Lesbian Love and Sex in Afterglow

Afterglow: More stories of lesbian desire, sequel to Bushfire: Stories of lesbian desire, is a collection of seventeen stories edited by Karen Barber. The stories offer much diversity, covering love and sex that is long distance, unconventional, for pay, for life, or simply in the moment spontaneity. The stories take the reader all over the country, even as far as Hawaii, and span lifetimes, all the way from tales of teenage awakenings to end-of-life memories. While the stories do generally focus on sex and passion, the stories are about more than that. The stories express the search for lesbian community, history, and belonging. As works of fiction, the stories are real and raw, without relying on characters who are confused or ashamed of being lesbians.

The stories touch on these themes in many ways; where one story might only allude to something, another spans the gap. Starting in the first story in the collection, titled “What is the goal & how will we know when we get there?”, issues of belonging, closure, and certainty (or uncertainty) start to be asked and answered. In this particular story, conflict arises when two women’s life circumstances – living in different states, having families and jobs – generate doubt that any type of long-term relationship is possible, and the story ends with only a slight sense of closure. Two other stories, “Carol’s garden” and “Streak of blue” deal with uncertainty, but here they end in comfort and possibility. All three of these stories represent the struggles of life, and it is important that they come from different angles. Variety is abundant in this collection, and many sides of lesbian existence are shown, even ones that are rarely acknowledged such as prostitution and female masturbation.

Surprisingly, history and legend also factor into a number of stories. The search for history is most notable in “Gardenias,” in which two young lesbians vacationing in Hawaii discover, with the help of an old lady named Eva, the belongings of a performer known as the great Wah Ta Ta. The great Wah Ta Ta was a remarkable woman who, as legend goes, was able to suck whole beer bottles into her vagina. Eva shows the two women some of the items she performed with, such as the emperor’s teacup and ivory and leather dildos. The two women end up using some of her items to have sex while Eva watches from afar. This account is reminiscent of Cheryl Dunye’s quest to find the Watermelon Woman since most of Dunye’s research is gathered from talking to other women and by finding historical artifacts. In both cases, fact and fiction are likely mixed, but the importance of the Watermelon Woman and the great Wah Ta Ta rests on the search for history and identity rather than truth. History and the handing down of knowledge is also important in another story, aptly named “Cunt cult.” Here, a community of lesbians exist to pass their knowledge of love-making down to younger lesbians. Initiation into the cunt cult community means acceptance into the community, but members are expected to spread knowledge rather than keep it amongst themselves.

Of course, “Cunt cult” isn’t the only story centered on sex; to some extent, all of these stories are. Despite this, even the smuttiest ones serve a purpose. None of them feel like filler stories, even though many are very pornograpic. This does not mean that they lack substance; in fact, the focus on pleasure is important because it is a portrayal of lesbian pleasure authored by lesbians for lesbians. “Siesta” and “Telefon” are two good examples of how pleasure is used not only to satisfy the reader but also to emphasize the joys of giving and receiving pleasure. “Siesta” is perhaps the closest to “classic” porn on levels of fantasy and submissiveness, but the narrator is still able to assert the importance of her own pleasure. On the other side, “Telefon” is about the joy of giving rather than receiving pleasure. Additionally, three stories in this collection are stories of sex on the job, titled “Cinema scope,” “Filth,” and “A working dyke’s dream.”

This emphasis on pleasure becomes an emphasis on sharing throughout the entire collection, whether it’s sharing of sex, love, knowledge, history, community, or a sense of belonging. So instead of watching the newest lesbian tragedy on Netflix, check out these and other stories in Afterglow, written by lesbians for lesbians.

Korea Queer Culture Festival

Korea Queer culture festival is the largest queer cultural festival in Korean and second largest in Asia. It first took place in the year 2000 and usually happens in late May to early June annually for about 15 days. Different year the event takes place at different locations throughout South Korea. Korea is a conservative country and many people see homosexuality as a foreign phenomenon. Homosexuality remains largely taboo in South Korean society and same-sex people are seldom seen in public. LGBT people in South Korea face discrimination that heterosexual people do not. However, unlike many similar events photography is limited in this event. This is done to minimize public exposure of LGBT people to avoid discrimination.

