Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘lesbian’

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.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Read entire article in The Huffington Post

 

I watched the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi and was enchanted by the Russian dream of a land that was home to so many important writers and intellectuals such as Chekhov and Tolstoy.  I was also influenced by the poet Anna Akhmatova, but since she had a more complicated relationship to her beloved homeland of Russia, she was not mentioned in the opening ceremony.

Neither was Russia’s LGBT population.  In fact, none of the Olympic athletes as of yet have come forward to speak out against Russia’s anti-gay law that was signed by President Vladimir Putin last June which bans “the propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,” and a law that bans unmarried couples or singles from countries that have legal same-sex marriages from adopting Russian children.

There is also proposed legislation that would “deny custody to any parent who leaves a straight relationship to be gay.”  If enacted, this law could result in children being taken away from their parents.

I appreciate that the athletes, including the ones who are openly gay, have trained long and hard to get to Sochi.  That is exactly why they should speak out.  They have an international platform to denounce injustice and they should use it.

I am inclined to agree with Harvey Fierstein who wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece last summer that “there is a price for tolerating intolerance” and likened the silence in Sochi to the 1936 Olympics in Germany when few spoke out against Hitler’s oppression of the Jews.

When I watched the Nightline documentary focusing on a gay club in Moscow where there are drag shows, I found that I was more than a little depressed afterwards. The thugs that it showed in Russia may be from another culture from mine — but their hateful words (in the name of God) and skinhead tactics are familiar. The fact is that the Putin’s laws are not sending Russia back to the Middle Ages — in terms of gay rights — as so many protestors have stated.  The laws are reminiscent of a pre- and post-Stonewall United States.  In the early eighties when I came out, I had more than a few lesbian friends who had their children taken from them in painful custody battles. I have heard the stories of LGBT people who were brutally murdered.  I have been harassed on the street.  We are all connected.

The Russian struggle is our struggle.

For the first time in history, we have a U.S. president who is our friend and has supported our rights here in the U.S. and spoken out against the treatment of the LGBT community in Russia.  It is my dream that an Olympic athlete, gay or straight, speak up and do the same.

Read Full Post »

married in montgomery countyMarried With Benefits in Montgomery County PA: Same-Sex Marriage As Real As It Gets

 

As a little girl, I never dreamed about weddings — and discarded my baby dolls for dump trucks.

As a grown woman (who became a lesbian-feminist in my early 20s) — I never professed to understand what the fuss was all about when straight women talked about looking forward to their “special day.” (Isn’t every day special? Isn’t the relationship as important as the wedding?)

Last week I went to the courthouse in Montgomery County Pennsylvania and got a marriage license.

My partner and I went with another couple and then a “self-uniting” ceremony where essentially we married each other without a third-party just as Quaker’s have been doing for centuries. It was a private ceremony, with just the four of us. There was no gathering of family and friends, no religious ceremony and no white wedding dresses. My partner and I have been together for 30 years and the other couple has been together for 27 years.

Surprisingly, being legally married does feel different to me — different in a good way. Afterwards, as we sat around the table at a nearby Thai restaurant having a celebratory luncheon, we remarked to each other that getting married was easy. 

We decided to go when one of the women in the other couple called and mentioned that she noticed that the American Postal Workers Union AFL-CIO has announced on their website that federal benefits are now available to same-sex spouses regardless of where they live or work — including health insurance and retirement benefits. Postal employees and retirees have until August 26, 2013 to make immediate changes to their health insurance enrollment.

There were no protestors at the Court House — either pro or con. There were no rainbow flags.  One of us commented that maybe same-sex marriage has become a non-issue — as it should be.

We had a moment of levity as my partner asked on the way in, “Okay, who’s pregnant?” — since we had all decided to get married so quickly.  And then we had an impromptu moment of silence as my partner asked, “I wonder what it was like to for the first interracial couples who married after it was legalized.” (The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of interracial marriage in 1967, overriding the laws of the states.)

In that moment of silence, we acknowledged that we were part of history, marching forward to claim our rights.

