Mary Oliver, Lesbian Make-Out Point, and Suzanna Danuta Walters: Just How Personal Is the Political, Anyway?

I so did not know Mary Oliver was queer. I love her poems, of course, it’s damn hard not to, but she’s such a UU bastion of the straight, middle-aged, middle-class, white crowd that it never once occurred to me she was anything other than straight herself.

On a recent Sunday, I sang at a UU service where the straight, middle-aged, middle-class, white minister read the congregation two of her poems. They were beautiful and sacred and I loved them, of course, it’s damn hard not to, but the whole time I was thinking about her being queer and how that never seems to come into her poems and how that makes it easy for all these straight people to adore her and use her for their uplift but I can’t help feeling like she’s giving her queer love to people who get love from every other damn where and I need her love more.

I know I’m a queer one-note Sally. This came up recently in an argument Tex and I had about the Lesbian Make-Out Point. We often take the dog for a walk on conservation land, and many months ago, found the above graffiti on a trail marker. It cheered us up no end. Subsequently, we noticed that the graffiti had been painted over. The last time we walked there, I pocketed a sharpie, ready to bring Lesbian Make-Out Point back into the light. Tex said it wasn’t right. She said that the volunteers taking care of the conservation land work hard so that there’s nothing but nature and notices about deer ticks and poison ivy and pick up after your dog – that it’s not a political place, one way or another. She also said that even though she liked Lesbian Make-Out Point, she had the feeling that it wasn’t written in love.

I said that everything is political, that our voices are silenced everywhere, and that restoring Lesbian Make-Out Point had the potential to cheer up other silenced queers. But Tex felt so strongly about it that I just kept the sharpie in my pocket. My sense of the sacred and her sense of the sacred veered away from each other in this instance.

In her book The Tolerance Trap: How God, Genes, and Good Intentions are Sabotaging Gay Equality, Suzanna Danuta Walters makes the incredibly salient and important argument that queers and straight allies “have settled for a watered-down goal of tolerance and acceptance rather than a robust claim to comprehensive civil rights.” I am with her all the way on this. But then she goes on to trash – I mean utterly eviscerate – the movie “The Kids Are All Right.” This seems so odd, given the rest of the book’s astute observation and queer love, that I suspect something other than making a cogent political argument was driving it. Something personal.

With the whole Lesbian Make-Out Point thing, Tex was telling me that my personal political feelings were getting in the way of her worship (of nature). Well, Suzanna’s personal political feelings got in the way of me finishing her book, although I did eventually, and I highly recommend it. Her take on that movie, though, is distressingly unempathic and mean-spirited towards the suburban queers whose choices have taken them to a very lonely place. Choices, as always, deeply influenced by our homophobic, anti-women culture.

I’m still not sure I agree with Tex about not restoring Lesbian Make-Out Point, and I know for a fact that I would have done it if I’d been on my own. But I am willing to consider that something I experience as restorative and uplifting could be like a kick in the teeth to someone else. Some other queer, I mean.

I am not the first person to notice that we are the hardest on our own. It’s something the status-quo welcomes and foments: if we’re fighting tooth and nail among ourselves, it will be smooth sailing and business as usual for the powers that be. But how hard it is to separate out our politics from our personal! I don’t really think we can. We are desperate for connection, recognition, approval, adoration, amour. I know intellectually that my queer doesn’t have to look like your queer, that we all have our histories and pain, our own paths to follow and that we can only be who we are and do what we can. Additionally, I am quite certain that every single queer in the world, from the most conservative to the most radical, agrees that every other queer in the world should be able to live life fully and safely, that we’re on the same page there about the most basic of what matters. So as vulnerable as I am to perceived slights by other queers (“Where’s my poem about sister love? How can you trash a movie that may actually be talking about femme identity?”), I do my best to unwad my panties, take a deep breath, leave my sharpie in my pocket (or not), and get back to work on my answer to Mary Oliver’s most famous quote*:


I am making my small piece of the world a better place for all of us.


*“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”