Thursday, July 21, 2011

Marriage Dilemmas

Last week I received the following series of questions from the news editor of the London based DIVA magazine:
--Suddenly, gay women have a lot of choice which mirrors conventional straight society. Naturally, choice is a good thing,but as a result, are lesbians now expected to have-it-all? If so, why? If not, why not?

--What is your experience of this?

--People like Sarah Schulman have said that lesbians having children is ultra-conservative, partly because it fulfills the expectations placed on women. She also argues that their motivation is to get approval from parents. How do you feel about this?

--If gay woman genuinely want to have kids and a family, what's the difference between innocently wanting this and being indoctrinated to want it? How can women tell the difference?

--Is resisting traditional female roles the future of the lesbian movement--or the end of it?

--What advice would you give to young gay women who might be experiencing have-all-pressure?

I was taken back by how quickly we had moved to the realities behind a set of questions like this. Here is my run-on sentence, run-on paragraph immediate answer. I think I was a little annoyed.

Dear P.,
I may have missed your deadline, but here is how I would answer. First I am amazed that in my life time that the dilemma of some lesbians has gone from how to survive on the margins to a sense of too much will be expected of us, we have too many choices, we will have to be super mom lesbians. Having just returned from speaking with the lesbian communities of the Balkan region, their every day struggles for survival, I find this concern too affluent Western centric. In all our cities, in London, and New York and Paris, there are poor lesbians just trying to find or hold on to a job and a place to live. This number will grow. Affluent lesbians with nannies, all the trappings of busy lives that get lived with the help of women who need the money--yes, some will have to think about what feminism means, it its relevant in their normalized lesbian lives---[perhaps class is the more meaningful category now] Perhaps their political concerns will shift to the need for daycare centers, to street safety, to the dangers of internet sex. I read your questions to my 58 year old lover of 12 years--remember I am 71, never married and childless--she was harsher then I was. "Why would any woman want to get married," she fumed. "We fought for so many years to get the state out of our sex lives, to get our lives out of the control of the state and now we are rushing with open arms right into its fold."  [She left the table in a huff as I tried to explain how I could understand lesbian couples who had come out in the 50s were tired of life times lived as a freak and this could be a healing embrace--the younger ones I had a harder time with. Then I started musing on it all]: Will there now be peer pressure on lesbians to marry, a little like what some butches have reported back about being told their gender lives were not serious enough if they did not go the whole way and transition? Will we finally have real lesbian spinsters, lesbians who do not want to marry. I can laugh about some of this but we are not clear yet and will not be for a long time how far this new world for some of us has delivered us into the arms of the state, states not known for their doing good in the world or for their own citizens of need. You know, for hundreds of years, there have been lesbians with children and throughout the 20th century and even before, lesbians were living as man and wife. Queers have been an inventive people. We have had to be. Perhaps another way to put the question, does motherhood and marriage dequeer lesbians? This is what Sarah is saying. I am sure for some who never wanted the burden of queer it does, but I am not comfortable with sweeping generalizations, often growing out of our own emotional deprivations,  used to condemn the desires of others. Have children, get married, call yourselves whatever you want and then look around and see where the inequities lie, see what is threatening life itself--unfettered capitalism and nationalisms based on exceptionalisms, fundamentalisms that make dissent an act of treason--these are to me now very queer issues. Add worries about health care, education, housing. P. look at your own phrasings, "innocent" longings, "indoctrination," these old charges of false consciousness [I had my stomach full of them during the sex wars in the 80s]--all the language of betrayals and exiles. All these words, "marriage," "lesbian," "woman," "citizen" are changing before our eyes in conjunction with all around us--technologies, economies, systems of power of all kinds. I know live in a country where "de facto" is even more sexy then "marriage." Maybe straight women will be the ones to truly rebel against state and religious rituals such as marriage as we rush in to fill the gaps and become such good citizens of the capitalist state; the business opportunities are revving up in the US as we speak--honeymoon travel, wedding dresses and suits, bridal parties, lawyers. All the consumer delights that go with known and predictable social behaviour. In a while, all of this delight in being a respectable lesbian will die down and then, my young gay friend can look around and see who has been left out of the newly realized promised land of social inclusion and wonder what does a 21st century American or British lesbian-gay-queer-same sex attracted-no-identified radical politic look like? What is a relationship to the state that I can live with and tell my children about?

[   ]= thoughts added for this entry

Now you know what raw Nestle thinking looks like. Good night, my friends.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Our Days

Enough of my emotional binges, here is a sense of what we do with our days--La Professoressa works much of the time at her university job and her article writing, except when her other skills are needed such as helping to hang the art work of our dear friend Dovey, an American expat like me except she hails from the Louisiana delta low lands. Dovey and her Australian partner, Libby, journey to country outside Alice Springs almost every year, where Dovey makes pastel sketches of the rocky ranges and dry river beds. Once home, on the weekends she turns these ideas about color and shape into oil paintings and we were so happy to welcome three of her works into our home.

