Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Letter About Dying, to My Lesbian Communities

September 8, 2015
This letter is meant as a notification and thank you to the thousands of members of the national lesbian community whose activism, lives, and loves have touched my own. Especially those dykes who have become family and siblings of choice over the last 40 years. Yes, the rumors are true, I have metastasized to-the-brain cancer. I am dying from it in my cerebellum.
I have had cancer since 2008. Colon cancer. For the first four years I brushed it off, as I've done many times with physical illness or difficulties. I continued my activism with the Lesbian Exploratory project and I finished my third book, When We Were Outlaws. The cancer came back in 2013. Metastasized first to my lungs and then to my cerebellum. Yes, my head. With brain and back-of-the-neck cancer it has been a downhill experience the last three years, with multiple operations, radiation and Chemo.
This February I had Chemotherapy. Among a host of side-effects, it’s given me "chemo brain," which amounts, basically, to “getting stupid.” Just saying. This month's so-called side effect is peripheral neuropathy. That's from Chemo, they say, and it makes your feet, fingers and hands feel tingling and numb like when you fall asleep on your leg or hands. Only, it doesn't go away. I can't stand up without holding onto a wall or background support. I can't feel where my feet are. Yeek! I freak myself out talkin' about it! How about you?
A guru once told me, "We die in increments,one piece at a time." She meant one part of our body suddenly ceases to work, an elbow or a tongue. Seemingly for no reason, like a worn out knee. This came as a surprise. I thought we get old or die...suddenly, and all at once. Not so!
Many of us have gotten cancer and died. I write publically to the women who have defined my life because I want to share this last journey, as I have shared so much of my activist life with you. You gave me a life's cause. It is wonderful to have had a life's cause: freedom and dignity for lesbians. I believe that's what lesbian feminism is really about, sharing. We built a movement by telling each other our lives and thoughts about the way life should be. We cut against the grain and re-thought almost everything. With just enough left undone for our daughters to re-invent themselves. Death should be a part of life. Not hidden, not a secret, something we never said out loud.
Being an organizer and journalist in the lesbian, gay, feminist, and women of color communities—and loving it--has been the focal point, of my life. It has been a wild joyous ride. I feel more than adequately thanked by the many awards I have received from all the queer communities, and through all the descriptions and quotes in history books that have documented my role as an organizer, publisher, speaker, and author. Thanks to all of you who have given me a place in our history.
From the age of 18 to 21, I painfully looked everywhere for Lesbian Nation. On October 3, 1970, a day I celebrate as my political birthday, I found Her in a small DOB (Daughters of Bilitis) meeting. That's when my life's work became clear. Shortly thereafter I became a core organizer for two national lesbian conferences, one of which re-directed my path to create The Lesbian Tide newsmagazine, a national paper of record, as the historians say, for the lesbian feminist generation. And on it went for multiple decades of marches and later online organizing--this time intersectionally, to include all of me and my Latina identity.
Somewhere in the middle of all that I, somewhat accidentally,invented the Gay & Lesbian Community Yellow Pages, a first for our by-then national tribe. This Los Angeles 400 page guide that helped us still-half-hidden people to connect, politically I thought initially, with businesses and professionals that spoke to us within our own identities. That it did, but this directory and lucky timing in life-long real estate, also enabled me to fulfill an early personal vow to give back half of my estate to our movement. I do this with Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice (out of New York City) and other organizations. I believe it so critical to our transforming movements to leave our estates to our LBGTQ charities, not some errant heterosexual relation we hardly know! More on this political news and views to follow. (*1)
I believe that cancer or any terminal disease is the luck of the draw. As my mother used to say of my Aunt who was also a nun of ninety years, "At that age, you got to die of something." I have read the obituaries in Lesbian Connection (*2) these last years as they chronicle the passage of my 2nd wave generation. The one message that rings out clearly is that so many, many in these pages were activists who articulated social justice in their local or regional spaces. Many dykes making change. So many of you or loved ones have gone through death rituals these last years. It makes me feel like one-of-the gang...again!
I really don't know when or if I can write again. Mental competency and all that. The choice appears to be living with chemo forever off and on, or dying. I will make that choice soon enough.
In the meantime, please write or speak your own truth in living with dying (*3) to your lesbian newspaper or my blog below(*4).
I want to say THANK YOU to all of you who have loved another woman-identified-woman, who have loved me, or have loved Lesbian Nation. I wish I could still write about this kind of love more eloquently. Lesbians do have a special love for one another. I have felt it many times when women are with each other. I am happy and content to have participated in it for most of my very full and happy life. Least you be too sad, know that I have this kind of love not only with my family of choice, but with a straight arrow spouse with whom I have journeyed these last twenty-six years.

 *1 Lesbian newspaper out of Ann Arbor, MI. Email; elsiepub@aol.com.
*2 See press release from Astraea.
*3 in the process of a fourth book due out "maybe someday," called Living With Dying.
*4 this blog

Monday, November 17, 2014

Dear Minnie Bruce Pratt


 Dear Minnie Bruce Pratt (and The Advocate):
As I identified with Leslie, with her history as a butch lesbian, I was saddened to hear of her final passing. Am sure I echo the thoughts of many transgendered queers that as long as Leslie was on the planet we all felt a little safer. Safer to be sure that attitudes and discrimination towards people like Leslie, and the rest of us, who dare to cross gender boundaries,won't hold.
Minnie Bruce - I wish you had spoken in her obituary more about your stunning relationship--a relationship between a lesbian feminist poet and the woman-man she loved. That would have been one for the record too, to hear how you a feminist, loved her--like a man, like a woman? Is there a difference? And what is that difference? My woman partner of 25 years would like to know, I imagine. I would like to know?
The Advocate’s post-script, that they had supposed Leslie would like to be called by the masculine "he" so they had done so in past reporting, reads like a statement from a different generation. A generation that can't grasp that one can be a woman and man at the same time. That of a generation of editors who can't imagine that Leslie was proud of her female-identified "butch" status of woman. Perhaps someday binders full of editor-people will claim what is truly a gay heritage -- that we are the people who walk between the genders. As opposed to the people who said we were "like them" only because that was the only way to get our rights.
Hurrah for Leslie and the women and men who dare to live openly who they are regardless of assumptions by those who understand less. I know I speak for thousands who recognized her courage. She was a model for us all. Jeanne Cordova, author, activist, and trans gendered butch

Friday, June 28, 2013

DOMA/Prop 8 Rally, All About ‘Branding’ - Is the gay movement over?

