Monday, November 26, 2007

And Another Thing: The Aunts

By Carole Taylor

My mother's mother died when my mother was 4 years old, and after being shuffled around to various female relatives, she was finally reared by my grandfather's two sisters. That in itself is a long story and it gets longer each year, but I'll only tell part of it here.

Every summer all through my childhood, Mama would pack up my brother and me at the crack of dawn and we'd leave what would have promised to be a reasonable summer day in the mountains in Tennessee and plow with my mother's determined German intensity through six hours of sweltering valley humidity west toward Memphis and my great aunts' house.

Kitty had lived with someone named Erin until Erin died of cancer when she was 40 or so. I never knew Erin, but a journal of hers ended up in a box of old photographs Mama has. Nanny, my other great aunt, lived with her friend Mamie, and when Erin died, Nanny and Mamie moved in with Kitty. They were all school teachers together, and the three remaining women lived together for 40 years. Kitty had one bedroom with two twin beds and slept alone. Nanny and Mamie had a big double bed in the other bedroom, and shared it. They all wore men's pajamas, or at least the style of men's pajamas. But during the day, and every day regardless of the occasion, they all wore dresses and pearls, though Kitty snuck in overalls when she could get away with it. They each had specific duties around the house which said more about them than a resume. Kitty did the yard the way she taught math. Mamie cooked breakfast and let Nanny sleep late, and she cleaned the house with maniacal rectitude. Every day. Nanny dragged her spoiled and Mamie-coddled self to the kitchen around eleven and cooked dinner. Lunch, to you Yankees. They played canasta as if it were the solution to world peace, and they went to church every Sunday but didn't mention it otherwise, and they ran around all over creation in a classic '57 Chevy. Nanny drove.

Now, growing up, I had no reason to examine their lives. They were just The Aunts. They came to visit us in the mountains the summers we didn't go to Memphis, and they played canasta with my grandmother and they made me nervous. I tiptoed around my real aunts because they had little patience for children. I liked Mamie best because she was soft and a hugger. My blood great aunts preferred that I be ever somewhere else because I was almost always fresh from some event which involved mud and puppies and a smelly horse, all of which would waft in ahead of me.

I actually didn't think about their relationship with each other until years after I came out. They were just The Aunts. But once I did consider the possible implications of that double bed, I was pretty sure I knew who else they were. When I pointed out this probability to my mother, she was of course abashed in her typical Southern belle way, denied it and blew me off. Mama is convinced that I sprang fully and uniquely warped from among an otherwise perfectly unbending German heritage stretching back to a signer of the Declaration of Independence. She does not know why I popped out the way I did, but I am the only mistake her family ever produced. Just me.

One day a few summers ago, I was going through the mountain of Nanny's old photographs, some of which date to the Civil War, and in among Nanny's things I chanced upon a photograph of her and Mamie when they were in their 30's, around 1920. Mamie is in her usual girlie-girl dress and pearls and heels and blush and sitting in a chair gazing up at Nanny. Nanny has on a man's suit and tie and men's shoes, and looks back at Mamie with adoring eyes. The denouement of this photographic novel is unmistakable.

I probably shouldn't have, but I'm evil and I couldn't help myself. I took the picture to my mother, who years before had made her denial and as much as called me a novelist long before I was one, and said, "What's up with this outfit?" She looked at it closely as I watched her face. There was a pause. Apparently she hadn't seen this picture before, or hadn't looked at it with a lengthy attention span. " know Nanny...she was always clowning around...." she evaded. But she knew what I was pointing out, now that I had pointed it out again.

Nanny did clown around a lot. But this wasn't Halloween. And in Erin's journal, along with pictures of a trip the four of them made to California and poems Erin had written, there is a quote from an author that I had not heard of till I was nearly 30. The quote was important to Erin, but the author's name was what riveted me: Radclyffe Hall. If you don't know who that is, you need to go look her up.

Finding our history is important to all of us. Finding clues that women generations ago knew who they were and knew their connection to a larger community is our own connection to that larger community. That it took me half my life to find I'm not alone in my family is one of the reasons I write about coming out. History lost is no history at all. History not spoken is history rewritten, because it then depends on supposition and detective work and chancing on documentary evidence that still only hints at a greater truth.

That Nanny and Mamie loved each other was never questioned by anyone in the family, ever. That they shared their lives intimately for 40 years is fact. That they were devoted to one another is unquestioned. I call that a marriage. And I don't want some great niece of mine (surely Godde will grant me *one* lesbian heir) 30 years from now, to *wonder* about who I was, or who Bridget was, or why we slept in a big double bed.

Come out, come out, come out when you can. For your children. No matter who gives them birth, we all give them life.

