Sunday, December 30, 2007

Date Night At

By WordyGrrl

We will meet in a safe, public place. A coffee shop, probably. Always, there is the expectation of immediate chemistry. Love or Lust at first site or it's all off. If, within the next 30 minutes, we do not think each other potentially farkable at some point in the very near future, we'll simply cease communicating after this. No returned calls or email.

The downside is that I won't be hearing back from a fellow fan of early John Waters films who enjoys a good thrift store find and learning the difference between good wine and crappy wine. The upside is that I won't know about your inability to keep cocaine out of your nose or that you still haven't been able to get your alcoholic, jobless ex to move out.

We will spend the next several minutes asking each other very personal questions, expecting profound truthful answers, while we ourselves struggle to pose as the perfect date -- witty, charming, intelligent with just a certain touch of sexy mystery.

I'll know immediately that you're putting on an act to be witty, charming, etc, instead of just being yourself. And because it's the dating game, I can't be rude enough to say "Oh gawd, just knock it off. You're not that good an actress, and my disbelief isn't suspended." Because I'm doing the same thing myself, only because I think it's expected. And I'm feeling pretty sick about it, because it's so not real.

What I'm really thinking is that... I'm not in the mood for a friggin' job interview. I have things to do. I need three pairs of socks, a humidifier (for $30 or less) and I wouldn't mind picking up some movies at the library before it closes at 6pm. Ooh, I hope they have something by French and Saunders. Gawd, those women are brilliant and funny. And a foreign film that's so human and honest and poignant it makes my eyes leak. And a seriously good horror film that's real thriller-scary instead of being just shocking, blood-gushing gory trash. Those are a dime a dozen.

Anyway... Oh, yeah. We're on a date. Sorry. We have airs to put on.

It would be totally off the track if I told you what I needed to buy today and asked if you wanted to come along. Besides, I might find out what kind of socks you like, how good you are about sniffing out a bargain or what kind of movies you really like to watch. We might get hungry and I'd find out what your suggestions would be for a good snack -- and I'd see how you treat the restaurant staff. Are you a kind and friendly patron who tips well? Or are you one who considers the server "a servant, whose job it is to fawn over me with servitude?"

Those little things would tell me a helluva lot about who you really are in a very short amount of time, but because we're on a "first date" we have to ask and answer the official questions. Most of those seem to be based on "what will you do for me?" And I let you do the asking, because I'm polite.

"If I had a bad day, how would you cheer me up? Are you a top or a bottom? What are you into sexually? Do you have any baggage? Do you smoke weed? Are you completely over your ex?"

Again, there's the difference between what we think and what we say. It's not subterfuge. It's politeness, so I don't quite tell you the immediate, gut truth:

Sweetie, I only met you 15 minutes ago. I don't even know your last name, much less what makes you happy. And it's none of your goddamn business yet what I do in bed. Besides, just because I liked something with the ex doesn't mean I'll automatically like it with you. Or, you just might be the one to open up a deliciously kinky side of me nobody knew existed.

Baggage? If you define that as knowledge gained from past experiences, good or bad, then yes. I have learned what things I will roll my eyes over but let slide and what I absolutely will not put up with.

No, I don't lump marijuana in with all the other bad drugs. It really should be legalized, especially for medical reasons. However, I had a bad experience with a pothead roomie who never had money for her share of the rent but ALWAYS had money for weed. And she stayed stoned 24-7. If you're just the typical "I'll have a whiff once or twice a month" type, I'm good with that. But you'll have to prove that to me first. All because of that crappy roomie. See? That's baggage. Totally unfair, but there it is.

Am I "over" my ex? Well, yeah. I wouldn't be doing this dating thing if I was still somehow hoping I'd wake up and the past would magically cleanse and reverse itself. I have endured the relationship with the ex, accepted the lessons both good and bad, and have moved on. She's either basically a good person and we remain friends of a sort, or she's evil and I have cleanly cut off all ties with her and the vicious pack of bitches she surrounded herself with.

Another coffee? No, I shouldn't. It's after 4pm, and I want to sleep tonight. Besides we both seem a little jittery. Couldn't be this dating pressure, could it? Ha ha ha, of course not!

Well, I'd love to stay but I have some errands I have to run.

It was really nice meeting you, too!

Give me a holler if you see me online, okay?

Take care now! Don't worry about the table. I'll throw the cups and stuff away...

