Monday, July 16, 2007

Women Taking Over the World

By Lee Lynch

The National Women’s Music Festival ( was 32 years old this summer. I had the honor of being invited to its Writers’ Series, organized by lesbian dynamo Mary Byrne and sprightly Tammara Tracy, which has traditionally been part of the festival. Together they operate Out Word Bound Books in Indianapolis ( was my fourth visit over a twenty year time span and, as always, I came away excited and energized.

Headliners in the Writers’ Series this year were Radclyffe, who has written 25 lesbian novels and anthologies, and Ellen Hart, who has published 23 mysteries. Kim Baldwin and I rounded out the writer’s marquee. Is it just Midwestern women, or are lesbians everywhere as passionate about the chroniclers of their culture? Every workshop turned into a conversation between these avid readers, beginning writers and the presenters. The sessions were more like gatherings of old friends than lectures and readings.

Spirits were high, especially at the erotic readings, when Radclyffe discussed the differences between erotica and writing about sex as a part of general fiction. Radclyffe, who is also the publisher of Bold Strokes Books, has a wonderfully clear vision of current lesbian literature and an unusual respect for those who preceded her.

At the workshop I gave (“Femme-Butch Writing: So Last Generation?”) I was delighted that two of the participants – Jeanne Arnold and Barbara Lindquist -- were the founders of Mother Courage Press, one of the early lesbian publishing companies. To have old wave Mother Courage and new wave Bold Strokes Books in the same room was an historic event.

“Back in the Day: Older Butch Culture” was another lively session. Kai Philippi, Ph.D, was the moderator. I just love it when dykes have respectable titles. It feels like a form of thumbing our noses at the het establishment. In the workshop, some of us told stories of life before gay lib, and others described the future we could not have imagined. Once you were femme, kiki or butch; now there are concepts like “androdyke” and “polyamorous” and, rather than bisexual, “biattractional.” One of the participants used the term “exploded labels” to explain what happened to the old language and stereotypes.

Now there are women and men who view themselves as nothing so old-fashioned as transgendered, but as gender queer. I never had a chance to ask what the word “boi” means or to discuss whether the popularity of gender reassignment could, for some butches, be another form of the closet. A gay youth counselor in the group told us that some professionals are encouraging gender changes in gay people, and asked whether this was another way of enforcing the two-gendered binary status quo. If most butches had sex changes and their femmes married the new men, lesbians could once again become members of a despised and hunted underground for refusing to be anything but what we are, women who love women. At what point would gender reassignment become compulsory? If it was involuntary, would it be any different than genital mutilation? What would a young butch have to agree to in order to escape that fate?

Obviously, some intense thinking went on at this festival, which also included spirituality, film and animal lovers’ series. General workshops had titles like “How Women’s Music Saved My Life,” “Free Spirit Drumming and Expressive Arts,” “Living Under the Swastika,” and “Adoptions and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.”

Of course the music was a continual joy. Just to know Linda Tillery is still singing, much less be able to hear her mellow voice, was a thrill. Jamie Anderson just gets better. Ferron gave a four-hour intensive workshop on song writing, while Ubaka Hill, whose drum was lost by an airline, soldiered on with a borrowed drum.

A major highlight of this festival for me was spending time with Ellen Hart, who is as warm, funny and engaging as her books. Rachel Spangler, a handsome young author whose novel Learning Curve will be released in 2008, squired a bunch of us to dinner. The cuisine in Normal, Illinois, is exceptional.

As always, it was the festival crew who most made me want to return to National. Producer Jane Weldon seemed to have one purpose in life: to make the performers’ time there easy and enjoyable. Manager Ann Arvidson was a wizard at rounding up volunteers, sometimes her own daughters, to move mountains – or in my case a bed – to accommodate presenters. Bonnie Zwiebel, head of security, was also the transport dyke. In her big red van and leather cowboy hat, she met planes and trains with a smile and even, much to my pleasure, reunited me with my sweetheart, who flew in unexpectedly in the middle of the lost drum crisis.

For someone who has always disliked travel and making appearances, I know I will return to be with these dykes who, by occasional contact and a shared love of lesbian culture, have become my friends. Why, with such talent, drive and expertise, women like these don’t take over the world and run it right, I don’t have a clue.

Copyright Lee Lynch 2007

Friday, July 06, 2007

And Another Thing: Family Values

By Carole Taylor

This time of year most people can’t help but think about family. Despite religious dogma to the contrary, we’ve all got at least one. Even us hummuhseckshuls. Some of us have two or three families, because unless driven from the flock at the point of a homophobic slur, most of us still count our families of origin as part of our extended family.

