The Scarlet L(etter): the “L” Word Revisited


While on the faculty at Oral Roberts University, I wrote the following poem.  The year was 1988.  I had been teaching a women’s literature course, a senior seminar.  When I introduced feminist criticism, I used a text, which I then loaned to a student, a copy in which I had (scandalously) underlined the word “Lesbian.”  This female student took the book to the dean, in an effort to report my behavior (apparently unbecoming an ORU faculty member).  I was then called into the Dean of Women’s office to “discuss” the matter, where I was asked about my sexual orientation–I kid you not.  At the time I hadn’t discovered yet that I am, indeed, (blush, blush) a Lesbian.

In reading back over the poem, planning to discuss the incident with my now partner, I think to myself, “What kind of God-forsaken place was this!  It’s no wonder I subsequently had a nervous breakdown.”

I hope you’ll read the poem and tell me your thoughts on the matter.

inquisition

i balance on the edge
of a yellow wing back
chair in a room that’s
clean and at odd angles
with a window and  
a view of roof
 
it’s easy to think
of her as an enemy—
the fat woman with stiff
hair across the desk
from me
 
we don’t want you to
feel like this is
a witch hunt, she says
 
but, of course, we both
know that it is—that
it’s me at stake, because
i’ve got a back that’s
made of bone,  because
i bleed
 
we don’t believe
in blood, she says,
we don’t believe
in bone.
 
(poem written 7 December 1988)

Top 10 Ways to be a Not-So-Normal American Couple


My partner Sara and I are beginning to lose touch—

Lose touch with what it means to be an even remotely “normal” American couple.  Some might say that’s not such a bad thing, but I promise you, we have gotten so far from the center of the bell curve, we can’t find the bell any more.  We can’t even hear it ringing in the distance.

So–in light of this loss, today, I bring you the top 10 ways you too can be the most un-American of American couples:

#10.  Station armed guards outside your house. 

This is sure to eliminate any and all illusions of privacy. 

(If you are new to the blog, my partner Sara and I live in Haiti where threats to security are common.  Click here to read a post about this.)

 

#9.  Argue frequently about how you will generate electricity. 

Sara and I have been known to have some of our hottest arguments around just how long we can safely run our generator, especially on days when we have no or very little electricity from the city. I don’t like to be hot.  Heat makes me irritable, bitchy, and stressed.  So during the hottest nights here in Haiti, I’ve wanted to keep the air conditioning on, or at the very least, a fan running—neither of which are possible without electricity or our generator running.

(To read an entire post dedicated to Haiti’s infrastructure issues click here.)

 

#8.  Do without television.  

Instead watch DVDs of “30-Something” for evening entertainment. I knew things were getting bad when over the weekend Sara and I watched back to back episodes of the show’s first season and felt like we were enjoying a special treat, hovering around Sara’s laptop like kids in front of Saturday morning cartoons.

“Oh, boy!” we exclaimed elbowing one another.  “Isn’t this great!”  We would have broken out the popcorn, if we had a microwave to pop it in.

 

#7.  Go to bed before dinner.

Not out of passion, but because you’ve become dreadfully boring and tire easily.

 

#6.  Have no hot water in your kitchen sink.

Not to mention no dish-washer.

 

#5. Develop an active fear of kidnapping.

On average—there’s a kidnapping a day in Port-au-Prince—usually of foreigners, often of ex-pats working for NGOs on earthquake reconstruction.  And in fact, a number of these kidnappings actually happen in Petion-ville, where we live, since most NGOs have set up their operations from this location.

Many ex-pats are kidnapped from their cars.  To alleviate that risk we drive with seatbelts on, windows up, doors locked.  It’s harder to be pulled from a vehicle that way.

 

#4.  Stage incidents of international canine trafficking.

I know most folks don’t traipse the planet, canine companions in tow, but Sara and I, for whatever reason, see fit to move our mutts to whichever corner of the globe is hosting the latest in earth-shaking disasters. 

