Sunday, October 28, 2007

And Another Thing: To the Woods

By Carole Taylor

Last week's episode found our heroine out in the woods with the nymphs and faeries and even with other things of vacant stare. And yes, probably with people who have a preference for dating pigs and sheep. But I don't personally know any of those "Deliverance" types. Or maybe I do and just don't realize it. Everybody has a closet of some sort, but straight folks often don't think they do. The contents of other people's closets usually seem much more interesting and worthy of microscopic inspection. Witness Dan Burton and Henry Hyde versus Bill Clinton. (And no, I won't give that one a rest.)

But to bring you up to date on my coming out in the woods, last week when I had lunch with two old friends from high school, I decided the best way to approach this closet business is to pretend that my house has no locked doors. I decided to act as if everybody already knew about who I live with and why, in the same way that they all knew I designed our high school ring. Old history. Next? How, if anyone is paying the slightest bit of attention, might anyone think anything else about me? But you just never know how much energy some people might want to put into their own insulation and denial.

So I'm having lunch with two women that I probably don't have much in common with anymore, other than having been friends all those years ago when each of our lives were more homogeneous (a homo of some sort, at least). I said something about my partner, and without skipping a beat, Charlotte (bless her heart) said, “And what does she do?”

Once again, children, it turns out that fear of the unknown has proved itself to have more fangs and hairy palms than reality. Fear, as they say, stands for False Events Appearing Real. Spending a lot of time preparing for the worst lets the worst live rent free in your head, and often has little relationship to how gently things might actually play out. Not to say that preparation isn't a good thing, but at least when you expect people to act like friends, giving them this bit of additional information will only adversely affect folks who aren't your friends anyway. Their loss, bye. I am, after all, often entertaining, sometimes even polite; I can spiff up when required so even rich people can take me out to dinner without too much undue embarrassment; I can sing, dance and cook, and I often speak in complete sentences. Unless a fragment has some stylistic purpose. (Unlike certain elected officials who shall remain, for the duration of this particular column, nameless.)

The fact is that if we don't treat this whole issue of being gay as a bone of contention, then eventually what ought to be a non-issue becomes a non-issue. Which is the point of all of us coming out anyway. Secrets by their very nature are big and dark and mysterious because things look bigger in the dark than they actually are, and therefore secrets are scary to everybody, even to the person who owns them. Or rather, to the person owned by the secret.

I actually revel in our differences, mine and not mine. I want to be able to celebrate what actually is that infamous 'gay lifestyle' with its even more infamous agenda, and all of our inside jokes and camping and double entendres that straight people just can't seem to catch. We lose a lot of our connections with each other when we are swept away down the mainstream. Maybe we can figure out a way to have being gay become a big So What, yet still maintain the differences that make us worth having a whole set of sitcoms designed around us. (And another thing, how come "Will & Grace" isn't too much about being gay, when "Ellen" was too much about being lesbian? But that's another column.)

Think about this for a second: In a very real sense, it is our community that can be and often is the essence of world peace. Now wait-- don't roll those eyes at me like that. It was not too lofty a statement. After all, we are all races, all genders (yes, Virginia, there are more than two), all differences. All classes, all nations, all professions, all beliefs, all religions, all politics. We can go almost anywhere in the world and find family, an expedition on which straight people often seem not very adept. There are no boarders for us. Love is, after all, the international language. Ok, well, then maybe sex is. Whatever. Let me be philosophical for once.

Ok, then, since you suffered through all that with me, I'll share a favorite joke, appropriately enough, from high school. At the time I first heard it, I didn’t realize that what the joke was about was compulsory heterosexuality:

"To the woods, to the woods!" he threatened her.

"No! Not the woods!! Anything but the woods!!!!" she lamented.

"Anything?????" he enthused.

Beat, two, three... "To the woods, to the woods…" she sighed, resigned.

Booga booga . . .