Last night’s Los Angeles rally in West Hollywood over our twin Supremes victory was anything but a “rally.”
It was a slick and packaged media stunt.
Sponsored exclusively by one of the GLBT’s most slick, packaged and “straight” organizations, AFER (American Foundation for Equal Rights). As one attendee lamented, “We were supposed to be the celebrants but we were the audience -- we were just props for the media's cameras.”

Much of the crowd was neatly boxed up in a roped off area directly in front of the major media platform. That’s right, no gay spontaneity, lesbian commentary, or too-queer looking folks, please. Every sign and speaker glorified only AFER or HRC. (The Human Rights Campaign Fund, where AFER founder Chad Griffin is now the Exec. Director).
 I and others walked away early from the crowd of about 1500 after the 8th speaker, attorney Ted Olsen’s remarks, which followed the same platitudinal kind of address as his predecessors. Yawn!
A friend later said, “"I wished the speakers could've been more dynamic and motivating (or made me cry a little even...)"
As I left the photo-op and strode back to my car I couldn’t help feeling… well…the gay movement is over. Or as my metro-sexual straight brother put it, “You gays are so normal now.”
Gee thanks, AFER, that’s all we ever wanted.

To hear the speakers tell our story one would think AFER was single handedly responsible for the demise of DOMA as well as Prop. 8.  In case some of you reading this came into the LGBT struggle yesterday, AFER became California’s premier (read—biggest recipient of gay dollars) gay marriage group just two years ago.
Personally I and friends went to the rally because we were thrilled about the collapse of DOMA — a victory for every lesbian and gay person in America. But the AFER speakers were all about their own case, Prop. 8, which only restores marriage to one state. Where was a speaker from the DOMA case?

And where were all the lesbian and gay attorneys and activists who have inched forward the marriage issue for the last twenty years? Where were all the grassroots and youth and people of color and statewide orgs?
Where was recognition of groups like: LEA - Latino Equality Alliance - who did outreach in the Latino community and held a righteously angry rally in East LA outside the County Registrar's office in May 2009 (on Day of Decision'after the CA state Supreme Court announced its decision to uphold the Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage.) Or The Jordan Rustin Coalition & BLU (Black Lesbians United) who march proudly in straight MLK day parades to open hearts & minds for us all, and be visible in their African American community. Or API Equality - who quietly did outreach in multiple languages to shift votes in LA's Asian & Pacific Islander communities during the campaign against Prop 8. What about orgs like Love,Honor,Cherish or Freedom to Marry, or youth groups like Roots of Equality or Equal Roots Coalition - who filed briefs and/or organized and went door to door? Where was Lambda Legal or Equality California who have fought our state’s marriage wars for years?
 As Lester Aponte of Love,Honor,Cherish commented on Facebook, “The freedom to marry in California was earned through the toil and tears of hundreds of grassroots activists and ordinary people just being open and honest about who they are. From what I heard from the podium in West Hollywood yesterday, however, it's like that movement never existed. Marriage equality, it would seem, sprung fully formed from Chad Griffin's head like Hera from Zeus.”
 AFER’s stage was closed to all of them.

If AFER is all that remains of the lesbian and gay movement, I guess I should just keep on walking… Walking into another movement in which I can still hear the voices of the common queer.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Michigan: a Butch Feminist Responds

I support the goals but not the strategy of a public boycott of the MWMF festival at this time. I think it will do more damage than good. Trashing and boycotts within the movement have rarely moved our goals further.

As one woman-born-woman lesbian feminist to another, I salute Lisa Vogel’s nuanced and in-depth letter to the Community about the issue of transwomen at the Michigan Women’s Music Festival. A response from Vogel is long overdue.

I want to highlight the sentence which I believe forms the core of her essay, that is: 
“I passionately believe the healing in our community will occur when we unconditionally accept transwomyn as womyn while not dismissing or disavowing the lived experience and realities of the WBW gender identity.”

This is well said and accurate. I hope this healing day comes soon.  Perhaps the Millennial generation, as they grow, will no longer find this an issue because they can hold in their minds an equal appreciation of the “lived experience” of WBW and the validity of transwomen as two different genders.

Meanwhile, there are other qualities of being a lesbian that I have long questioned about Michigan’s current—but dated—policy. An aspect which Vogel doesn’t address.

As a woman born woman and a butch, the “lived experience” of being “woman-born” has been somewhat confusing to me because I was socialized as male as well as female. Growing up my parents and sibs treated me as gender-neutral or mixed gendered. I was raised as my father’s son and my mother’s daughter. Many of my characteristics (dress, thinking, relational dynamics, etc.) are what were termed “masculine” in the '60s. 
I know this is to be similar for thousands of butches I have met or talked to over many decades. Yet, butches can go to Michigan. Transmen can go to Michigan. But transwomen can do so only covertly. Butches and transmen, most of whom are more male than Michigan's policy suggests transwomen to be, are welcomed at the festival. This policy holds little logic.

Is Vogel saying that butches are women-born-women? This is, at best, only partial true. Most transmen I know appear to have less “lived experience” as a woman than I did.  Are Vogel and other supporters of the current policy, then talking about how much “lived experience” is enough to get one overtly into Michigan? How much is enough? Five years, twenty? Slicing and dicing this qualitatively or quantitatively is a path too complex and inherently too dishonest for us to go down.

I think we should instead go down the path of self-identity as being a valid enough I.D.
If a transwoman has ‘voted’ to take on the burdens of female identification I believe that is license enough to admit her into a female-only venue. Especially if she is a feminist and/or aware and educated enough, as many WBW are not, of what it means to be a feminist.