                                                                   Getting It Just Right

Within these paintings is the story of how one woman made her way to  the beauty, very different from her Cajun country, of another landscape, how she looked and looked and found the purple in the red, the water in the rocks.

Last week we were lucky enough to stay in a friend's house by the sea, down on the Mornington Peninsula, for a few wintry days. In the mornings when the sun shone for a few moments before the gray full skies closed in, we took Cello for his morning walk to the beach, pausing to look at the russet-colored young bulls that grazed in the paddock close by. A short moment of quiet joy of sight.

A special time for us, unmarried lesbians, when we have these days with our books and projects, talk of what has transpired in the 12 years we have been together. In the evenings, La Professoressa  put aside her books and sewed up four pillow cases and the beginnings of a flannel night gown for me--my woman poppa of so many talents.
We talked much about the 14 year difference in our ages, about the difference in what our bodies can do and how to hold the journey together. Most of the time, I am several steps behind her, but I keep her joy of life in my full vision.

Her arms open to me, waiting or going forward, her love is the bridge between what is hard and what is shining with life.

My work takes place at home: reading Judith Butler's "Frames of War," where I take in her phrasings of the way war begins, with the national framing of some lives as being not worthy of grieving and thus allowable not seeable victims, men, women and children who fall out of the frame of life--so often the reality of people who live under occupations; where I read "Defying Gravity: A Political Life," by Dennis Altman (1997), learning of how this Australian gay early liberationist and now noted political scientist read the eary years of New York's gay movement when he was visiting there in the 70s--again another shift of geographies, as if we take turns standing on each other's hill tops. Reading new manuscripts by lesbian authors Jeanne Cordova, Sally Bellerose and Samar Habib. Watch out for their novels. I work on writing up my keynote Brighton talk that I gave in February, hopefully for publication of the papers of that conference, though without the images so much will be missing. I intend to put both the text and as many of the images as I can safely do on my journal here for your pleasure I hope. Then I will work on my Italian which rests only in my hands now since I do not feel well enough to make the trip to class but this language is a dear gentle friend--and now I have my little Pinochio that Beth and Pat brought for me from their time in Sienna and my watercolors and always my beloved sports. I have been exhausted watching the Tour D'France, the British Open, the Women's FIFA World CUP, congratulations Japan!! Because of the time difference, I am in my bed looking, looking at the little screen on the book shelf, climbing mountains, knees pumping at 1 in the morning, walking the rain wind swept links of the Open, or running up and down the futball field, the small against the giants, but no phony tumbles and generous pats on the back of the opponents. A very different life from my days in New York, no Zabar's, no Broadway diner tuna sandwich lunches with my friend Leni and more and more.

New streets with new comrades, new friends who are old ones now--my Women in Black comrades at this months vigil--Alex, Hellen, Marg, Geraldine, Esme.

To all of you who read this, my old friends and my new and some who do not feel kindly to me at all, I am sure, I send my thoughts from this moment of life in a place I had never imagined would be my home but I am grateful for all the colors and terrains it has given me under the fine full sun of my love.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Why Tears Come

The afternoon was cold and windy, and La Professoressa was too deep in her work to want to honor the two tickets we had to see the New York Metropolitan's production of Wagner's "Die Walkure," as big as life but so much further away on our Nova cinema screen. I tried to find other friends who wanted to share the 4 hour event with me but no one accepted the invitation, so there I was sitting on Sunday afternoon, an empty seat next to me, sobbing into my faithful old friend, a cheerful Paris scarf brought home for me by a friend so many years ago. I, like so many people around the world, have benefited from these broadcasts of an opera season from a famed hall--I have been educated and moved and sometimes touched beyond words by old repertories re imagined--as when a sightless but all yearning puppet child replaced the often frozen child actor in latest Met version of "Madama Butterfly." Wagner was a different story. Growing up amidst working class Jews in the Bronx in the 1940s, German products were verboten. Later in life I learned about a German nationalist composer called Wagner and how his music played Jews on their way to death in the gas chambers. In my family's history, all things German included my mother's father. German culture was part of Jewish life, but in an unreconcilable way--I imagine that even from my childhood I could distinguish the comforting vowels of Yiddish from the harshness of German. I imagined this because I was creating a history of places bigger then the Bronx for myself.