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.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Amazon Trail: Cooking With Elbow Grease

By Lee Lynch

I don’t know whether my mother didn’t teach me to cook because I abhorred participating in any activity dear to that high femme, or because she found me so inept. Maybe it was because I failed dish washing. I can still hear her stinging comment, “Use some elbow grease.” I was a scrawny little girl -- I didn’t have any elbow grease, for crying out loud.

Has anything changed? Do baby butches coming out still blunder around the kitchen like Pooh with a honey pot on his head? Are their femmes, decorated with rings in their eyebrows and stovepipe jeans, refusing the cook’s role and marching them into hot kitchens, and promising hot gratitude in return? Not that femmes always come to cooking naturally. I remember what Carol and I suffered back in the late sixties: we thought chicken was fried by putting it, dry, in a frying pan. When it refused to lose its pink color inside, we added an ill-fitting cover. We were very thin.

I have always had three major problems in the kitchen. Problem One: the basics. It’s like using a computer, nothing works until I find the "on" switch. For example, successfully boiling an egg is cause to declare a national holiday.

Problem two: Coordinating more than three ingredients at once. I get confused and forget to add item number Eight while whisking items Four, Two and ½ cup of Seven.

Problem Three: what to serve, a.k.a. terror of cooking for a femme. Left to my own I would eat the same thing day in and day out. Actually, I am on my own and that’s exactly what I do. I hate to have to think about eating and preparing stuff.

There have been periods in my life when I’ve actually liked cooking. In my thirties I had more time for such frivolity. I’d prop open the back door so I could see the town light up at twilight and I’d bake a cake, or make cat food for the week, all six cats in rapt attendance. The times my partner cooked with me were some of the most loving hours I remember spending together. Friends would come over and hang out while I baked a batch of cookies for us to devour.

Each relationship brought its own culinary pleasures. Tee and I took turns cooking. One day we’d eat southern dumplings and key lime pie at her wooden dining room table; the next, I’d cook one of her favorites – liver and onions – on my tiny trailer stove and we’d share the meal across the fold-down Formica-topped table.

Another partner had major food sensitivities. We ate brown rice and vegetables till they came out our ears. I’d make her a simple crisp with Granny Smith apples every week because it was one of the few treats she could tolerate.

Marcia raised two daughters, so cooking was second nature to her. She could whip up a mouth-watering meal out of odds and ends in the refrigerator in no time flat. I did little cooking while we were together.

Now I live next door to The Pianist and The Handydyke. Our dinner ritual developed some years ago when we’d get together for Monday night pizza. I’d bring my Amy’s frozen pizza (what would I do without Amy?) and they would have a Tombstone or a DiGiorno’s. The pizza was phased out when The Pianist decided we needed to test the bulk of the recipes contained in our forthcoming Butch Cookbook. The Pianist happens to be a gourmet cook. She’s also good at delegating, so The Handydyke gets her turn in the kitchen. Even I stir, make a salad when needed or slam the back door as the popovers are rising. These friends upset my boring-meal routine delightfully by forcing me at gunpoint to take home leftovers.

Perhaps it’s because we’re women that my relationships and friendships seem partly shaped by cooking. Or maybe it’s because we’re lesbians and cook for ourselves or each other, not for men, those poor babies who work so hard all day.

If you come to my house for dinner, expect quesadillas, which I recently re-learned to make from my Sweetheart, after forgetting everything The Pianist taught me. Recipe: grate cheese, heat refried beans in the microwave, cook in the garage-sale quesadilla maker on whole wheat tortillas, when browned, slop on some salsa and bagged lettuce. Other than exceeding my no-more-than-three ingredients rule, nothing is simpler. It even has the three food groups. My mother would think I prepared it with a dollop of elbow grease.

Copyright Lee Lynch 2007

Lee Lynch is the writer of more than a dozen dyke books, among them "Sweet Creek", as well as book reviews, articles, feature stories and a syndicated column. You can read more about Lee here .

