Over the weekend, Rainbow Seniors of the Berkshires gathered around the big table at the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield to learn more about how lesbian issues have changed over the decades. Four Berkshire women initiated a thoughtful panel that was far ranging, ultimately incorporating all the letters in our acronym: LGBTQ.
One of the panelists took the opportunity to write down her thoughts and we are delighted to share them with our readers.
March 5 Rainbow Seniors
I am going to talk about the seventies and early eighties and want to apologize to those of you who are gender fluid, bisexual, asexual, intersex, questioning, queer, pansexual, genderqueer, androgynous, two spirited, trans people, and everyone else I have left out. I don’t want to leave you out again. But I am talking about a specific era and my limited understanding of diversity. So I apologize and hope that we as a group can include all of us.
It was the seventies or early eighties.
A complicated time, at least for me. There was the important issue of who I would lose my virginity to. I’d been falling in love with girls since 3rd grade. But I thought or hoped I was bi, because I figured that then people would only be pissed at me part of the time. But that didn’t work out because I was a lesbian.
And I was a feminist, but that didn’t work out because I was a lesbian and the straight women only wanted us to stuff envelopes. They didn’t want us to be visible or vocal, and I was too out. Besides, they talked mostly about day care and abortion and the pill. Also about rape and domestic violence and earning $0.66 when men earn a dollar. I wanted to talk about that, but not to them.
Gay men and lesbians had different interests, and many men are accustomed to imposing their priorities. And it was disheartening.
That was the appeal of separatism. I was a baby dyke and it was my post-adolescent ‘fuck you’ to men and straight women. But I never was attracted to the women’s farming commune thing where everything is decided by consensus. I don’t have the patience. At that time I was a city girl living in Manhattan. Being a lesbian separatist meant cutting out 95% of humanity which was just too much for me.
So I talked to lesbians. And, back then, that led to discussions of masculinity and femininity and butch and femme. I couldn’t decide for myself. I enjoyed being a girl, but I wanted it to be clear that no man could mess with me. So I wore very short hair, killer make-up, and skirts. I was very thin and was 6’ 1” in my 3 inch Italian leather heels.
I liked flirting. But I knew that if I flirted with a woman, it could be mistaken for a marriage proposal, so I flirted with gay men. I knew a lot of men who were interior designers, in fashion, or on Broadway. So we liked a lot of the same things. Things that lesbians were not supposed to like. This was my ‘inner faggot’.
Eventually I did the traditional lesbian thing. I met a woman. We dated briefly. And we have been together for 28 years. She is fabulous, but she never learned to flirt.
I knew that gay men are men and the whole testosterone thing was and remains a mystery. My gay brother and one of my straight brothers have said to me, ‘Yes, Abby. We think about it all the time.’ Well, by and large, my people don’t.
And lesbians don’t think about social justice all the time, but a lot. Lesbians aren’t the only people who have strong reactions when people aren’t treated equally, but we talk about it. We didn’t invent ‘political correctness’ to be annoying. In fact, we may not have invented it at all, but it feels like we did. It wasn’t about Big Sister watching you. I think we just want to be treated with respect and we want that for others. Maybe we get a little sensitive about what some men say about women. Donald Trump and his supporters are terrifying. As are the men who want to legalize rape.
Back in the old days lesbians got left out of policy making in feminist groups. We got left out of decision making in a lot of gay and lesbian groups. We just did not feel welcome, so we left. I don’t want anyone to feel unwelcome in this group.
I really like queer people. We are more insightful, interesting, and fun than straights. I think we get something from being outsiders. Fun is what I hope for, for this group.