Thirteen states have legal same sex marriage and 30 states have state constitutional bans against gay marriage, while an additional five ban the right to marry by state law — including Pennsylvania. 

Montgomery County began issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples last month when a lesbian couple contacted the County through their lawyer and said they would like to get married.

Register of Wills, Bruce D. Hanes, reviewed the state constitution and found contradictions (the state constitution also says that civil rights of any resident shall not be denied and that no citizen shall be discriminated against because of their sex).  To date, about 135 same-sex couples have been granted marriage licenses in Montgomery County since last month when Hanes was contacted by the first couple.

Pennsylvania’s Republican Governor Tom Corbett’s administration has filed an injunction against Montgomery County to stop issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. Oral arguments are scheduled for September 4 in the Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg.

On the opposite side of the state, four hours away in Allegheny County — which includes the Pittsburgh metropolitan area — Mayor John Fetterman of Braddock officiated a marriage of two men who had obtained a marriage license in Montgomery County. Interviewed on MSNBC, Fetterman described this as “an act of civil disobedience” and went on to say that legal same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania is just a matter of time.

Obviously, the fight in Pennsylvania is not over. 

This past July, the A.C.L.U. brought a lawsuit against Pennsylvania’s Constitutional Ban on Gay Marriage.

And a recent poll reports that 54 percent of Pennsylvanian’s are in favor of same-sex marriage.

Friends from New York state (where same-sex marriage is already legal) suggested that we have a protest wedding. A protest wedding is a great idea. 

But our marriage is already real — as real as it gets.

 

Read the entire piece in The Huffington Post

Read Full Post »

As a white lesbian, I am equally dismayed about the not guilty verdict rendered in the case of Trayvon Martin and the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act as I am elated about the recent Supreme Court ruling repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and striking down Proposition Eight.

These issues are by no means black and white. The LGBT movement cuts across every race, ethnicity, nationality and class division. That is what the rainbow flag represents. It is a reminder that we are all connected. In the recent Supreme Court rulings alone, this country has taken a huge step forward and a huge step back.

I am happy for my friends who live in states where same-sex marriage is legal that they can receive full federal benefits, am hopeful for myself and my partner that we can be part of the change and that it happens in our lifetimes. In thinking about the legalization of gay marriage and the Voting Rights Act and the not guilty verdict rendered in the murder case of Trayvon Martin in the state of Florida, I cannot help but agree with my retired postal worker partner that states rights is contradictory. “We’re not the divided states of America,” she pointed. “We’re supposed to be United.”

Look at the interracial marriage which was still illegal in sixteen states when the 1967 Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virgina — ruled in favor of Loving, overriding the laws of the states.

Unfortunately, it is safe to assume that had the U.S. Supreme Court, has not reached its verdict in 1967 — that many states would have kept their laws against interracial marriage for as long as they could.

My thinking about the connections between Civil Rights and LGBT rights was deepened further when I read the recently published novel The Sin Warriors by Julian E. Farris (Lethe Press, 2012). The novel is based on the actual events, in 1956, in the state of Florida when, as is written in the afterword of the novel …

read the entire blog post in The Huffington Post

Read Full Post »

The Obama administration has declared May as Older Americans Month.

At the same time the Obama administration is proposing cuts in Social Security and Medicare. There seems to be a disconnect.

Recently, I have been visiting my old friend and literary colleague, Anita Cornwell, 89, who has dementia and is in a nursing home.

She has been several stages of care at the same nursing home and is now in hospice. Anita is one of the lucky ones. She is in an institution that describes itself as a non-profit, faith-based continuing care retirement community with dementia and Alzheimer’s Care. And she is fortunate to have a younger friend (in her late fifties) who sold her house in a gentrifying neighborhood for her and handled her finances.

Anita Cornwell is the author of the book Black Lesbian in White America published in 1983 by Naiad Press.