Even though there is no law against homosexuality in Korean history, homosexual couples and households are not entitled any legal protection from the government, unlike heterosexual people. Transgender people are allowed to have surgery to reassign their gender after age 20. People in dominantly religious country are more likely to reject the idea of homosexuality according to the Pew Research Center survey published in Washington Post. According to the survey 18% people in South Korea support homosexuality only. Homosexual people are often stigmatized and sometimes not classified as humans, as the country remains largely conservative on matters of sexuality. Political parties and most elected politicians of South Korea tend to avoid addressing LGBT rights issues except the Democratic Labor Party. The Democratic Party is the third largest political party and has a political panel known as ‘Sexual Minorities Committee.’ Their agenda includes discrimination against homosexual people and discrimination based on sexual preferences and equal rights for sexual minorities. I chose this event for my post because it shows even though Korea is a developed country but still the way people thinks is greatly influenced by religion and political influence. It relates to our class discussion of how politics and religion shapes a person’s view and on a much border scale a nation’s view. Military service is mandatory for all men Koreans. Active homosexual military members are categorized as ‘personality disorder’ or ‘behavior disability’ and honorably discharged. Korean Queer Culture festival receives no support from the government except the Democratic Labor Party.

The festival normally begins with opening events followed by a parade and after-party at club Pulse in Seoul’s Itaewon neighborhood, although celebrations continue in all LGBTQ clubs across the city People attending the event wear mask to avoid recognition on a website or newspaper for fear of reprisal by family, friends or co-workers. Demonstrators continue to disrupt the annual gay pride of South Korea where all gay and transgender Koreans meet together for a series of events and parades, recognized internationally as a gay pride month. The number of participants attending the event increased over time-but the increased visibility of LGBT supporters has also meant that the number of protestors also increased. Christian groups ran a campaign for weeks to try to block the parade. In May 2015, they camped out for weeks in front of the police station where parade organizers had to apply for permit and filed a counter request to hold the parade. Police initially ruled in favor of the anti-LGBT response committee, however a court ruled on June 2015 that the parade had to be allowed. The parade was banned in 2015 and this has attracted international attention to the event. This progressed LGBT rights in South Korea. Photography was banned in this event until 2010. The organizers issued no photography stickers, ribbons and bands. People who will allow photography will have to register or else faces will be blurred before publishing online.

senhanced-9237-1435489058-1Parade

Largest counter-protests was organized by merging some of Korea’s largest Christian Church associations together as anti-LGBT response committee. The committee held a worship service across the street from the gay pride event and the committee was blasting sermons, hymns and prayers loudly enough to overwhelm the sound system of the event. Protestors held sign on their laps which says, “We pray for Korea not to be diseased/sick with homosexuality.” Girls performed ballet which resembles God’s angel and purity and to show what real beauty looks like. Some protestors laid down on the street to block the parade. But they were immediately removed and the parade went off without any major incidents.

korea-queerPictured, a demonstrator protested the 2014 Korea Queer Festival by holding a sign to obscure the view of the performance behind him

General awareness of homosexuality remains low among people in Korea because people are afraid if they come out, they will be face difficulty both in work place and among families. However there is increased awareness of homosexuality and gay-themed entertainment in the media can be seen now. According to a number of advocates for sexual minorities, two major issues are holding LGBT human rights- lack of awareness in society and strong opposition from the Christian Church.

Tipping the Velvet: The Lesbian Underground

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Tipping the Velvet is a historical fiction novel written by Sarah Waters, and published in 1998. I chose to review the three-episode film adaptation released in 2002.

The story takes place in Victorian England during the 1890s and follows the life of Nan Astley as she starts to recognize her sexuality. She falls madly in love with a woman named Kitty Butler who poses as a man in theatre. They develop a close and fun love that goes sour. Nan is shattered, leaves their apartment and tries to make a life of her own. She encounters numerous situations that leave her worse off than the last (there is not much a woman in the 1890’s can do as an independent) until she has nothing left to sustain her – injured, homeless, and hungry. She finds a woman from two years prior that she was developing feelings for, asks to stay with her, and they fall in love.

I chose to add this to the archive because throughout Nan’s entire experience, not much judgment is placed on her. There are few short scenes which do serve to show the overall intolerance of female-female sexual relations of that era. She was completely rejected by her sister after revealing her love for Kitty Butler. A prominent man in Kitty’s life dismissed the idea that women could have real sex together, saying, “You need a man for that, I think you’ll find.” highlighting the idea that penile-vaginal intercourse is the only proper, and legitimate, act of sexual behavior. In another scene, a few drunken men in an alley tried to attack Nan and her girlfriend after Nan stood up to their crude remarks.

It’s important to highlight, however; that while the story in Tipping the Velvet is a created history, Nan found social environments that supported her own identity. She frequented spaces that were comprised of women dressed like men and accompanied by their “wives.” She was in a relationship (though abusive) with a woman that heavily centered her life around this social environment.
I draw a relation between the underground scene in Tipping the Velvet to that of the gay world mentioned in George Chauncey’s introduction to Gay New York. Though same sex sexual relationships were heavily frowned upon, individuals who identified with those interests were able to create a thriving counterculture that suited their needs of expression, search for partners, and validation. They weren’t forced into feeling that they must completely shut themselves away in isolation because of the harsh judgments and regulations of the dominant culture – one of the three “myths” Chauncey introduces in his text.