For example, it was challenging to take a 40 pound, blonde terrier to Vietnam, where the meat of medium sized, light skinned canines is still considered a delicacy.  And though it ended well, concluded with Ralph arriving uneaten in Hanoi, it proved so crazy-making along the way, we “sanely” decided to bring him here to Haiti this past summer. 

However, that trip proved less eventful—except for his traveling companions on the flight from Miami to Port-au-Prince—the 10,000 chicks he still hasn’t stopped chirping about.

(For an entire post on pet-transport mishaps click here.)

 

#3.  Appreciate the difference between “trash” and “stash.”

Sara has “placement issues”—a problem she blames on her training as an architect and which she insists I knew about prior to our partnering and simply can not change.  Bottom line—Sara likes to arrange things: drawers, cupboards, closets, the contents of the refrigerator, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup arranged in tidy rows—like items lined up together—like soldiers—an army of condiments ready for edible action.  If an object doesn’t fall neatly into rank, the solution for Sara is simple—throw it in the trash.

I, on the other hand, tend to collect things—and not the kinds of things most would consider collectables, but which I gather in the name of “potential art”—items I prefer to call “collagables”—buttons, beads, ribbons, rocks, shells, business cards, bottle caps, maps, matchboxes, newspaper clippings, play bills, and, among other things, sales receipts—in my mind the most under-rated and readily available of all the collagables—a free gift with each purchase, so to speak.

Sara insists my stash is trash!

 

#2.  Agree on only one thing. 

That there are too many white people in America. 

On one of our recent trips back to the US what stood out to both of us most, even though our home is in an ethically-mixed neighborhood, was the overwhelming huge number of Caucasian in the city where we live.  At one point Sara turned to me in the grocery store produce isle and asked:  “What do you notice about being home?”  My response was immediate, “There are so many white people in America!  I had forgotten.”  It surprised us how quickly we both had become conditioned to what seems an appropriate ethnic mix.  We had made a shift that we noticed only when coming “home.”  If this can happen for us, it can happen for others.  Come join us.  Make the switch.

 

#1.  Be denied the right to marry.

This one I think speaks for itself, but if not please watch this video:

 

Sara reminds me, that though we don’t have the right to marry in Kentucky, we at least now have an openly gay mayor in Lexington, so that’s a step in the right direction.  (To  read about Jim Gray click here.) 

However, Sara also insists that, by far, the weirdest thing about us as couple is that I asked her to brainstorm with me about “what makes us weird as a couple.”  I’m not exactly sure what’s so weird about that, but Sara says my not recognizing the strangeness of that request makes it even weirder.  I don’t know.  You be the judge.

At any rate, remember that “normal” is a difficult to define category.  I appreciate that.  But if you recall the 1960s television sitcom, “The Odd Couple,” you’ll see that I’m not talking so much about individual issues that separate us from the crowd.  I’m looking at the entire constellation of individual quirks that combine to make a couple what most others would consider strange.  I’m looking at the “Odd Couple” factor, if you will.

Felix Unger and Oscar Madison epitomized for a generation of Americans just what it meant to be uniquely coupled in the 1960s.

But If Felix and Oscar were the not-so-average pair of heterosexual bachelors in the 60s, I would argue that Sara and I are the same for this decade’s no-where-near-single lesbian couple—a uniqueness not related in the least to the reality of sexual preference.

In fact, Sara and I give whole new meaning to the notion of “odd couple”—sexual orientation not withstanding.

We may be weird–

But we do want to wed!

What sets you and your partner apart from the crowd?  What makes a couple “weird” in the country  you call home?  Do gay and lesbian couple have the right to wed where you live?

So, I Lied . . .


. . . sort of . . .

I said I wasn’t going to post today–that drunkenness and lounging on a Florida beach would interfere.

But I had to share the video below. 

Whether you support gay marriage or not, whether you support the rights of Iowa lesbians to form civil unions or not, please watch this video of Zach Wahls, a 19-year-old University of Iowa student, who spoke out against legislation that would outlaw civil unions for gay couples in his state. 

Zach, with a rhetorical prowess rivaling that of Barack Obama, shares his experience as the child of a lesbian couple.  The video speaks for itself.  Please watch.

