How Television Tells the Story of our Far-from-Average, Disaster-Responding, Lesbian Life


We have weird television habits at our house on Fourth Street.  Sara and I are tunnel-visioned and singularly focused, like my nephews, watching Star Wars incessantly—Hans-Solo-ed and Darth-Vader-ed to death.  Except for us it’s not science fiction we’re obsessed with, but rather all things HGTV for me, and equally everything Food Network for Sara —each of us bleeding decorating and duvets or butter and broth.

For example, when we’ve been home in the US in recent years, my partner has watched entire seasons of “Top Chef”—appetizer to dessert—beginning to end—over and over—till the next-to-last chef packs her knives, and I am able to quote entire dinner dialogs off the top of my head, guest chef judges sound-tracking our complete Christmas visit, critiquing candied carrots and pickled beets till we are out the door again, and back to Port-au-Prince, where, thank God, we were without TV, and Sara was forced to download podcasts on how to cook the perfect omelet, and we ate eggs, well-whisked and gorgeously prepared, morning, noon, and sometimes even night.

Aha, you say, “Top Chef” is not a Food Network series, but that fact conveniently leads to my next television insight—namely that each of us has a secondary network of choice.  And Sara’s second best is Bravo.

“Flipping Out” and “Tabitha’s Salon Takeover,” with their hard-core management styles and bad ass attitudes toward employees  are two of her favorite, which amazes me, as she is kind and mentoring toward her staff and doesn’t generally try taking  over, even at home.  Instead she leaves domestic commandeering and flipping out for me.

Admittedly, Sara has more well-rounded television interests than I.  She deviates from food-related programming more than I do from HGTV.  In addition to Bravo, she enjoys the Travel Channel, especially Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations.”  But then I like Tony, as well.  Somehow his vulgarity adds drama to our aging, early-to-bed, lesbian lives.

Sara also watches “Bizarre Foods”—the series, in which Andrew Zimmern travels to exotic places and eats things most of us would try to avoid in everyday life—things like grasshopper and rattlesnake, cricket and caribou—mostly creepy-crawly things and things with wings.  He eats bats, for example, and tons of testicles, the balls of almost any mammal worthy of having his private parts sautéed in olive oil or lots and lots of butter. 

However, if you knew my taste in television you would understand that I am way, way weirder than Sara—more singular in focus and borderline bizarre—willing to watch only two kinds of programming—those related to homes, and others nearer to news.

I’ve indicated before on this blog that I’m a fan of HGTV.  However, I’ve not yet confessed just how decorating-obsessed I happen to be.  For example, I live to see David Bromstad splash color from one end of Miami to the other—South Beach to Bal Harbor—Dade County dripping—a decorator’s delight.  (To watch an episode of “Color Splash Miami,” click here.) 

By far, however, my favorite HGTV series is “House Hunters International,” as it has, in recent years, paralleled my own ex-pat experience—going abroad, searching for housing, deciding what it takes to settle down domestically in a place far from home.  In some cases, I’m fascinated by cost—or the lack thereof—the hugely affordable urban apartments of Bangkok, the fabulous beach front flats in Ecuador, the Dominican Republic.  I fanaticize.  I dream.  Life by the sea at give-away prices.

an episode of "House Hunters International" in the Dominican Republic

At the same time, however, I’m also a huge fan of cable news—especially CNN—an obsession that kicks in especially during US presidential election years and massive natural disasters.  Largely CNN is for me what Bravo is to Sara—background noise—but in my case, at least not meaningless chatter—rather information and discussion of globally impactful issues—or in my case, regionally focused narratives what will affect me in distinctly global ways.

Since my partner Sara works in disaster response, sometimes stories about earthquakes or tsunamis become personally significant.  The Haiti earthquake, for example, meant leaving Hanoi, the place we called home at the time, and eventually settling in yet another remote location—Port-au-Prince.  Since Haiti has nearly non-existent or non-functioning infrastructure, perhaps, I watch cable news, and even “House Hunters International” to figure out what will make me a happy camper in similar locations, or happy camping, as the case may be.

So, given our globe-trottingly eccentric lifestyle, perhaps, both Sara’s and my programming choices are understandable and not as weird as I’d thought.  In fact, maybe it’s not our approach to television that’s exceptional, but rather our disaster-responding lifestyle that is borderline bizarre—living without screens in malaria-plagued places, surviving without electricity in countries infernally hot, locations where fans, not to mention air conditioning would have made worlds of difference.

But then again, that’s what we want our lives to be.  Living in comfort is second-rate compared to making meaning and making a difference.

And the year we lived in Haiti, we had no television except when we came home on holiday—so maybe that fueled our viewing eccentricities.  “Top Chef” droning non-stop in the background at least gave my partner a break from poverty housing and humanitarian aid, the ups-and-downs of responding to disasters in distant places.

So, maybe, this post is less about television and more about living life on the edge, less about meaningless programming and more about making meaning in a stressed-out, crazy world, where sometimes the earth shakes in places like Haiti, buildings collapse and lives are lost—but sometimes babies are saved, sometimes families survive, sometimes dreams can endure—hope pulled like prayer from the rubble—

—television or not.

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?