Why growing up in church can kill your heart Part 2

I didn’t know there was a lesbian couple right in front of me keeping watch. The head of Christian Ed was a woman that had lived with the first head of Christian Ed, Henrietta Mears lived with Ethel Mae Baldwin until her death and then Ethel Mae took over and no one ever thought that they might be in a relationship but after Henrietta died, Ethel May moved in with Adrienne. Ethel Mae was evidently keeping watch over me and I think she knew pretty early on about me. She is the one that encouraged me to start camp counselling at Forest Home, the camp church had founded.

Year after year I did it, starting in 9th grade and until I started working full time at the YWCA camp. She always gave me the kids that were going to be a challenge in some way and one time I asked her why and she told me that because I had been the kid that was a challenge she knew I could handle them with love and I did. It wasn’t until I came out many years later and she was gone I realized just how close an eye she was keeping on me considering how big the Sunday School had grown but she did know my mom and dad.

The first year I came home from working at the YW camp I had changed. I had created different person to be. I was more out going, I knew what I liked and didn’t like and I had learned to stand up for myself. I wasn’t as shy and retreating. So I came back with the first inklings that I really, really didn’t fit. The only place I felt safe and where I felt holy and sacred was outside and church was feeling like a prison. And I was oblivious to men. When the married choir director hit on me someone else had to tell me and since he had known me since I was little and mom worked for him it was more than a little creepy. So I ignored it.

Working at a Girl Scout camp after 2 years at the YW camp, I was beginning to be sure I liked women but I would be in the closet for 4 more years. I went to women’s music concerts with my friends but until I fell hard in love couldn’t take the step. Meanwhile my parents were freaking out that Cam was gay and I was still invisible. Although mom did ask one of the ministers about lesbians and he told her there was no such thing. Right, his daughter was a dyke. At that point every single minister had a kid that was exploring gay behaviour in some way. All but one came out and stayed out.

But I was really struggling because church was making it clear gay people were evil even though I knew several men were in choir, I was the lone lesbian. I literally lay awake many nights knowing that if the people I had known all my life knew my heart some of them would hate me. I lived in fear that people would know by looking at me and it appeared some did when my brother finally asked if I was because the gay men in choir had been discussing me. This was not helped by a male friend in choir was making shy overtures to date me and I was trying to figure out ways to avoid it. I had no desire to hurt his feelings but the quiet ones always seemed to think I was date material. I prayed so hard to be straight, guess what? the Gods and Goddesses don’t care if you’re gay.

But I kind of wanted to be caught because I cut my hair off very short and only wore t shirts, jeans, boots and flannel shirts. But finally the fear and the stress got too much and I walked away from my church home. And the minute people found out why, my parents lost friends.Some people who had known me since birth decided Cam and I were evil and that my parents had raised us wrong. Church friends gave my mom books on how to straighten us out.

Mom tried to trick me into going to the church psychs by driving her to her alleged appt and she wanted me to go in with her and I told her I had a good book and I refused to get out of the car. So she went in and came back out again and we went home. Mom being a severe narcissist did not take my coming out well at all because it reflected back on her.

I did not see any of those people again for over 15 years at my dad’s funeral where my mom had the minister give an altar call because of me and the pagan friends that came to support me. I was so furious and none of them came to my brother’s funeral, they did come to mom’s and barely spoke to me.

So I lost the place where I did a lot of growing up, where I thought people loved me and found out I was mostly only loved if I didn’t step out of line. They should have known something was up when I was 9. The first time I went to church camp in the third grade we had to write down what we wanted to be when we grew up and they sealed it in an envelope. When we closed up my parent’s house when dad died, I found it in mom’s dresser. I had written in crayon, “I want to be a minister”. When I had said it at camp it was one of the few times in my life I was told that girls couldn’t do something.

Joke was on them. I’m a priestess of the Goddess and an Arch Druidess and I’m a dyke.

Note: the church I grew up has now voted to be part of the retrograde Presbyterians that want nothing to do with gays. You would think as many of us that grew up there would have changed a few minds but I guess not

A bar is not just a bar when it’s a gay bar

One of my straight friends on Facebook and I had a discussion yesterday. He  said he didn’t understand all the public rituals of grief that went on when a tragedy happened and he thought was all just for show and I had to disagree and I went to the vigil at City Hall to be with my brothers and sisters.