Anita is a pioneer. She came of age as a lesbian in the 1950s, and in her early writings — published in The Ladder and The Negro Digest — she was among the first to identify as a Black Lesbian in print. As she writes in Black Lesbian in White America, she was born in the Deep South at a time “when integration was a term seen only in the dictionary.” Anita writes of herself as a young woman hanging out in the Village, where “She was looking for some of them, but they were home in the closet growing shoe trees.” She writes of her involvement in the women’s movement when she was often one of the oldest women in the room as well as being one of the few Black women: “We of the fifties (and the forties and on back to when) not only had to operate from the closet but, worse yet, most of us seemed to exist in a vacuum.”

Anita entered the nursing home five years ago and remembers very little, if anything, about her former life. Her writings are on my website, so I hear from people who are interested in her work, but only very occasionally. But for the most part, Anita has been forgotten. She has had few visitors in the nursing home and the three Valentine’s Day cards on the bulletin board at the wall at the foot of her bed were not signed. Someone on the nursing home staff had hung blank cards for her.

When I talked to some old friends who knew her, I got a standard response. One woman told me that she is busy with her own mother who has Alzheimer’s and is in a home. Another woman told me that “I’m sure she doesn’t remember me,” to which I responded, “she doesn’t remember anyone.”

Denial is a strong defense mechanism (in this case, the subtext is that “I won’t get old and sick”) and I am not standing in judgment of anyone. As I was standing next to Anita’s bed in the nursing home with my partner, I was reminded of how excruciating it is to be with someone who is near death. I was reminded of being with my mother, who I took care of and wrote about in Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters and also of being with my aunt near the end of her life. Anita has been bedridden for some months, since she lost her memory of how to walk. More recently, she has lost her memory of how to swallow.

I had seen Anita two weeks earlier and she was declining fast. She had lost a substantial amount of weight and looked like a different person that the last time I had seen her. She was sleeping and her roommate told my partner and I that if we woke her up, she would talk to us for a little while. She did wake up, and when my partner was sitting closer to her bed, asked her if she could get her anything, she responded, “A couple of million.” When asked what she would buy, Anita responded that, “For starters, I would buy a car.” When we told her that we had known her for thirty years, Anita replied “that’s a long time” and then she went back to sleep.

Read the entire piece on The Huffington Post

Read Full Post »

Like many LGBT Americans, I was profoundly moved by President Obama’s recognition of gays and lesbians in his inaugural speech. Even my straight-talking retired postal worker partner who usually has something to say about everything (when it comes to gay rights, her usual comment is “it’s about time”) sat quietly in front of the television taking it all in. It is about time and it is still amazing.

There were quite a few historic firsts at the inaugural ceremony, but the highlight for me was the inaugural poem by Richard Blanco, the first Hispanic and the first openly gay poet to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration. For me a poem is a slowing down of time, an opening, and a good poem always presents a teaching moment, that is once in a while life-altering, and leaves you experiencing the world differently.

There were two such moments within Blanco’s poem, “One Today,” and with the help of thecamera panning the immediate crowd, we can see the immediacy of those moments on the listeners. The first was when, Blanco recited the words “…. on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives– to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did for twenty years, so I could write this poem.”

The camera panned to Michelle Obama who looked up from her poetic reverie and opened her eyes when Blanco mentioned his mother. The look in her eyes was solemn, one that appeared to be based in compassion and identification.

The second teaching moment occurred closer to the end of the poem when Blanco was reading the words, “Hear: the doors we open for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom, buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días in the language my mother taught me…” And then the camera panned to Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor. Shortly after the phrase “buenos dias,” he twitched. In all fairness, Cantor may have been twitching all day — it was cold and he couldn’t simply sit in his warm home and turn off the television like so many other Republicans undoubtedly did. And it could have been worse. If Blanco had read a poem with explicitly gay content, Rep. Cantor might have done more than twitch.

I had been wondering, how Cantor and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) could stand there and listen to Blanco’s poem and not be moved by it. I was profoundly moved. I was the first in my family to go to college and I was close to my mother. When I began to write my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books 2012), I was primarily a poet. And even though I haven’t written poetry in years, I still have poetic sensibilities.