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Monday, October 08, 2007

The Amazon Trail: If I Can Dance, I Can March

By Lee Lynch

When Kiddo asked me to go to gay pride in our state capitol, I was all, no! I have to work on my book! I was worried, too, that my bad knee would give out on a long march. Then I remembered the Golden Crown Literary Society back in June, and how I danced for hours with anyone in sight, and lots with my sweetheart-to-be. I thought, if I can dance, I can march.

Kiddo is married to a man. She was planning to hang with her best woman friend at Pride Day, and her best friend’s husband and their daughters. This approach to a Pride celebration is not exactly in my copy of the Gay Agenda. We’re supposed to haul non-gays kicking and screaming to the recruiting booth for their indoctrinations, aren’t we? But Kiddo, the daughter of my late partner, honors me by calling me one of her moms, and seldom asks anything of me. I, in turn, never get to spend enough time with her. I decided to go.

As it turned out, there was no march. These days it seems that Pride can be an event rather than a jubilant parade or a defiant march. I hadn’t been to a Pride Celebration since the 1980s. In San Francisco I was an observer, not a participant. That march was all about partying, with a phalanx of dykes on bikes and floats filled with barely-clothed, body-painted and feathered men. Back in New York, in the 1970s, we were angry. We chanted slogans to the tops of the canyons of tall buildings and rejoiced at the feeling of righteous validation that came with the tons of ticker tape tossed down on us.

So there I was, at a state park, with one of my favorite people on earth, Kiddo, and a non-gay family I also hold dear, yet I was a stranger to every gay in sight. I introduced myself to representatives of Lavender Womyn, who didn’t know my name from a hole in the wall. Usually at least one member of such a group will ask if I hadn’t maybe written a book once upon a time. Not here. Kiddo and her friends were the ones who knew just about everyone. I accepted my new role and listened and shook hands and met more drag queens in one place than ever before in my life.

First, though, we were greeted by a little girl dressed in a white t-shirt, shorts and a huge grin. She’d been lost, the police called, and a small group of women and men were taking care of her. I was relieved that the police cars were not monitoring the behavior of the gay crowd. Nor did they have cause to be. Most of the guys could have been Elks or Lions or Odd Fellows at their annual picnics, if they have annual picnics. There was a large rhinestone crown being passed around, which coordinated not at all with the polo shirts and jeans that passed for drag that day.

This was a West Coast, laid-back celebration. There was a lot of karaoke on stage, a small, mixed gay chorus, and booths galore. Kiddo pointed out the booth of the local gay bar where she and hubby and their friends spend some of their evenings. I didn’t ask how that came to be a favorite watering hole, but I saw the genuine affection they had for their gay friends and that it was returned. Kiddo chose her companions well.

There, Kiddo gestured, was the woman, a handsome butch, who tried to pick her up last week. And over there was a young man who was extraordinarily beautiful as a woman, she said. Her friends’ youngest daughter, in her early teens, adored another of the queens and the two spent time with their arms around each other. We met all sorts of gay dogs, including Toby, a lively tan teacup poodle who rode in the basket of his adoring dyke owner’s motorized cart. There was a big emphasis on family and plenty of unselfconscious kids were in sight, gay kids among them. No church groups were protesting the gay presence in the park or the exposure of young children to gay women and men.

As a matter of fact, churches were represented in the vendor booths: M.C.C., of course, and Quakers and others. There was a bank recruiting staff. Two local car dealerships were displaying their wares. T-shirts were for sale and rainbow paraphernalia, and the sno-cone booth had been thoroughly inspected by the health department. There would be no sno-cone sickened queers at this event.

Which was a quietly proud event, compared to Gay Pride days of yore. It really was about pride, not anger; family, not cruising; love and inclusion, not rejection of the dominant society. The lost little girl who greeted us had found safety in a family of gays and it looked, on this glorious summer day in this state capitol, like gay people had found some safety for ourselves.