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.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Amazon Trail: Land of the Free

By Lee Lynch

I’ve read that the Castro in San Francisco is undergoing a re-gentrification – by young nuclear families with children. I’m all for the idea of kids growing up in diverse communities, but the Castro? Gay people don’t have a lot of sacred ground in this world, how can this be happening? My non-gay acupuncturist just returned from Maui. He told me that many gay men left San Francisco for Maui and are now in great evidence there. For years there has been an influx of gay people to cities like, for example, Seattle, but they don’t rate the gay mecca title.

It’s partly because of these population shifts that I was thrilled to return to Cape Cod after 19 years to find that Provincetown’s essence is intact. I loved being there again in the rain, in the wind, under the sun and in the sometimes raucous nights out on Commercial Street.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that my happy return to the vacation land of my younger years was preceded by a visit to my family. This was the first time I’d ever brought a partner home to meet them. They literally welcomed my Sweetheart with open arms. It took over six decades, but I finally, feel part of my birth family.

Then my Sweetheart and I went to visit some of her friends and we met up with my best friend of 43 years. I look at the pictures of our few hours at lunch in Rhode Island and my heart swells at the sight of this expanding gay family of ours.

It’s no exaggeration to say that I sailed into PTown on – if not cloud 9, then at least cloud 8.5. I reached the nine level when we spotted my publisher and sister author, Radclyffe of Bold Strokes Books, zip by, waving, as we walked to the natural food market. This was yet another new family for me -- a family of writers, editors and readers I could not have imagined when I came out. Better still, there was a whole town filled with us – it was Ptown’s annual women’s week.

As the week went by I kept thinking of my character Frenchy Tonneau from The Swashbuckler, and how alone and out of it she felt when she paid her first visit to Provincetown. She knew no one, she had to beg rides to the gay beach, her cheap room wasn’t up to her fantasy of where she could take some girl she imagined picking up. Frenchy had a bad sunburn, cramps and the gay men she’d traveled up with had priorities that didn’t include a lonesome dyke. I’d felt similarly alienated in my twenties, walking up and down the main drag, looking, as Suzanne Westenhoefer joked in her performances that week, at the lesbians looking and me and my partner. I felt most comfortable in the bookstore, but then I felt comfortable in bookstores everywhere.

This trip was very different: decades after my first visit, I actually knew people as I walked along the street. Knew them, stopped and talked with them, had what Frenchy most wanted, a beautiful and devoted woman I adored on my arm.

There are certain turning points in life which we may not recognize as they happen. This October, during Women’s Week in Provincetown, was clearly one of those for me. I was gay and I belonged. The words once had been mutually exclusive; now they could not be separated. I’d grown into the lesbian writer I’d dreamed of being, I’d found the love of my life, I was out to my family and I even had friends in Ptown whose shower we shared when the boiler in the old house where we were staying gave up the ghost. Could life get any better?

Provincetown has not lost its cachet as a gay mecca. The restaurants, stores and streets were stuffed with us: Gabriel Goldsby, Karin Kallmaker, J.D. Glass, Val McDermid, Marianne Martin, Lynn Ames, Kim Baldwin, Kelly Smith, Austin and Andrews, Jane Fletcher, JLee Meyer, KI Thompson, VK Powell, KG McGregor, SX Meagher, Kate Sweeney, and others – an amazing gathering of talent. Editors, press lawyers, computer support, publishers, bookstore owners, the uber-supportive readers and the friendly headliners like Kate Clinton, Westenhoefer, Tret Fure and Chris Williamson

Most of all, though, it was fun. There was laughter and entertainment, a bonfire, walks on the beach with my Sweetheart. We celebrated the second anniversary of the marriage of editor Shelley Thrasher and Publicist Connie Ward with ice cream at Spiritus, a perennial town hangout, crowded into a booth with cross dressers in town for their convention.

Maui may be nice; the Castro may be dwindling, but we still have zany Ptown, its streets of dreams, crowded with loners and the celebrated, the seekers, the doers, the revelers, all mingling in the land of the free.

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 .

Labels: ,

Sunday, November 04, 2007

And Another Thing: The Control Queen Amendment

By Carole Taylor

Once upon a time a bunch of guys in wigs got together in way too many clothes with frills and lace in a steamy back room and committed history.

No, I’m not talking about a gay bar in the 70’s. I’m talking about the guys who hammered out this really radical document which royally pissed some people off. Literally. It pissed off most of the people with power in the world, actually, because it said that one white guy (King George, by coincidence) couldn’t control the assets or rights of the entire balance of the human race. Not even just a few white guys. Now, granted, it often doesn’t seem anyone bothered to continue to pay any attention, but this country did end up with a Constitution. It took a few more tries and a few more amendments before the progeny of the authors finally allowed other human beings to be considered human beings, but that’s another story.

Rumor has it that this country, and even some others, have progressed to the point that most educated people expect basic human rights to be a given. That the pursuit of happiness should be a basic human right, that individuals, even women and even people with skin of some other color than beige, should be able to exercise free will within reasonable limits. We assume human rights to be given to each of us by the Creator and that when a government restates those rights, it is being redundant at best. Conversely, governments who expressly legislate against basic human rights have by those specific actions relinquished their moral right to govern.