(skip to 7:30 to see an example of social gatherings of the quest community, and to avoid spoilers)

Nan extensively challenged societal norms. She regularly passed as a man in her day-to-day life, or went on as a woman whenever she felt. While this idea ties into the concepts of gender (as we interpret it today), many people of the time would have labeled such a person an invert.  There are several mentions of the unnaturalness of the lives of women who love women. I think that the reverse gender presentation of many of the characters in the show highlight the idea that crossing gender boundaries is wrong, and contribute to thinking homosexual activity to be unnatural. Choosing to adorn oneself in men’s attire transgressed cultural expectations of females, and this sort of behavior was typical among the female homosexual community in Tipping the Velvet. Sigmund Freud (while his work appears later than the time of this story) considered inversion to be a deviation, but not innate – so essentially unnatural, and this show presents that idea.
The TV adaptation of Tipping the Velvet is a drama, based off of historical fiction, and produces a story of some seemingly unrealistic encounters. Yet, it offers a representation of the resilience of the female homosexual community, much like what is offered in George Chauncey’s true historical analysis of the gay male world in New York. Tipping the Velvet serves to create a history where one is lacking, and offers representation of a historical community to those that need one – the lesbian world.

Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology

In the published 1988 book the Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology coordinating editor Will Roscoe puts together a collection of modern writings from gay and lesbian Native Americans – poetry, short stories, essays – and historical studies of alternate sexuality in some of the tribes. A time when gays and lesbians were starting to be heard and experimented with their own sexuality and identity. This book begins with this empowering quote I found mesmerizing:

The day I saw a poster declaring the existence of an organization of Gay American Indians, I put my face into my hands and sobbed with relief. A huge burden, the burden of isolation and of being defined only by one’s enemies, left me on that enlightening day.
I understood that being Gay is a universal quality , like cooking, like decorating the body, like singing, like predicting the weather. Moreover, after learning about the social positions and special offices fulfilled by Indians whose tribes once picked them for the tasks of naming, healing, prediction, leadership, and teaching precisely because the displayed characteristics we call gay, I knew that Gayness goes far beyond simple sexual/emotional activity. What Americans call Gayness not only has distinct cultural characteristics, its participants have long held positions of social power in history and ritual among people all over the globe
.”- Judy Grahn,

Another Mother Tongue

In the second story “Tinselled Bucks: a Historical Study of Indian Homosexuality” by Maurice Kenny discusses the problems of lack of sources for original material, as well as deliberates between the berdaches – men who lived as women and women who lived as men – and men and women living their gender roles who preferred to be sexually and emotionally involved with others of their gender and gender roles. He discusses the different terms and customs of berdaches in various tribes, as well as the levels of importance that many berdaches held in certain cultures, where they were often respected as people of great magic.

Toleration of the berdache varied from tribe to tribe. Some tribes, such as the Illinois, actually trained young men to become homosexuals and concubines of men. The Cheyenne and the Sioux of the plains may not have purposely trained young men to become berdaches but certainly accepted homosexuals more readily than perhaps other tribes(Maurice Kenny, page 26).

This type of behavior also relates to our class discussion on Ancient Greece, and their pederasty affiliations. Relations in ancient Greece was between adult men and pubescent or adolescent boys, as well as homosexual relationships between adult men did existed. The age limit for the younger member of a pederastic relationship seems to have extended from 12 to about 17 years of age. This was a normal practice among men and was not frowned upon by anyone. In particular the Zuni tribe children were not referred to as girl or boy until around the age of five, before coming of that age, they were perceived as “child”. But as these young children began to grow older a “third gender” would soon be created as adolescents. The 130 North American Indians created a third gender defining as:

“If a cultures sex/gender system makes it possible for a biological female to become a social man, then “he” is not engaging in “cross dressing” when dressing as a male, or in “ross gender” behavior by assuming the culturally defined male role. Neither is “he” engaging in lesbian behavior by having sexual relations with women. Because he is a socially recognized man, such relations would be defined as “normal”(Anishnawbe, page 35).

(page 200)

As I read this poem by Anishnawbe, I felt his pain as a two spirit being afraid to embrace himself, this picture is so beautifully drawn and resembles a perfect unity in one person.

