Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Amazon Trail: You Know You're a Femme When...

By Lee Lynch

You know you're not a femme when all you do before you leave the house is change your shoes, grab your vest and give the dog a treat. Okay, maybe you put on your baseball cap, but you already know whether it's an Ace Hardware or Yankees or Xena hat day.

What with the Butch Cook Book due out this summer, I have a feeling we're going to be asked for some definitions of butch pretty frequently. "We" being the editors, contributors, girlfriends, booksellers and anyone else in the vicinity of the book. The Pianist and the Handy Dyke and I had innumerable discussions, short and long, while driving or testing recipes or walking on the beach or sitting on the deck -- and never came to any conclusions.

There is no definition, of course. Try as we might, no one with whom I have discussed the subject has been able to explain with certainty what makes a butch a butch or a femme a femme. Except one of the contributors to the Butch Cook Book, Frenchy Tonneau, a woman who personifies the arrogance associated with much of butchdom. She once commented, when I told her about a diatribe I'd read that criticized the concept of femme and butch, "Why doesn't she go back to men if she's so scared of real dykes?"

Frenchy has become a bit sore about the way her own people sometimes belittle her because she is proudly butch.

Yet even she can't give a list of qualities associated with the lesbian genders. I called her recently and she tried again. "You're a butch if you're attracted to femmes. Except wait, even I fell for another butch once. And what if a femme falls for a woman who looks butch, but thinks of herself as femme? The other thing is," she went on, "how you act in bed. Like, who starts things. It's always the –" she paused. "Let's not even go there." She was more confident when she said, "And it sure as hell isn't who does the cooking. My spaghetti can't be beat. Unless you mind the burnt stuff on the bottom of the pan."

My friend the pixie, who self-identifies as a femme, wrote me: "I can tell a butch because I never get twitterpated with femmes."

My sweetheart and I stumbled on yet another theory one day when, she, in the South, and I, in the Northwest, were on the phone. We both needed to run out to our local supermarkets, but couldn't bear to part. We hung up, planning to reconnect when we got home. I drove to the far side of town to find a long list of items, returned some library books, chose some others and stopped at the post office to wait in line, cursing at the delay. I wanted to get home and talk to my sweetheart forthwith! Back at the house, I donned my Bluetooth earpiece and, not to lose any time, used voice command to connect with her.

She was just getting in her car.

I didn't say a word, I swear. She sounded appealingly, coyly, sheepish when she explained her ritual. Before leaving, she'd had to change into an unwrinkled t-shirt. Her long hair needed brushing and a hair band. She'd applied a moisturizing lipstick. Of course she needed sunglasses in the South, but first she had to hunt them down. Her nail polish had chips so she repaired those. She found her purse (I didn't ask where) and then got some gum to put in it. Finally – almost -- my sweetheart got the garbage ready and put a new bag in the can, replaced the CDs she'd taken from her car and made her bed. This was all done possibly, but not necessarily, in that order. When, back home, I called, she was leaving for the dumpster and then the store.

I couldn't stop laughing. Neither could she. We had found the key to identifying the difference between butch and femme: how long it takes a femme to venture out into the world!

Then I remembered another relationship, another femme, and how frustrated she'd get while waiting for me to get ready to leave the house. Maybe she wasn't really a femme? Maybe I'm not really a butch?

Copyright 2008 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 . You can check out her Lee's Myspace page . And visit Lee's Tripod homepage .

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

For My Wife: A First Person Account

By Charlene Strong

A little over a year ago, my vivacious partner of 10 years, Kate Fleming, and I sat cozily in front of the television watching Tony Soprano get shot and wind up in a coma. When the episode faded to black, we got up to take a walk around our Seattle neighborhood. As we took in the crisp autumn air, Kate wondered what would happen if one of us wound up just like Tony: unable to make our own decisions in a medical emergency. Since we could not legally marry, would either of us be allowed to take care of the other? We talked over getting medical directives, living wills, and power of attorney documents, but I continued to assume that the dramatic events that would necessitate their use occurred only in the world of TV and movies -- not in our placid everyday lives.