Fortunately, perhaps only as an accident of timing, I came of age at the dawn of feminism and was privileged enough to be taught the value of being a woman, a feminist, a lesbian, and a women of color in an otherwise sexist (and racist) world.

So, as a butch feminist, I challenge Michigan to take the next evolutionary step and ‘straighten’ out its illogical and non-foundational interpretation of femaleness.

I put out my thoughts and opinion in order to further our discussion of what it means to be a woman in 2013.

If responding, please remember the truly foundational precept of feminism—sisters talking to sisters. So let’s talk and not hurl (accusations)! If Michigan doesn’t stand for that, what does it stand for?

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Birth of Feminism…and all that jazz

Once every three or four years, someone makes a speech or writes an essay that no feminist can afford to miss—it's required reading. 
Such is author Susan Faludi’s current essay in the New Yorker (April 15 issue), “Death of a Revolutionary” 

The essay is a truly amazing obituary of our famous foremother Shulamith Firestone, author of the feminist bible, The Dialectic of Sex. But the article is much more than a tribute to Firestone, it is a detailed account of the earliest organizational history, the opening hand, of the first women’s liberationists, circa 1967.

I’ve been living through, reading and contributing to this history for nearly four decades, but I didn’t know half the detail rendered in Faludi’s essay. Like, where did it all begin?

The Second Wave—how and where it began in the boroughs of New York City and
Chicago. When and what were those canonic books of ours written, and by whom?  Do any of you know that the three of them—Sexual Politics (Kate Millet), Sisterhood Is Powerful (Robin Morgan), and Firestone’s Dialectic of Sex, all were published in 1970!
And what drove some of these founders of feminism to jettison their self-created movement for a mental hospital?
I won’t tell you the answer to this one because I want you to hit the above link and read it yourself.

Faludi details how and why the women of the New Left—who were trying to stop the Viet Nam war—indeed left that movement to start their own movement of women only.

By way of describing Shulamith's life, and her death last August at 67, Fauludi presents an extremely well written, highly accessible, and almost perfectly accurate description of the earliest “cells” of organized sisterhood.
Apparently Firestone was one hell of an organizer too! As co-founder of the famous “New York Radical Women, and Redstockings, and Chicago’s Women’s Liberation Union—she led sophisticated actions like raiding the annual Miss America Pageant while
pouring that convention hall with dozens of little white rats—yes, mice all over the pretty floor. The contestants screamed and nearly quit.

Faludi’s essay, which names the players and their actions, pulls few punches. The Pulitzer prize winning journalist and author of several books, among them Backlash, she paints fascinating portraits of them all. She justly treats “Shulie” as one of handful of 1960s organizers who founded four feminist organizations, during the same years that she was writing her famous Dialectic. She was 25 years old when the book came out with her ground breaking analysis of “the patriarchy.” Authoring a feminist classic while being a prime organizer seems to me impossible. I’ve tried it myself. But Firestone was by all description a genius and primary mover and shaker who gave her youth to the cause.

One of my strongest reactions—sadness—was to revisit how “trashing” was such a huge practice. Our foremothers were way too quick to level their own scarcity issues against each other.
There was so much of it every where, it’s a wonder that it didn’t kill feminism at birth. Of course Faludi is not a 2nd waver. She came of age as a Gen Xer in the ‘80s. So, in my opinion, she is overly hard on these boomer founders. They had to carve out a space called feminism with no books, no mentors, no colligate speeches.
My view is that these pre-assimilationist wonder women need to be forgiven their raw ambition and talent. First, these are universal traits. Second, the world of politics is a place that draws out both the best and worse of our personality disorders. We see it everywhere in the lives of male politicos.
The early radical feminists were extraordinarily rigid about “elitism,” the rhetoric of the day was virulently anti-leadership. I remember from my own background that displaying or claiming any kind of leadership was enough to get you tossed out of the movement. Faludi gives the example of Marilyn Webb, one of the founders of the core feminist newspaper, Off Our Backs. Webb herself was thrown out of the publishing collective because she had prior professional journalism experience—which meant she wasn’t “equal” to the others. This almost unbelievable example resonates with my decade as publisher of the feminist lesbian magazine Lesbian Tide. I spent almost as much staff time processing and defending my own unruly leadership as I did in writing for the paper.

Among many other gems, Faludi explores the first fundamental split in the Women’s Movement. The opening chasm between radical feminism and liberal feminism. Before feminism became a civil rights struggle led by the liberal N.O.W., circa 1970, there were years in which a truly revolutionary feminism was primary. Radical feminists like Firestone sought to erase the binary of male and female.

Faludi also covers the strange and forlorn death of Firestone, last summer when she was just 67 years old. In many ways this author calls upon younger women to take care of our foremothers in their late elder years.
... One last lesson among many, in this essay’s amazingly well-researched contribution to all women.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Election Day = Binders full of Women

What happened on Election Day was as significant for women as it was for so-called “minorities.” A big win for women and people of color.

As I sat with my friend Ivy Bottini that night watching the numbers play on the big screen, I jumped with joy as Democratic woman after woman trounced, or narrowly beat, their male opponents running for Senate seats. Even before 8 p.m. California time,
The trend was clear; women were pissed and were voting for women. Five out of seven Senate races were emerging with victories for the Democratic women who were up for election.

“There’s something happening here,” I leaned over and whispered to Ivy as the seven o’clock hour began to disappear—“what it is ain’t exactly clear. But I hear a rumble across the country." A Democratic rumble! A binder full of women was sweeping the Senate.

Finally the coalition we liberals have been trying to RE-build for a decade—the coalition of people of color, labor, women and gays—not to mention youth—was taking shape that night. This is the coalition that swept JFK and Bill Clinton into office.
But this was the coalition that had also disintegrated throughout the Reagan and Bush eras. Is this Coalition of the Left here to stay? People of color have done their job—coming out in huge numbers, so its only gays and women who need to stay aligned and active.

Gay and lesbian, and all queer activists have been saying for years now that gays have to crawl out of our own self-defined exclusive identity politics and take up our rightful position in the ranks of the new, new, new liberal and progressive movement. We are a natural part of this coalition if we understand that the Democratic Party is far more likely to embrace full equality faster if we are loud and active.