To reiterate discussion on Sigmund Freud, I would put the “two spirits” under the category of “superego”. Not only did these Native American tribes believe the two spirits had a duty to the village, but opened up a new civilization where they were welcomed and praised by past and future generations to come. I chose to write about this topic for the main fact that not much primary source material has been found nor discussed at larger scale even though it is incorporated in the LGBTQ scale. It is important in the Native American culture and should continue to be known In our Americanized culture today. It paved the way for gender identity, reforming outlooks on past history, and acceptance of the “third gender”. It belongs in queer culture as an inspirational embodiment to not only for the organization GAI (Gay American Indians) today, but to people of all ages and races nationwide.

We All Need A Normal Heart

The Normal Heart Front Cover

The 2014 film The Normal Heart, written by Larry Kramer, is a recreation of Kramer’s 1985 play The Normal Heart. With a star filled cast, The Normal Heart is a beautiful drama that shows the unfortunate troubles of gay men at the start of and through the rise of the AIDS epidemic. Although this film existed in play form first, it was recreated as a way to reach a larger audience and show how seriously terrifying and mysterious the AIDS epidemic was for those living through it.

The Normal Heart starts off by showing the sexual liberty gays have recently acquired along with the happiness from their freedom. But the film quickly changes tone once gays realize they are being diagnosed with a rare and nebulous homosexual cancer. Once the main character, Ned—an openly gay writer, has a friend who becomes infected with this gay cancer, they start to seek out help. At this point, they go to Dr. Emma Brookner who is the one of the only doctors willing to work with patients infected with this mysterious disease. Dr. Brookner is looking for someone to be a leader and share her information with gay men; she finds Ned to be that man. At a meeting with Dr. Brookner, Ned, and many other gay men, Dr. Brookner shares her research and information with these men about how she thinks the cancer is sexually transmitted, and that the men should “cool it” because there is a high chance they will infect each other and die. The sexually liberated men scoff at her, but Ned knows how serious this disease is and decides to start an organization to get help and raise awareness for the disease. The rest of the film focuses on the development the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) organization intermixed with the personal struggles the gay men are facing at this time. The GMHC becomes one of the leading fighters to get support politically, publicly, and medically to combat the gay disease.

The film does not strictly focus on the disease, but also how this disease affects the personal lives of the gay men at the time. As if gay men weren’t already misunderstood enough, the gay cancer (which we now know is AIDS) adds another level of the struggles gay men face. The film depicts how gays during this time receive little to no help from anyone apart from other gays, how they become more feared than ever due to the rise of this mysterious cancer, how being gay is still full of doubt, fear, and confusion in addition to this crisis, and how it still is not safe nor secure to be openly gay to the public.

Although this film is largely about the AIDS epidemic, it still showcases many things presented in our sexuality unit. One specific aspect from our unit that The Normal Heart focuses on is Ned’s sexuality, his understanding of it, and his relationship with his family because of it. Until the latter half of Ned’s life, he always believed his sexuality was wrong; he had been told a plethora of times that he could change his ways, become straight, and finally be normal. This is very similarly to our reading of Merle Miller’s “What It Means To Be a Homosexual,” where he says,

I have spent several thousand dollars and several thousand hours with various practitioners, and while they have often been helpful in leading me to an understanding of how I got to be the way I am, none of them has ever had any feasible, to me feasible, suggestion as to how I could be any different.

In both cases, we see that these gay men realized that no amount of therapy can change who they are; although it may be a more stressful life, they know who they are, what they are, and nothing is going to change that. In fact, we even see that after this epiphany, both individuals become happier and more at peace with themselves.

We also get to see how gayness crosses over to family life with Ned and his brother, Ben. Ben is a lawyer at a very successful law firm and Ned is seeking his assistance for the GMHC. Ned believes that the support of not just his straight brother, but Ben’s straight company will drastically help their movement. On the other hand, Ben thinks that the “straightness” of him and his company will not make a difference. It is at this point that Ned realizes his brother still doesn’t see him as a healthy equal, that Ben still thinks he is “sick,” and that his brother still doesn’t understand him, even though he accepts him; this is exactly the struggle Martha Shelley describes in “Gay is Good.” Here, Shelley explains that she is sick of liberals saying that it doesn’t matter who sleeps with whom, but what one does outside of bed; to her, this isn’t good enough anymore. She states,

[w]e want something more now, something more than the tolerance you never gave us. But to understand that, you must understand who we are. . . I will tell you what we want, we radical homosexuals: not for you to tolerate us, or to accept us, but to understand us.

In the heat of Ned and Ben’s argument, we hear a very similar frustration expressed by Ned towards Ben’s understanding and acceptance of Ned. Ben tolerates and accepts Ned, but he doesn’t truly understand Ned which, as Shelley agrees, is not good enough for Ned.

