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Archive for May, 2014

“So are we all legally married?” was the question that I posed to our long-time friends, Mary and Joanne, and my partner as we all drove to a Thai restaurant. Last summer, the four of us went to the Montgomery County Courthouse when a judge went rogue, got married, and afterwards went to a nearby Thai restaurant.

“I don’t know,” replied Mary with characteristic drollness. “But I don’t think it’s fair to call Pennsylvania ‘Pennsyltucky’ anymore since Kentucky struck down its same sex marriage ban.”

This time we were having Thai again and had lots to catch up on after the long cold weather that kept us in our respective homes. My partner Barbara and I have been together for 30 years and Mary and Joanne have been together for nearly as long. We have known each other for decades. Joanne and Barbara used to work together at the Post Office.

After lunch, we spent the afternoon sitting on the patio behind Mary and Joanne’s lovely home. We talked about many things — chiefly about how we all were living on less money (both of us consist of one partner who is retired and the other self employed) and how we actually have a higher quality of life.

Gradually, the talk turned to marriage.

We all agreed that same-sex marriage is redefining the institution of marriage. For one thing, we are not taking each other’s last name. (Straight women often disappear into their husband’s last name — unless they choose to keep their own.) As lesbian-feminists, all of us dislike the word “wife” and refuse to use it to describe ourselves.

We were having such a good time sitting in the sun and laughing, that we forgot to check the news, even though we knew that the ruling on the PA constitutional ban against same sex marriage was due soon. It wasn’t until my partner and I had had left and were driving down the street, that Joanne came running after us and told us the good news.

I gave my friend a high five, kissed my partner (now my legal partner/spouse), and as we drove home, we joked about putting a sign and a trail of tin cans on the back of our car.

“Same-sex marriage is legal in 17 U.S states and the District of Columbia: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington,” according to CNN.

The Huffington Post quoting the Associated Press, explains:
“Pennsylvania’s ban on gay marriage was overturned by a federal judge Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III called the plaintiffs — a widow, 11 couples and one of the couples’ two teenage daughters — courageous.
‘We now join the 12 federal district courts across the country which, when confronted with these inequities in their own states, have concluded that all couples deserve equal dignity in the realm of civil marriage,’ Jones wrote.
An appeal to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is likely. Gov. Tom Corbett’s office had defended the law after Attorney General Kathleen Kane called it unconstitutional and refused to defend it.
State marriage bans have been falling around the country since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
In all, 18 states give legal status to gay marriage. If Jones’ decision stands, Pennsylvania would become the 19th and legalize gay marriage throughout the Northeast.”

The ACLU has an online petition requesting that the PA Governor (who is running for re-election this year) respect all families in the state by not appealing the ruling. I signed the petition and hope you will too.

I have to admit it feels good to have equal rights.

(from The Huffington Post)

Post Script:  Today (5-21-14), I read the news that the PA Governor is not going to appeal the ruling.  Now it feels REALLY good to have equal rights.

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from The Huffington Post

I knew about Edmund White as a writer long before I read his books. I knew that he was a gay icon and had written many books, fiction and nonfiction. I knew that he was especially known for his coming of age novel, A Boy’s Own Story, written in 1982, around the time that I came out. I knew that he had lived in Paris for a time and had written a biography of Jean Genet, the controversial French poet, playwright and novelist who was born in 1910.

When I heard about White’s latest book, Inside a Pearl, My Years in Paris (2014, Bloomsbury), I decided that it was time to read Edmund White. As a lesbian writer, even as one who has known many interesting people, I have very little in common with White. When I started reading Inside a Pearl — which is replete with namedropping — complete with a description of one of Elton John’s parties, this became clear to me. But for whatever reasons I have long been interested in Paris thanks to Gertrude Stein and the Left Bank Sapphic crowd — I kept reading. And what I found was an Edmund White I could relate to — one who could lay his life on the page.

It was when I read about White’s experiences as a caretaker of friends and lovers with HIV and being HIV positive himself — along with the ups and down of his friendships with both men and women — that I began to relate to him. His vulnerabilities made him human. He ruminates about his decision to live in Paris:

“I asked myself why I was here. Sure, I’d won a Guggenheim and a small but regular contract with Vogue to write once a month of cultural life. Right now I was writing a piece about why Americans like Proust so much. Back in America I’d worked around clock heading the New York Institute for the Humanities and teaching writing at Columbia and New York University. I never seemed to have time for my own writing. When I was president of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the biggest and oldest AIDS organization in the world, I hadn’t liked myself in the role of leader; I was power mad and tyrannical… And secretly I’d wanted the party to go on and thought that moving the Europe would give me a new lease on promiscuity. Paris was meant to be an AIDS holiday. After all, I was of the Stonewall generation, equating sexual freedom with freedom itself. But by 1984 many gay guys I knew were dying in Paris as well — there was no escaping the disease.”

