Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Sinister Wisdom

There was a time when I read every lesbian journal, lesbian newspaper, article about being a lesbian etc that came along. In my early lesbian world, the world of 1979 – 1989, which I still think of as my glory days, nothing got by me politically. I was at every march, clomping along in my Doc. Martens at every demonstration. I had an opinion on every single thing connected to being female that you could shake a stick at. I was out at meetings 6 nights a week, organizing, writing, and arguing with other lesbian feminists about the burning issues of the day. I went to every single Women’s conference in the United Kingdom, even the ones in London which, for a lesbian living in Leeds, West Yorkshire, was kind of like a lesbian living in Boston, going to San Francisco for the night.

I have felt very out of the loop in recent years, catching little bits of news online, keeping up with the main stories, renewing my HRC membership each year and supporting causes financially in whatever way I can. But I have not read much lesbian-specific writing for a long, long time. There’s some history to this, and I think in part it’s to do with being involved with a partner who is closeted and transgendered. My life has become increasingly bound up with being a psychotherapist, and with my family – particularly my responsibilities as an active grandmother of a small child. Mr. Lesbian also does not understand my particular brand of lesbian feminism, and can’t understand why I see being a lesbian (which if asked s/he would probably describe as “just what people do in bed”) as so central to who I am. Anyway, while being so family oriented is fulfilling in all kinds of ways, I greatly miss being in the thick of all-things-lesbian in the way that I used to be.

So if you remember, I’m from the United Kingdom. The UK is a small country (really – it’s only 600 miles long from tip to toe and 300 miles at the widest point!) and, back when I came out, the lesbian feminist community did not have much in the way of financial resources. We didn’t have glossy journals or magazines back then. So, when British lesbians would visit the US of A and return with (what seemed at the time like) the myriad journals and magazines that American lesbians had access to, they were passed around the community until they had to be scotch taped back together.

I remember well the first edition of “Sinister Wisdom” that I ever saw. It was in 1981 and my friend, Saffron, had just returned home from an extended visit to the USA. (She had changed her name from “Pat” to “Saffron” after spending 3 months living with dykes in the mid-west USA and then complained that the American pronunciation with its long lazy “a” and drawn out drawl had sounded so much more romantic than the Yorkshire pronunciation, with its abrupt, short “a” sound and truncated busy-sounding, hasty ending – and if you don’t know what I mean, ask a Brit to say the word for you!) She brought with her numerous journals, one of which was Sinister Wisdom. It was the first time I had ever seen any of Tee Corinne’s magical photographs, and to read a journal that was dedicated to lesbian art and writing was so exciting it was almost a religious experience. After moving to the US in 1984, I had more access to lesbian journals, and for a while subscribed to Sinister Wisdom, but when I fell on hard times for a while, my subscription was one of the first things to lapse.

I assumed that Sinister Wisdom, like so many other journals and magazines and lesbian presses, had gone out of business. Wrong assumption! Imagine my delight when, cruising around the internet, I came across the Sinister Wisdom website. I immediately filled out a request for a subscription, expecting to be notified that the website was old and that the journal was no longer in print. But no! I receive a prompt response telling me that they received my request and asking me which issue I would like to begin my subscription with. I can’t wait for my first issue. I have all kinds of expectations, but one of the things that I am beginning to realize is that being involved in the politics of being a lesbian and a feminist shaped me in ways that I do not yet fully understand, but have come to realize that the absence of this involvement leaves a large hole. It is my hope that Sinister Wisdom will fill some of that void and will be a way for me to travel back to the lesbian I was from the lesbian I became.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Born a Lesbian or born-again-Lesbian?