I can just about say with certainty that every single out gay person when they heard about Orlando said to themselves. “That could have been me”. Most straight people don’t really get the violence and hatred out gay people have experienced unless maybe they volunteer as escorts at abortion clinics. Gay people live with that threat all the time.

Women live in fear all the time anyway. We learn to fear men at an early age. Compound that as a lesbian and you really escalate the fear. Your inner voice cranks up. “Am I too butch? Am I safe? What is that guy looking at me for? Who is behind me? The street is dark, is there someone by my car?” As I came out of the bar or as in last night coming home from the vigil in my purple shirt and pride ring necklace? “Do they know I’m gay? Am I safe, Am I safe? Am I safe?”

We live with it every time we go out.

But there has always been one safe space. One my friend Marie Cartier did her PhD thesis on, the bar.

When I came out the local lesbian bar was the about the only place you could find your friends when it wasn’t camp season. We were there most weekends with our friends making sure we got there before 9 when they started charging the cover fee because we were all college students and poor.

I learned to dance in the bar, at least dance any other way but folk dancing at camp. I learned to flirt in a bar. I tried to learn to smoke and look cool but friends kept taking my Virginia Slims away because they said people with my babyface looked dumb smoking. I discovered after one night stand with really butch women were not my thing. (My only one night stand and as in Stone butch. {Joan, way butcher than you or Carol, LOL)) I lost a lover in one dance in the bar. For some reason I knew if Lynn danced with Chuck I had lost her and I did, sometimes it sucks to be an empath.

I learned there were Girl Scout dykes, and softball dykes. That there were granola dykes and Country Western dancing dykes. I learned who was butch and who was femme and who was androgenous. I learned dyke chic dressing. I learned I wanted to be the designated driver most nights. I learned about love in a safe space when there was nowhere else to go.

Much later they would found things like the Center here in LA. There would be GLSUs that when they started were GSUs because why would the boys want to include lesbians? We had to fight for that. There would be Gay bowling leagues and choirs. But in 1979, it was the bar or nothing. And the bar was the safe space. Yes, occasionally a straight man would come in and sit down and announce to all and sundry that all we needed was a “REAL MAN” and he quickly found out that was not a good idea in a bar full of dykes and the bouncers probably saved some men’s lives when they did that.  But inside it was our safe cocoon.

People went to that bar in Orlando to be themselves, to have a good time with their friends. They went to their holy place. They went to a place they assumed was inviolate. A gay bar is not just a bar even if you never drink anything but a coke, it’s holy and sacred and safe and now…every gay person is remembering all the unsafe places, and they are getting mad. And maybe just, maybe something will get done.

Saturday’s Faire was magical

Saturday at the Faire was wonderful. At our winter Faire I was sick and I was living with a diagnosis of advance ovarian cancer, supposedly Stage 3 or 4 and I hadn’t told anyone that it was that bad. I went through Faire wondering if it was my last time at Faire. I didn’t take as many pictures then as I usually do. I just wasn’t fully present and I was being pulled away.

Saturday was joyous. I have never been hugged and kissed by so many people. I’m firmly convinced these people saved my life by their loving wonderful energy. I% of the tumours like mine are advanced ovarian cancer but the doctors were wrong and I will take the 1% I was given with love gladly.

I took pictures which I will post some of soon. I even had my traditional photo battle with my friend Tony. We both do a lot of pagan events so we are always getting each other on film , He says I’m sneaky. I like to take candids and he likes to pose people. So we have a bit of fun, I smiled, I even danced a tiny bit. I hugged my friend, Ruth Barrett and was hugged and thanked in return for her support. I’ve known Ruth for 30 years. I started in the Dianic community and I will always have at least one foot there. What the pagan community is doing to her is wrong. And the majority should not rule in their bigotry to women who worship the Goddess and love other women.

For once I was not horribly nervous when I was reading. I did it from my new Kindle which was not cooperating about which stories it allowed me to access. I think the faeries had control. They kept bringing up the Littlest Druid story I posted yesterday. I just couldn’t read that. I was already in tears from thanking everyone for their energy so I could be well.

Faire is always between the worlds but Saturday it felt so obvious that it was a rare safe space to be pagan in public. Womenspirit Faire was magical.

Did I make a difference?