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Amazon Trail: At Home With the Eagles

By Lee Lynch

As I just complained to a wise friend, it's darned difficult to concentrate with bald eagles cooing and whistling and squealing in the trees outside. I keep popping up to gape at them in wonder and today, for the first time, I was able to watch two come in for slo-mo landings on their customary high branches, feathered pantaloons and feet first. It's a little disconcerting to find out that this powerful raptor, our national bird, sounds like a giant squeaky toy and appears to be wearing Elizabethan bloomers. And why did our forefathers choose a bird of prey to represent the United States anyway? It's just too accurate a portrayal right now.

Thanks to the Pianist and the Handydyke, I work on the second floor of their rental, close to the eagles, and I feed smaller birds on the deck. Right now an Oregon junco, a.k.a. "snowbird," (because juncos, like R.V.ers, return in the winter and are just as ubiquitous) is sharing the black oil sunflower seed feeder with a white-crowned sparrow and a female house finch, all decked out in her stripes. Bald eagles at the coast prefer to feed on fish, but if hungry, they will snatch smaller birds. As much of a thrill as it is to live with eagles, I worry about these little guys.

And the cats next door. I periodically call the neighbors to make sure their very small cats are not out when I see the red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures and bald eagles hover over their front yard. The neighbors also have handsome dark cat statues on the edge of their deck. Even when the real kitties are inside, the vultures get so bold that the neighbors have to hide the statues.

This bird feeding business all started when the Pianist and the Handydyke mentioned that they enjoyed seeing the stellar jays, elegant black-crested, midnight blue birds, drinking from the copper bird bath the Handy Dyke attached to my deck rail. Having become inundated with bird feeding duties at a former residence, I was opting for keeping it simple here, but the Pianist and the Handy Dyke brought over sacks of peanuts in the shell. Once a day, then twice, now three of four times, I fill my old wooden feeder with peanuts and the stellar jays put on their shows. When their town crier notices the refilled feeder, he perches on a tree limb, squawking with all his might that the grub has been served. They particularly like to stuff one or two peanuts, shell and all, down their maws and hold yet another in their beaks. Despite their constant appetites and raucous complaints when not fed on demand (the jays sound more dignified than the eagles), some of these peanut-ovores are fussy. I have watched a bird pick up and set down a dozen nuts before the other jays lose patience and rush the feeder, driving the fussbudget off with a fiercely held treat I always hope is the "right" one.

Our stellar jays have been reproducing plentifully. You can always tell the babies because they're a mess, with cowlicks and loose feathers and bewildered looks. "How," one can imagine a newly fledged bird saying, "am I supposed to get these peanuts out of the shell?" This summer I had the privilege of seeing Junior, then a second baby, Pigpen, grow up.

And these are just the winter and year-round birds. I also get to feed black headed grosbeaks, red crossbills, golden-crowned sparrows, American goldfinches, black-capped and chestnut-backed chickadees, among others, as well as a mob of psychedelic house finches whose strange oranges and yellows are produced by a pox that affects them when they winter in Southern California. Some would say it also affects the Southern Californians who move to Oregon and start campaigns against gay rights. That, as a matter of fact, is how I got into feeding the birds originally. During the ballot measure wars in the nineties, I found a social sanctuary with the local Audubon Society. They didn't fuss about my lavender color any more than they did about the birds' plumage.

To add to the distractions, the carpenter across the street has chosen today to repair his roof, its sheets of shingling having blown around the neighborhood when 125 m.p.h. winds came through two weeks ago. My sweetheart and I laughed about tomorrow's predicted tempest: only 65 m.p.h. A bird's life is not easy on the stormy west coast.

In the southeast with my sweetheart last week I spent perhaps five minutes in her backyard before I spotted an unidentified raptor and two kinds of woodpeckers, along with smaller breeds. The next day I photographed a snowy egret posing atop an S.U.V. Hanging out at a second story window, I watched as an alligator in a small pond stalked some surprisingly agile red-nosed moor hens, while a little green heron flew overhead.

Back home, the gulls wheel over the bay to warn of the coming winds, the little guys are jostling one another at happy hour in the feeder. As my wise friend pointed out, there are worse distractions than eagles.


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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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

And Another Thing: Someone Save My Life Tonight

By Carole Taylor

In 1976, not even a decade after Stonewall, I was working as an administrator at a medical sciences university in Tennessee. I was out in the sense that I knew who I was, and in the sense that I was out to hundreds of other people in the gay community in Memphis. Memphis is still just a great big small town. You could only have two kinds of parties there and not become a social pariah: a small dinner party with no more than six people, or the whole gay side of town. If you had a big party, you had to invite everyone you knew, and that usually meant hundreds.