The “something’s happening here” election on Nov. 6th also marked a long sought sea-change in our fight for marriage equality. By popular vote three states finally turned the tide. In Maryland, Washington, and Massachusetts, we won!  Over the last two decades gays have lost state-wide equality initiatives 32 times. That’s a lot of money down the drain some might say. But democracy moves by increments. I believe gay rights have achieved critical mass in the national consciousness. I for one never thought I’d see the day when a gay issue (marriage) became THE straight-liberal litmus test.

Obama won his election, true. But women, gays, people of color, and labor won too!  And my, it feels good, doesn’t it?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Jeanne Cordova & Margie Adam - The Montclair Interview

“Sex, History & Lesbian Outlaws in the Bay Area” 
author Jeanne Cordova interviewed by songwriter Margie Adam.  Montclair Club, Oakland CA. Sunday, 4/29/12. 
SF / Bay Area launch of book, “When We Were Outlaws.”

MARGIE:  Jeanne Córdova's memoir "When We Were Outlaws" takes place at a moment of great transition within the progressive movement in America at the end of the Viet Nam War era. A huge national anti-war mobilization had given birth to more hope and more energy among women and gay and lesbian people. This is the backdrop for Jeanne's award-winning lesbian feminist memoir, "When We Were Outlaws."
 During the time you describe - roughly 1970-1976 - you were busy doing many things - sometimes all at once, sometimes one after another. You were you were president of the LA chapter of Daughters of Bilitis, you were publisher and editor in Chief of The Lesbian Tide, also a staff member at the Los Angeles Gay Community Services Center, and reporter for the LA Free Press and you were one of the principal organizers of the National Lesbian Conference in 1973. Oh, and in your spare time you produced my very first solo concert in LA. I was the musical entertainment part of a Tide fund-raiser you did with Jill Johnston who had just published Lesbian Nation. So... the book begins with a brilliant set piece describing a speech given by Angela Davis at the LA Women's Building in 1974. She was in the middle of her speech, reading from her autobiography, and as you write, she blithely said: Alternative sexual orientations are a bourgeois affectation." Jeanne, would you pick that moment up from there in your book....
JEANNE: “My reporter’s pen stopped scribbling notes. An audible rumble, like a rolling 6.1 earthquake, vibrated through the mostly white, but mostly lesbian audience. Angela also looked up. She stopped speaking. Everyone waited. The wave of the quake subsided. In a rate burst of collective dyke forgiveness, the audience settled back down. Whew! It was my turn to be surprised. They were not going to walk out. No white woman could have said what Davis said and still have an audience. These were volatile years, when dykes brooked no disrespect. But we also knew Davis had earned her veteran activist stripes by being jailed by the FBI..."

 MARGIE : Do you think women who had reputations made in the male left were given more credibility, more slack in a way in the women's community than those of us who cut our teeth in the lesbian feminist trenches? Can you imagine any progressive leader with "veteran activist stripes" being let off with homophobic remarks today?
JEANNE: No, today we couldn’t imagine Jesse Jackson, Gloria Steinem, much less a Cherrie Moraga or a Judith Jack Halberstam saying racist, sexist or homophobic comments. It’s more subtle these days, but still there. We can today imagine such leaders saying Tran phobic things. We can imagine Rush Limbaugh calling a young woman a “slut” because she wants health insurance paid birth control. We can imagine a Republican pres. Nominee who refuses to condemn polygamy as violence against women. We can imagine pervasive racism and sexism in the LBGT movement. Just more subtle and insidious today.

MARGIE: I found your later question at the Davis press conference classic Jeanne Cordova. Here's you: "Ms. Davis," I said. "Black Panther leader Huey Newton said recently that the new Gay Liberation Movement was 'a friend and potential ally' in the civil rights struggle. Do you share his point of view?" "I believe that all people have a right to privacy in their personal lives,” Davis said. "But there is a difference between the oppression of racism and economic exploitation... and the quality of discrimination against gay people." What was your reaction in that moment?
JEANNE: I was outraged! Not too shocked, but very angry. It was common in those early days for anyone who was a leader in other movements, to make dismissive or disparaging remarks about queers. That was why I was being hard on Angela. I was trying to get a leader of the black civil rights struggle to publically realize and say to us qays —“Yes, you too are valid freedom fighters.” That night there were black sisters in the room and I knew it would mean so much to them if Angela, who was nakedly a butch –as I describe in detail (book)—would tell her sisters, “It’s OK.” I was also 25 with, as yet, short experience in the working class or black struggles then. But she was so famous among progressives then that I knew a young fool like me would be one of the very few who would pick up on her gayness, make an issue of it, or try to get her to get a clue that her personal life was a political issue.

MARGIE: You write, “Feminism taught that the personal is political. Linking the two was a cornerstone of the feminist revolution, said Redstockings, the foremother cell of Radical Feminism." Then Davis finished her comments with a statement many women - including myself - used at the beginning of own individual journeys toward coming out at a public level: I'm not denying or affirming anything about my private life," she said. "Personal issues are not a relevant part of the political life - (I would have said, 'of my cultural work'"). In your excellent "ENDNOTES" you mention Davis did come out in the 1990s. Tell us about that please...
JEANNE: Thanks for the ENDNOTES compliment. I poured a lot of lesbian history into this section at the end of the memoir—I didn’t want to disturb the storyline, yet I wanted to be historically accurate. … Angela did come out sort of in 1993 at the National Black Gay & Lesbian Leadership Forum using the phrase “my community” several times. And in 1998, in the pages of NY’s OUT Magazine saying her lesbianism was something she was “fine with as a political statement.” She was doing research for her 1999, Blues Legacies & Black Feminism—and she began to come to understand the role sexual desire played in women's liberation. In the 70s and 80s thousands of us had to sit patiently in our seats listening to a leader in one of the social change movements, or another, or someone in elected office, hold forth while NEVER mentioning their queerness. Today, such a comment unleashes a blog flame against that person. Identity denial today though continues on a more subtle level. Explain Kate Millet going back into closet with Veteran Feminists of America new bio.

