Thursday, March 29, 2007

And Another Thing: Sainthood & Other Lesbian Issues

By Carole Taylor

I have begun to repeat myself. (I have begun to repeat myself.) Just to get that out of the way. I’ve written about gay and lesbian issues for over twenty years, and written online about them for over a decade. You’d think that things would have changed enough in that time that I wouldn’t have to repeat myself, or that I could stop writing about this stuff entirely and move on to something more interesting to the general public or at least a different subject interesting to you.

But the more I talk to younger gay people online, the more I see it’s SSDD. Same shit, different day. It’s still hard for most people to come out at work. It’s still hard if not impossible for teenagers to come out to their families. The gay and lesbian teen suicide rate is a rampant, unforgivable national tragedy. Young gay men don’t want to or can’t remember the 80’s and AIDS. People don’t want to remember the 50’s and 60’s when people were thrown in jail for being gay. It’s still hard to find a compatible lover and then keep her. We can marry in several NATO countries but not here, except in Massachusetts--and basic human rights being left to the whiplashing whims of voters is always an iffy proposition. The military still asks and still tells and still lies. George Friggin Bush is still the president and actually BELIEVES that he is the president. Because he’s “the decider”. And he still thinks that’s a word. Goodgodalmightydamn. See why I repeat myself?

In about two months (or several years ago, depending on your level of impatience) I will officially become an old fart. But I’ve posted a picture of myself when I was 23, because I’d rather you think of me as that age, so you can at least have that me in your head when you read, and thus give some credence to what I say. Old farts are invisible and inaudible. Twenty-three year olds are in your face, Godde bless them. That’s the me who is in my own head all the time, and it’s very disconcerting to wake up every morning and have to realize yet again that those tormentors from Alpha Centauri have crept into my bedroom and replaced my once lithe body with THIS. Jeeeezuz. You’ll find yourself believing in aliens, too, if you manage to get past forty. Trust me on this. You get to your perfect age, and forever after, there you are stuck, but only in your head, not paying a lot of attention to the vast wasteland below unless you pass a mirror. Which is why young people, if they see us at all, think old farts act so idiotically on the dance floor. We COULD dance well, once upon a time, when our legs behaved the way they were asked to behave. And we’re only 23, and hot. Can’t you SEE??

But being an old fart isn’t what I started out to talk about. Which, of course, is yet another bit of evidence of old fartness. So I come at last to the point: For the last few years, I’ve been spotty about writing this column, and here’s why. Various past host sites have folded or rearranged their priorities or sold out or were on the very outside soapy rim of the Internet bubble when it blew up. I hope this blog will stick around for eternity, which is what the Internet is for, and I’ll have a virtual home until you are an old fart, too.

But in addition to Internet bubbles bursting and other writing stutters, long-time readers of this column may remember that for the last 6 years I’ve been the sole caretaker for my 92 year old mother. In 2001, I left my own hearth, home and lover in Illinois to keep this other promise. My lover drives the 1000 mile round trip to Tennessee every two months and calls me every day so that we can maintain our own promises, 17 years in the making. She’s a loyal soul, and generous and supportive. And pretty. Keeping this other promise to my mother, though, has made my writing intermittent. I’ve had other things to do. Writing takes uninterrupted concentration, and a mother who can’t speak but who can STILL AND ALWAYS TELL ME WHAT TO BY GOD DO (mothers were ever thus) tends to make my writing jerky. I feel as if I have an obstreperous Siamese twin and we are both passengers in a car, the driver of which has never used a stick shift and can’t grasp the concept of a clutch.

And here at last is the new part where I don’t repeat myself. I haven’t done a national survey to determine the figures, but I’m willing to lay money on this: Lesbians are the children in the family who will forever and always, world without end, be the ones to take care of their aging and infirm parents. Lesbians will. Daughters nearly always, but lesbian daughters almost certainly. Unless there is a gay son in the family, and then he does it. Probably if there is a gay son and a lesbian, they both do it. Somebody puhleeeeze tell Tom Brokaw that WE QUEERS are the ones now caring for the Greatest Generation. Doesn’t this rate us at least a footnote somewhere? We do it because it’s the right thing to do. We do it out of love. We do it out of respect. Maybe we hope that this karma will waft back around and someone will take care of us in the not too distant future. We do it instead of warehousing a parent who, in all likelihood--even if only in some small recess of her mind before that recess disappeared--wished we were not dear God part of her family. Or wished we were not so damn different. Or rather NOT different. But here we are doing our duty with all the love and patience we can muster, even when those things seem drained to the grainy dregs. They won’t let us serve in the Marines even if we speak Farsi, but on the home front, we are the first and last recruit, the last lines of defense against impotence and indifference and endless nights.