In yet another example from the film that connects to our unit, we see that to many in the straight world, one’s sexuality is extremely important and can influence someone’s opinions or actions towards a homosexual. During this time, Ned is one of the few open, politically active gay men; many of the other GMHC are closeted out of fear of having their lives ruined from the rest of the world not accepting them. Even the mayor and his assistant are gay, but they neglect the epidemic due to the potential of them being outed even though they are struggling through the epidemic themselves. As we saw from Joseph Epstein, he stated in “Homo/Hetero: The Struggle for Sexual Identity” that,

[f]or this reason, and from an absolutely personal point of view, I consider it important [to] know whether a man I am dealing with is a homosexual or [not].

In a scene in the hospital at which Dr. Brookner works, we see this exemplified when a maintenance worker won’t go into the gay-related immune deficiency (GRID) section of the hospital to fix a TV because his union says he “doesn’t have to risk his life over some contagious fairy.” Another situation like this occurs when two gay men, one of them severely sick with the disease, are asked to leave a plane they are on because the pilot will not fly while they are still on the plane. These scenarios truly demonstrate the struggles gay men faced during this time period.

The Normal Heart is quite an outstanding film that explains a difficult period for gay men. The story encapsulates many of the struggles gay men have faced to get to the point they are today in a powerful story that can open the eyes to many who do not know about or who who do not understand the struggles gay men have gone through. Because of its excellent depiction, I highly recommend this film and believe it rightly deserves its place in this archive.

To get a glimpse of the film, here is the trailer:

LGBTQ Nerds

Live Long and Prosper My Nerdy Friends!!!

Keeping with the Star Trek Theme, Let’s take about George Takei and nerd culture in the LGBTQ community.

George Takei is an American actor who is best known for his role in Star Trek. George Takei officially came out in 2005 but announced that he had been in a committed relationship with his partner for 18 years. Now that Takei has come out, he has been a huge equal rights activist. I wanted to talk a little about nerd culture and I think George Takei is a very good mix of the two. He is best known for his role on Star Trek and he is looked up to by many.

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Takei was first cast in 1950, a time when asian and gay actors were not given very many roles, but it wasn’t until 1965 that he was cast into Star Trek as Lt. Sulu. This role threw him into the spotlight. After years on comic cons, Takei gained a prominent social media following. He now has eight million followers on facebook and spreads his LGBTQ activism. He is even more of an LGBTQ icon because of his age. Takei just turned 78 a few weeks ago. This coupled the struggle he faced with coming out, makes him an important part of the LGBTQ nerd community.

On Proposition 8 and the election of Barack Obama, Takei made a very powerful statement:

“Last night, I was filled with pride to be an American. It was an exhilarating night of celebration. Barack Obama’s victory was a miraculous moment in our history. It was a night of joy, yet, President-elect Obama reminded us of the long road, the steep road, that lies ahead for us as a nation. And indeed, as a Californian, I was profoundly mindful of the challenges ahead. The discriminatory Proposition 8 on the California ballot was winning. Our fight for marriage equality was going down to defeat. It was astounding to think that the hard won equality that made my recent marriage to Brad Altman would no longer be possible for others. The evening became bitter-sweet.”It is now Wednesday morning – the day after the election. The words from Barack Obama’s victory speech still resonates in my mind. What an amazing night it was – the culmination of a turbulent struggle against a disgraceful history of slavery, prejudice and racial conflict. The road ahead is long, the road will be steep, he said. Our struggles for equality for another minority, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender, will be no different. There will be setbacks, disappointments and sacrifices to be made. Barack Obama spoke of the “renewed promise” of America. It happened last night with the presidency. And equality and justice will happen for us as well. We will make it happen. Yes we can.–George Takei, November 5, 2008

 

As the social media fame continues, I hope Takei can keep being an inspiration to other LGBTQ community members who share his struggles. One of the concepts that we discussed in class is the correlation between the arts and queer individuals. Many members of our class talked about how they found something special in the art that they didn’t else where. I’m sure the experience is different for everyone, and I’m sure Takei has felt something similar.

Nerd culture, especially in the past, has been very male dominated. Movies like “Fan Boys” emphasis this domination and create a homophobic atmosphere by using words like “gay” and “queer” as derogatory terms. This is why, at least in my opinion, there have not been many openly queer nerd icons until recently. Jim Parsons, from the Big Bang Theory, Misha Collins, from Supernatural and Zachary Quinto, from the recent Star Trek, are other queer actors in the nerd realm. Hopefully more individuals can take lessons from Takei or and other queer actors and learn to be who they are.