What I found that afternoon as I took on the Wagnerian leit motifs, the specially created brass instruments, the Germanic gods at play, all the trappings of a high Met production with movable parts so huge new underpinnings had to be build so they would not collapse the Met's well-worn stage floor was a story of a tomboy daughter and her doting father, so contained by convention--represented by the eternal Wife, Fricka, sung by the indomitable Stephanie Blyth--that he must destroy all that he loves. Early in the performance, I realized the Valkuries were those often pilloried women, large, blond, wearing hats with horns, that I had so laughed at in the faux opera skits of Sid Ceaser in the 1950s. Very soon, as the unallowable love between Siegmund and Sieglinde, is sung out across the stage, I was moved to a diffferent place. When Brunhilde appears and offers Siegmund his triumphant ride to Valhalla where he will find pleasure with the gods--while demanding that he not look upon her so he can keep his humanity a little longer, heart break came to me. This impossible love, all of them, caught up in longings to protect, to be loyal, to love, to defy--all at the mercy of the great god who is himself a slave to his own power. Woltan, sung and lived by Bryn Terfel, caught me in his arms, as he tries so desperately to find the power to do the 'wrong' thing--keep alive his incestuous human son and daughter borne out of his own adulterous longings. Fricka warns all the gods will fall if such unconventional passions go unpunished. How did Wagner make me weep for the plight of a Germanic god--but he did. How did Wagner and Terfel make me weep for what Woltan must lose when he plunges into a deathlike sleep his beloved Brunhilde who rides like the wind.  Terfel, his one eye rolling like a storm tossed world, would not let me go--this is what it feels like to love so deeply, to cherish a spirit, to say good-bye to a child who only wanted to help. As Brunhilde, sung by Deborah Voight, clung to her father's armor covered chest, appealing her fate and accepting it at the same time, knowing she would be forever another kind of being then this huge man, this huge heart of a father, all else fell away--the over produced stage manipulations, the history I brought with me into the darkness, and I was leaning against the chest of a father I had never known, his lesbian daughter, foreign to the gods, a rider in her own way, now closer to the end of her story, readying for sleep, all clinging to the gentle vowels of this sweet song, so hard, so loving, the music remembering its fire and then its pain--no coward shall have you, Woltan repents. And all the stage turns to the redness of fake fire.

Even as I write this I wonder at my sentimentality, at my tears even now, at this whole mixture of artifact, history and personal longing, but one afternoon in my life, transformed by a German artist I had been brought up to hate, I wept for all too human gods.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Region Says Thank You: Opening of the Lesbian Reading Room Lepa Mladjenovic in Novi Sad, Serbia, 5 July 2011

                                                            A Statement from the Organizers

"In the full hall of the anarchist Black House in Novi Sad, in the exciting atmosphere full of feminists, lesbians,gay men activists--the Novi Sad Lesbian Organization opened the Lesbian Feminist Radical Antifascist READING ROOM LEPA MLADJENOVIC.

Before the opening of the Reading Room, we watched together the documentary "Hand on the Pulse" about the life and work of lesbian activist and writer Joan Nestle. The idea of founding this Reading Room was kept secret from Lepa Mladjenovic up to the very moment of the opening ceremony! This secret stayed in full confidentiality thanks to our wide responsible lesbian feminist community--this surprised greatly intensified the excitement of the evening for all of us,

During the evening lesbians, feminists, gay men, antifascists read their moving letters, poems and notes addressed to Lepa, their own as well as those from about twenty well known activists from around the world: Australia, Belgium, Britain, France, Israel,Canada, Kosova, Germany, Palestine, USA, Scotland and Switzerland.

The idea for founding this Reading Room came from feminist activist Professor Isabel Marcus from Buffalo, USA, and from activists from the Novi Sad Organization, from their wish to give space for honor, gratitude and sisterhood for all that Lepa Mladjenovic has done for the lesbian and feminist community in Novi Sad and elsewhere.

Reading Room Lepa Mladjenovic is a space in which public readings and open discussions will be organized, in which all who are interested in literature about different fields such as lesbian and gay lives, feminism, anti fascism and the peace movement can come to read and use the books. This will be a place where--like our friend Ariane Brunet has written, 'I hope that in this reading room lesbians will think of having a 'story telling night; where questions are asked, memories unfolded, where reading is about listening and where books are written through each other's eyes!' As this is how Lepa has been reading our hearts and souls."

                              In joy and solidarity, activists from the Novi Sad Organization--NLO

                                                                     Lepa's Response

To My Dear Lesbian Community:
I am still in full emotions. Last night friends opened up a surprise night for our lesbian community inscribing in history, Novi Sad is a World.

There were forty of us which seemed like four hundred, stirred up bodies of women, lesbians, feminists, gay men. The avalanche of words around my name! The opening of the Reading Room when I had thought I was just coming there to facilitate the discussion after the documentary about Joan Nestle, "Hand on the Pulse" and lesbian community.

First Marina Amazon of our city and I went to the station and met friends for the bus to Novi Sad. The eight of us had a great time in that bus in the last row; we talked and laughed just like once upon a time during school excursions. Only now we are all lesbians and before we were not, all the difference is in that fact that lesbian desire makes us particular friends whose mere walking down the streets of our society changes its context from its foundation.