MARGIE: after the shellacking you took as an organizer of the National Lesbian Conference at UCLA in 1973, you sought refuge at a small lesbian music festival - perhaps the first of its kind - organized by Kate Millet at Sacramento State. In a later chapter, you describe at length a seminal women's music festival in San Diego two years later in 1975. Would you read a piece of that description JC: (read; Lavender Woodstock excerpt) MA: Women's Music has been described as -the soundtrack of the feminist movements -entertainment after a hard day's politics Where do you come down? What role did women's music play in your political and personal life during this time?
JEANNE: I should be honest and say, especially when it first started in 1973, women’s music played no role in my personal or political life! I sort of…didn’t like it…and saw it as an interruption to the radical & political, true and critical focus on politics—street demos, civil disobedience, etc. I’m sure this is because as a child & teenager in a house filled with 14 people trying to get along. My mother would always ell, “Turn that damn thing off!” when one of us would turn on the radio. She saw it as needless confusion to the business of life. This in my house was in fact “business” –construction, building buildings, blueprints. At 19, in the convent, I was sent to Watts and a bit later into the anti-war street demos. This was my introduction to any kind of music! So I began by listening to the lyrics of Joan Baez & Bob Dylan. And they were political lyrics, so I began to see a role for music—as long as it was political. At first, as publisher of the Lesbian Tide, I objected to all the attention lesbian feminists were paying to what I saw as ‘the drivel of entertainment.’ We were supposed to be having a revolution. If music came in anywhere, it should be AFTER the revolution. But my role as publisher of a big lesbian feminist newsmagazine forced me to start covering these musician types (tease Margie). I remember literally watching in my head, the avalanche of popularity sweep into the lesbian feminist movement! Women’s music quickly topped the charts. Our readers couldn’t get enough of these people and their concerts! So years passed, and it was only in 1973 when I met and spent a few months living with Margie Adam, and started listening to her lyrics, watching her hour after hour at the piano that I felt personally, the healing power of music and for the first time, melodies. That’s when I became a convert to women’s music. So I, shamelessly, as a politico, began to use it, produce it, and bring it into political events I organized! And in my book OUTLAWS, music, Especially that of Joan Baez, Margie, and Carole King, plays a large role. 

MARGIE: During the period this memoir takes place - you were the publisher and editor in chief of The Lesbian Tide , a lead organizer for the National Lesbian Conference at UCLA, a reporter for the Los Angeles Free Press, a staff member at the Gay Community Services Center, and an event producer - you produced my very first solo concert as a fundraiser for the Tide. Meanwhile, you were also engaged in a passionate exploration of non-monogamy, the radical feminist theory and personal practice - in intense love relationships with other lesbians who took their autonomy and self-respect just as seriously as you did. At the same time you were clarifying your butch self in the midst of relentless pressure from lesbian feminists to move away from the either-or butch-femme identities toward androgyny. Two different and vast subjects of interest - both connected to radical feminist theory. How have your thoughts and feelings evolved since the time in which the memoir is set - the mid-seventies? Are you married? Are you monogamous?
JEANNE: I’m domesticated --with a life partner for two decades, but I am not theoretically, monogamous. I do still believe that non-monogamy, or as we say today, polyamory, is the most natural state for lesbians. But I can’t seem to find a femme that agrees with me! Including the one I’m domesticated to. I don’t know how she feels politically because the mere mention of this topic never gets to a conversational level in our house. But personally, she doesn’t agree with me. Seriously though, my views on this issue have not changed much since the early years of feminism, but I have seen that many queer dykes today, both the boomer generation and on down to Millennials, have continued to invent similar styles of living such as polyamory. So while I’m here in the capital of polyamory, I’d like to point to it and non-monogamy as being very similar. So I would like to pose this question to all those here and elsewhere; What is it about being a lesbian that seems to require that we keep re-inventing new forms of being beyond the gender binary and new forms of relationship beyond the heteronormative dyadic pair?

MARGIE: It may be hard for some to believe today but back in the day, when The Tide put a photo of two women kissing on the cover, the printer refused to print it. When I read that it reminded me of experiences I had in women's music where 1. people refused to rent a building to us for a concert 2. they refused to rent pianos, sound equipment 3. printers refused to print posters/programs with the word LESBIAN included Tell us the story of how you managed the printer...
JEANNE: Yes, there were many forms of censorship back in the day. When I found myself caught in a room with an old, white, cigar smoking, web-press printer, with that issue of The Lesbian Tide below me on a silent press—I had to rely on my butch background. I told him, “I can give you tips for how to get a girl into bed, If you roll that press for as long as we talk.”

MARGIE: The Centerpiece of "When We Were Outlaws" is the story of the struggle you and other lesbian feminists had with the LA GCSC Struggle to include and incorporate lesbians into all levels of the leadership and services of the center. It was fundamentally a struggle between feminism and gay male liberation. Coming to terms with the contradictions inherent in the two movements - one a movement for sexual freedom, the other about replacing male order of hierarchical relationships and creating equalitarian structures of shared power. Would you say these contradictions have resolved themselves?
JEANNE: To a great extent, yes. But not in a way we outlaws might have hoped. In 1976, the Gay Movement stopped being a struggle for sexual liberation and evolved, or devolved, into a struggle for gay rights. 2ndly—also in the late 1970s, radical feminism ceased to control the agenda of Women’s Liberation movement. Liberal feminism took over. The truly radical/ systemic notion of changing the power structure of the patriarchy gave way to a clearer and perhaps more immediate, quest for civil rights in fighting for laws against rape, employment discrimination, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and for the ERA. Choosing the concept of gay civil Rights was a more pragmatic and sexier way to sell our movement to heteronormative society. But we did sell out our radical under pinnings. And I was left with the realization that ALL movements start with radical ideology, but unless they have a real blood—born revolution, like a socialist-styled coup—all movements must adopt a civil rights and assimilationism stance.