The Price of Salt

Patricia Highsmith published The Price of Salt (or Carol) in 1952 during a period of popularity for lesbian pulp fiction novels. Because the characters were lesbians and the plots followed love connections between women, it was most common for the story to end with one of the women committing suicide, being murdered, or going insane. During this time in history homosexuality was not accepted, so the unfortunate endings seemed to be the only option for lesbian fiction. Patricia Highsmith changed that patterned with The Price of Salt. Because this novel pushed the boundaries of lesbian fiction, Patricia Highsmith used a pseudonym when the novel was first published. The Price of Salt was one of the first lesbian pulp fiction novels that depicted lesbians in a positive new light and gave them the opportunity for a happy ending.

The novel opens with Therese working seasonally at Frankenberg’s, a department store in Manhattan. Therese is a young struggling artist trying to make it in New York (sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it?). She is juggling her job, set designing, and her boyfriend, Richard, when she meets Carol at Frankenberg’s. Carol is an elegant, classy married woman who catches Therese’s attention the second she steps onto Therese’s vision. Therese cannot get Carol out of her mind, so she sends her a Christmas card without knowing what to expect in return. Carol finds the card endearing and decides to meet with Therese. The two women spend the next few weeks spending time together and getting to know one another. As Therese becomes closer with Carol, she loses interest in her relationship with Richard, and he struggles with the growing bond between Therese and Carol, eventually ending the relationship. When Therese visits Carol’s home she learns that Carol is going through a terrible divorce and custody battle. As Carol waits for her dates in court, she decides to take a road trip and asks Therese to go with her. They head west, away from the drama that they have been facing at home. It is not until they get to Chicago when their relationship goes to the next level and they spend their first night together, as lovers. As their blissful travels continue, Carol’s best friend (and former lover) calls to inform Carol that her husband hired a detective to follow Carol and Therese on their trip. The mood of the novel immediately shifts to panic and the women’s paranoia is translated through the pages. Therese and Carol cannot lose the detective, so Carol decides to return home to face her divorce and custody battle. While Therese waits patiently for Carol’s return, she receives a letter from Carol informing her that she has lost custody of her daughter due to her relationships with Abby and Therese. In order to see her daughter, Carol must not see Therese anymore. The tragic news sends Therese on an emotional downward spiral and eventually, she heads back to New York. The lovers decide to meet one last time. When Carol invites Therese to move in with her, Therese refuses only to realize hours later that she cannot picture living her life with anyone but Carol. The anticipation of a happy ending builds through the last few pages ending with Therese walking towards Carol with an open heart ready for a new beginning.

The main conflict of the novel, Carol’s custody battle, shows the harsh stigmas that were placed upon homosexuals at the time, the stigmas that may have caused Patricia Highsmith to use a pseudonym. The only factor that played into the court’s decision in Carol’s custody battle was her sexuality. She was forced to choose between her daughter and her lover. Her husband’s violation of privacy and spying proved to the court that Carol was a lesbian, and therefore an unfit mother. During this time period, if one parent was queer, custody was automatically given the to straight parent, regardless of parenting capability or attentiveness to the child. Carol’s pain was felt by many at the time.

Today, courts are not allowed to make custody decisions based on a parent’s sexual orientation. Rightfully, courts are making decisions based on what is best for the child. Feminist advocates helped make this change in our judicial system. These decisions that directly affect people’s lives should not be based on bias like they have in the past. Since The Price of Salt was written, the familial structure has reformed to incorporate the diversity of people. Marriage equality, adoption rights, and custody battles are evolving. This shift in “where to draw the line,” as Gayle Rubin says, is part of the reason these situations are changing. The idea that lesbians were not fit mothers has crossed the line and is now on the side along with all other acceptable things. Non-normative family structures are becoming common and accepted; therefore, if Carol was going through her custody battle today, it probably would have had a different outcome.

The Price of Salt is a beautifully written novel that explores sexuality and makes readers think about the evolution that has occurred since the novel was written. Catch it in theaters starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara soon!

Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin

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Bayard Rustin’s role in the Civil Right Movement has often been overlooked. Rustin remained mostly in the background of the movement, solely an adviser to others, such as Martin Luther King Jr. The PBS documentary Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin delves into Rustin’s experience as a Civil Rights activist and how that was affected by his outward homosexuality.

In 1942, Rustin was on a bus going from Louisville to Nashville when he was asked by drivers to move from his seat in the second row to the back of the bus. Rustin refused, and the police intervened, beating and arresting Rustin for refusing to move his seat.38045_enlarge

Rustin was famously an advocate for nonviolence. “The man who believes in nonviolence is prepared to be harmed; to be crushed. But he will never crush others,” Rustin said. When Rustin became an adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. and gave advice on how to run a nonviolent campaign, he noted that King was young and inexperienced in such a feat.

In 1953, Rustin was arrested on a morals charge for publicly engaging in homosexual activity. He went to jail for 60 days and was referred to as a pervert. However, he continued to live his life as an openly gay man regardless.

