Indulging in Nostalgia

The tightness in my chest begins
A pang that travels from my solar plexus
Up my right shoulder
Not over my heart, oddly
It is the pang of loneliness
The pang of invisibility
And it radiates through me while
Tears stream down my face
The tightness in my chest begins
A pang of recognition from my solar plexus
To my groin
Not over my heart, oddly
The pang of knowing
And it radiates through me until
You reach to touch my face
The tightness in my chest begins
To soften
Life is full of dichotomies. We spend our days working our way through them, balancing our lives as we step across the divides that open up in our days. Sometimes there are great chasms—like this week: Utah legalized same sex marriage while a Catholic in Washington State (where same sex marriage has been legal for a year) lost his job for marrying his male partner. Since the push for legalizing same sex marriage began in earnest, I’ve been wrestling with my own complicated feelings around the issue, my own internal dichotomy, a push/pull between recognition and—I don’t know quite what to call it: Privacy? Subversion? Neither word quite works though the two together come close. Maybe what I’m experiencing is the tug between then and now. What used to be and what is. A yearning for the elusive and imagined good old days? The good old days were never as good as we remember them. But, Dear Reader, let me see if I can make myself clear. Indulge me while I indulge in a little nostalgia. Tis the season and all that, right?
A few weeks ago, my massage therapist and I were talking about singing, because my solar plexus is all jammed up. She recommended that I sing loudly to loosen things—I laughed and said I do not sing and she said she didn’t either except lullabies to her babies.  I too sang my children lullabies—we sang anyway, testaments to our mother-love.  This was a tangential and unremarkable enough discussion until she sent me a link to one of the songs she used to sing to her children. I read the lyrics first and something old and familiar tugged in me. I know this song, I thought, and when I clicked the link to a youtube video and heard it, a rush of aged memories washed over me. Memories from way before I had children, memories long dormant. I DID know this song—Cris Williamson singing Like a Ship in the Harbor. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. It’s a pang, a tingling, an edge of my seat excitement. It is me all those years ago wondering “how did I miss all of this until now?” It is uncertainty and knowing entwined. It’s a feeling that 22 year old me knew well, a feeling full of angst and heartache, joy and discovery, the thrill of having a secret, the excitement of walking that fine line between discovery and being discovered, when I knew things about myself that no one else did.
I remember the first Cris Williamson concert I attended. I was in graduate school, just a baby lesbian, still all pink and new in my skin, and as we all streamed into the college’s performing arts center, I felt the scales fall from my eyes (I had also just recently left fundamentalist christianity, so the biblical reference works quite nicely here) and I finally saw, really saw, that I was not alone. And as I began this journey, out of one life and into another, the music carried me. I lived in a small apartment with two women from my church group while I was exploring my sexuality, discovering the deeply hidden real me, and I played these albums loudly and repeatedly over and over. I played Cris Williamson’s The Changer and The Changed, and I sang along, rising up and spilling over, it’s an endless waterfall. Rising up and spilling over, over all.
I listened for hours and hours as I embraced my sexuality, euphoric after years of wrestling down the demons of homosexuality. Cris and Tret Fure, Meg Christian. These women and their songs initiated me into a world I had not known existed, a subversive and secret world where women loved and sang and wrote about loving each other. A world that no one could know about just by listening. They had to know before they listened.
And I think that is what I miss. Being on that other side of Out, the subversive side, the secret club side. Kate Clinton used to do a bit about being a Stealth Lesbian, flying low under the radar of the patriarchy. Those were the days, as she said so succinctly, that we wouldn’t say the word lesbian even as our mouths were full of one. I miss the excitement of that secret.
Don’t think I’m romanticizing ignorance and fear. I’m not. I don’t want to return to a world where bigots like that A&E entertainer who shall not be named here can spew his hatred and bile without repercussions. I don’t want to live in a world where I have to pretend I am single and living with my roommate or in a world where my children have to be silent about having two moms. We still, to some extent, live enough in that world even now. I still watch my pronoun usage. I still fear being judged. I am happy that I could marry The Little Woman. I am glad I we have all the protections under the law that straight folks have. I am thankful these changes have occurred in my lifetime.
Still. I am aware that nostalgia may be clouding my vision, but there was a camaraderie back then, a sense of we-ness, an us vs. them mentality that wasn’t completely unhealthy, a quiet knowing that I was getting away with something that wasn’t hurting anyone else. And it is not lost on me either, that the jamming up of my solar plexus, this tightening of my diaphragm, might have something to do with all of those years of holding my true self in. After all, flying stealth requires keeping secrets, holding my emotions in check, and, more often than not, holding my breath.
Maybe being out in the fresh and open air is good for me after all and perhaps this is just a very long adjustment period, not unlike coming down from the dangerous peaks in the Himalayas or up from the depths of the ocean. While the world is spectacular from great depths and tremendous heights, we cannot live there. Sometimes though, we long to breathe again in that thin, rarified air.

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