So, do you think you were born a lesbian?
I never know the answer to this question, but I understand that it's supposed to matter - that it's some kind of proof that I'm a "real" lesbian to people who need that kind of proof. Moreover, my preference would be to swear on a stack of S.C.U.M. Manifestos that I was born this way, (and I've probably lied before now and said that I was) but honestly? I just can't give a definitive answer. The closest I can come is to say, yes, I was probably born this way. When I think back through all the intense friendships I had with girls, beginning when I was 5 years old, there has to have been something there. I'm sure there are many heterosexual women who can recount close, intense friendships with girls, but I would pine if I couldn't see my little girlfriends when i was young. The crushes I had were intense, painful and prolonged.

Did you know that you were a lesbian when you were a teenager?
Okay, girlies, I was born in the wilds of South Wales, UK, in 1953. This means that my teenage years started in 1966 at which point the word "lesbian" was not part of teenage vernacular. This was Pre-Stonewall, folks! It was still illegal in the UK and woe betide anybody who was suspected of being gay or lesbian. Even linking arms with your best friend at the all-girls school that I attended (schools went co-ed in 1972 in Britain) meant that you were hounded by other kids chanting "Lezzbe Friends!" everywhere you went.

As I believed I've written elsewhere, my father was a porno hound and so pornography fell out of every cupboard and draw in the house. By the time my teen years came, I was sick and tired of thinking about sexuality. I started having sex with boys (and then men) when I was 14 years old, and only because I didn't know I had a right not to. I got crushes on boys who looked girly, and crushes on my girlfriends who looked boyish. And now I'm attracted to butches or bois. (I am SO not up on current young dyke vernacular, so help me out folks if I make mistakes with spelling.) I find men, gay and straight, so much harder to connect with in a way that is as meaningful as my female friends and lovers. I would often date boys if they were in the same friendship circle as my best girlfriends, so that I could 'double date' and not lose time with my girls! I didn't have the word "lesbian" to apply to that preference. The only stereotype of lesbians that I had heard or seen were of manly creatures, who wore big boots and tweed skirt suits, with slicked back hair and no make-up. This was so far away from who I was or felt myself to be it didn't occur to me to identify with this steotype.

Who was the last man you slept with?
The last man I slept with was my ex-husband and it was probably in 1978. He was less than stellar in bed too. Of all the men I had sex with (over one hundred of them) I don't think a single one of them ever touched my clitoris. I truly thought there was something wrong with me sexually, until I started to read Betty Dodson's books, and discovered that I did indeed have a clitoris and I most definitely wasn't asexual.Once I had started relationships with women, there was just no comparison. Even with all the bullshit that accompanies any relationship, at least being with women lovers felt like the whole package. Plus, I have never found men's bodies particularly attractive.

Was it hard to "come out"?
The older I become the harder it is to connect with the feeling of those early days. Discovering the word "feminism" and being able to apply the theories to the way I saw the world was a mind-blowing event. While I had always known that life was unfair for girls and women, the realization that Patriarchy was an intentional and oppressive system designed to curtail the freedoms of women, changed my life forever. I am, and always have been, an insatiable reader. Reading is one of the few ways I've ever found to make sense of the world. So I went hunting for women writers who could explain patriarchy to me. Shulamith Firestone, Adrienne Rich, Simone De Beauvoir, Robin Morgan, Germaine Greer...the words of these women fired me up, gave me righteous anger and emboldened me to do everything in my power to change the way the world operated. I became involved with feminist politics and activist groups and it was at this time that the last shred of sexual connection between me and men was severed. Having a sexual relationship with a man was unthinkable after this point. In retrospect, coming out as a lesbian was like joining the dots for me. All the things that had been true about me for all these years converged in the moment when I kissed Janet on the dance floor.

Once I had taken that step, it wasn't hard at all.

Lesbian Poem

When you say you miss me on the phone:

When you say you miss me
That’s in theory, right?
Not in the way that keeps me
Warm at night
Not in the way I’m known
Through the fascia to the bone
When you say you miss me
Words sound slight.

When you say you miss me
You can’t feel it, true?
Well, maybe in the moment
Then you do
But when I’m there for real
You run away and squeal
When you say you miss me
You must hide.

