I’m at an awkward age for a lesbian

…too old to wear a fauxhawk and start becoming a man; too young to have made spin art out of my menstrual blood at the Moonwomon Collective. I did hand-mirror my cervix at MichFest a few years ago, but it felt self-consciously retro, like watching Reefer Madness or making a meatloaf from scratch.

I enjoy the company of vintage lesbians online and at 70th-birthday potlucks. These dykes* can eat and talk and eat and talk for HOURS. That’s hard for me because sitting down too long aggravates my obsessive-compulsive tendencies.** The only time I ever stayed seated voluntarily from 6-10 p.m was election night 2004, and I was higher than shit for the duration.

This seasoned company means great presents. One couple, L. and A., who’ve been together as long as I’ve been alive, gave me a box of books left over from the women’s bookstore they owned together in New York. The back jacket blurbs are full of coy ellipses and weird butchy nicknames. Most fit neatly into the following subcategories:

1. 1980’s lesbian detective mysteries: “Jazz Gordon, cynical socialist lesbian feminist journalist, begins a relentless pursuit of a killer at a a down-and-out English girls school, and discovers that lovers and friends all have something to hide…”)

2. Bar dyke romances set in Greenwich Village: “Chris cannot satisfy the alluring, capricious Dizz, and now Dizz has become interested in George. But Dizz knows very well her power over Chris…”

3. Science-fiction novels set in a future where all males die: “America is under forcible quarantine by a world desperate to protect itself from a virus aptly named the Red Death. But one enclaves, a mysterious, uninfected women’s community known as the Gaians offers sanctuary…if they can be found.”

4. Earnest books about sexuality, such as Pat(rick, now) Califia’s “Sapphistry”: “When some lesbians have sex, they may see patterns or colors or hear snatches*** of music.”) There seems to have been political controversy re: dildos and leather. One copy of “The Joy of Lesbian Sex” has a long, carefully-written note on the flyleaf, but I can only discern a word or two (“Kat” and “forever”) because SOMEONE GOT ANGRY AND SCRATCHED OUT EACH LINE WITH GREAT FORCE. So, you know — not always dolphins and flowers back in the day.

5. Out-of-print poetry collections that make me weep: “I’m not a girl/I’m a hatchet/I’m not a hole/I’m a whole mountain/I’m not a fool/I’m a survivor/I’m not a pearl/I’m the Atlantic Ocean/I’m not a good lay/I’m a straight razor/look at me as if you had never seen a woman before/I have red, red hands and much bitterness” (Judy Grahn).

Knowing older lesbians is a better gift than any book. They whacked their way through homosocial territory before there were maps. No Internet, no Curve magazine, no Daughters of Bilitis, even — just themselves; their friends; their hopes and fears. Because of them, I’ll never have to watch my butch lover be humiliated on the sidewalk outside a dyke bar — “How many items of women’s clothing are you wearing?” Hideous as that story was, the whole room laughed hysterically when L. and A. told it — because how very, very long ago! How very, very far away! A cartoonish anecdote to tell from the head of a beautiful table; as made-up-sounding as the Red Death Gaian quarantine.

Their partnerships comfort me, too — someday, I can celebrate a long life with a lover in a home of our own.

I don’t want to “stand on the shoulders of giants” when it comes to my older friends and mentors — I want to stand WITH them. They can’t be replaced, and they should never take a backseat to anyone.

 

*Sometimes they don’t like that word, because it was hurled at them so many times before we sort-of reclaimed it. They prefer “Lesbian” — pronounce it with a capital L, like you’re reading the back flap of an Ann Bannon paperback — and “woman-loving-woman.” Yeah, it’s a lot of syllables, but it’s the least you can do.

**Like, I’ll start counting the number of words in people’s sentences, and then the number of sentences per person divided by the number of people at the table.

*** Hee hee omg lol snatches

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Dear butch lesbians,

I love you.

Not that you’re an indistinguishable entity, of course. You’re assorted — a strawberry creme next to a dark toffee next to one of those things with the ganache, and some nuts. But what you (mostly) have in common rises mightily from the multilayered box* of you with a WHOOSH, knocking me on my ass like the Goddess just planted her knees on my shoulders and bit my bottom lip.

I love that you are womyn; that you look the way all womyn would if they didn’t pluck and wax and tan and bleach and totter around on high heels: femaleness distilled and undiluted. I love how you keep being who you are no matter what kind of looks/comments you get on the street.

I love that you aren’t men — not jealous of men;  not wanna-be men; not passing as men; not bois. Thanks for leaving your breasts alone.

I love that you choose action over talk. You don’t drone on about “gender as performance” or “queering the dialogue” or whatever. You’re doers.

I especially love all you Lindas and Kathys over 60: You didn’t have Ellen DeGeneres, The L Word, Curve personals, or any other palatable, fuckable, mainstream lesbian chic. You got arrested, demonized, and ignored. Nobody made it easy. Nobody let it be easy. But you got up every morning, put on your wing tips, and navigated the world successfully. You made money; created families; took care of each other.

Thank you for showing me that aging well means passion and vitality; motion and rage. Thank you for refusing to get out of the way; for valuing your lived experience and knowing that “the voices of young feminists” are in no danger of going unheard. Thank you for not “passing the torch.” Thank you for insisting that we work together without dismissing or retiring anyone.

Thank you for helping me set up my tent at Michfest so the rain never gets in.

The potlucks are a lot of fun, too.

Love,

Phonaesthetica

 

*heh