When I went back to college to get my degree from CSUN, I joined rap groups and other campus groups for lesbians on campus. I would be a member until I graduated in 1984. Somewhere along the line I came out to one of my recreation professors because of something he had said in class and since very few people were out in those days even in LA he asked me to give talks about being gay to his classes and I did several each semester.

The most fun ones were the ones I was actually in. He would announce that there was a guest speaker and I would stand up and the shock would reverberate around the room. Since my attire in those days was generally jeans, a tshirt and a flannel shirt, it shouldn’t have been a shock to them but it was, and then the fun would start.

I learned very quickly to set some ground rules for the Q&A. They were: don’t ask me anything you don’t want to answer yourself. This stopped the sex questions and the second was, no Bible thumping, mostly because once that started the person who wanted to do it stopped listening and nothing could be communicated after that started.

As I said yesterday, it lead to a lot of odd questions from odd people.  The guy who announced I had become a lesbian was one of the nut jobs. I can still see his face when I told him that he was awfully vain to think I lived my life in the eventuality that someday I might meet him. He really hated that he got laughed at for it and now the climate of crazy MRAs might have gotten me raped or worse but thankfully nothing happened.

There were always the football BMOC asshats who would announce to the whole class that all I needed was a good fuck and didn’t really have a comeback when I would answer “yes I had and it was from a woman thank you very much”.

I still remember being about to go into a class to speak when a really cute  dyke walked by and we both looked at each other and smiled and walked on. Gaydar at its finest. And one of the first questions I was asked was “is there such a thing as gaydar and how does one get it?” This person quite clearly indicated that they wanted to know so they could attack gay people or out them so I lied and said there was no such thing all the while smiling to myself about what had just happened out in the hall.

And then there were the two women that made all of the trouble and hate that I had sometimes faced doing it all worthwhile. Two women came up to me and stopped me outside one of my classes and thanked me for speaking afew weeks earlier in their class. They told me that I had given them the courage to come out and to be together. If no other thing came out of it, that made it all okay. I had gotten screamed at, told I was in league with Satan and a whole lot of other nastiness but that made it okay.

I sometimes wonder if those people listened and remembered if their kids came out to what I had said and if it helped them be kinder to their child or a friend or anyone else. I hope I made a difference but one never really knows, does one?

Yes, lesbians need lesbian only space

Someone asked me why lesbians would need lesbian only space after I reblogged something about it. The fact that someone would ask after reading the article is an indication of straight privilege. To me there are two indicators that privilege might be a problem, one would be that anyone has to ask why anyone would want to be with group of people like themselves when that group is in the minority and the other is, if you have to pass or can be assumed to be passing, you do not have privilege. Majority groups don’t ever have to think about having to pass or wear a mask or change their language when dealing with other members of a majority group.

Sometimes people assume you are part of the majority group because they assume all people are like them and why would someone not want to be part of their group? Surprise! We don’t. We have our own culture and our own traditions, most of which are invisible or at worst, nonsensical to the straight population.

Anyone who has been an out lesbian since the 70’s or 80’s here in LA remembers going to women’s music concerts as many times a year as you could afford to go. Why? because it was the only place you could go where you might see large groups of lesbians and sit for a few hours and not feel defensive or out of place. Bars only held a few women. Camps and softball or sports teams were usually mixed, but the concerts were heaven. We filled the Wiltern or the Wilshire Ebell theaters or Royce Hall at UCLA. Lesbian women dressed to the nines in their very best Dyke Chic.

We had the Dyke Picnic down at a park in Long Beach. Men would often stand outside and yell at us things like, “who’s the man?” and we would just laugh because as a large group we could. It was one of the only times we could laugh it off. In smaller groups it would have been dangerous.

We had the West Coast Music Festival every Labor day and it was the only time for some lesbians that they saw any lesbians at all. The years I attended there were more than 3,000 women there. We could relax, be ourselves, no one was going to call us lezzie on a street corner. We could buy women made things from other lesbian vendors. Early in the Dianic spirituality movement it was the only place you could get goddess themed clothing or jewelry. It was a huge thing to get to go up and we traveled in packs and so hard to come back down to the mundane world. It was diverse with women of all colours and sizes and shapes. Women with disabilities, clean and sober dykes. The Girl Scout camp lesbians who could put their camp up in the dark and not think about it rescued many a first timer from a tent with no  instructions. If you couldn’t afford to pay the entrance fee you could sign up to work, and everyone worked at least one shift anyway. It was part of the deal and it was instant community. We’ve all been socialized as women to help others and at Fest we got to be all facets of being a woman. Child caregiver, nurse, cook, capable carpenter,firefighter, security, camper, friend, lover, top or bottom, Priestess, music lover and performer, any skill a person could possess could be used without being allegedly tied to a gender. If something needed to be done and you could do it, you did it.

