In honor of National Coming Out Day, I present below an essay I first published on my site about 20 years ago. Sexuality and identity run on a spectrum. Today I tend to identify as a queer femme. I like the word queer because it is all-encompassing, placing me in solidarity not only with socially-acceptable gay, lesbian, and bisexual monogamous couples, but with all the rest of us: gender rebels, transfolks, intersex people, non-binary people, poly bisexuals, poly pansexuals, straight supporters, heteroflexibles, kinksters, and others with complicated identities. We all deserve a place in the world and we all have something to contribute.
Because I present visually as gender-typical and my partner is a man, my queer identity is largely invisible today. It doesn’t change the fact that I feel passionately about issues of gender equality in all its forms, and about the ways that gender issues intersect with issues of race, national origin, class, and disability. I’m proud of the way that the queer liberation movement has evolved over the last couple of decades, not only in terms of legal protections for same-sex couples, but also for the new awareness and advocacy for trans folks and for femmes of all genders.
Alexandra Delancey’s novellas Always Her and Me and Her chronicle the love story between newly-out Elise and ultra-cool tomboy Jack. I caught up with Alexandra recently to talk with her about her characters, her craft, and the business of publishing in the age of e-books.
Your characters are well-drawn and idiosyncratic, especially some of the more minor ones like Tatiana, Christie, and Alyssa. How did your own experience of the lesbian scene inform these characters?
That’s really nice to hear. I didn’t base any of them on individual people that I know, but I wanted to reflect the experience of being in your early twenties and being gay, or thinking that you might be gay, and the insecurities and preconceptions that sometimes accompany it. I spent my twenties discovering the lesbian scenes of several countries, and they all have their own norms and cliques. They can be frustrating at times, but they’re a lot of fun too. What I’ve always loved about the scene is that it gives you an opportunity to meet a much broader cross section of people than you otherwise might, so I tried to make my characters diverse in order to reflect that.
In honor of Bisexual Visibility Week, I present to you an essay I first posted to the Garden in my early twenties. It’s gone through many iterations since then. Over the decades, the details of my love life have changed, but the fact of my bisexuality — or my queerness, if you reject the binary gender model — remains constant.Continue reading “Bisexual Visibility Week: On the Definition of a Lesbian”
I was visiting a good friend in Hartford, CT on a fine spring day in 1998 when a passel of kittens tumbled across her neighbor’s driveway and onto the grass, mewing and scratching and generally working their kitten magic. From that litter I adopted Loki, a tiger/calico mix with kohl-like markings around his eyes. It seemed appropriate to name a kitten after the Norse god of mischief.
It wasn’t my strangest job, but my most memorable and also my first real-paycheck job: ushering for the Palace Theater in Stamford, Connecticut. The pay was crap — some people actually just volunteered in exchange for watching the shows — but its rewards have stayed with me through the decades. I saw Ella Fitzgerald (twice), Chuck Berry, Herbie Hancock, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, George Carlin, and countless plays, operas, ballets, and symphonies. And I didn’t appreciate it a bit. Well — maybe a little bit. God knows I do now.
Beltane fell on a Wednesday this year. It’s my favorite holiday, but even though it is a holiday of union, this year it leaves me feeling rather lonely. On Sunday I’d intended to rise early and make the trip across the river to my old church for the annual Beltane service — a tradition I resurrected when I was a part of the congregation and the Women’s Sacred Circle. It’s good to know that it still happens without me, but bittersweet. Even before M and I took the plunge and moved in together, I’d begun to pull back from the community at First Parish. It’s hard to say exactly why, although it’s definitely for more than one reason. Since the church is in Cambridge, there’s a regular turnover in membership. People finish their schooling and move away, or they pair up and move off to more affordable parts of the world. Once I’d looked on those people with disdain, but like so many of the people whom I’ve judged in my life, I came to find myself following that same natural progression.
I still remember the incredulity and joy I felt the first time I walked into the First Parish Cambridge Meeting House on a Sunday morning and heard an old, white man in a black robe saying things from a high pulpit that I actually agreed with. Things about the inherent worth and dignity of all people, the interconnected web of existence, the importance of social justice, the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. There was a banner above the door that said “Support Marriage Equality — We Do” — and this was long, long before the tipping point of public opinion on that issue.