MARGIE: You came to a very clear-eyed and devastating conclusion at the end of your involvement in the GCSC Struggle. Would you read those sentences?
JEANNE: "Dykes stood on thin ice, I realized, in both the gay men's and women's movements, trying to negotiate power with no leverage. The women's movement thought lesbian nation was part of the gay movement and gay male leaders sought to palm dykes off onto the women's movement." Given this conclusion…I had to ask myself; what’s a dyke to do? Like Del Martin said in her famous essay five years prior to my conclusion, I was ready to leave working within the Gay Male Movement. Martin put my feelings beautifully in “Goodbye, My Alienated Brothers”, When she said; “Goodbye to the male homophile community. “Gay is “good, but not good enough…goodbye to your old ideas and old values in a time that calls for radical change. Goodbye to the wasteful, meaningless verbiage of empty resolutions made by hollow men of self-proclaimed privilege…I will not be your nigger any longer. Nor was I ever your mother. I must go where the action is… to find acceptance, equality, love and friendship… (to) the women’s movement.” But five years later, in 1975—the year in the book—I’d also fought the long/bitter battle that I talk about in my next book—of pleading with N.O.W. to recognize that lesbianism was a feminist issue. So, I realized Del’s decision couldn’t be mine. I could NOT resolve my activist life by simply leaving gay male movement and switching to Feminist Movement. No, I urgently believed that the answer was to build an Independent Lesbian Movement on a national scale. I became what I called a lesbian primacist. If someone were to look back over the purposeful trail of my political activity and journalism over the last 35 years, you’d see I’ve always been pursuing the building of a lesbian counter-culture and the politics, not of separatism, but of PRIMACY - called Lesbian Nation. I adopted the politics of separatism on a personal --but never on a political level. As a politico I believed that lesbians had to make coalition with gay men, with women’s, black, brown, anti-war movements. But I believed that to be a good solider, you have to go to boot camp—to get the fundamentals, values, goals. And I think that boot camp is lesbian separatism. Another question I’d like to post would be; Is separatism still viable or necessary in any other role than the boot camp concept I’ve suggested. Is lesbian separatism relevant today?

MARGIE: Do you think FEMINISM and SEPARATISM are compatible?
JEANNE: A truly feminist reconstructed world would erase the need for separatism, so to this extent the two are not compatible. But without Separatism it is hard to understand, much less fall in love with, the ideology or memory of a truly feminist world. Emotionally I am inclined to agree with Jill Johnston who said that the feminist solution is Lesbian Nation. That feminism is the theory and lesbian fem. is the practice. But this is a utopian belief and as a politico I’m a pragmatic fighter. So, periodically I drive myself to the gas station—the garden of separatism—and fill up on why I am in this fight to begin with. Separatism remains alive in many pockets of the world … and still serves the purpose us, as Monique Witting featured so visually in Les Guérillères, of reminding us what we are fighting for.

MARGIE: I imagine many women in this room who were lesbian feminist organizers in the era of the 1970s can relate to your experiences of betrayal. Was the betrayal by your political mentor, Morris Kight, at GCSC who you say was a father figure for you - worse than the betrayal you felt by your lesbian sisters at the 1973 National Lesbian Conference at UCLA?
JEANNE: No, the betrayal by my political godfather, hurtful as it was, was not nearly as bad as the personal and political betrayal I felt during & after the National Lesbian Conference. I think for any lesbian betrayal by women is worse than anything a man could make us feel. In the book the answer to this question becomes obvious, if you’re reading closely, because I describe that I did have a full-fledged nervous breakdown after the Conference (but not the strike). What happened at the NLC was a doubled-edged betrayal in that my lover, a Trotskyist, allowed me & the other organizers to be publically blamed for being socialist Trots—when in fact I wasn’t and most others were not. And for 4 months after the Conference all 15 lesbian newspapers across the country wrote bad things about the Organizers of the Conference. I took it all too personally. I should have let it go. At the time, the betrayals felt too huge, overwhelming.

MARGIE: Let's talk about violence. You ask yourself more than once whether your commitment to social change is somehow less valuable because you have not picked up a weapon in the struggle. You question what you would do in a circumstance where that was the next indicated step in a political action in which you were involved. It seems like a theoretical meditation, the exploration of an idealistic young person... and yet... IN GCSC STRUGGLE - there were lesbians calling for violent confrontation - burning the building down, aggressive behavior toward people crossing the picket lines, tires being slashed. You argued against violence over and over again with others in the strike committee. Did any of the strikers turn out to be agent provocateurs?
JEANNE: It’s always a difficult question for a Leftist to answer this question without saying too much. I tried in Outlaws to shine as much light as I can on the subject of the LAPD and the FBI’s invasion and murder of some of our leading activists of the day. It’s hard for young activists today to accept just how brutally Hoover’s FBI tried to thwart us. Watch movie J Edgar. In the book I wrote most about the FBI’s decimation of the Black Panthers & other black radicals. During the strike we did ask each other—which of us could be an FBI informant—because it seemed we had a mole. But no, several people pointed to, but never found specific evidence. In researching my own FBI file and my lesbian conferences at ONE Archive I did find precise evidence that FBI informants did attend both of these early lesbian conferences I organized. 1) Leaflets—first and national conference (next time bring copy of this document). 2) and Outlaws I tell the story of the ACLU sending me 4 pages from my own FBI file that detail an informant’s report of my meeting with the Weather Underground in Chapter 14.

