Sunday, February 17, 2008


(Value Pack by Robert J. Bolesta)

My novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates, is crammed to the gills with references to lesbian-feminism and other subcultures that will not be noticed or make sense to a reader who "wasn't there, then". We existed in a world within your world, which you knew about only dimly, if at all, but which was extraordinarily rich and interconnected to us (as well as to Myra, Ginny and friends). Below I offer explanations of all such possible asides that occur in Chapter One, listed more or less in the order they appear in the text. I'll offer more of these for other chapters in future posts.

Mom's Apple Pie was the newsletter put out by the Lesbian Mother's National Defense Fund, a Seattle-based organization founded in the early 1970s as a resource for mothers whose children were being legally removed from their care based solely on the fact that they were lesbians. There is now an excellent documentary on this herstory available from Frameline.

Myra's memory about hearing the child of lesbians "Sierra" talking about her notion that lesbianism had to do with what you ate is based on actually hearing a girl raised in the Portland lesbian community make this speech at a women's gathering there in around 1981/82. The child is now playwright Stormy Gale.

Breatharianism is a "concept, in which believers claim food and possibly water are not necessary, and that humans can be sustained solely by prana (the vital life force in Hinduism), or according to some, by the energy in sunlight." During the mid to late 1970s, when lesbian communities nationwide were working on inducing parthogenesis by various means including fruitarian diets, breatharianism was seriously attempted here and there -- I documented it in the Austin dyke community.

(Lesbians Against Police Violence in Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, 1979)

"Stop the Cops" is a fictional Seattle version of the San Francisco based Lesbians Against Police Violence, of which I was a member and have written about in other posts, Dianne Feinstein, Opportunist and Tania: 33 Years Later.

RC stands for Reevaluation Counseling, a peer counseling mixed with liberation theory movement which began in Seattle but eventually spread world-wide in limited venues. RC attracted large numbers of lesbian practitioners until their anti-gay stance, claiming everybody would be heterosexual if their "distress" was sufficiently "discharged", in the mid 1980s sent gays and lesbians who were solid in their identity/orientation looking elsewhere for community and therapy.

(Alix Dobkin from Paid My Dues, Winter 1978 issue, photo by Toni Armstrong Jr.)

"For they won't defend / a woman who's indifferent to men" is a line from the song View from Gay Head, written and sung by Alix Dobkin on her first album, Lavender Jane Loves Women, in 1973. Lavender Jane Loves Women was the first woman-produced, women's music album in herstory. Here's what Ladyslipper Music has to say about it (and, to my mind, there's honestly no hyperbole here, it really was that Big a Deal):

"Lavender Jane Loves Women, within weeks of its 1973 release, swept women off fences and out of closets. With delight and disbelief, they passed the records from hand to hand, or sent them speeding across oceans and continents. Everywhere women listened, amazed, to songs which actually verbalized the previously unthinkable joy and pride of Lesbian consciousness and identity. Alix's equally wonderful Living With Lesbians soon followed. This appearance of women-centered culture signalled the end of women's historical isolation and silence, and provided structures to voice the exuberant spirit and outlaw perspective of an idea long overdue."

VIEW FROM GAY HEAD (to hear a brief excerpt of this cheerful, rousing world-changer, go to Ladyslipper music here)

I heard Cheryl and Mary say
There are two kinds of people in the world today
One or the other a person must be
The men are them, the women are we
And they agree it's a pleasure to be
A lesbian, lesbian
Let's be in no man's land
Lesbian, lesbian
Any woman can be a lesbian

Carol is tired of being nice
A sweet smile, a pretty face, submissive device
To pacify the people for they won't defend
A woman who's indifferent to men
She's my friend, she's a lesbian

And Liza wishes the library
Had men and women placed separately
Ah, but theirs is the kingdom
She knows who she'll find
In the HIStory of MANkind
But then she's inclined to be ahead of her time
She's a lesbian, lesbian
Let's be in no man's land
Lesbian, lesbian
Any woman can be a lesbian

