Deb is a sister to me. She has supported my work, consistently and aggresively, with productions and readings, and also inviting me to perform in her space. She is intrepid and keeps going in spite of everything.
I called her last week, with an upsetting situation in my professional life as a lesbian playwright, which was heading for a very ugly and potentially costly confrontation. Wisely, she suggested that think about blogging instead of generating aggressive in-your-face webpages. Even in my adrenaline charged fight-or-flight mode I could recognize a good idea when I heard it.
I can't remember how this suggestion evolved into a five-day blog-off, but it did. We challenged each other to blog daily for five days, on any subject, but holding high the values of compassion and something else I've already forgotten... but one out of two ain't bad.
So... my first blog is an appreciation of Deb and also a disquisition on the importance of sisterhood. It's tough sometimes to keep going, and it's especially tough to keep making art that the world appears not to value.
I have a story to tell: Three years ago, a friend of mine got into a discussion with me. She was swamped with student loans and I was watching my books go out of print. We decided to challenge each other to submit book proposals to publishers (this was part of her plan to get out of debt... to write a best-selling murder-mystery).
Well, I am a competitive creature, which is why I find the "ignore them and they will self-destruct"* policy of the mainstream toward lesbians so pernicious. Give me a good fight any day! But how do you fight with indifference?
So, now there was a competition. I began to send out proposals. With the same enenergy I would have thrown spitballs. It was the spirit of the thing, not the activity. Which helped, because book proposals are only one notch up from tossing notes in bottles into the middle of the ocean.
Eventually, I sent off 13 proposals. My friend dropped out of the race, but I had gotten some momentum. All of them were rejected, but that's not the end of the story. These rejections were so enraging, I was motivated to look into self-publishing. To my astonishment, the technology made it possible for me to self-publish with absolutely NO upfront capital.
I spent the next two years putting 12 books of mine into print and more than 55 plays. Hey, check out my storefront! And... HAPPY ENDING! One of these books won the Lambda Literary Award in Drama, the top LGBT book award in the US!
All because my friend challenged me. Just like Deb has challenged me. This is the way we do it, sisters. We change up the game. We redefine winning. And we do it together.
(Taken from my most recent book of meditations, Like a Lover: A Daily Reader for a Women's Revolution.
...to leave them entirely alone, not notice them, not advertise them. That is the method that has been adopted in England for many hundred years, and I believe that is the best method now, these cases are self-exterminating.--House of Lords , 1921
This quotation is taken from a discussion in the British Parliament in 1921 about the best way to punish lesbianism. Death and incarceration “in a lunatic asylum” had already been discussed.
Women are frequently naive about the extent of deliberate strategizing on the part of the men who oppress us. In fact, naïveté is one of the survival strategies of women that enables us to continue to function in exploitive and woman-hating institutions—but it is a short-term strategy with disastrous consequences in the long run.
In the twenty-first century, this strategy “not to notice them, not to advertise them” has taken a sinister turn. Instead of pretending we don’t exist, we are simply pornographized. We have been effectively erased again, and the process is every bit as focused and intentional as that taken by the House of Lords.
As this quotation illustrates, many men are well aware of the self-doubt and despair that result when one’s very existence is being actively denied. Perhaps they are aware of it because of their own existential terror at even the threat of women’s withdrawal of attention from them. In any event, it is critical to our survival as lesbian-feminists to understand that our poverty, our obscurity, our shame, our inability to trust our perceptions, our difficulty at articulating our experiences, our inability to trust other women enough to form effective alliances—these do not derive from personal failings on our part! Not at all. They are the desired consequences of an active and organized conspiracy to exterminate us. As African American lesbian poet Audre Lorde expressed it, we are not supposed to have survived.
Lesbians do kill themselves. Lesbian teenagers are greatly at risk for suicide. Ask yourself, “What are the names of three lesbians I would not be surprised to hear had just taken their own lives?” And then, ask yourself why you would not be surprised. And then, ask yourself what you could do to lessen their particular oppression at this time.
And I’m not talking about moving in with them, or sharing your bank account, or any other form of rescuing. I’m talking about what they need and what you can afford. If they are suffering from censorship, can you buy a piece of their art, give them the name of a lesbian publication looking for writers, can you have a few friends over for dinner to hear her read a short story at the end? If she is suffering from isolation, can you call and just let her know you are thinking about her, send her a card, or invite her to some event? If she is losing faith in herself, can you tell her what you admire about her, relate a story about a time when her example was helpful to you, or remind her of how very much she is up against as a lesbian in patriarchy? Can you make her struggle, her oppression, her achievements visible?
As lesbians, we all have more to do than we can fit into a single lifetime. But the time we take to check up on each other, to pass on words of encouragement, to validate our oppressions, to strategize—this is time well-spent. As we become more and more comfortable with extending to other lesbians, we will become more comfortable with extending to ourselves, and the lives we save may well turn out to be our own.