MARGIE: Also in the context of VIOLENCE, the final chapters of the book which describe the deterioration of a significant love relationship include painful disclosures relating to a growing struggle within you with physical and verbal aggression… “The Rage of All Butches” was a very powerful and poignant reading. It seems like the disintegration of the outside political circumstances in which you were involved were mirrored in your personal life. It seems like another extraordinary manifestation of the feminist principle: The personal is political. Am I right on this? Would you care to talk a little about that?
JEANNE: Unfortunately, you are right. I almost left this Chapter out of the book, even after I realized it was indeed the climax of my narrative arc. I got very squeamish about revealing my young Cordova self as someone who could be driven to violent outrage & jealousy by sexuality and fear of loss. Every memoirist is confronted with the question; How much is enough? But I thought if I pull this Chapter, what else will I pull? –the facts that my father was a child beater, the fact that Rachel and I were both daughters of battering fathers, the fact that I didn’t always win politically—that I also failed? In her current book, The Queer Art of Failure, Dr. Judith Jack Halberstam writes “The naming of failure not as the negative space opened up by normalized modes of success, but as a habitable space with its own logic, its own practices and the potential for new collectivities: success is individualized but failure is collective – 99 %! My book understands failure as a practice that builds upon queerness in the sense that queerness is always a failure to conform, to belong, to cohere. Rather than reorienting queerness, we should embrace failure.” I hadn’t read these words 2 years ago when I made the final decision not to cut this Chapter or the theme of handling personal and political violence that runs thru my memoir. But I believed then, and now—all my life—that none of us can or should claim heroism or perfection. History is full of examples of great deeds followed by, even born out of, personal failures. If I was going to write about some of my successes, I felt I needed to show the humility of my failures too. To not do so would be lying. (Also, dull reading!)

MARGIE: Let's talk a bit about LESBIAN IDENTITY vs. COALITION POLITICS -You and I have witnessed a long struggle to include other sexual identities in our civil rights title - Gay gave way to Gay-Lesbian, then Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual, then GAY-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgendered - and more recently, Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Intersex-Queer-and Questioning. LGBTIQQ. Today many people simply say LGBT to describe our community. Others sum up our complexity with one word: QUEER. What’s you take on what “queer” means today? Do you identify with the word?
JEANNE: In 1999, like everyone over forty, I hated the word "queer." By 2007, I thought oh it’s a catch all, too many letters, alphabet soup in 2010 a, or that the Patriarchy is not filled with men, or that gender is completely fluid, or that feminism was all B.S. because it was mostly led by upper middle class white intellectual women. Lenin & Trotsky, Martin Luther and Malcolm X were all middle class intellectuals. But wait…my point… By 2010, having worked with a younger generation these last 5 years in LEX, I had learned that the Q word was much more than a summation. At a butch conference in LA—I stated from the podium, after Carmen Vasquez’s speech on "Butch as a Feminist Identity," “I don’t know what any of you have learned over this historic weekend, but I want to announce that what I’ve learned makes me publically want to say that I am leaving gay & lesbian movement, as of this moment, renewing my vow to keep fighting, but now under the banner of the Queer Movement.” What is the Queer Movement? As Judith Butler, its primary theorist says; “In the context of Western identity politics the term also acts as a label setting queer-identifying people apart from discourse, ideologies, and lifestyles that typify mainstream LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual) communities as being oppressive or assimilationist.” I’ve come to realize “queer” is not an umbrella word only, but a new politic…that springs out of the thought line of Queer Theory. Studied up on QT. very complex, as a L.F. don’t agree with all of it, esp. its sweeping, post-constructionist generalization That gender identity is all Performativity, indeed a replacement of the ideology underpinning the now liberal gay & lesbian movement. That it did represent a partial departure, but also a building upon the ideology of feminism that took up where it left off. That it did represent all the things I just half way repudiated. That the Queer Movement looks at gender and sexuality as the core habitats. I do believe that the radical core, the outlaw core, of the LBGT Movement has been buried. Heaped on top of it have been so many issues, so called civil rights, like how we want to serve in a military we once didn’t believe in, or how desperately we want to join the patriarchal institution called marriage -- that not even straight people want anymore, or how the best answer is to tell our high school sons/daughters “it gets better---just wait”. “Just wait” brings us full circle back to the 1940’s. Just wait is what made Del Martin leave the homophile movement whose prayer to their members were also “Just wait, it gets better.” But I’m an outlaw and a ‘queer’ so I am not into “waiting.” “Just wait—at age of 5 when I wanted to be a Jesuit…told "just wait”…

MARGIE: for some women this summary terminology: in initials or a single word is problematical because it feels as though, once again, "lesbian" identity is being submerged or disappeared. Others say "lesbian" as a word is antiquated and as an identity is outmoded, essentially an exclusive term meant to separate women-born women from others who identify as queer women. How do you respond to the on-going exploration and challenges of gender identity as it impacts lesbians - and in particular, the "lesbian nation" you have so beautifully described in your book? Do you still use the word “lesbian” to describe your personal or political self? IS THERE A LESBIAN NATION OF ANY SORT TODAY? DO WE NEED ONE?
JEANNE: 1) YES, I still proudly use L word for all my selves. 2) Lesbian Nation still exists. Lesbian Connection has 25 K readers; thousands still go to lesbian music festivals. True, new gens don’t understand fully the concept of LN as Johnston & Whiting, but they/we still live in tribal identity & community & witness each other doing so. and 3) We still NEED Lesbian Nation—and we’re still made-as-hell that the L word remains so erased in the LGBT movement. Erased by the heteronormative world, and so often by our own G, T, and B siblings. As long as this erasure stands, we still need Lesbian Nation because We as queer women, as people who still claim “woman” are not the same as gay men, or transmen, or bisexual men—we need our damn “L”. We need to know our tribe, our heritage—no matter how many other adjectives we choose to also embrace.

MARGIE: I noticed that you dedicated Outlaws to “the queer youth of today whose activism now gives their elders such pride”. Is there anything you’d like to wrap up with, a message to the “queer youth of today”?
JEANNE: reads from page IX… “Each generation of … ending with “what you can make happen tomorrow.”


© April 2012 Jeanne Cordova and Margie Adam Interview, All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Gay Inc. Honors our Enemies

Time to tear up your HRC card

For the first time in 40 years, I’m ashamed to be gay.
Last week the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), our country’s most well-funded national LGBT organization, named Goldman Sachs’ CEO, Lloyd Blankfein to be its “national corporate spokesman for same-sex marriage.” No, you don’t have to read that sentence again. That’s what the Human Right Campaign has done with our donor trust. And at their annual NY dinner last week HRC gave Goldman Sachs its “Workplace Equality Innovation” award. The occasion prompted a well-deserved protest by the Queer Caucus of OWS & another here in LA from the Occupy LA Queer Affinity Group & GetEqual. (with protest signs like 'HRC & Goldman Sachs: Not the kind of marriage we're looking for!')