Copyright 2007 Lee Lynch

Lee Lynch is the writer of more than a dozen dyke books, among them "Sweet Creek", as well as book reviews, articles, feature stories and a syndicated column. You can read more about Lee here .

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Monday, October 01, 2007

The Amazon Trail: The Visible Generation

By Lee Lynch

My sweetheart is an archivist. Not in any formal sense, but she grew up in a generation which took snapshots any time and any where. I have not been photographed this much since I lived with Tee Corinne. Growing up, my brother and I were the kind of kids who could not face a camera without disguising our real selves by making horrid faces. It was Tee who taught me to be gracious about allowing my image to be captured. I have come to believe that our reproduced visages are as important as our printed words.

We were invisible for so long. There are those who would like us to be invisible again. Like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran who denies the existence of gays in his country. Like the three priests who parted ways with the American Episcopal Church and went to be consecrated as bishops in Africa where, apparently, Episcopalians object to gay and lesbian bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions. Like the 63,000 people here in Oregon who this year signed a petition supporting a ballot measure that would block civil unions. I mean, for goodness sake, what’s with this compulsion to disenfranchise, eradicate -- erase us?

As a gay kid, I had a need to be invisible and got darned good at it. Unspeaking, thin, shy, I was unable to speak in a classroom. I became physically ill when, as an adult writer, I had to read my work aloud or speak to groups that sometimes numbered in the hundreds. The last therapist I worked with opened my eyes to my need to disappear and explained how it led to panic attacks. “Ground yourself,” she told me. “Make yourself real to yourself. Have a drink of water, touch the dog, look in the mirror.” Mirror? The only mirror I had was on the medicine cabinet in the bathroom.

The next time I was in a second hand store, I noticed a really tacky mirror whose wicker frame had been painted a glossy royal blue. Over the next few years, I decorated my walls with every kind of mirror I could find at garage sales. Big oak-framed mirrors with brass tacks. Little tiny mirrors with white wood frames. A round mirror set in a translucent blue plastic starburst. A full length oval mirror that must be 75 years old. Turns out, I love these mirrors. Of course, I still don’t look in them, I just look at them.

Then I fell in love with my camera-crazy sweetheart who, out of sheer enjoyment, is making a record, a beautiful record, of our times together. Her home is filled with photo albums from years past. We figure, when our U-Hauls are unloaded, we’ll need special shelving just for her albums – and for my shoeboxes filled with photos, which by themselves fill a wooden chest, a file drawer, and two oversized produce boxes. Heck, we may need a trailer plus that U-Haul.

And that’s exactly what we need as gay people. We can’t take the chance of assuming we’re safe now, that we won’t be shamed or brutalized or economically forced back into closets. It’s a matter of self-preservation to fill those paper and CD and cyberspace albums. It’s imperative that we hand them over to our local lesbian and gay archives before we die. I can only imagine how affirming it would have been to have grown up with images of people like me. Even a snapshot of two women holding hands on a beach or of two guys kissing over a prized tomato plant in their garden, would have made me think that maybe, just maybe, it was okay to be me.

My friend Jean Sirius went to Paris with a camera. Marie-Genevieve Havel, a 70-something out lesbian artist, took Jean under her wing and commanded everyone in her circle to pose. Now Jean is taking those images and turning them into a short movie. More! We need more images like these!

Keep on snapping those embarrassing shots of me looking all starry-eyed at you, Sweetheart. Capture us everywhere we go, whether it’s Niagra Falls on our honeymoon or shopping at Publix. Get me to take pictures of you with gay friends and family. And please keep creating those albums for our grandbabydykes. Place us in history so not just the straights, but we ourselves are convinced of our proper place in the world. Listen up, President Ahmadinejad, we’re here and we have proof!

Copyright 2007 Lee Lynch

Some archives to enjoy:

Lee Lynch is the writer of more than a dozen dyke books, among them "Sweet Creek", as well as book reviews, articles, feature stories and a syndicated column. You can read more about Lee here .