When you say you miss me
It’s just words you say
To keep that empty feeling
Held at bay
That ache connects with me
Like a lion on a flea
When you say you miss me
Go away.

(c) The blogger known as "Sapphique"

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

20 Things I'd Like To Do

In no particular order:

1. I'd like to spend four weeks on a Greek island - one of the ones where nude sunbathing is strongly encouraged.

2. If it didn't hurt so gosh-darned much, I'd like to have colorful, unusual tattoos all over my body (and not just in places that don't show!)

3. I'd like to have enough time to read my favorite bloggers' sites from beginning to end and make erudite, intelligent comments.

4. I'd like to win the lottery and then I'd use it ALL to fund radical feminist organizations to provide women-only think tanks. These would train women to develop increasingly cogent arguments and put more and more lesbian feminist women in SERIOUS positions of power.

5. If it didn't come with serious jail time, I'd like to kick George W. in the nuts.

6. And Dick Cheney as well, while I'm at it.

7. And Bill O'Riley.

8. And then start over.

9. I'd like to do a road trip across the US, before our fossil fuel supply hits bottom, visiting all the places I've heard about and hoped to visit when I moved to the US of A but just haven't had time for.

10. I know this is definitely something that can't be actualized, given that she died fairly recently, but I would have liked to have met Andrea Dworkin. I attended a talk she gave in Leeds, UK, back in my baby dyke days. I felt too intimidated to talk to her.

11. I would like to be as well-known a sex therapist as Dr. Susan Block (only without the whips and chains, not because I disapprove but because it's just not my sexual style.)

12. And maybe without the corsets.

13. And with more clothes on.

14. I'd like to have the power to make Mr. Lesbian jump my bones whenever I batted my eyelashes.

15. I'd like to wake up tomorrow morning with really, really, long eyelashes.

16. I'd like to have the experience of multiple orgasms just once before I die.

17. Okay, maybe once a week.

18. Or so.

19. I'd like to have the power to enact civil rights for queer folks internationally.

20. I'd like to take K.D. Lang to that Greek island with me.

Monday, August 14, 2006

How I Met Mr. Lesbian

It was a wild and stormy night.


It was a warm and breezy weekday afternoon in late fall.

Yes. That's more like it.

I had just been promoted to agency director of the faith-based social services agency where I worked. They head-hunted me for the position despite knowing that I was both an atheist and a lesbian which, given that this organization is operated by the Catholic Archdiocese, was no mean feat. My boss was a former nun, who had married a former priest, who had married, divorced and then married my boss. Complicated enough for you? Still, I digress.

Back to my story.

I was visiting a friend, who had gone to work at a childcare center just a few miles from my agency. I spent many years working with children and families, and was well known in the early childhood community at that time. Put a baby or small child in my field of vision and I'm a goner and don't notice adults. I am great with kids and I love playing. With no fears about making a complete fool of myself, I can make messes with food, contort my face into strange shapes at the drop of a hat, roll around on the floor with no fear of dirt, cat hair or baby goop, and I'm no stranger to smelly, poopy nappies, a.k.a. diapers. Parents were coming and going, and I took no notice, other than a cursory hello.

Two days later my friend from the childcare center turned up at my house with an envelope. She said that one of the parents, " a lesbian mom", had given her the envelope and asked her to pass it on to me. Inside the envelope? The anonymous mom's business card, and a request for a networking meeting - she had given up her directorial job at a prestigious hospital and was looking for another position. Would I be willing to meet with her? I was baffled. Her focus was health care. Mine mental health and families. I didn't think I would be much help, plus I had started my own job as a director and was swamped. I put off returning the call for a couple of weeks, and finally guilt got the better of me.

