. The other day, this happened, and the straight woman, true to form, apologized up one side and down the other, and then proceeded to refer to Tex as my wife the rest of the evening. Even other queers do this, and also often refer to the two of us as “girls” or “ladies”.

*          *          *

At the Brown Bag Lunch Talk referred to in yesterday’s post, I watched with concern as an old person sat herself down across the room from me. At first, all I could see was her walker, and how tired she looked, tired and possibly ill, as she kept listing to the side and then wrenching herself back up. Slowly, though, I began noticing other things about her. Her brogues. The way her jeans were cuffed at the ankles. Her button down shirt. Her short hair cut. How she snickered when the talk turned to the (very odd) idea that femmes “go butch” when they get old. By the time she got up to leave, that old butch was fully in focus for me, and the enjoyment I got seeing her butch that walker the fuck out of the room was intense.

*          *          *

Babies, Mama sees you. All you brave, brave boys. I try so hard to let you know that I see you, in my home, in the pilates studio, at a lunchtime talk, everywhere, everywhere. I know you’ve been hurt and I know you’re being careful, holding it all together, not making eye contact and just maneuvering your way through a world where your precious butch sexuality is ignored, misunderstood, denigrated and ridiculed. But look up sometimes, not all the girls are straight, and some of them have your back. Some of them are so glad to see you, and are working hard to make a little room in the world for you to shine. Some of them know who is the girl and who is the guy, the wife and the husband. Some of them, with ancient femme sorcery, are surrounding you with a sexy shimmering magic circle of love and appreciation and support and joy. Some of them are walking with you, every fucking step of the way. You know I am.

Published in: on March 14, 2013 at 2:49 PM  Comments (1)  
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Better OLOC Next Time!

There is a wonderful organization in my town offering LGBT programming to retired LGBT seniors and friends: the Rainbow Lifelong Learning Institute. I’ve been wanting to get to something of theirs for a long time, and yesterday I was able to make it to a brown bag lunch talk by a local woman who has started a chapter of Old Lesbians Organizing for Change. Three members of the homeschoolers QSA accompanied me (I’m the adult advisor to the group), so in the room were teen, middle aged, and old lesbians – cute!

The talk was wonderful. The 78-year old presentor gave background on OLOC, which got its start in California in the early 90s, and then talked about the process of starting a chapter here. Apparently, old lesbians are trendy or something, as a local senior center welcomed them with such enthusiasm it was almost embarrassing. They decided from the beginning to welcome anyone who defines herself as a lesbian, although apparently the national chapter does that stupid women born women thing. They’ve discussed lowering the age limit (the national chapter sets it at 59) and welcoming allies. They have an ongoing discussion about “old” and “older” and which is a better adjective. Our local chapter has been very popular and they are slowly going through their group process, experimenting with topics and discussing potential projects. They are planning a conference for November on sex and the old lesbian, a topic that was so thrilling to me that my enthusiasm brought about my downfall, thus:

After the talk, I rushed over to the presenter and thanked her, then rushed on to say that I’m an erotica writer and would they want to do an erotica-writing workshop at the conference because I would be interested in helping with that. She looked at me with a blank expression, and at first I thought she hadn’t heard me because earlier she had said she’s hard of hearing. I repeated myself, and she said, very quickly and without engaging me in any way, “The conference is for old lesbians.”

So I heard a welcome and she saw intrusion and she shut me down. Because she’d said that thing about lowering the age limit and welcoming allies, because I was so inspired by her talk, I wanted in. I certainly had heard her say how they’re working very hard to give leadership to old lesbians, that young people often end up having leadership in areas that concern old people. I went with the information that worked for me, though, and that turned out not to be what worked for her. She dismissed me with a glance. It was hard and it hurt my feelings, but I can also see that she probably gets lots of people coming at her with good ideas and taking up her time. And even though I related to so much of what she was saying about getting old, I am only 51 and that is just too young for OLOC.