A person who isn’t a lesbian or a gay man will never understand the power and delight of “gaydar” or its function in the culture but it does exist and a lot of women might never have found each other without it.

Lesbian only space is necessary because sometimes you don’t want to have to use your “gaydar”. Sometimes you just want to be with women who walk like and look like you do. You want to not guard your speech from the hets and to speak freely and use the correct pronoun instead of skirting around the issue and having to use the word “they” instead of “she”.

I miss things like women’s concerts and the West Coast Women’s Music and Comedy Festival. I’m going to miss the possibility of attending Mich Fest. I miss being in the midst of women listening to Cris Williamson, ALix Dobkin, Meg Christian, Dierdre McCalla or Holly Near or any of the other beautiful women we would fall in and out of love with in the hours listening. Women whose music reflected our lives and loves and not having to change the pronouns in a love song to have it fit.

I miss being with women that never will define themselves by their relationship to a man. Women who are free. Women who stride the earth free of encumbrances like skirts and makeup unless they choose to but don’t have to do it. We don’t expect it. We can choose to do it and it becomes more like drag and for fun but not because it is necessary to our identity or what some guy expects us to look like.

I can usually tell a lesbian even in a dress by how she walks. There is a freedom there that other women do not have. Straight women tend to make themselves small and to try to take up as little space as possible. Lesbians don’t. Lesbians tend to look you right in the eye and rarely drop their gaze. Lesbians usually don’t defer to the men in the room or subconsciously fall in behind what some man has suggested. Men are unnecessary to lesbian culture and our world and that makes some men really hostile. Lesbians can be a challenge to some men’s need to be superior to women. And it can make some straight women feel uncomfortable about their life choices because we don’t choose to live our lives by society’s alleged norms. Sometimes it’s just a lot of work to reassure straight women that all paths are fine.

Now those spaces can be hard to find and lesbians get shamed for not wanting to share their space with non-women born women but we have a right to be with our own kind especially since there are so few of us compared to gay men or bisexuals. I don’t know a single other group that wouldn’t be allowed freedom to associate but that is what we are being told and that “Cotton Ceiling” crap is just that, crap.

So yes, sometimes need women born women only space.

Poetry month – Celibacy

Because of I’m being lazy again and because of something someone said to me about relationships on Saturday, I give you a song I wrote in 1984.  And no, I don’t feel like this at the moment and once when I sang it in concert at the Western States Gay and Lesbians United, I ended up in a 2 year relationship I had a really hard time escaping from. It was just something funny to me at the time. I did get a standing ovation though. 🙂

Celibacy, Celibacy,
Overrated Lunacy,
Celibacy, Celibacy,
Unwedded bliss is not for me.

Bars are not the place for me
I develop paralysis of mouth and knee
Yes, it’s possible to die of hesitancy
I guess the woman in my life is me.

Celibacy, Celibacy,
Just ain’t what it’s cracked up to be
Celibacy, Celibacy,
Maybe I need some vitamin E

In my brain there must be a vacancy
Was a nun what I was really meant to be?
But certain kinds of women really frighten me
Especially women built like Mr. “T”

Celibacy, Celibacy,
Complicated idiocy
Celibacy, Celibacy,
As opposed to plurality

I know this is not feminist liturgy
Or something covered with great militancy
But I’m getting tired of being correct politically
If the only woman in my life is me.

Celibacy, Celibacy,
Result of total abstinency
Celibacy, Celibacy,
Let’s hear it for cupidity

Now celibacy is fine for recovery
And independence was a great discovery
Am I depriving myself of intimacy?
If the only woman in my life is me?

Celibacy, Celibacy,
Wrecking with my destiny
Celibacy, Celibacy,
Acts of utter obstinancy

So this is a personal ad for me
I like music of the Scots and I hate TV
I like swinging in the park and mountains not the sea
But I don’t expect and answer…
Because the greatest chicken in my life, is me,

Celibacy, Celibacy,
The result of sheer complacency
Celibacy, Celibacy,
Will surely Be the end of me!

Mary Beth Robb copyright 1984