Tuesday, June 22, 2010
HERITAGE LGBT STYLE
I have just returned home from my first Pride event in two years. Heritage Night is special to me because it is the event that brought my activism back to life back in 2004. In most communities, it is a time to honor the elders who have blazed the path for those coming into their own in this day and time. It is usually a time to reflect on the collective community memory, while making sure the path is clear for all.
Before I go on, let me just say that the event planners were wonderful. They did a lot of hard work to make this community come together during Pride Week. I honor their efforts and extend my gratitude to them. All of them.
We were offered a film made locally by some young white folks for some young white folks. Inclusive - a word that those of us in the LGBT movement use frequently. We give lip service to the rainbow of variations that our lives represent. Race, class, sex, gender identity, differently able and numerous other descriptors come to mind as the un/spoken prize longed for by those of us who have tramped the roads of this struggle for many years. We hope. We do our best to be sure that the whole spectrum is represented in venues that serve to bind us together as a community. That not-so-simple deed cannot be done unless these words are spoken. We have to speak ourselves into being, not just in a dialogue (although those are absolutely necessary,) but as a chorus. Taking time for solos, duets, three-part harmonies, raunchy drinking rounds, quiet poetry – taking time to listen to all whose voices are offered to be heard. We cannot have a chorus of only tenors. While their music may be beautiful, it is not the depth and range that can be obtained when we combine our voices. We can expand, hoping to resonate with as many of our people as possible.
How can we do this? It starts with recognition by young and not-so-young newly-out folks who have lots of energy and want their voices to be heard, to tell of the oppression they have suffered, the indignities they have endured. I want them to sing out. I honor their stories. I want their unique journeys to be offered up on the altar of our collective consciousness and that of as many kindred souls who can hear.
For those who think I am on a pointless rant, let me explain. I sat through the film that told the story of some young LGBTIQ people who have experienced what it is to be an LGBTIQ youth in Knoxville, Tennessee. Unfortunately I cannot tell you very much about it. The film was not closed captioned. I am mostly deaf. The deaf call me hard of hearing. In any case, I could not understand a single word that was said. Those who know me well know this fires up my Leonine nature. I do understand that closed captioning is expensive. If only those who produced the film had taken a moment to acknowledge the lack of access for those of us who are hearing impaired, it would have been a bit easier to swallow. As it was, I felt ignored, minimized, excluded. Believe it or not, one never gets used to it.
All of the people in the film were young except the parent of one of the young persons. I wonder if this were the case due to grant parameters, or if they simply did not make the effort to reach out to the rest of the community and *ask* for participation. Maybe they did. If so, I missed it. The question of money brings us gracefully to the important issue of class and how it marginalizes people in this and every other community. So many times I have seen folks shunned, ignored, marginalized, sometimes deliberately, sometimes unwittingly.
I feel it necessary to say that I do not feel adequate to address the issues of racial divides in the LGBTIQ community. I know so little, only what I can observe. What I see are two completely separate communities, the boundaries of which are traversed only by a few individuals. Knowing that there are windows that appear from time to time that allow white folks to peek into a world that we cannot experience, but can only imagine. Seizing that opening should be a priority for our leaders. I admit to having failed to optimize my own efforts in this regard, but hope to pick up and run with this soon. I will try harder, make more room in my schedule and my heart to move forward with this to the best of my own abilities.
Then, of course, there is the issue of age. I guess old queers are just supposed to shut up and sit in the corner or better still simply dry up and blow away. I’ll be damned. Do I have to say over and over and over that the patriarchal death march that passes for mainstream culture is ga-ga- over youth? It is *everywhere*. Women are just supposed to die at age 30...40? I’m 58, and I’m still kicking. My soulheart physically hurts when I realize that the lesbian village, that can give wisdom and direction, has vanished into 90s air, leaving us at the dawn of the second decade of the century, plowing the same ground over and over and over.
Those who are close to our Mother may know of a phenomenon called hard-panning. This happens when the same ground is mechanically tilled season after season with no attempts to aerate or improve the soil. Over time the layer of earth that is just beneath the tines grows hard, especially in our clay soil. The end result is that nothing can grow in soil that has been treated this way. The analogy just seems so fitting. I applaud the efforts of the young people who produced the film tonight, but I could not shake the feeling that our collective memory has *never* taken root. We just keep plowing the same field over and over, wondering why nothing will grow.
A womon wrote in to the last issue of Lesbian Connection bemoaning the loss of lesbian feminist community. That resonated to my very bones. We are no longer supposed to want that. We are all under this fucking rainbow, and we are supposed to like it. Some of us like it some of the time. Few lesbians I have spoken with on this subject like the LGBT thing all the time. Even if it is a head space, we need wimmin’s space. We need to re/member the connections that can empower us and provide opportunities for intergenerational dialogue and understanding within the lesbian community. We cannot coalesce by cordoning ourselves off into ever dwindling splinter groups.
We need also, at this point in time in East Tennessee, to create bonds of friendship and commonality with gay, bisexual and transgender people. That can only come if we know who we are. One cannot offer an empty shell, a political-zombie, and expect productive community-building to occur. We need to flesh out who we are as people. We need a place to exchange ideas and aspirations without the encumbrances of alcohol in an environment that encourages participation. I have planted this seed in my own mind. I would now like to plant it in yours. By throwing the idea out there, perhaps we can come together and prosper.
Well, back to the Pride event.
When the belly dancer started, I left. I felt like a zebra in a herd of thoroughbreds. Swaying hips and dancing girls with all manner of scarves and teasing movements interpreted through the mind of another may be a wonderful experience. I can almost see the observation of belly dancing as entertainment – for men. I am not comfortable with that much sexuality in mixed company. Call me a prude. Call me jealous. Call me, please, a quasi-separatist. There are things that I can enjoy in mixed company. Belly dancing is not one of them. When performed for men’s enjoyment, it becomes distorted and creates an atmosphere in which I am very uncomfortable. The roots of this dance run deep, touching on the hot core of patriarchal machinations, oppression of wimmin and silencing of wimmin’s voices. The idea that it is done for exercise is just plain bullshit. I kept wondering where the pole was. Like I said, I had to leave.
I understand that the production of Pride events is a lot of work. I truly appreciate the effort that it takes to make this love offering to the community. I know because I have done it. I became so tired that I had to rest for a time in order to even feel that I could breathe at a Pride event again. From my friends I felt welcomed and valued. I love them with all my heart. I guess I’m just an old curmudgeon who re/members and longs for continuity in a community that at least wants to re/member, whether they can or not.