Which does beg the question, where do we middle aged gals go? I certainly don’t feel particularly comfortable with folks in their 30s and early 40s, either. But more importantly, the whole thing got me thinking about being an ally. An ally takes cues from the oppressed minority she wishes to be in solidarity with. She comes up against her own ignorance all the time, she does what she can to educate herself, and she takes a lot of hits for the team. She can’t let the hits stop her from her dedication to being an ally, even though it’s easy enough to just walk away. In this case, easy enough to be so insulted that the relationship ends there, and I don’t want that. So I wrote an email to the presenter apologizing for my presumptuousness. I told her how much her presentation inspired me, and how grateful I am for her organizing. I waited until I wasn’t feeling so raw and could say those things genuinely without any hidden agenda, because they are true. I am not going to stop being an ally to old lesbians just because I got my feelings hurt. Especially given the sprinkling of handsome old butches in the room yesterday. In the end, my biggest regret is not that I bounced up to the presenter with my good idea, getting roundly shut down and embarrassed as a result. Nor is it that I handed off most of my lunch to the QSA gals, which is, after all, only the motherly thing to do. Nope, my biggest regret is that I forgot, for just that fatal moment, essential information that the Femme Rule Book tries so hard to instill in us all: You never know when you’ll encounter a butch in public.

My biggest regret is not taking the time before the talk to put on some lipstick.

Published in: on March 13, 2013 at 12:50 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Catch and Release

It’s one of those times when I feel very keenly that the boys do not fully belong to me. They’re choosing classes for next year, Owen for 9th grade, Seth for 11th, and my ex is putting down her foot about several things that I don’t agree with. If the boys belonged to me, we could work out their class choices together, going back and forth the way I was lucky enough to be able to do with my own parents. Tex (their step-butch) would put in her two cents. People might get hot under the collar and storm out of the room. In the end, the boys would take away a vision of what Tex and I think is important as well as a clearer idea of what is important to them. It wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be ours.

As it is, no matter what my advice, if Erin* decides to pitch a fit, I have to decide whether to fight with her about it, or let her go for it and deal with shielding the boys from the extreme disconnect. One example right now is language choice for Owen. He’s been taking Latin (I fought for it) in middle school, and would happily continue on – he likes it, he’s good at it. He would also happily take French, something Erin is ready to lay down her body for (actually, she would prefer Spanish, but is desperate for him to take A LIVING LANGUAGE). So he’s happy either way. I get that he’s happy either way, I do! However, he can take French at any time, during the summer, at a camp, on a trip to Quebec or France, and Latin, unless he wants to start it back up at college which I suppose he might, is kind of a high school deal. And he’s on a roll. This disagreement between me and Erin is typical of our usual disagreements: it’s a profound difference in how we see the world. I know it’s a class difference, as well, in that I have travelled extensively and assume Owen will have that chance, and Erin sees Owen’s future in much different terms.

Weeks ago, Seth woke up late and presumed upon me to drive him to school, which I did, half grumpy, half happy to have some alone time with him. The grumpy quickly overwhelmed the happy as he indulged in some irrational and ridiculous teenage behavior, I don’t even remember what, but it culminated in him jumping out of the car with nary a “Thanks mom,” and certainly not a backwards glance. As I drove home, I slowly focused my slightly teary eyes on the license plate of the car in front of me, which happened to be one supporting wildlife conservation efforts in our state and it said:

CATCH AND RELEASE.

I burst out laughing.

In certain moments of clarity, I understand that the boys would never belong to me, even if they were with me and Tex all of the time. I know that the moments of slippery contact would always be fleeting, that I would probably be feeling similar regretangstfearangerdespair connected to my children even without Erin’s extremely incendiary presence in our lives. Snow falling, Tex off at grad school for the weekend, boys off somewhere after school, old dying cat cozy in her bed by the radiator; is it a moment of clarity? Maybe a little. The wind is getting up. And Owen will be happy, he is blessed that way. The irony is, if Erin really wasn’t in my life, he wouldn’t be either (she birthed him), and Seth would be a completely different person. As hard as it is, I have to acknowledge and even celebrate Erin’s deep influence in their lives, because she is their other parent. Does it really matter if Owen takes French instead of Latin? I love French. I speak it more or less fluently, or did at one time, and he’s going to adore having that special connection with me. And lest I forget, Seth still takes Latin – I guess I prevailed there. He will soon be reading Cesar and other historical guys in the original, and Owen and I will be able to cozily chit-chat in la belle langue whilst nomming croissants and sipping chocolat chaud. Mmmm!

Optime.

*my ex receives a different nom de blog every post

Published in: on March 8, 2013 at 3:37 PM  Leave a Comment  
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