Sunday, March 30, 2014


(Joan Annsfire -- photo from Aunt Lute)

My first seven years in the Bay Area, I lived in a four-flat building on Brosnan Street where, for much of that time, all the occupants were dykes or bisexual wimmin. Certainly all feminists. We had a communal garden out back, we sunbathed nude on the roof together, we shared meals and gossip and radical politics.

I anchored the tenancy of #73 for most of those years. And my cohort in the next door flat was Joan Annsfire, good friend, comadre in Lesbians Against Police Violence, running buddy and non-stop wry commenter.

I moved into #73 on March 22, 1978. A week later, the dykes in the flat beside us, who shared a long wall with us, moved out. I discovered they were Sandy Boucher and Ann Hershey, already famous to me from wimmin's publications, and I was starstruck. But they were in the process of breaking up as well as relocating, and sensibly focused on their own misery, ignoring my gawping.

They were briefly replaced by a young married couple with a dog named Mahoney who barked all the time. They had spectacular fights, and soon moved out, to all our relief. We inherited some of their living room furniture, as we had none, only the ubiquitous milk crates filled by paperbacks from Diana and Naiad.

By this time I had gotten to known Joan (through Lesbian Schoolworkers? All Age Lesbians? BACABI benefits? it was a wonderful maelstrom of a dyke community at that time) and she then moved into the empty flat with her friend Julie Twitchell. It was Julie, I think, who dubbed us all the Brosnan Gang and persuaded us to get matching T-shirts made. I still have mine, decades too small.

After a year or so, Julie was replaced by Karen Peteros who worked at the brand new Lyon & Martin Clinic. Karen was a young beauty with short, crisp dark looks and an animated manner. She wore baggy overalls to work on her VW bug out front. At that time we were doing constant battle with our slumlord-wannabe landlord Chee Cheung, and Karen was instrumental in organizing our petitions to the S.F. Renter's Council for needed repairs or blocking rent hikes.

After one joint foray to the rent board, having succeeded in thwarting Mr. Cheung once more (a battle we would not now win, but Reagan was only just beginning his destruction of the working class at the time), we celebrated by all going to the Mission Rock Cafe for a bowl of clam chowder. Karen was the only one to beg off, returning to work. We sat at a large spool table on the outside deck, and once we had been served, someone during lunch remarked that she sure did think that absent Karen was a looker. After a pause, we all went round and confessed that each of us had a big crush on Karen (I cannot remember if my roommate/s at the time were Kay Finney, Kathie Bailey, Renee Enteen and/or sharon franklet). Until the circle reached Joan, who blushed beet red and murmured only "Imagine sharing a bathroom with her", which sent us all into roaring laughter.

On the first of April 1980, the two downstairs flats -- mine and Joan's -- collaborated to throw the first-ever butch/femme ball. It was largely sardonic humour on our 70s dyke part, not any actual celebration of what is now understood as butch and femme. We cleared out both flats as best we could, and Renee and I used the photobooth at Musée Mécanique at Cliff House to create stereotypical butch and femme poses.

The invitation we assembled with Joan was intended to be circulated only among our friends and political cohort. However, someone (never found out who) photocopied extra copies and posted them at all the wimmin's bars and gathering places in SF the day before the party.

The night of the party, I hit a roadblock in my planned costume. I had on a bright white men's T-shirt with the sleeves rolled up, a pair of Dickies, a black leather vest and a matching cock ring on my wrist. I wanted to slick my short hair back, but this was way before mousse, and our holdhold had nothing to give me that greaser look.

I popped next door to ask for help. Joan shook her unruly red frizz and referred me on to Karen. Karen looked blank for a minute, then led me into the bathroom and plucked an enormous tube of K-Y from the cabinet. "This oughta work!" she declared.

I was momentarily distracted by wondering why on earth she had all that K-Y: we didn't use such things in those days, and in my personal experience, had never run across the need. (We had bone-rattling, multi-orgasmic sex precisely because we did not imitate the het model.) But Karen squirted out a big blob and began rubbing it into my buzz, and I gave myself over to the pleasure of cranial lubrication.

She was right about the look: Nailed it. But turns out, K-Y left to harden for hours on hair shafts is reluctant to let go its hold. Took six shampoos the next day to undo my helmet head.

We were soon swamped by strange women in suits and ballgowns arriving at our doors. My roommate sharon at first attended only in a well-worn black leather jacket and sequined red high heels -- nothing else. But the swirl of strangers sent her back to her room for additional attire.

Eventually our flats were choked with over 400 wimmin. I devolved into spectacularly bad sexual antics before the night was over, and we did not clear the place until dawn. It was such a hit that Karen took the idea to Lyon-Martin where it became a huge annual fundraiser. Yep, it all began on Brosnan Street.

In LAPV, Joan Annsfire (along with Joan Bobkoff -- Joan A and Joan B we called them, and yes there was a Joan C but she was not a comedian) wrote the best dialogue, song parodies, and flyer slogans we produced as a group. She was always hilarious to be around, and from her, more than anyone else, I learned the real meaning of Jewish humour, with a dark political twist at the center if you were as gifted as Joan was.

Joan is the one who quipped that the cop who beat up a pair of lesbians leaving Amelia's bar "must've had his moon in Scorpio with penis rising". At a potluck she announced "There's no fu like a tofu". She often said "Kissing a smoker is like licking a dirty ashtray" and I swear it was from her lips I first ever heard the phrase "Die yuppie scum" before it became a bumper sticker.

Joan was famous for being celibate. I, who had no sexual boundaries or judgment, was secretly in awe of her for this choice. I must have been exceedingly tiresome for her to be around, although I can't recall her displaying it. It took me years of counseling after coming out as an incest survivor in 1980-ish to stop using sex as a means of disrespecting others, and not until I was 50 to finally forgive myself.

When Joan eventually got a girlfriend, she did so with smarts and integrity. It lasted a long time, ended well, and she is partnered again with intelligence and retained independence. I could have learned a lot from Joan, I suspect -- but I learned what I could when I could, and my hard path was what it was.

Joan also had a younger sister named Lore whom she tried to look after, and I envied them their bond. Lore was intermittently lesbian, and when she took up with a guy, I shared Joan's disappointment. We disparagingly referred to him as Skippy; cannot fathom why, now.

I felt a solidarity with Joan in the fact that she, too, chose a surname honoring her mother, whom she lost too early. I thought Anns-fire was a brilliant choice. When my own mother died when I was 28, Joan was deeply sympathetic. Even hard-assed revolutionary dykes need their moms -- maybe especially so.

Joan did a lot of our graphics in those days. I especially admired a 3- or 4-part cartoon of "How to eat an artichoke" that she had created and framed on her kitchen wall. In the last couple of decades, however, she has moved on to writing, and damn, she's good, producing poetry, fiction and essays which unroof my/our era in powerful, beautiful language. Check out her blog at Lavender Joan and her winning essay published by Aunt Lute at The View From Capp Street.

All of this is a long-winded prelude to wishing Joan a happy birthday today. I am honoured to have known you, remember you with nothing but affection, and am so extremely glad you have created such a good life for yourself. I am yours in sisterhood, forever.


Sue Katz said...

What a wonderful tribute and exceedingly fine piece of writing. A t-shirt that is "decades too small" - what a fine phrase. Thanks so much for this. You friend Joan must be qvelling.

Margot said...

YOU were the wimmin we only read about in books. I'm still starstruck.