Davis Platt, Rustin’s first major partner at the beginning of his career, recalled the difficulties of keeping in touch while Rustin was in jail.

“We were determined to stay in touch with each other. There’s no question that I saw him as my lover and he saw me as his lover. It was clear that our letters could not explain clearly what we felt, so we developed a code. I would write about myself as a woman,” Platt said.

Platt, along with many others, always admired Rustin’s upbeat and brilliant personality. Platt described him as having “an intelligence, such a love of life, such a sense of humor, really a lot of wisdom. And he had absolutely no shame about being gay.” However, Platt noted that when they lived together and walked down the street, although they never met any hostility, everyone would stare.

Rustin went on to work for A.J. Muste, an activist in the Civil Rights Movement and anti-war movement. Muste served as a mentor to Rustin, and Rustin claimed that he never made a difficult decision without speaking with Muste about it first. Eventually, Muste voiced his opposition against the fact that Rusin was gay. He put pressure on Rustin to give up his homosexuality, seeing it as a threat to his effectiveness. He tried to break up Rustin and Platt, and pushed Rustin to deny all aspects of his homosexuality.

Rustin was sent to a therapist in hopes of better understanding being homosexual. He was frustrated by the fact that society couldn’t deal with it. The therapist advised him to quiet down about his homosexuality because it was obviously upsetting others and wasn’t a central part of the work he was doing.

As Rustin’s work with Dr. King furthered, he continued to run into obstacles regarding his sexuality. “Adam Clayton Powell didn’t want blacks picketing the democratic convention,” Rustin said. “He want so far as to warn King that if King did not withdraw his support from that demonstration, he would go to the press and say there was a sexual affair going on between me and King. Martin was so terrified by this threat that he decided he would get rid of me.”

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Despite the fact that so many were against Rustin being gay, his path on the Civil Rights journey hardly faltered. The need for a mass gathering in Washington began to emerge, and A. Phillip Randolph, whom Rustin had previously worked with, advocated Rustin as the local choice to organize it. Rustin was a critical contributor in the organization of the March on Washington, and after the March’s success, appeared on the cover of Life magazine alongside Randolph as the leaders of the March.

 “I don’t think without Bayard Rustin the modern civil rights movement would have won half of the victories that it won.”

Rustin’s courage and success as a person rests hugely on the fact that he encountered endless criticisms about his sexuality, yet for years he wore it proudly on his sleeve, and endorsed it brazenly as part of who he was. He lived during a time where he not only had to contest racism, but homophobia as well. Rustin countered both of those disparagements with an undying determination to make America a better country by instilling equality in its citizens. He stood firmly by his beliefs and made historic accomplishments as a result.

Rustin began dating partner Walter Naegle in 1977. The two were together ten years before Rustin passed away in 1987 due to a perforated appendix. Naegle explained: “In the last years of his life he was really returning to where he had started: the belief that we are all members of one human family.”

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“Twenty five, thirty years ago, the barometer of human rights in the United States were black people. That is no longer true. The barometer for judging the character of people in regard to human rights is now those who consider themselves gay, homosexual, lesbian. We are all one. And if we don’t know it, we will learn it the hard way.”   

Stone Butch Blues

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In March of 1993, transgender activist Leslie Feinberg published a coming of age novel titled Stone Butch Blues. It is the fictional story of a young woman named Jess Goldberg and the many problems she faces growing up as a butch in the late1960’s.

The entirety of the novel revolves around the butch-femme subculture. In short, butch and femme are terms used to describe individual gender identities within the lesbian, gay, transgender and cross-dressing culture. Butch refers to a woman with very masculine traits and behaviors while femme refers to a person (usually a female) with overly feminine characteristics. It has been argued that this concept is solely a lesbian dyadic system where one cannot exist without the other and ultimately gave lesbians a clear way to identify. In fact, many gay women in the mid- 20th century, identified as butch or femme instead of identifying as gay, or homosexual. This seems to be the case not only in the novel but for the 20th century as well.

Within the lesbian bar culture for the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s butch-femme was the norm while butch-butch and femme-femme relationships were not. This was very true for the novel as well. Jess from the beginning of the novel allows the reader to dive into her relationship issues with femmes and the many mentors she had (usually older butches) to teach her what was and was not acceptable in these relationships. It was also very common back then for lesbians to feel like role distinctions needed to be sharply drawn because not being one or the other meant strong disapproval from both sides. Deviance from these identities were stigmatized.

