Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My Queer Ancestors

Looking at the photos of lesbians and gays from the 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond in the Berlin Schwules Museum, I had a funny realization: These are my ancestors. Sure, I like to hear about my French Huegnot ancestors who fled to Scotland and no one could pronounce their name, "Gervaise." Yes, I felt a pang of solidarity when I met a Glaswegian girl at a hostel in Munich and could tell her proudly that my grandfather lived there until he moved to the States. But reading and learning about the history of persecution of lesbians and gays, there is a deep recognition that these are 'the shoulders I am standing on,' as Ronni Sanlo puts it in her memoir, "The Purple Golf Cart: Stories of an Unconventional Grandma."

A dear friend shared the book, and I flew through it. Ronni recognized her lesbian self at age 11, married a man and had two children before she was able to articulate it to him and her family in 1979 when she was 30. In return, she lost custody of her two children and lived an amazingly productive but difficult life, working as an LGBT and early AIDS activist when there was hardly anyone who would put their name anywhere either of those acronyms. Towards the end of her career, she was the director of the UCLA LGBT Center, and greatly influenced university LGBT programming and countless students throughout her time there, including my friend who gave me the book!

After reading it, I went crazy on the public library requests--who are my other ancestors, my other forebears? I started with Curve Magazine's 20th anniversary issue and looked up what The Magazine-Reading Lesbians of the World said are the best books and authors. So a few days later on the hold shelf there was:
  • Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, by Jeanette Winterson
  • Surpassing the Love of Men, by Lillian Faderman
  • After Delores, by Sarah Schulman
  • Go Fish (the film by Rose Troche and Guinevere Turner)

Thus far, the verdicts are:
  • Go Fish: Rent it right now!! The 90s in all its glory, and a girl-meets-girl that's not just "girl" substituted for boy...meaning it's more than a romantic comedy, truly a lesbian text that is also fantastically well done. My favorite is the sequence with the frilly wedding dress and the butches lining up to kiss the bride.
  • Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit: Short and intense, I'm almost done. A mostly autobiographical novel about an evangelical Christian girl awakening to her sexuality, told in the voice of a 9-15 year old.

And drat, I can't go but you all really really should go see Sean Dorsey Dance's "The Secret History of Love" performance happening mid-June as part of the Fresh Meat performance series. Secret History is about queer history from the 1920s to the present, and importantly, including transgender histories. Sean is a transgender modern dance choreographer and dancer, and this piece is both dance and narrative. Sean researched oral and written queer histories throughout the country to create the piece.

My friends went to see Secret History and they say: "it was refreshing to see the documentation of our invisible history" (Angela), and "you consider questions that you might not have considered before in terms of putting yourself back in time and, confronted with the inability to outwardly express [your queer self], how would it make you feel, what would you do?" (Beth)

And to my ancestors, thank you thank you thank you.

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