White goes on to write about his life in Paris about the friendships that he forged, many through his writing projects, about his lovers — his “great love” was “from Zurich, the manager of a small chain of Swiss cinemas, whom I met in Venice” — and his familiarity with French customs. “The French seldom drank after the wine was cleared away with the meal — wine is a good, not a conversation enabler to be poured hours after the dinner.”

He also writes about the European tradition of older gay men calling their younger lovers, their “nephew.” He writes about an interaction between two gay men when one says to the other, “Do you know my nephew?” and the other replies, “Yes, he was my nephew last year.”

He writes about taking care of his former lover turned friend John Purcell who was in the advanced stages of AIDS. White tells us that he told John he would take him anywhere he wanted:

“India? France? He chose Disney World in Orlando. I thought it might be a hoot, but I found it boring and tacky. At Epcot, we went to some horrid replica of the Eiffel Tower when we’d lived in the real Paris for years.”

When White lived in Paris, he took many trips to England. He recounts the conversation at one London party. “Pat (who was notorious is London literary circles for her affair with Jeanette Winterson), looked around and said, “What’s annoying about Paris is that every woman looks like a lesbian but none is.” White goes on to write, “Pat was one of my favorite people.”

In his sardonic style, White introduces us to the cast of characters that he has met and interacted with on the road of life. Not surprisingly, many, such as Susan Sontag, did not like being written about in his previous works and he writes about that also. It is true that Edmund White has been in the company of many well-known people. But Inside a Pearl left me with was a deeper knowing of Edmund White, the gay icon, the writer, the human being.

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from The Huffington Post

I was reminded of the quote from the late poet Muriel Rukeyser — ”What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open” — when I read Judith K. Witherow’s collection of essays, Strong Enough To Bend, Twin Spirits Publishing, 2014. Then when I read The Rules by S. Renee Bess, a novel published by Regal Crest Enterprises, 2014, I was reminded of this quote again.

Judith and Renee are both lesbian writers who bring their truth home through their writings.

In her collection of essays, Strong Enough To Bend, Judith K. Witherow describes herself as a “back up writer, one of many who stand in the background, providing the harmony and staging the recognition for those whose names are on the covers of the books or the mastheads of the publications.”

She describes Strong Enough to Bend as her solo performance. And what a performance it is. I found that I could not put Strong Enough To Bend down — except for time to recollect how much the essays reminded me of friend’s lives and my own.

Native American lesbian and truth teller, Witherow starts her collection with essays on her background being raised poor in the northern Appalachian mountains.

“We never lived in a place that had screen doors or screens in the windows. This allowed everything, including snakes, to come and go at will. We learned at an early age to pound on the floor before getting out of bed.”

In the second section, Judith talks about how she came out with three sons that she gave birth to during a marriage to an abusive man. Raising her sons in the 1970s a time when lesbians were losing their children to custody battles with ex-husbands, presented Judith with an ongoing dilemma of when to officially come out to her children. It’s not surprising that her three sons, who were raised by Judith and her long-term partner, Sue, knew that their mother was a lesbian far before she told them and were fiercely protective of their two mothers.

She devotes another section of the book to her multiple health issues which stem, no doubt, from her poverty ridden childhood, and to her struggles with the medical establishment. In 1979, Judith was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Judith’s health issues are numerous and it is clear that we are lucky to have her with us on this planet. Hers is a voice that we were not meant to hear.

A strong feminist, Judith is a role model for valuing herself. In the 1996 U.S. presidential election, Judith was a write-in candidate prompted by her belief that she “was the best qualified of any of the candidates. Her belief was bolstered by,

“Clinton’s first shot at four years of Democratic leadership…Don’t Ask Don’t Tell sounds like a warmed over version of the Reagan’s ‘Just Say No.'”

When I read The Rules, a novel by S. Renee Bess, I was reminded that truth can be found in fiction. Ranee is a Black lesbian and in these pages we meet an assortment of characters, most of them Black lesbians, at least one of whom lives by the rules — meaning that she lives her life by a certain code of ethics but sometimes she is confused by what the rules are. The protagonist, a woman by the name of London, defends herself to her long-term lover who is leaving her.

“What do you mean?”
“You don’t seem sure about your blackness.”
“What are you talking about. I know I’m black.”
“Do you? You could have fooled me. Most of your friends aren’t black. You don’t talk like a black person. You couldn’t even keep working for a black-owned construction company.”
“My friends are all different colors. I speak the way I was taught to speak, and I left Clive Wittingham’s firm because I wasn’t climbing the ladder there, not because I didn’t want to work for a back man’s company.”

Two of the characters are profoundly influenced by their childhoods — and in fact we meet them as children when they were friends. As adults they are joined by a cast of characters complicated by intrigue and lesbian love. Equally intriguing to me was the prism of race and class.

I read this lesbian duo back to back and when the last page was turned, I felt the world split open — just a little.

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