It’s hard to describe Adrienne Rich’s impact on my life with grace and brevity. That’s because my relationship to her work mirrors my relationship to the literary establishment as a whole. I first heard of her when I was a junior in high school, young poet full of promise and bereft of friends after the class of 1989 graduated and scattered off to college. A precocious freshman named Deborah, with reddish hair and presumptuous mannerisms, was shocked to learn I hadn’t already read and loved her work. What Deborah didn’t know (and neither did I) was that I’d been raised on the literary canon, comprised then as it is now almost exclusively of men. Five years later I wrote my senior thesis at Vassar on her work and the arc of her life. Seventeen years later, Margalit Fox‘s obituary said it better than I ever could.
All the carefully ordered placement of yesterday has been overlaid by a new layer of boxes, furniture, packing materials. And a layer of dust that traveled with M’s furniture from the old house to the new. Waking up this morning with ultimatums in my mind, afraid to come downstairs…
Dot dot dot. And here we are among our boxes and our stuff and our dust and our detritus and our dreams and fantasies and emotions and sometimes we sit and stare at one another with forlorn expressions, and sometimes one or the other of us is mad or frustrated, and often we stop to hug one another. And last night at ten-oh-something I said to M “come to bed” because I could see that his brain was beginning to wind down like a giant clockwork or a music box, just tut-tut-tut-ing. And he did, and I rubbed his front and I rubbed his arms and legs and back and he was happy and we fell asleep.
This morning, a burst of pure hatred for clutter and disorder drove me to start unpacking the china barrel I’d filled with his kitchen’s contents the day before. He wisely ran away for a little while. I have boxes and boxes of books and papers and I don’t feel like resigning them to the great ash-heap of history. Already there’s so much I have given up and let go of.
And God will come with her lion claws and split open the rest of my dragon skin and turn me back into a girl.
Solstice. The Longest Night. The shortest day. We wake at 6:00 a.m. or thereabouts, with the windows outside still black. Day dawns rainy, chilly, but not freezing cold; it’s in the 50s on the solstice. Still, we know that January and February — the real bitch-winter months — have yet to come.
I’m hurrying to get through these pages because M has already left and the movers are coming to his house at 9:00 a.m. They were late, so very, very late, when they came to my house on the 17th. Five hours late. By the time they were done unloading the truck, it was 10:00 p.m. And I tipped them anyway.
Stop for a moment and be still. Know that the Goddess is with me always, the door as close at my own heart. Invite Her to walk with me today, to travel with me.
And with the invitation comes gratitude for M, my life’s partner, my heart’s desire. The first man in this lifetime I’ve trusted enough to intertwine with like this. Gentle soul, sensitive and real — and still a man, unaware of his privilege and its effect on me, as unaware as I must have seemed to Quick, as a white woman partnered with a Puerto Rican.
Echoes of Quick, echoes of April, all the myriad mistakes I made in the past and learned from — and learned from. All the bumps and stumbles in the dark we made in our marriages, because lesbians have always known what the state denies: that marriage begins when you rent the U-Haul and put two sets of china in the same cabinet, not when you rent a church and put two sets of relatives in the same function hall.
All the bittersweet lessons I learned from my lovers, and all the savory friendships and sisterhoods I’ve been blessed with since.
Anaphase and I, two bright minds burning in the darkness. Lucy’s gentle soul, pregnant and fulfilled, endless source of love and compassion. Two things I’d never expected to have in this lifetime: straight women as my good, good friends.
The Goddess in all her guises, made manifest around me.
What joy and passion to be alive, in this place, at this time. Oh brave new world, that has such wonders in it!
Moving day. 8:30 a.m. and I have time enough for tea, time enough for love.
Sipping the tea from my to-go mug (all the china is packed). Laptop laboring away with its asthmatic fan. Surrounded by boxes, and still my house has its elements of humanity. The plants. The Chinese fan, the bodhran, and the calendar still hanging on the wall. Most of other the artwork bubble-wrapped and stacked.