But I wasn’t out at work. And I wasn’t out to my family. I didn’t exactly lie about my life, but like every other lesbian I knew, I would find the tallest, best looking gay man I could grab hold of and drag his tight little buns to public social things for which I had to have a date. If they thought I was sleeping with him, then it was a fantasy for their own entertainment, which is usually the case when somebody thinks about anybody else’s sex life. It wasn’t a lie that I usually loved the guy I was with. It just didn’t go as far as the bedroom. This was known as having a cover.

We were like spies in the nest of the enemy.

Everything related to being gay was an inside joke to all of us. “Bar song, bar song,” we’d nudge each other knowingly when a disco tune would come on the radio. Straight people in Memphis didn’t know much about disco or that the music and driving beat had been playing in our own gay clubs for years. Gloria Gaynor did a tour of gay bars in the South that year because she knew where her audience and fame had come from. Bette Midler had just graduated from the Club Baths in New York with Barry Manilow as her pianist. Manilow had gone solo and played a Memphis midtown haunt almost weekly. Rumor had it that it was because he had a lover in town.

One of my covers was a medical student. A gay boy. A beautiful gay boy. Allan and I were like Will and Grace. Except Grace was gay, too. He and I did kareoke long before there was a word for it, and we’d party and dance ourselves stupid. We didn’t know the all words to the Elton John song, but we’d sing “Someone save my life tonight, Sugar Bear” because the syllables fit, and we’d laugh because everybody thought Allan was such a Sugar Bear. Are those the words? I still don’t know.

But nobody was out. Not in the sense that people are out now. No gay pride, no parades, no rainbow flags. But even now, the stages of coming out are pretty much the same. First you come out to yourself. Then to one other person, maybe a lover. Then the ripples in the puddle grow.

That year, the campus where I worked only had a student population of about 2,000. Small because it was a health sciences campus: medical students, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, allied health and graduate studies. And in that one year, our campus community had experienced four student suicides, and several more students had tried but had only gotten thrown out of school as a reward for their attempts. For their own good, so the professors would say. For our reputation, for the profession, is what they meant.

One of the students who killed himself was Allan.

At school, students who had emotional problems had a place to go for help. Nobody went, but they had an official place. Allan certainly never went. The student mental health office was part of the university’s psychiatry department. Not a situation likely to be seen as a welcoming place, certainly not for medical students, all of whom went through a required rotation in psychiatry and thus would have the psychiatrist as a professor. Students who sought counseling thought, and with some reason, that they’d be tossed out of school as being unstable. This was certainly not seen as a place where one could express concerns about such scary things as attractions or sex. The head of the psychiatry department that year sat in a meeting with me and at least four other gay people, all of us in hiding. It was just another campus committee, with random appointments. The fact that there were five of us who were gay, and that I knew were gay, had already blown the curve. A random group should only have had ten percent, according to all the studies I had read, but we were half. One of the most liberal of all the professors I knew, and I had worked with nearly all of them--the good doctor shrink said, with the five of us sitting there, “We don’t have any gay students here. And we don’t have any gay faculty or staff. It’s impossible. We would have picked that up on their entrance screening tests.”

So much for psychiatric perceptiveness and prescience.

Later that same year, the year that Allan died, I went to a professional conference and joined the gay caucus of that group. That year, my professional organization adopted overwhelmingly a resolution that gays and lesbians should not be discriminated against. My boss, to my shock, stood up and voted for the resolution. (He later fired a colleague of mine for being gay, but not by being honest about it, but rather using some trumped up excuse. The boss, poor dilbert, wasn’t known for consistency.)

At that same conference, I went to a presentation given by a gay man in his 60’s who had been out since before World War II. He lived in California, but still--it wasn’t all that safe to be out, even in California. The most important thing he said was that as gay people working with adult students, and as counseling professionals, we needed to come out. In whatever way, and to whomever we could, we needed to come out. To one other professional. Certainly to any student who came out to us. For our own mental health, for our own sanity, we needed to tell the truth.

So when I came home from the conference, I made an appointment with the head of student mental health and came out to her. I wanted to be a resource for her. I wanted her to call me if she had students who didn’t know how to cope with being gay in a profession who didn’t want them. I’d like to say that my coming out ended up saving some other beautiful gay boy’s life, but the psychiatrist never called me. I guess no one ever came to her with a coming out story. There is no heroic ending to this tale. I didn’t save anyone else’s life. Just mine.

I still think of Allan as a boy. He was only 24. I was only 29. When I close my eyes, he’s still young and beautiful. But the closet killed him. There wasn’t enough room in that little, dark space for a beautiful boy to breathe.

You never know. One truth about yourself could save a life. One truth can certainly save your own.

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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