We’re Here, We’re Queer. Everyone’s Used to It.

One of the primary conversations I’ve had with people after publishing my last blog post on the SCOTUS same-sex marriage ruling has been about the loss of a gay/lesbian community, or at least the appropriation and dilution of community. An acquaintance told me about attending the Seattle Pride Parade with her gay brother just last week.

“It was so corporate,” she said. “Even though the dykes on bikes still lead it off, and even though the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence still march, something gets lost when the last half of the parade is comprised of Starbucks, Microsoft, Alaska Air, Amazon and other giant corporations.”

I haven’t been to but one pride parade in Seattle since it moved from Capitol Hill for that very reason. Pride is no longer just the gay and lesbian community coming together in solidarity and defiance, marching to our own drummer, and flying our freak flags for all to see. Now Pride encompasses anyone who wants to join in the party—and the gays know how to throw a good party—and my sense of community has been shattered. We’ve been co-opted by big business, and it seems everyone wants to wear the rainbow. Apparently these are the costs of acceptance.

Again, I realize as I type these words that they may be misconstrued as hostile at worst and ungrateful at best, but hear me out. I used to attend Pride with a chip on my shoulder and a swagger in my step. The day was about being brave, stepping out, risking discovery. Back in the day, before smartphones, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, few of us advertised we were going to Pride. We joked about avoiding the cameras or ending up on the 5 o’clock news. How terrible, we thought, to be outed by Jean Enersen or Aaron Brown.

Pride was about letting our collective guard down, putting on our ass-less chaps and our leather vests or even simply our pink triangle or Act UP! t-shirts, holding our girlfriend’s hand and maybe even kissing on the sidewalk where anyone could see. For a whole day or a weekend we could just be ourselves. And on Monday morning, most of us bundled away the rainbow flags and nipple clamps for private use the rest of the year. When colleagues asked about our weekend, we shrugged and mumbled a few words about going out of town and enjoying a little street fair.

I came out in the mid-80s, when AIDS and anger defined the community, when “We’re here. We’re Queer. Get used to it!” was the rallying cry, when wearing my Names Project t-shirt seemed a very out and brave act. I remember one Pride weekend when I stopped by my parents’ house with a carload of lesbians on our way to the parade—somehow I thought my parents wouldn’t think twice about six women in mullets and jean shorts and combat boots. But, as my parents* pointed out later that week, they recognized the devil when they saw him.

Comedian Kate Clinton did a routine back then about being a stealth lesbian—Reagan was president and as a country we were spending (surprise) bazillions on defense (remember the SDI?)—lesbians were as good as the stealth bombers, Kate said, because we were invisible and low flying, undetectable in a patriarchal world, hidden even when we were in plain sight and powerful.

Some days I miss being a stealth lesbian.

The world doesn’t see what it isn’t aware of. And as long as gays and lesbians weren’t on the covers of Time and Newsweek (and identified as such), as long as celebrities like Ellen and Rosie weren’t out, no one noticed that they were lesbians. Honestly, once Newsweek did its lipstick lesbian cover in 1993, life as a stealth lesbian began its decline. These days it seems that no matter what friend I am out and about with, everyone (and by everyone, I mean wait staff, clerks, acquaintances) assumes we are a couple. Instead of dead people, everyone is seeing gay people, even when they aren’t.

Before I came out, I didn’t really know who else might be a lesbian. Oh sure, I had these mad and inexplicable feelings for Kate Jackson, my PE teachers, Kristi McNichol, and Jodie Foster. I knew something was up with Meredith Baxter Birney and Tatum O’Neal, but I didn’t have words for my feelings. (Even Tatum is only just now figuring things out herself.)

When I was in graduate school, some friends took me to my first lesbian concert. Cris Williamson and Tret Fure played at our little state college, and when I entered that concert hall, the energy electrified me—no kidding. The air crackled and snapped as I recognized woman after woman. Suddenly, biblically, the scales fell from my eyes, and I never saw the world in the same way again.

That night at the concert, I felt for the first time the rising inside me, the surge of recognition, camaraderie, an “us against the world” sense of belonging as if I’d been initiated into a secret society that was pulling off the greatest prank ever. I don’t know how else to describe that feeling, that way of being, that sense that I was getting away with something amazing in plain sight. The uninitiated couldn’t see us because they simply couldn’t imagine us.

And now they can. There’s no going back. And that’s the price we pay for progress. A little bit of loss for some big gains. I screamed like a giddy schoolgirl to see Abby Wambach kiss her wife on national television when the USA women won the World Cup yesterday. How amazing that baby lesbians can grow up with these positive images. How great that the next generation will be less compelled to hide their true selves. It truly does get better.

So, does it matter that Starbucks and Alaska Airlines and Boeing employees, gay and straight, are “encouraged” to march in the Pride Parade? Would I rather buy my coffee or my airline tickets from indifferent companies? Or is it okay to know that the corporations that want my lesbian money can and do imagine me and my people?

*My parents are now 100% supportive. They came around to the light many years ago. It took time and pain, but ultimately, love won out.

 

 

 

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.