On the phone was a woman with a delightful voice (I'm a sucker for American accents, particularly if the women are soft spoken), we arranged to have a quick business lunch together. S/he showed up at my agency at the appointed time. Here are some relevant points of information (and some red flags - you figure out which):

* Yes, s/he was cute, and dressed in a business suit.
* S/he referred to hirself as "gay" and only used the word "lesbian" on one occasion, and it was not in reference to hirself.
* I asked for hir resume. S/he didn't have one with hir. I suggested that s/he send me one. S/he never did/
* That was the ONLY conversation we had that lunchtime about hir job search.

We had a 45 minute lunch, and on the way back to my office s/he mentioned that there was a big lesbian party happening that weekend. S/he described it as a "who's who of lesbians on the East Coast." And yes, oh shit, I took the bait. My eyebrows must have gone up. S/he knew I was hooked. Casually, s/he said, "I was thinking of going, but ...I'm not sure. Hey...would you be interested?" "Is the pope a guy in a dress?" I thought to myself.

"I'm not sure," I responded. "I'm pretty busy at the moment."

"You don't have to stay long," s/he replied. "I'll pick you up and drop you back home after an hour or so."

I capitulated.

Folks, the lesbians were all Republicans. The kind who are fully paid up members and get embossed invitations to inaugurations. There wasn't a single car in the driveway worth under $30 grand. There was even a vintage Rolls Royce. One of the women came on a brand new Harley. The party was catered (I kid you not) and there was an entire roast lamb laid out, with all the fixings. The next table was all desserts. There was enough alcohol to completely sink the entire membership of AA, and I would hazard a guess that most of the women considered themselves "gay" and not "lesbians."

But, did I run?


Did I want to?

No. I enjoyed being a cat among the pigeons. I talked loudly about class politics, poverty and socialism. I think my presence went over like a fart in church.

Not realizing that the Future Mr Lesbian had a crush on me, I busily tried fixing hir up with somebody at the party. S/he told me to stop - s/he wasn't interested in being fixed up with anybody and, by the way, what kind of women was I attracted to? "Butch ones," I responded haughtily. "I can wire and plumb houses," s/he responded sheepishly. I may have snorted. S/he looked like a straight girl and didn't have an ounce of butch in hir. SO not my type!

Not only was s/he a Republican, s/he actually worked to elect Republican politicians. How can you be gay or lesbian and be a Republican? It just didn't make any sense. S/he told me a story about attending political events in her town, and how s/he would always invite a guy s/he knew for "cover." I was aghast. "Why don't you just come out?" I asked. "I can work better under cover to change things from the inside," s/he replied.

I believe I snorted again, only this time louder.

"Last time I was at an event, the same guy who usually accompanies me said loudly, 'So, I hear you're gay. What gives?' and I didn't know what to say, so I just denied it," s/he said. The look of horror on my face stopped hir in hir tracks. "Does he have the hots for you?" I asked. "Yes, I think so," s/he replied shamefacedly. "Well, what else could I have done?"

I grinned and said, "Well, I would have said...if you're asking if I'll fuck you the answer's no...and put it back on him," I replied. "It makes him defend his manhood in front of his buddies. He just got turned down flat and you come out smelling like roses," I grinned.

The music came on, so we started to dance, but then within two tracks the speakers blew out. I'd had enough republicanism, fatty meat and bullshit to last me quite a while, so I asked if we could leave.

We stopped at a deli for coffee and sat opposite each other grinning like fools. When we arrived back at my house, I was practically jumping out of the car before it came to a halt. S/he was so NOT my type.

The following weeks s/he pursued me like a sonovabitch. Flowers arrived at my office. Soon after that, my favorite roses would be sitting on my doorstep in the evening when I arrived home. S/he sent me cards and turned up to drive me to school. Finally I gave in and met hir for coffee. And then I met hir again, and again, and again. Before I knew it, I had fallen for hir.