I like the word we used to use all the time to refer to the person we live with: lover. Now the term of choice seems to be ‘partner’. I don’t much like ‘partner’ although I use it for shorthand’s sake. And I use it when I’m talking to real old and feeble people who might not be able to survive another mention of sex, much less sex beyond the missionary position. I don’t want to cause any more seizures among my mother’s friends than is on their schedule to begin with. I like the term ‘lover’ because it has in it passion and consideration and tenderness. ‘Partner’ feels to me like it should smell of horse sweat and gunpowder. Or else it sounds too much like work and contracts.

But, as it turns out, work and contracts are what this particular column is about.

The terms ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ rasp on my nerves with indifference and impatient tones of voice slung up in a ragged recliner. WEEEEE never do that. Right? But whatever the tone of voice, partners and lovers and husbands and wives are how a family starts. Every gay or lesbian I know recognizes straight families as necessary and legitimate, our own parents and everybody else’s, so it would seem only fair for them to return the favor. I know, I know. And there are little green men on the window sill if I think fairness is even part of most people’s working vocabulary, particularly if under the d’s the word at the head of the list is dogma.

I often wonder what exactly the conservatives, religious and otherwise, mean when they say they support “family values.” Which family values? Which families? If it’s only the kind with one man, one woman, and two kids, then that definition leaves out a huge chunk of even the straight families. Have they not noticed that 50% of their own unbending families end in divorce? Oh. Well. But that’s different. There’s still a penis and vagina involved in the equation somewhere or other. Right, honeypie. It usually WAS in an other, and that’s what caused the divorce in the first place.

And family values of what era, exactly? Most likely some long lost agrarian age when nobody left the farm or the plantation, and the eldest son inherited everything regardless of talent or inclination. Sort of like how the Bush family picked who would get to run for president. Jeb’s a lot smarter, and more qualified, but he lacked the foresight or influence with the Almighty to be Barbara’s first born. Even the Kennedy boys knew you had to wait your turn. Oh. You mean THOSE family values. Gotcha.

As long as there is breath left in a Republican, I’m here to remind you that if you have a family, and you have a value, and the family most important to you is the one you have chosen and not the one you were born into, YESTERDAY is the day you needed to get your life in order. If you don’t have a will, do one. If you don’t have a living will, do one. If you haven’t designated a medical power of attorney, you’d better start interviewing now. Yesterday was the day you needed to start gathering all the different legal bits of paper to protect yourself and your lover. No matter how safe you think your relationship is with your parents or your brothers or sisters, do you know your great niece? Do you know her husband? Do you know their children? Are you SURE they all love you? If it’s not filed at the courthouse, it’s not a family value. The family values you thought would come into play, like love and loyalty and honesty and generosity, won’t amount to used cat litter if there’s the slightest possibility of greed raising its pointed little green ears anywhere in that family, a family you had no idea was so extended. There ARE little green men on the window sill, but this is their home planet.

And like weeds and stray cats, greed is ubiquitous and just as sneaky. When you die or get sick (and however cute you think you are now, you will do one of those things eventually) there may suddenly not be enough love in the family values vault to protect the one person you shared most of your love and values with. Some gays and lesbians are lucky. Some gays and lesbians have birth families that have as one of their values respecting the choices of adults. What a concept. It may be astonishing to you now, you may think it’s an impossibility, but in way too many cases the family you were born into, or the family your lover was born into, will be at the head of the stampede to take everything both of you have worked for when one of you dies. If all you have is a will, any will can be contested. ANY will. Remember that.

All day long and most every night of the week, blood kin steal things from the partners of gay relatives, deny a lover’s right to be at a hospital bedside, deny even that the relationship was what it was. The disparity of treatment given the lovers and children of gay and lesbian people who died in the attacks on September 11 should tell you something. In New York, the governor had to issue an executive edict to assure equality between gays and straights. If the person who died lived in Virginia, so sorry, too bad, next. If you don’t have your papers in order, even if otherwise they’d be calling you a hero, as far as the law of a given state may see it, 18 years with the same faithful soul is vapor on the windshield of life.

This is not news, you say. If that’s so, then DO you have all your papers in order? Have you exercised your own personal family values and seen to it that you CAN provide for your lover? There are ways around what certain straight people feel is their own personal, private body of law, written only for their own private benefit. Guess what. The law doesn’t have a deed on it. The law itself is community property. You own it too.

What better gift of family values can you think to give your lover than a trip to your family lawyer to make sure there is protection for both of you? Ok. Forget that obey part. But at least pay attention to that business about in sickness and in health.

And, well, Christmas will be here before you know it, little elf. Get busy.

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 also wrote a fantastic must-read novel, called
"A Third Story".
You can email her here.