Who’s this Blankfein? How bad can he be?

Five years ago I began noticing, amid screaming TV headlines about the impending ruin of our financial system, my own stock & bond account, dropping wildly, and daily. When the carnage was over, I’d lost 20% of every dollar I’d spent a lifetime earning and saving.
I was so furious that I began a three year study of what was happening to my savings, and the savings of millions of other 99%ers in America.

What I found out terrified and depressed me. I learned that the big investment banks, in particular Goldman Sachs, had committed the biggest bank robbery in American history, scoring about one trillion dollars from middle class schmucks like me that had worked for a living.

Yes and the same Lloyd Blankfein was in charge of Goldman back in 2007, just as he is now. It’s blight on the American justice system that Blankfein is not serving life in prison. But it’s a horrible shock that gay & lesbian national leaders are honoring this man.

For those who haven’t read about Goldman Sachs as “the vampire squid” whose tentacles are wrapped around the world’s money supply, let me explain why everyone should be ashamed of our Human Rights Campaign, the national gay lobbying group based in Washington D.C.

Blankfein was a co-conspirator in the American banking scam that securitized the sub-prime home mortgages of millions of American’s who he knew could not afford their mortgage loans, but nevertheless he sold bundles of these bad mortgages to his own Goldman clients and millions of other trusting middle-class investors like you and me. Blankfein’s elite class of CEO bankers led the charge which eventually ushered in the Great Recession that’s also put many of my and your friends in the unemployment lines.
And in case you think, oh that was a long time ago, please note, Goldman and Blankfein himself are being sued almost weekly by some states' pension system, Teachers Retirement System (our political allies) and almost every state in the USA for "unethical practices and extreme greed, lying and cheating people out of their money, profiting from the misfortunes of others, and saving its own neck through political influence and bailouts."
And just this week - a former Goldman Sachs employee's NYTimes OpEd blew open the continuing 'rip-off culture' there.

That one man, or even an elite class of several dozen, could do damage of this magnitude to the entire western world certainly begs the question; what manner of financial systemic vampire is controlling us?

It also begs the question; what kind of LGBT organization is it that “slaps lipstick on this pig” and takes him in as a spokesperson? How can a Gay Equality organization give a position of honor to a man who is such a classic example of INequality that he was hauled before Congress to testify about his role in the great financial inequality stunt of the century?

This strange disconnect—that one of our own gay non-profits is so out of touch with the LGBTQ grassroots and the sense of national outrage that sparked the Occupy Wall Movement—is almost unbelievable. HRC’s Romneyesque example of tone deafness needs to be scrutinized by the LGBTQ grass roots. Many of us have long wondered, just who is running the national gay agenda and do they know what our queer lives are like here in the streets? Such a mortal sin demands a quick explanation from HRC. HOW COULD YOU?
And perhaps soon, a de-nomination of Blankfein as a spokesperson, by new incoming HRC Executive Director, Chad Griffin.
Better yet, put away your check book until they do.

Related stories; Matt Taibbi, “Lloyd Blankfein’s the Wrong Spokesman for Gay Rights” (Rolling Stone), & Andrew Brewer, Huffington Post’s Gay Voices.

Jeanne Cordova is a pioneer LGBT activist, journalist & author of "WHEN WE WERE OUTLAWS: A Memoir of Love & Revolution"

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dory Previn, another closet lesbian, dies.

For a 25 year old lesbian doin’ and sufferin’ through non-monogamous (polyamorous) relationships in 1974, Dory Previn’s hit album, “Dory Previn Live at Carnegie Hall” was a comfort and a relief to me.
Here was another woman writing startling genius lyrics about some of my own traumas—my first Holy Communion, child sexual abuse, the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, a lover who don’t love you back, and my favorite—a song about my new home’s signature-- the Hollywood Sign.
Listening to how “Hedy Lamar jumped off the third letter O”—not the first letter O, or the second, or just jumped off the damn sign, which hung over my house, but the 3rd letter 0 told me that Previn was a gifted lyricist who saw life’s minutely sad underbelly. I bought the album in 1974 and learned every track, every line, by memory.
Decades later I introduced my spouse to Dory. She too was amazed by the lyrics of a songwriter who captured the debris of catholic girlhood and the lost of a mate (to budding bubblehead actress Mia Farrow) in such agonizing detail. Listening to the album for decades I’d always been convinced that coming out as a lesbian would have solved most of Dory’s problems.

Coming days after losing another closet-case singer, Whitney Houston, makes me all the more sad that talented young women still have to weigh losing fame and talent against living their authentic selves.

We dykes celebrate their lives with the prayer that living openly as a lesbian can one day be embraced as a better alternative than alcohol, drugs, & mental hospitals to women in the music industry.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Shades of butchly difference

Malinda Lo just recently posted this quote from Jack Halberstam on her tumblr

I’ve watched Dr. Jack Halberstam’s successive definitions of herself over recent years and wondered at how similar she and I are in terms of our butch identity. Yet when I posted a month ago that I also thought of myself as “trans butch” I got some “Ah, JC, say it ain’t so!” comments from other women identified butches, like myself, who seemed threatened by it.
Most of Jack’s definition above fits me also. We are similar, but have shades of butchly difference.
I seek to be read by others as a woman who is masculine. I feel unseen by my bio-sister who relates to me as a guy and thinks that’s what I want. She can be forgiven because she is straight and reads almost nothing accurately, but I do agree with Jack, our butch community can and should tolerate variations among us.

When I grew up in the '60s we called deep-butch bulls “cross-gendered.” Today the synonym is transgendered, but this word holds many meanings. It may also includes us women who refuse surgeries, hormones, etc. but prefer masculine dress and have masculine body language, thought patterns, and are sexually attracted to femmes and/or other butches. My lesbian feminist generation was a bit late to the nuances of gender identity, but those of us still involved with the movements need to catch up and be open to how our younger generation is developing.
Come on dykes! We don’t need to feel afraid of the “trans” word. We just need to stand up for who we are.