And women's anger Louise explains
On a million second places in the master's games
It's real as a mountain, it's strong as the sea
Besides, an angry woman is a beauty
She's chosen to be a dyke like me
She's a lesbian, lesbian
Let's be in no man's land
Lesbian, lesbian
Any woman can be a lesbian

So the sexes do battle, they batter about
The men's are the sexes I will do without
I'll return to the bosom where my journey ends
Where there's no penis between us friends
Will I see you again
When you're a lesbian, lesbian
Let's be in no man's land
Lesbian, lesbian
Any woman can be lesbian
Every woman can be a lesbian

At the time this album came out, Alix was lovers with Liza Cowan (the Liza in these lyrics, as well as lyrics elsewhere). Liza appears several times in Ginny Bates, both as an herstorical figure to lesbian-feminism as well as an eventual artist colleague and friend to Ginny and Myra. In my life, Liza has been both. She was kind enough to "parse" View From Gay Head for me as follows (copyright to these memoirs are hers):

'Alix used to talk on stage about the word Lesbian having the power to kill. What if you walked into the Trilateral Commission and just said, "Lesbian" and they all dropped dead.

'VFGH was about Lesbians we knew, and about working through ideas of separatism. The name, View From Gay Head worked on two levels. Gay, because of Gay. Gay Head is a town, or section of Martha's Vineyard where we were staying the summer she wrote it. The actual view from Gay Head is an island called Nomans/No Man's Land. I can't remember if you can actually see No Man's Land from Gay Head, but it is off of the Vineyard, so it's kind of funny and a very deep reference that I'd forgotten until this minute. It may be on the liner notes of the album.

'Cheryl and Mary were the Lesbians who we moved to the farm with. [Note: See Alix Dobkin's second album, Living with Lesbians.] We spent a lot of time talking politics with them and they were both Jewish and Separatists.

'Carol was the woman we started our neighborhood women's group with. We tried to start a women's center but it didn't happen. We did have events, and Carol and I edited and published Cowrie Magazine. The group was called Community Of Women, COW hence Cowrie. (and Cowan, but that's just me)

'Liza is me, duh. At some point soon after Alix and I moved in together I separated all the books in our bookcase into women's and men's sections. I found this to be a great mental and social exercise. From then on for a few years I only bought or read books by women. But you should also know that I've separated books by color, which is how my books are arranged now. It's more visually pleasing, and since I have a very visual memory, it's easier for me to find books.

(Angry Louise by Louise Fishman, 1973)
'Louise is Louise Fishman. Louise was a college - art school - friend of Alix's. She was a dyke in college and a big inspiration for Alix. In 1973 she did a series of "angry" paintings, including "Angry Alix". She went on to become a very well respected and successful abstract expressionist painter. Still going strong. She was lovers with Bertha Harris at the time Alix wrote VFGH.'

Also on this album are two other references in Chapter One. The "Balkan yells" that Alix performs were taught to her by Ethel Raim, and indeed lesbians imitated them across the nation as a powerful expression of voice.
(Ethel Raim of the Center for Traditional Music and Dance, New York)

Bearsis -- Allie's cat is named after a word from the song "Little House" which was written by Joseph Berger and Nick Klonaris but was made famous among lesbians when it was sung by Alix Dobkin (and friends, including her daughter Adrian and other children of lesbians) on Lavender Jane Loves Women. You can hear a brief excerpt at Ladyslipper Music here. The lyrics go:

Theirs is a little house, theirs is,
In a pear tree full of pearses.
They’re birds, you see, and they live in a tree,
Where they don’t need ladders or stairses.

They’re happy and free of careses.
They never have to run from bearses.
And pears are free to birds, you see,
‘Round the world or any other whereses.