We assume that paring up with someone we love is about as basic a human right as you can find. It’s certainly as basic an effort to pursue happiness as you can find. But this right is not mentioned in our Constitution. The document says nothing about the right to marry. Apparently, this basic human right is SO basic, SO given, that it didn’t occur to anyone to bring it up. I have the right to marry. And beyond that, I have the right to marry the person I love. Of course. Next?

Well, not really. For centuries, marrying the person you love wasn’t even an option, but the right to marry itself was assumed. It was just assumed that your father would broker the deal, whether he asked if you thought the guy or girl was cute was beside the point, whether he got your permission or not was beside the point. Most likely he didn’t ask. Marriage was, and world-wide often still is, an issue of property or political alliance. When kings married their first cousins, possession and control of the whole white world was kept in the family, so to speak. The theory being that France wouldn’t attack England or Germany or Russia if it meant knocking off the grandchildren. Of course, history and personal experience will tell you that your family is the very first greedy little bunch who will try to take your inheritance away from you, so marrying for political alliance and protection of property has never been an idea that has proved itself very functional. Took those white boys centuries to figure out that marrying your first cousin wouldn’t get you more land and fewer wars, it would just give your kids a head full of mismatched teeth and concerts on the back porch with dueling banjos.

Marrying for love has only been in fashion or even possible for the past hundred years or so, but since gays and lesbians didn’t exist as legal entities in law or in the public mind at all, marriage for us has never been an issue before now. WOMEN didn’t even exist as legal entities until just a few decades ago, but you really don’t want me to go there, trust me.

I’ve written about marriage before, but this past week, the issue has come up again in the news. Emboldened by the appointment of one of their own to a squeaky chair in the Oval Office, a group of conservatives (surprise, surprise) has decided to dick around with the Constitution again. Read for yourself and weep:

These gentle and compassionate souls want an amendment to limit who can marry whom. They fear legislation like Vermont’s civil union law and want to overturn it at the federal level. They fear legislation in foreign countries who have gone even further to allow love to be certified at Le City Hall. Those forking Europeans just won’t mind their own bidness. They make contract laws and then OUR government has to respect them. It’s infuriating having to live in a world that might make us abide by international human rights laws governed by a world court Bush can’t even make a life appointment to. Dagnabit.

I don’t know specifically the individuals who have formed this ad hoc committee, but I would bet it’s the same cadre (or their first cousins) who wanted an amendment to protect the flag from being burned. I myself was concerned about that one, gasping that on every street corner stood a 50 year-old, grizzled and whiskered hippie with his Zippo poised under the national banner. Scared the bejeezuz out of me, didn’t it you? They were everywhere, didn’t you notice? These poor old anachronisms had no time to waste, either, since you can’t drive down any street in the country without feeling that someone thinks we’re all in the throes of Alzheimer’s: If you forget where you are, just go another few feet and you’ll be able to spot a flag to discover which country you’re in. Do they do this in Europe? Is there a French flag on every building in Paris? Is anyone else as concerned about identifying the country as redundantly as Americans are?

How much you want to bet that the same people who want this anti-gay amendment are the ones who want an amendment to ban abortion under any circumstances, who want an amendment to give every white boy an Uzi….Wait. We have that one already. Next they’ll want an amendment to say that this is a Christians-only country, or try for an amendment that says this is a whites-only country.

What they want right now is an amendment to the Constitution that says that only men can marry women. No matching up of genitalia, if you please. And no fatherless families—they say that’s their goal. It’s a statement that would seem to be a particular slap in the face to lesbians who provide two mommies and an encouragement to gay men who adopt. You got TWO, count em, two, gay fathers there. Doesn’t that meet your requirements of promoting families that aren’t fatherless? The next amendment they’ll try for would be more to their real point: America for straight people only. Does anyone doubt that’s this organization’s goal?

The history of amending the Constitution has been one that expands rights. Amendments to the Constitution, with one notable exception which didn’t last due to that other human propensity for pursuing happiness, have not been efforts to limit rights. They have been added to limit the power of government. Amendments to the Constitution have been added out of the prescient knowledge of human tendencies and history. Without comment from the second highest authority, human beings will revert to their natural selves: selfish, authoritarian assholes. Bill Gates aside, the purpose and history of Constitutional amendments is that they prevent government (read that One White Guy or One Small White Guy Mob) from lording it over the rest of us, from telling all of the rest of us how high to frog, from taking away those Godde-given human rights, one at a time or in one swell foop. Amendments reiterate and codify rights. They don’t take them away.

The guys who wrote the Constitution made it hard to change the document for a reason. They didn’t trust elected officials to stop being their baser selves without the buggie whip of law to spurn them on to enlightenment They wanted to prevent individuals and even mobs from sinking to their controlling, paranoid nature.

They foresaw that Control Queens would be ever with us. She is. And she’s a Republican.

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.

Labels: , , ,