Nice piece from BBC Witness about the moment a group of lesbian activists stormed the Six O’Clock news to protest about Section 28.
I was eleven years’ old when this happened and I remember it vividly. I wasn’t the kind of kid who always knew they were gay, but the protest really affected me and stuck in my mind. On some level, I seemed to know that it mattered and it had something to do with me.
I’m constantly amazed by just how different the world has been for LGBTQ people who grew up in the UK after the repeal of Section 28.
At this point I would like to make a radical proposal: that we temporarily forget about who calls themselves a lesbian; why, or why not. Instead, I propose that we look into the emotional, psychological, economic, political, intellectual, artistic, sexual, daily and life long experiences of women who allowed or refused the embrace. The conversations that did happen and did not. The words permitted, and those uttered without permission. The invitations refused and accepted. The fears. The imaginations, erotic and projected. The walks in the woods, the fucking, the pleasure of the company acknowledged and refused. The meals, the conversation, how and what conversations provoked, the actions, the artworks, the articles, books, tears, orgasms realized/failed/imagined/remembered, caresses, tendernesses, the refusals of tenderness, kisses that were and should have been, and how this moved the earth, the culture, the society or even just one or two people’s small lives. I propose that we call this whatever we want to call it, but that we not let it fall by the wayside, because when those of us creating queer history and culture display a reluctance to go deeper and transcend the artifice of restrictive thinking, the mainstream representations are handed a convenient model of hesitant obscuration. Lesbians give each other meaning in private, and it is too easy to keep the secret. It doesn’t have to be clean, neat, safe, compartmentalized, or expected. Show it all and let the chips fall where they may.
Sarah Schulman, ‘Making Lesbian History Visible: A Proposal’ at Out History
In this new wondrous age with Supreme Court decisions affirming gay and lesbian marriages, and gender being redefined as nowhere near as rigid as it has previously been defined, I sometimes wonder if anyone knows what our lives were like at the time when I was a young woman, trying to figure out how to live my life honestly in the face of so much hatred and danger. Who are we if we cannot speak truthfully about our lives? How did we come to this new age in which we can take our lovers home or to church or walk hand in hand down the street without lies or pretense or a carefully crafted fictional stance to protect us?
Speaking truth to power was a tenet of the early women’s movement. We would change the world by the simple act of declaring our truth and refusing to back down or lie no matter how virulent the response.
How virulent was the response? Take a look at the coming-out stories shared in Crooked Letter i: Coming Out in the South (NewSouth Books). You will see the internal evolution of people who wanted simply to be themselves. It was not easy or simple or even a matter of confronting prejudice. Most of these people’s deepest struggles were with themselves, their families and their faith, their most personal convictions.
Confronting the enforced silence of manners and social expectations, we claimed our lives for ourselves. Was it heroic? Was it audacious, marvelous, scary and day by day painful? Of course. Did we change the world? Look around you and marvel.
Dorothy Allison, Gay and Grateful: On the Crooked Path to the Crooked Letter
There were moments, while I was reading this book, when involuntary exclamations would burst from me. “Argh!” I would cry, and my partner, who had already finished it, would look at me sympathetically and nod her head. Are You My Mother? came as something of a shock to my system, inducing far more powerful resonances with my relationship with my own mother than I expected to experience, and which I’ll be processing for some time to come.
This is Alison Bechdel’s second memoir; the first, Fun Home, took as its subject her relationship with her father who committed suicide when she was nineteen. Her mother is a shadowy figure in that book, but in Are You My Mother? she takes centre stage (I use the cliché consciously – Bechdel’s mother is an actress). One of the many things that impresses me about Are You My Mother? is just what a different book it is to Fun Home, in tone, style, structure and artwork. It is most definitely not Fun Home ‘part 2’, but it’s clear that Bechdel is not someone who ever takes the easy route, in her life or her art.
Throughout my life somebody has always tried to set the boundaries of who and what I will be allowed to be: if working class, an intellectual, upwardly mobile type who knows her place, or at least the virtues of gratitude; if a lesbian, an acceptable lesbian, not too forward about the details of her sexual practice; if a writer, a humble, consciously female one who understands her relationship to “real” writers and who is willing to listen to her editors. What is common to these boundary lines is that their most destructive power lies in what I can be persuaded to do to myself — the walls of fear, shame and guilt I can be encouraged to build in my mind […] I have learned through great sorrow that all systems of oppression feed on public silence and private terrorization. But few do so more forcefully than the systems of sexual oppression, and each of us is under enormous pressure to give in to their demands.
Dorothy Allison, ‘Public Silence, Private Terror, in Skin: Talking about Sex, Class and Literature, (New York: Firebrand Books, 1994), p. 117
Two or three things I know for sure, and one of them is that change when it comes cracks everything open (p. 48).
Dorothy Allison is a lifesaving writer who doesn’t get a lot of attention from mainstream feminism. Every time I read her work, I feel like she’s is reaching out to us in an authentic attempt to communicate something important about surviving in this world. In a world in which it can feel like there is little in the way of authentic, honest, communication, and in which so many interactions seem to be about what people can get out of each other, Allison’s writing is a great gift.