Theirs is a little house, theirs is,
With little bird beds and chairses.
Did you ever hear of any house near,
As nice a little house as theirs is?

(Audre Lorde)

"Use the master's tools to dismantle the master's house" refers to the line "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change." by African-American lesbian poet, essayist and activist Audre Lorde in her essay "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master's House in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (1984, The Crossing Press). This essay and its complicated ideas was profoundly instrumental in shaping feminist and especially lesbian-feminist ideology. It is increasingly misquoted (as Myra does) and incompletely understood now. For that reason, I am copying the essay in below:


'I agreed to take part in a New York University Institute for the Humanities conference a year ago, with the understanding that I would be commenting upon papers dealing with the role of difference within the lives of American women: difference of race, sexuality, class, and age. The absence of these considerations weakens any feminist discussion of the personal and the political.

'It is a particular academic arrogance to assume any discussion of feminist theory without examining our many differences, and without a significant input from poor women, Black and Third World women, and lesbians. And yet, I stand here as Black lesbian feminist, having been invited to comment within the only panel at this conference where the input of Black feminists and lesbians is represented. What this says about the vision of this conference is sad, in a country where racism, sexism, and homophobia are inseparable. To read this program is to assume that lesbian and Black women have nothing to say about existentialism, the erotic, women's culture and silence, developing feminist theory, or heterosexuality and power. And what does it mean in personal and political terms when even the two Black women who did present here were literally found at the last hour? What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable.

'The absence of any consideration of lesbian consciousness or the consciousness of Third World women leaves a serious gap within this conference and within the papers presented here. For example, in a paper on material relationships between women, I was conscious of an either/or model of nurturing which totally dismissed my knowlesge as a Black lesbian. In this paper there was no examination of mutuality between women, no systems of shared support, no interdependence as exists between lesbians and women-identified women. Yet it is only in the patriarchal model of nurturance that women "who attempt to emancipate themselves pay perhaps too high a price for the results," as this paper states.

'For women, the need and desire to nurture each other is not pathological but redemptive, and it is within that knowledge that our real power is rediscovered. It is this real connection which is so feared by a patriarchal world. Only within a partriarchal structure is maternity the only social power open to women.

'Interdependency between women is the way to a freedom which allows the I to be, not in order to be used, but in order to be creative. This is a difference between passive be and the active being.

'Advocating the mere tolerance of difference between women is the grossest reformism. It is a total denial of the creative function of difference in our lives. Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. Only then does the necessity for interdependency become unthreatening. Only within that interdependency of different strengths, acknowledged and equal, can the power to seek new ways of being in the world generate, as well as the courage and sustenance to act where there are no charters.

'Within the interdependence of mutual (nondominant) differences lies that security which enables us to descend into the chaos of knowledge and return with true visions of our future, along with the concomitant power to effect those changes which can bring that future into being. Difference is that raw and powerful connection from which our personal power is forged.

'As women, we have been taught either to ignore our differences, or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change. Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.

'Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society's definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference—those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older—know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master's house as their only source of support.

'Poor women and women of Color know there is it difference between the daily manifestations of marital slavery and prostitution because it is our daughters who line 42nd Street. If white American feminist theory need not deal with the differences between us, and the resulting difference in our oppressions, then how do you deal with the fact that the women who clean your houses and tend your children while you attend conferences on feminist theory are, for the most part, poor and women of Color? What is the theory behind racist feminism?

'In a world of possibility for us all, our personal visions help lay the groundwork for political action. The failure of academic feminists to recognize difference as a crucial strength is a failure to reach beyond the first patriarchal lesson. In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.

'Why weren't other women of Color found to participate in this conference? Why were two phone calls to me considered a consultation? Am I the only possible source of names of Black feminists? And although the Black panelist's paper ends on an important and powerful connection of love between women, what about interracial cooperation between feminists who don't love each other?