Today many young people would argue that the classification of butch and femme are inadequate ways of describing an individual. Now a days, gender fluidity has become much more acceptable. In other words, the modern day gay community recognizes that labels, like such, are limiting in themselves. If people do chose to identify as butch or femme they often say the label is more of a representation of their gender identity rather than the role they play in a relationship. This notion has made way for the acceptance of butch-butch and femme-femme relationships. So it is safe to say that these labels and their meanings, as well as restrictions, have evolved over time.

Likewise, the violence towards these people who identify as butch or femme has changed. At its core, Jess’ character is greatly shaped by the experiences of violence hence the term ‘Stone Butch’. Many lesbians in the mid-20th century who identified as butch acquired a personality  that yearned for love but at the same time did not want to be touched. In the novel Jess is raped, beaten up by cops, set up to be injured and spoken to by doctors like she was something other than human.

“About an hour later the cops brought Mona back. My heart broke when I saw her. Two cops were dragging her; she could barely stand. Her hair was wet and stuck to her face. Her makeup was smeared. There was blood running down the back of her seamless stockings. They threw her in the cell next to mine. She stayed where she fell.”

 

As suspicion of communist and queers began to mount, violence was not uncommon during that time. Butch and femmes alike were commonly confronted with a need to defend their space.  Luckily, much of that has changed. With a rise in acceptance of the gay community, the extremely high rate of violence or dehumanization of gays has dropped significantly.

What has not changed over time is the desire. The lesbian community and gay community as a whole have always desired the same thing regardless of time, acceptance.

Like in Erica Jong’s poem Testament (Homage to Walt Whitman), there has been a long history of pain for the gay community.

“& three decades of pain

having cried for those that did not love me

those who loved me- but not enough

& those whom I did not love-“

Stone butches are notoriously known for not permitting themselves to be touched intimately, and consequently are also known for ‘being hard’. While many lesbians may not be that way today, both ways of identifying as a lesbian have yearned to “resolve now for joy.

“If that resolve means I must live alone,

I accept aloneness.”

Despite how much time passes, that is something that will never change. No one in the gay community will gave up a search for joy, happiness and acceptance. In the same manner, no lesbian, whether she be butch, femme or between the two, will stop believing in that notion or lose that hope.

“How to spin joy out of an empty heart?

The joy-egg germinates even in despair.

Orgasms of gloom convulse the world;

and the joy- seekers huddle together.”

 

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The History of Pride Flags

The very first gay pride flag made its first appearance in 1978. The original flag had eight colors. Today’s gay pride flag has only six colors. Each of the colors represent a different aspect of life. The first gay pride flag was created by Gilbert Baker. He is an artist from San Francisco. Among the gay pride flag there is other pride flags that represent different pride groups. Some of these other pride flags are Leather Pride, Bear Pride, Bisexual Pride, Lesbian Pride, Transgender Pride, Asexual Pride, and Feather Pride. These are only a few of the other pride there is many more. The other main one that I want to focus on is the Bear Pride flag, because this was the next pride flag that was created. Craig Byrnes was the designer of the Bear Pride flag. He came up with the official design in 1995 as the bear pride community was growing. Each color represents all the different types of real bears all around the world.

                        

(the flag on the left is the original 8 color flag and the flag in the middle is the present 6 color flag and the flag on the right is the ear pride flag)

Gay pride and bear pride along with leather pride are the top three pride groups that usually attend pride fests. In class we watched a short clip from “Where the Bears Are”. This is an internet show about the Bear pride community. It is a comedy mystery web series which won the 2012 “Best Gay Web Series”. It has become a big hit ever since it made its debut in 2012 with over 10 million hits. This show represents basically one group of gay men who are very hairy and have a larger masculine body structure. These men also usually have facial hair as well as chest hair. The Bear pride community has many different slang terms to describe what type of bear every man is that’s in the community. Another short web clip we watched in class was “Easy Abby”. This is a web series based on a lesbian who has a lot of girlfriends that she doesn’t remember when she runs into them after not seeing them for a little while after they broke up. Both web series are based on gay people weather they are men or women. Before other pride groups were formed and came up with their own pride flags they all would have originally used the rainbow gay pride flag to support their sexuality. But now each gay group has their own pride flag. there is a pride flag for transgender people, lesbians, straight, asexual, and many more different groups.

       

I chose to do my history archive on the history of the most common gay pride flags because not many people realize that there is more than just the original rainbow (gay) pride flag. Along with the gay pride flag being one of the most popular pride flags, the bear pride flag is also one of the three most popular pride flags as well. Bear pride has been growing more popular since 1995 when the official design of their flag was debuted to the community. No matter how many different gay pride flags there is the original gay pride flag (the rainbow flag) will never fade away because it is what has formed our community and shaped the future for other pride flags to come to gay groups that do not have a special flag of their own. We all share the original pride flag, but like to stand out with our own pride flag that represents who we truly are.

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