Please bear in mind that I didn't know that Mr Lesbian was trans. In point of fact, neither did s/he. S/he didn't have the language yet to describe how s/he had felt all her life. I'm femme. But not THAT femme. I can't wear skirts, because I get "femme poisoning" after an hour of my legs showing. In retrospect if I had realized that Mr Lesbian was actually transgendered and not a dyke, I don't think I would have continued. Yes, I can hear you booing. Let me just say that I have no political or personal prejudices against trans folks. I just prefer to be in relationships with women who like their breasts and aren't spending all their time pretending they don't have them.

So, here we are. It's 8 years later and we're still together. S/he has a language to talk about being trans, but hir republicanism silences hir. S/he is more "out" than s/he used to be, but let's people assume that s/he's a lesbian and doesn't talk about being trans. People, trust me. It's damn hard to be a sex therapist from inside a sexual relationship, particularly with somebody who doesn't want to talk about their sexuality.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Not all of us lesbians worship Melissa Etheridge!!

Okay, enough already with the Melissa Etheridge idolatry! We don't all have Melissa on our turntables. In point of fact, I don't own a CD of hers (or a cassette come to that.)

Can I truly be thought of as a real lesbian?

Let's survey and assess the facts.

* I don't TiVO and neither do I (perish the thought of anything so retro) "tape" the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

* I don't watch the L Word religiously (and neither do I read the fan boards.)

* I don't like "women's" music. (Hang on, does this include Sarah McLachlan?)

* I have never seen a single episode of "Queer as Folk" (but I do love "Six Feet Under," so maybe that cancels out?)

* I've never had group sex. (Yeah, and me a sex therapist!)

* I don't subscribe to "Curve" magazine.

* I don't have a rainbow decal on my car.

* I don't drive a pick-up truck or a small SUV.

* I don't know how to swagger.

* I wear underwear.

* I've never been to San Francisco.

* I don't vacation in Provincetown.

* I've never been on an Olivia Cruise.

Hmm...pretty damming evidence, right?

However, I still :

* Have the hots for K.D. Lang.

* Think longingly of the teeny, tiny, anorexic braid affected by any self-respecting dyke back in the day!

* Daydream with nostalgia of the time I attended a Michigan Womyn's Music Festival back in 1982 when I was young and impressionable.

* Keep my finger nails short and my toe nails too, although I suspect that doesn't count. (Unless the rules have changed??)

* Have a crush on Rosie O'Donnell.

and, last but not least, I write a lesbian blog.

Surely, this must all count for something?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Ten Things I Hate About Being A Lesbian

1. Having to deal with homophobic twits.

2. People's assumption that I'm handy with a power drill. (I suck)

3. People's assumption that I hate men. (I don't - well, some men but not as a gender.)

4. The quandry over whether to shave armpits and legs, or not to shave. (Um, I err on the side of not shaving, blessed as I am with light body hair and next to no leg hair to speak of.)

5. The bra-less years, as a result of which my breasts hang slightly lower than they might of if I hadn't let 'em swing free for so long before restoring them to their rightful place inside relatively constraining (and gratefully uplifting) spandex/cotton.

6. Infrequent attacks of internalized homophobia, rarer and rarer as the years go by, but occasional and vitriolic when they hit. One example of this is the "internalized homophobe", who is embarrassed and even, occasionally, scared when I show physical and loving affection towards children in the presence of folks whose queer-friendliness may be in question. I never felt this way before I came out, and was instantly aware of the prohibition against loving relationships with children when I came out.

7. Answering well-meaning, but idiotic, questions from people who are "interested in lesbian lifestyles." Huh????

8. I hate it that I even have to consider whether it's safe to come out or not to come out. I try to live my life as out as possible, as I consider there to be a symbiosis between high self-esteem and living an "out" life. But there are times when self-protection wins out, and I don't.

9. The fact that I live next door to a couple who signed the Anti-marriage petition in Massachusetts. (I checked on the site for the location of homophobes in my town).

10. The fact that two years after it became legal for same-sex couples to marry in Massachusetts, when hearing that I am married, people still assume my partner is a man.