Monday, October 26, 2009

“Sisters Take Care of Sisters”

It gave me chills when I first heard it, that line sung by Izquierda Ensemble, when I was fifteen. I was visiting my sister during her first year at Reed College in 1979, having a little vacation in academia.

The other night, I heard that voice again.

It was at TIME OUT: The Mother of all Comedy Shows, on Saturday at the Q Center Portland, where I was among three performers joining comedienne Jacki Kane onstage, to talk about “Mom, Meet My Same-Sex Partner! We’re Having a Family!”

It was a natural venue for my work, and I got to read a spiced-up version of a chapter in my book, The Brides of March, which elicited laughs to my delight. The three other times I’ve gotten onstage, to read about dropping my thong on the second grade classroom floor, being a stoner slut in high school, and the vast menagerie that has passed through our home in the name of our kids, I was the only lesbian. So this was a nice change.

I went last. Plenty of time to get good and nervous before standing in front of the mike, taking a big breath, and knowing it was only ten minutes of my life and I would survive even if I completely bombed.

Myra Lavenue was before me, a fellow Curve and writer, but first on the line-up after Jacki’s gut-busting (and I mean it, my epigastric hernia just about burst) monologue, was writer/musician Naomi Morena.

When I met her on arriving at Q Center, to get oriented before things started, I felt a stirring of recognition. And while she did her piece, which included a stirring imitation of Johnny Mathis singing, I was more and more sure it was her. Sadly, she skipped out after Myra’s piece to take care of her little boy, so I didn’t get the chance to ask her, but Google affirmed my suspicions when I got home.

Naomi Morena was formerly Naomi Littlebear Martinez of Izquierda Ensemble, that feminist band I’d seen while visiting my sister at Reed. And that concert and visit were important influences on my voyage out of the closet. My eighteen-year-old sister and her female friends were radical women with unshaven legs, some of them L.U.G.s, and so at the concert I was surrounded by lots of wonderful, hairy, allegedly gay women and sweet song. My heart leapt. I was on an estrogen high.

I’d identified as “aesthetically bisexual” from around eleven, because obviously women were prettier than men and pleasanter to look at, and was self-identifying as bi by the time I was visiting Reed and my sister. But when I reached out to touch the long hairs on my sister’s good friend Jo’s ankle, she recoiled like she’d been bitten by a snake. Was I too much jailbait, I wondered? And then, back at the dorm, my sister’s friends lit into me about my makeup, my clothes, my fifteen-year-old curling-ironed hair, and it seemed crystal clear that no lesbians would like me back. Bang went the closet door for another four years.

What, I wonder, would have happened if I hadn’t become convinced no woman would love me the way I was? Would I have hooked up (in the romantic or any other sense) with any of the dozen or so lesbians who, I discovered later, attended my high school at that time? Would they have looked me up and down and scratched me off their list due to my looks, since femmes were highly suspicious in the late seventies and it would take discovering a seriously androgynous jock in my Women in Literature course at the UW to lure me out of the closet at nineteen?

Though that didn’t last and I was lost in a sea of Doublemint dykes, scholarly lesbians, crunchy granolas, a butch/femme leather crowd and radicalesbian feminists who didn’t actually get around to having sex with their partners. It was a troubled time.

Lucky for me I met another seriously androgynous jock at twenty-two (even if she did occasionally wear pink), latched on and never let go. She was there, listening to Naomi Morena, formerly Naomi Littlebear, and enjoying her tale. Again, lucky for me.

1 comment:

Dr. Teri Bunker, DNP, FNP said...

Great story Beren. Too bad you didn't get a chance to talk to her. I think you should find her email somehow and send her the link to your blog. I'm sure she'd enjoy it.
Explains why she had such an easy time singing like that at the performance. Bet she has some stories!