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Posts Tagged ‘Renee Bess’

Note: This piece is airing worldwide this week on This Way Out (TWO), the syndicated LGBT radio show.  Click here to listen to the entire show.

The Sunday morning, in June of 2016, that I learned of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, I had a sinking sensation in my stomach.

Unfortunately, that sensation was confirmed when I found out that 49 people were murdered – at that time the largest number of people killed in a U.S. mass shooting.

I was intrigued when I heard about Our Happy Hours: LGBT Voices from the Gay Bars a collection published by Flashpoint Publications in 2017 and edited by renowned lesbian writers Renee Bess and Lee Lynch. This book was both dedicated to the victims of the Pulse nightclub tragedy and born from that tragedy.

Ultimately, Our Happy Hours is a sobering book.Bars renee bess

Bess’s introduction resonated deeply with me:

“This book’s expedition grew during the pre-dawn hours of June 13, 2016, when so many of us watched the media’s coverage of the massacre at the Pulse Nightclub. That mass shooting pierced the soul of every LGBTQ person who knew the experience of finding safety, joy, and personal validation in a space where it was okay to slow drag with your same gender partner, or hold her/him/them lovingly in your gaze. For a moment we’d all been in that Orlando club, or we knew we could have been there.”

Co-editor Lynch stressed the importance of bars in LGBTQ culture by mentioning the Stonewall Inn which has been designated as a National Historic Landmark.  In 1969, the modern LGBTQ civil rights movement was born at this gay bar when patrons fought back against a routine police raid.

As she writes, “it’s fitting that our monument should be a bar. Human communities form where they can, spontaneously, and eventually develop traditions. Hellish as they can be, at times they were glorious, glorious! The music may have been loud past bearing, but we danced all night. Under the glitter balls we saw ourselves reflected in our peers like nowhere else. I was not the only shy one and eventually a few strangers would become friends, friends grew to circles. With a gay bar nearby, we never needed to be totally alone.”

Despite the fact, that it pays tribute to the importance of bars in our community, the collection does not glorify its origins. More than a few writers talk about the seedy results of alcoholism.  But all agree.  The bars were a starting point for meeting, often for being loved, and for learning about each other.

In “A Message for Steve” esteemed lesbian writer and editor Katherine V. Forrest writes,

“In the many years since that May night, friendship and camaraderie with gay men have taken their rich place in my life. Our two communities needed that time apart in the seventies to explore our own identities and culture, and then the devastation of AIDS brought us all together. You were the first gay man I ever knew. You were the first to show me the promise of what we have since brought into each other’s LGBT lives.”

Noted lesbian writer Karin Kallmaker writes that she found herself in bookstores but was grateful for the role that bars played in LGBTQ history.  In her piece titled,

“My Nose Pressed Against the Glass of History,” she writes:

“The Pulse Massacre at one of our safe spaces, a queer nightclub, was a gut-punching reminder. Yes, we are stronger together. Sometimes it’s not strong enough. When it’s not strong enough, we need each other more than ever. My daughter comforted friends online. I despaired that safe spaces are still an illusion.

And I reminded myself: Safety for our kind was an illusion in the 1950s, and yet we thrived. It was an illusion in the 1960s, the ‘70s, the ‘80s… And yet we thrived.

We thrive.”

 

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (just published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

THEY a biblical tale of secret genders

Click on the following for an invitation to a reading from THEY on January 30th at the Penn Book Center in Philadelphia:

Invitation Janet Mason_Penn Book Center_2019-01-30

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I hope you will join me and my partner, Barbara McPherson (on percussion) for a Pride poetry performance at

Moonstone Poetry @ Fergies Pub

Wednesday June 25th at 7 pm

1214 Sansom Street.
Philadelphia, PA 19102

“Love and Marriage” with Janet Mason and Barbara McPherson

Celebrate Pride with an evening of poetry and percussion and a reading from Janet’s recently completed novel:

Art, a novel of revolution, love and marriage

Janet Aalfs (far left), Renee Bess, Judith Witherow and Janet Mason at Big Blue Marble Books

Janet Aalfs (far left), Renee Bess, Judith Witherow and Janet Mason at Big Blue Marble Books

It was pleasure to emcee a wonderful reading last weekend with Janet Aalfs, Renee Bess, and Judith Witherow at the Big Blue Marble bookstore in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia.  I also read with Maria Fama and Judith Witherow on Saturday afternoon at The Wooden Shoe Bookstore on South Street. Both event were wonderful and it was good to be in the company of good friends and good discussion.

 

Janet Mason emceeing reading at Big Blue Marble Books

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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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