In Novi Sad in the yellow yard of the anarchist Black House we embraced a lot! Women from the Lesbian organization from Novi Sad, NLO, are there, their sweet gay friends too, activists of Labris are entering the yard from the two hour cheap train ride, and we are screaming to welcome them.

The film starts, I watch it with full concentration, happy that Jody has made great subtitles in our language, that Sandra, Tijana and Lori have super organized it. I hear again Joan's words in the film, and I think, here is how we arrive from "the wretched of the earth" to winners that march with open arms in their own cities, I think of the Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade in New York. We shall come there one day as well...

After the movie and long applause, Tijana comes out, Lori comes out and they say we have a small surprise, I think, ah great, but still we did agree to have a discussion after the movie, women are waiting to say their impressions..but NO!

To my utter surprise, on the stage come out our dear butches carrying a wooden plaque and say, "Today we open the Lesbian Reading Room Lepa Mladjenovic! Uh! yes, that's me, but I am still not connecting with this Lepa. I am silent, excited, it is no joke...but I have a few notes I made while watching the movie and I need to facilitate, what's all of this now? Joyful are my dear friend on the stage. They carry the plaque and tell me to pick it up. The Rainbow flag is flying. I think yes I need to climb those three steps to the stage, probably Melissa Etheridge felt the same while she got the Oscar for music, the legs are trembling even though she also wears flat solid shoes--of course, both of us are butches, while lesbians are whistling and screaming in applause. What an honor. What an honor! I am excited and I can't watch further then Lori, Mirjana, Zoe. I keep myself in the scope of two meters. They give me the carefully designed wooden plaque, and I know all of this is happening for the first time in my life.

And now, Lori is announcing one more part: the warm rain of words of love and respect is falling on all us like a thousand stars. Women come out one after the other reading letters of their own and of lesbians from around the world. my friends come one after the other in front, excited in a gala mood, prepared. I stand near each one of them and still I think I didn't know anything about this, I was in the bus with them all! I tell myself, stop wondering, be here and now, breathe, listen to all these most wonderful words addressed to you, tears are pouring, where are the napkins. Tijana brings a new pack of yellow serviettes, it will be enough. How did you find this Palestinian friend of mine, Rauda Marcus, and Laurence Hovde, and Igballe Rogova heart is beating. I hear that the Reading Room was plotted by Isabel Marcus, Lori Stankovic and Mijana Benic while they were eating good food in Nov Sad a few months ago. An international Lesbian Conspiracy--that means your friends are writing the most beautiful letters how they love yo and respect you and then friends are reading them to you while you least expect it! Sisterhood is flooding like a waterfall through our bodies, we applaud each other. Svenka Savic comes out and says, you and Stasa Zajovic are visionaries. I breathe and embrace her and remind us all how many times she saved me when the media would not put the female form of 'psychologist' in front of my name and I sent them to Dr Savic for a little consultation! Slavica Stojanovic comes out with a big bouquet of white field flowers. Ah yes, I remember Melissa from the previous scene, I throw the flowers to the women in audience. The next time we shall open in the a similar manner, the archive or theater or Internet cafe with the name of some of us here.

After many wonderful words that made me use the yellow napkins many times, we moved to the Reading Room. Four competent butches were waiting to glue the plaque saying Reading Room to the wall. My lesbian-schwester Bo says, sisters, give me a beer and I will keep this plate pressed to the wall to be sure it's glued, all night if needed. Queen Latifa and Sandra from Macedonia are assisting with smiling applause. Books, brochures, leaflets are carefully lined up. Touch of a woman's hand on the bookshelf. There is shy Adorjan Kurucz, courageous gay activist in proper black boots always ready to run away, as he has had to do more than once--the author of this brilliant design on the plaque. I think how many years of the feminist movement, the lesbian movement, how many years of commitment and love is needed so that one little room with a few chairs and one table becomes a Reading Room with a name? [emphasis mine] Later on, in the bus I think how this Reading Room can become a place for fueling hope, making a difference, a Hope Hot Spot.

Dear friends, at the end of the reading, I succeeded in opening my body to feel you all. Three of us stood on the stage while the applause lasted, and I watched one by one your brilliant eyes, heard your applause, the sound from your dear hands was roaring stronger then the sound of hatred a few weeks ago during the Split Pride March. That old fear was leaking away through the tears down my face while I watched the love in your faces as the applause lasted and lasted. It is still here in my body, look how many we are, we can do all, we can do much. I have never felt like this in my life, all  the lesbian movement is with us. Standing there in front I watched slowly those of you leaning on the bar in the back of the room and those sitting in front. I embrace your words, I love my lesbian feminist gay community: we came here with full hands, we have changed our cities and this country is not any more as it was because we reacted to it together, kissed by the sun.
                                     Yours, Lepa Mladenovic from the Reading Room