'In academic feminist circles, the answer to these questions is often, "We did not know who to ask.” But that is the same evasion of responsibility, the same cop-out, that keeps Black women's art out of women's exhibitions, Black women's work out of most feminist publications except for the occasional "Special Third World Issue,” and Black women's texts off your reading lists. But as Adrienne Rich pointed out in a recent talk, white feminists have educated themselves about such an enormous amount over the past ten years, how come you haven't also educated yourselves about Black women and the differences between us—white and Black—when it is key to our survival as a movement?

'Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master's concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women—in the face of tremendous resistance—as to our existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This is it diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought.

'Simone de Beauvoir once said: "It is in the knowledge of the genuine conditions of our lives that we must draw our strength to live and our reasons for acting."

'Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives there. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.'

Red and Black refers to the Red and Black Books Collective, Seattle's feminist bookstore on 15th Avenue in Capital Hill, which "began on May 1, 1973 as an outgrowth of the Id, an early leftist bookstore in Seattle that was involved in the social upheaval of the 1960’s. The Red and Black name came from the membership of the collective, anarchists and socialists, but early on the anarchists left to form Left Bank Books. Because the collective believed that access to information was critical for empowerment the bookstore focused on politics and providing the community with ideas and information not readily available elsewhere. The store was a vehicle for social change, promotion of progressive perspectives on issues such as feminism, respect for the environment, and alternative lifestyles and families....Faced with mounting debt, the inability to find a buyer, and the emergence of chain bookstores, Red and Black, the oldest feminist independent bookstore in the United States, closed on March 17, 1999."

(Where Your Income Tax Money Really Goes -- U.S. Federal Budget, 2009 Fiscal Year -- Total Outlays (Federal Funds): $2,650 billion; MILITARY: 54% and $1,449 billion; NON-MILITARY: 46% and $1,210 billion; pie chart from War Resisters League)

War Resisters League has a mission statement which reads "Believing war to be a crime against humanity, the War Resisters League, founded in 1923, advocates Gandhian nonviolence as the method for creating a democratic society free of war, racism, sexism, and human exploitation." It has long drawn a high degree of lesbian participation, but especially during the 1970s and during the Reagan years because of its advocacy of war tax resistance, refusing to pay some or all of those federal taxes that contribute to military spending.

(Bernice Johnson Reagon)
Bernice Johnson Reagon is a is a singer, composer, scholar, a specialist in African-American oral history, performance and protest traditions, a major cultural voice for freedom and justice for over four decades, who founded Sweet Honey in the Rock, an internationally acclaimed, Grammy-winning African-American women's a capella ensemble which is a national treasure but was originally embraced whole-heartedly by the women's music community after its inception in 1973. Their album Believe I'll Run On, See What The End's Gonna Be, released in 1993 by Redwood Records (a women's/lesbian music label), contains the song "Fannie Lou Hamer". To hear an excerpt from this (or other Sweet Honey songs), go to Ladyslipper Music here. These are albums worth having.
(Fannie Lou Hamer singing at Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party boardwalk rally. From left — Emory Harris, Stokely Carmichael [Kwame Ture] in hat, Sam Block, Eleanor Holmes, Ella Baker)

Fannie Lou Hamer was an American voting rights activist and Civil Rights leader. Her quote that she was "sick and tired of being sick and tired" was eventually used as her epitaph. For her bio, read the Wikipedia entry, her Fem Bio entry, or listen to her oral history at the Civil Rights in Mississippi Digital Archive

(Fannie Lou Hamer)

Copyright on notes 2008 Maggie Jochild.


Liza Cowan said...

Wow! I think it's time for you to write the lesbian feminist encyclopedia.

Miss Erin said...

woo hoo!! thank you for posting the lyrics to view from gay head! i found the album in a thrift store and its been my fave for that im parted from my records ive been trying to figure out the lyrics so i can play it on my banjo. BIG HELP! thanks! and then...extra historical behind the scenes bits and pieces to boot. awesome. =)

thanks again!