And we do this also because none of the other siblings can really wrap their minds around the fact that we do actually have a family of our own. Zillions of you have children, either from a previous marriage acceptable even to the state and Jerry Falwell, or because you and your gay partner wanted children. But because our unions aren’t recognized by the state, it’s “oh, she can do this because she doesn’t have a husband and children.”

My mother’s friends from her church think I’m a saint. But what they DON’T think is that I’m married. Maybe the two are mutually exclusive anyway.

So I’m back. Probably intermittently. Probably redundantly. Write to me. I answer all emails, even if they’re rude. If you can write one that isn’t rude, then you are the saint.

Copyright by Carole Taylor 2007

Carole Taylor holds a masters degree and most of a doctorate, which she used as a university administrator for much too long by all accounts. She has been a commercial artist, a journalist, a grants writer, a house cleaner and a Renaissance woman. She is at work on her second novel,a bildungsroman of sorts, and all she wants for Christmas is a sweet movie deal.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Fan Mail for Ellen

By Lee Lynch

I am worse than a star-struck teenager. I thought I got over hero-worshipping long ago. There was my gym teacher back in high school and – well, there was my gym teacher, with her big blue eyes, squeaky clean white sneakers, living with the school librarian and a world of secrets. What did I see in her?

At least my criteria have improved. Ellen DeGeneres is at the top of her game, and it’s not volleyball. As a matter of fact, she’s at the top of most people’s games. Okay, you could be Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi, but, no offence, they’re not out lesbians.

Seriously, who is doing more for gay people these days than Ellen? What other dyke is striding across the Academy Awards stage in red velvet butchwear and dancing with hot female leads on daytime T.V.?

After Ellen came out, she was in the celebrity doghouse for a while. A lot of us would have taken our whippings and, for example, gotten law degrees, as one former still-closeted entertainer did. No attorney could have this impact.

I used to be a snob; T.V. held no interest for me. The Oscars? I watched exactly once at an Oscar Party. My partner won the traditional “guess the winners” contest without having seen any of the films. The whole show was a big dull publicity stunt as far as I was concerned. Ratings-meisters take heed: this viewer tuned in for only one reason: Ellen DeGeneres.

Not only did I watch, I shouted and cheered. My attitude might not have pleased the Academy. Whenever “Notes On A Scandal” was up for an award, even when the nomination was Judi Dench’s, I rooted for anyone who was not a part of that lesbian-bashing drama. Dench may be the greatest actress on earth, but I wish she had chosen a vehicle for her talents that did not perpetrate the misleading image of old lesbians as evil predators. The irony is obvious. The Dench character was a nominee and the host was a lesbian. I haven’t seen anything in the media about Ellen’s jokes at Dench’s expense – implying that Dench’s knee surgery was in actuality a cosmetic makeover. I certainly would have been tempted to make a nasty crack or two to discredit a film that was an insulting throwback to the days of “The Fox” and “The Killing of Sister George.”

It was icing on the cake when best song-winning Melissa Etheridge kissed her partner and referred to Tammy Lynn Michaels as her wife. The cameras also honored Ellen’s partner Portia De Rossi and Ellen’s mom: Betty DeGeneres. I mist up every time I see her look proudly at her daughter. Maybe that’s one reason I admire Ellen: because she came out, Mother DeGeneres has been standing up for all of us ever since. This family is a living example of the rewards of coming out.

In an interview, Ellen said that she’s always wanted to make money as well as succeed as a comedian. This may seem an obvious goal, but it’s not something lesbians have been good at. She lucked out by missing the years when being a lesbian made success at anything but survival next to impossible, and she missed the downwardly mobile years, back when gay lib grew out of a revolutionary mindset which disdained material gain. Ellen may be a love child of women’s and gay lib: born into a world reaching for gay and proud.

I recently saw “The L Word” for the first time. Though not into glamour gals myself, I admired the production, the issues raised and the diversity of characters. Could the show even have been conceived of before Ellen boldly went where no woman had gone before?

Ellen DeGeneres is just the dyke next door, except for her brilliant comedic talents and obvious business acumen. She seems also to be honest and honorable in the best butch tradition. She barely had role models yet created herself out of her own agonies and dreams. The best of lesbian icons, her career is terrifically significant for all gay people. She has demonstrated that we not only have a right to, but can reach our full human potentials.

Yesterday, I was at a job-related conference. I hate wasting time on these things and spent the day writing. When the friendly woman next to me asked, I conjured up Ellen in her red velvet suit, looked the woman in the eye and answered, “My column – for lesbian and gay papers cross the country.” Thank you, Ellen.