On December 14, 2006, my assumption was tragically shattered. That Thursday, an exceptionally strong storm deluged Seattle with rain. Kate was working as an acclaimed audiobook narrator, lending her versatile and beguiling voice to such books as A Beautiful Mind and Bel Canto from our basement studio. When she saw that a flood was imminent, Kate struggled to retrieve her recording equipment from the basement before it could be damaged by water. But before she could get out of the studio, something fell in front of the door and trapped her inside.

I was at work, and she called me from her cell phone to tell me what was happening. Instinctively, I rushed home to get her out. When I arrived, the water was rising fast. Kate kept reassuring me as I fought with all my strength to pry open the door to the studio -- but before I could do so, the floodwater swelled above my head and engulfed the basement. To keep from drowning, I was forced to swim away. A wrenching 15 minutes ticked by as a rescue team arrived and recovered Kate, unconscious.

She was taken to the hospital, and there, I realized with horror, the seemingly unfathomable scenario Kate and I had discussed after watching The Sopranos was unfolding before my eyes. A social worker prevented me from entering the emergency room, telling me that Washington State did not recognize same-sex partners as next of kin. Kate and I had yet to procure all the legal documents to establish our medical authority for each other; therefore, as if I were a stranger, I had to get the permission of one of Kate's family members to be near her and to make decisions for her care. I frantically dialed Kate's sister in Virginia as precious time went by. I thought with a shudder, What if no one is home? What if Kate dies without me holding her hand? After being barred from comforting Kate during these harrowing moments, I finally received permission from Kate's sister to be with her. From that point on, I could be like any other spouse fighting for their loved one.

That night, Kate died with me beside her. I was able to remove the wedding ring that she wore and the necklace I gave her for her 40th birthday. I was able to tell her that I loved her. If I hadn't reached Kate's sister, I may have never had those irreplaceable moments.

After Kate passed, I still did not receive recognition as her spouse. Since I was not her legal wife, the funeral director would not even look at me and directed all of his questions to Kate's mother, who had to authorize the request for her cremation. The death certificate made no mention of our relationship. I could not imagine that our relationship would be treated with so little respect in Seattle -- the city that Kate and I had loved for its progressivism and humanity. Before the tragedy, I never realized in my relatively comfortable life that so much more had to be done to really achieve essential equality and dignity for same-sex families.

So, in January 2007, when the Washington State house and senate began considering a domestic- partnership law providing the hospital visitation and end-of-life rights that Kate and I lacked, I decided to share my story with lawmakers. I didn't write my speech because I knew that the legislators weren't going to understand what was at stake unless I spoke from my heart. In the end, they got the message and pushed the bill through by a narrow margin. The law went into effect on July 23, 2007.

That achievement is only the latest in a nationwide campaign for basic equality. Though a good number of cities and counties -- and some states -- officially recognize same-sex partners, 39 states do not. As a result, thousands of gay people across the country will continue to face the same uncertainty and indignity that Kate and I experienced when their loved one is an emergency situation. And, in spite of their most prudent preparation, same-sex partners still may not be recognized as family when tragedy strikes. Even if Kate and I had received all the legal documents before December 14, the flood would have destroyed them anyway. Does anyone really carry such paperwork around all the time?

To further honor Kate, I am continuing to press for essential dignities for same-sex families in emergency and end-of-life situations by coproducing a documentary about our story, titled For My Wife. Watching TV with Kate on that blissfully uneventful night weeks before she died, I never could have imagined that our lives would ever be the subject of a film. But as much as can be unexpectedly lost in one year, I've learned also that so much can be unexpectedly achieved. With that wisdom in mind, I'm making this film knowing that, in some way, Kate will be watching.

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