I wrote Tea Leaves to make some sense of losing my mother to cancer and being, along with my father, one of her primary caretakers. I also explore my working class background in this book, in particular writing about grandmother’s life who was a spinner in a textile mill in Philadelphia.

It is because of my class consciousness that Blanco’s poem resonated so strongly with me. Many immigrants have taken jobs that others would not do and whether it was picking fruit, packing meat, bagging groceries, or taking care of other people’s children they provide the services that this country could not do without. Then if they are “illegal,” they are deported or at least must always live in fear of deportation. Don’t we owe it to them to provide them with citizenship?

This week, both parties plan to introduce overhauled immigration legislation and they have the opportunity to do the right thing. Cantor, predictably, is solidly against immigration reform. His record speaks for itself. In 2007, he voted to declare English as the official language of the United States. In 2006, he voted yes on building a fence along the Mexican border.

More recently, Cantor was consistent in his conservative views in voting against enforcing anti-gay hate crimes in 2009, and in 2012 stated that taxpayer money should never be used to “kill innocent life” and in 2011 he voted in favor of banning federal health coverage that includes abortion.

There has been much talk about how Republicans lost the Hispanic and female vote in the Presidential election — and how they have to appeal to these groups of voters if they want to have a future as a viable party. While I have found these discussions interesting, I am not personally invested in the Republicans improving their lot.

But I do think that Republicans should do the right thing on immigration reform.

And if they do, then maybe some credit can be given Richard Blanco’s poetic moment.

In short, we are more alike than different. And if you doubt that, remember Blanco’s one word sentence,

Breathe.

Read Full Post »

The Obama administration has declared that November is National Family Caregivers Month. The proclamation declares that family member, friends and neighbors dedicate countless hours providing care to their relatives and loved ones.

When my mother was diagnosed with fourth-stage cancer, I put aside everything that I could and went to take care of her. I was 34 at the time and my mother was 74. She died a little more than 17 years ago. I chronicled my experience in Tea Leaves, a Memoir of Mothers and Daughters (Bella Books, 2012).

My personal journey of caretaking my mother in her final months coincided with my curiosity of learning more about my working-class background. Despite my belief (rooted in strong denial) that she would somehow, miraculously, get better, I knew I was hearing her stories for the last time.

Being the first person in my family to graduate from college put a wedge between me and my background. I was only marginally in touch with my best friend who I had grown up with. We had grown apart. She had married young and was in an extremely conventional marriage to a man (think 1950s). A few short years later, I came out as a lesbian (very 1970s, but this was actually in the early 80s).

I was okay with the fact that I had nothing left in common with the friends I grew up with. But I had a yearning to understand more about my own history. So I read up on the labor movement and asked my mother questions about my grandmother, who as an adult had been a spinner in a textile mill in the Kensington section of Philadelphia:

“When your grandmother was a girl, she worked in a candy factory,” my mother said, slowly and carefully.   I remembered that this was not the first time she had told me this.

“What did she want to do?”

My mother looked at me as if I were insane.

“No one asked her what she wanted to do. She just went out and worked.”

As a result of taking care of my mother in her final months, I learned more about myself. In coming to accept my mother’s mortality, I came to an acceptance that my own life was finite, also, giving me greater insight into the things in life that were important to me. My mother had a keen sense of humor, which undoubtedly got us through:

Increasingly, my mother’s moods changed from minute to minute. On my last visit, she was laughing, telling me that she almost put her straw in the urinal which was sitting next to her water bottle on her nightstand. Then, less than ten minutes later, when the HMO nurse came, my mother told her she wanted a black pill. I was sitting in the room with my mother when the nurse turned to me with an exaggerated expression of shocked concern on her face, and said, “Did your mother tell you she felt like this?” I shrugged. My mother, in moments of excruciating pain, had told me she wanted to end her life. But there was no legal way to do it. A black pill, or suicide pill, was illegal in Pennsylvania and almost in every other state. When my mother suggested that I could put a plastic bag over her head, all I could do was suck in my breath.

click here to read the entire article in The Huffington Post — including practical caregiving advice

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »