Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Can Lesbians be Friends?

I have had a partner for going on fifteen years. We have a unique relationship because we have never lived together, in fact, I live in Berkeley and she lives in Oakland. We joke that our abode is huge because it has a freeway running down the middle.

The result of our living apart together arrangement is that we each have individual friends, as well as couple friends. As a couple, we sometimes also spend time with each other’s individual friends as well. The odd fact is that the great preponderance of these women friends are heterosexuals and I’m trying to reconcile the reason that this occurs.

Emotional intimacy beyond the couple relationship is necessary for healthy life. Straight women know this well. A boyfriend, husband or loving partner is great but without girlfriends life can be lacking in depth, dimension, and empathy. There is no way that one other person can fill each arising need, nor should they be expected to. I thought this was a given and that, especially child-free adults, would want to form new friendships at all points in their lives.

 For lesbians, there is no similar cultural frame of reference. I believe that, for single lesbians, the need for friendship gets subsumed by the search for lover-ship. Friends are the negative default setting to finding lovers. This is particularly true when folks are working and time is of the essence. The classic sentiment is, if the chemistry is not there, let’s just be friends.

As lesbians, we are a prickly bunch. We all share a history of unrequited love, thwarted romance and ferocious repression. The scar tissue that forms around these negative experiences, especially for us boomer-aged dykes, can be limitless and all-consuming. Our sexuality confuses the issue too. The potential complications of sexual attraction loom over every female to female relationship. And, due to women's oppression, fear of everything from a verbal slight to real, physical danger is always present in our lives.

But being real friends requires a lot more than chemistry. It involves shared interests, trust, mirroring our damaged and difficult selves in a way that requires compassion and understanding. It is not a fallback position, but one of fundamental, front-line support.

Lesbians often draw friends from their pool of ex-lovers or their non-attraction pool of potential lovers. But what about the idea of meeting new women with shared interests, more like straight women do? Does the nebulous sexual element make it any attempt at connection too threatening? Are we doomed to be constrained by this dynamic forever?

You might think that the fact I’m in a relationship would make me more desirable, you know, a safe harbor for the seeking. But I’m getting the feeling that it also makes me a waste of time, like squandering valuable infrastructure capital on a cul-de-sac instead of laying the foundation for a bridge or freeway.

The destination is critical but the journey itself is also important. Sometimes it can be helpful to look at the present through a wider lens. Life is uncertain. If the bolts break in that bridge or the cement cracks in that freeway, spending time on a restful cul-de-sac could be just what the doctor ordered. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

March for Manning and Meaning

For Transparency and Justice
With his military trial underway, Bradley Manning has become an issue of LGBT controversy around this year's 42nd Gay Pride Parade, there are more reasons now than ever to come out and march. The fact that the now established and clearly establishment-oriented Pride Committee president and board could call Manning a threat to the lives of military troops only illustrates the vast distance that our grass-roots, community organization has fallen.

Around 1970 the first Gay-ins were held in Golden Gate Park. In those years, issues like legal marriage and full participation in the military were the last things on queer minds. We were no more than a motley collection of outcasts, still classified in the mental health community as disordered, blatantly and officially discriminated against in every aspect of our lives from holding down a job, to renting an apartment, adopting a child, inheriting anything from our life-partners, being openly harrassed by police, bus-drivers, store owners as well as run of the mill bullies. We had no illusions or desire to be being given a slice of the moldy, cow-patty that was called the "American Pie" or to blandly blend into the mix of the so-called "melting pot."

In 1975, when I first participated in the event called "Gay Pride" it took place in Stern Grove in Golden Gate Park. Hardly a central location, some enterprising organizers had to arrange for local Muni buses to pick up participants in the Castro area and deliver us there. The parades of the seventies were politically focused and militant. 1978 in particular, zeroed in on two hate campaigns: Anita's Bryant the orange juice queen's anti gay rants and John Briggs' more dangerous initiative, proposition 6 which forbade any positive mention of gay people or their rights by anyone, gay or straight, working in California's schools.

Not only were men's issues treated as the only issues in Gay Liberation, men overwhelmingly outnumbered women by about 5 to 1 and the media almost exclusively photographed and interviewed them. Having said that, I should add that both television and print journalists loved the drag costumes and their coverage was predominantly of a derogatory nature.

We dykes were a small, nearly invisible minority. Since forcing women to wear shirts while men are permitted go topless is gender discrimination, breasts of all shapes and sizes abounded in our midst in those early years. Our boobs occasionally got some press but our voices were silenced.

On top of the media problems, there was also rampant sexism on the part of the vast majority of our "gay brothers."Before the first attempts at  genuine lesbian and gay unity which came at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, derision and ridicule of lesbians was commonplace. I remember quite well being verbally harrassed in the Castro for my haircut and lack of makeup. Society, along with gay male culture, worshipped a feminine beauty standard to which dyke outcasts allotted zero respect. The inferiority of women and "their" issues was a given in those days, so, as perverted, non-traditional women, we were considered beneath contempt.

Of course, this fact didn't dampen our spirits or lessen our resolve. It proved only that males were more tied into their superior position on the capitalist gravy train. Thus, in 1993, the alternative to the Gay Pride Parade, the Dyke March was born. It was a women-only event totally devoid of commercial interests and done completely without permits. It takes place the Saturday evening preceeding Gay Day.

With each passing year, the Pride March has become more of a "parade" and a "celebration" as it simultaneously deteriorates into a flashy, show-biz, commercial enterprise for liquor companies like Smirnoff and Budweiser. Performers and alcohol are the main draw, not to mention the plethora of "lgbt pride" items like T-shirts, jewelry, flags, caps,bumper stickers and anything else you can imagine became money-generators. Today, queer "pride" is just a veneer for big business.

But this year, in support of Bradley Manning, transparency, and a more just society for all, people who actually care about queer rights, repression and inequality of all kinds will have an opportunity to come out and show their rainbow stripes. It's past time to turn our parade back into a march, to fight for Manning and meaning in our struggle in the upcoming SF Pride Parade. I hope to see you in the streets on June 30th.