You might also like to read an article in the Huffington Post (click here) about Zach’s brilliant defense, his defense of something that shouldn’t need defending–a right that is priceless to gay and lesbian couples–one heterosexual couples take for granted.

I may have told a well-intended lie, an honest lie, of sorts, saying that I wouldn’t post today.  But in the US we are only now reversing “Don’t ask, Don’t tell”–a law that requires gays and lesbians serving in our military to lie about their sexual orientations–to lie about their very identities.

We are only now allowing women like me to write openly about their partner’s service to the planet’s poor.  Fifty years ago I’d never dared.

We are only now allowing gay couples to walk the main streets of America hand-in-hand with the ones they love, often the ones they’ve committed to for life–to stand strong and proud and committed.

Committed to America, committed to one another, committed to love.

Seemingly Selfish, Lesbian Ex-Pats Seek Personal Peace (and some damn, good shopping) in South Florida


Sara and I are planning a weekend trip to Miami and hoping that Haitian streets remain quiet this week, ahead of our planned departure on Friday.  However, recent developments in the news, some even in the past several hours, hint that peace in Port-au-Prince could be short-lived.  Let’s keep all selfish, Lesbian fingers crossed that we gals get gone from Haiti before politics throw an exile-returning monkey wrench into our scheme for peace.

Over the weekend we learned specifically that the Haitian Electoral Council will announce on Wednesday the winners in Haiti’s first round of presidential elections—“winners” being the two candidates with the most votes, who will run-off on March 20th.

The American government, in an effort to persuade Haiti to accept the election outcome supported by the OAS (Organization of American States), revoked the US visas of 12 top political leaders from Haitian President Preval’s Inite party.  An OAS investigation found massive fraud in November 28th’s election and recommended that Preval’s hand-picked candidate, Jude Celestin, be eliminated from the run-off.  Bowing to this pressure late last week, Preval’s party withdrew its support of Celestin, but Celestin himself has refused to concede defeat and remove himself from the process.

However, any potential unrest from Wednesday’s electoral announcement could be complicated further by what Haitian President Preval and his council of ministers decided to do on Monday afternoon—grant former President Aristide a diplomatic passport, so he can return to Haiti.

Clearly, the Obama administration was concerned enough about Haiti’s ability to transfer power away from Preval, whose term ends on February 7th, that it sent US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Port-au-Prince on Sunday to meet with the current president and the three presidential candidates fighting for top spots on March 20th’s ballot.  I suspect the US is concerned that Haiti not devolve into the same kind of political unrest we’ve seen recently in Tunisia and Egypt.  US interests in the region depend on peace being maintained in its own hemisphere, especially in a place just 600 miles south of Miami and too close to Cuba for comfort, a goal that Aristide’s return could threaten.

Cuba also came into play on Monday afternoon, as rumors spread that Aristide had already left South Africa, where he’s lived in exile since 2004, and had returned in the Caribbean, in preparation for his arrival Port-au-Prince.  Some reports had him in Venezuela, others in Cuba.  However, Aristide’s attorney has since confirmed that the former president has not yet left South Africa.

Aristide maintains a huge following among Haiti’s poor, and his Lavalas party was not allowed to participate in November’s election.

Today’s New York Times has a story that nicely assesses the Aristide situation, outlining the potential complications.

Clearly, political tensions here in Haiti seem to be heating up   Selfish as it sounds (and admittedly it is selfish), Sara and I hope things don’t boil over before our weekend escape to South Florida.  Though not returning home to Kentucky, we’re looking forward to the comforts of American television (minus Super-Bowl Sunday), foods as heart attack-inducing as McDonald’s Big Mac and fries, and some quiet time to enjoy South Beach and play our part, as gratuitous American consumers, shopping till greed and guilt get the best of us or our wallets are emptied—a little retail therapy to lift our spirits and boost the lagging US economy.

Somebody’s got to do it; might as well be this pair of globe-trotting, dog-loving lesbians, who need a little personal peace, as well. 

(Apologies for the Super Bowl snub; we expats like our football better in the form of World Cup action.)