The Amazon Trail: Generating

by | May 13, 2019 | QUEER RVA

I was sitting on the catio, watching the birds do their aerial mating dances, the bees and their flowers coming into bloom, thinking about regeneration and queer families.

Sure, we can reproduce ourselves with a little help from our friends and science. Yet, with rare exceptions, gay men don’t raise gay children and gay women usually bring up heterosexuals as well. There are no bloodlines connecting one gay generation to the next, the grand-lesbian culture to the great grand-lesbians.

Gay people sometimes use the word family to describe our partners and our friends. I have a niece, a nephew, cousins, to whom I can pass down blood family “heirlooms.”

But to whom do I give the diminutive model typewriter Valerie Taylor, known for her lesbian pulp fiction and later Naiad Press novels, gave to me? The photo a teacher sent of her students studying my novel, The Swashbuckler? The rings from my bonding ceremony with Tee Corinne? The Zippo lighter that was once so much a part of my soft butch persona? Would these items have meaning to other dykes?

I’m very interested in the concept of lesbian generations and am, in fact, writing a series of standalone books I’m thinking of as a lesbian family saga. Rainbow Gap is the first of that series.

Writers Ashley Bartlett and Andi Marquette had a conversation about generational differences in Ashley’s “Women and Words” blog of April 16, 2019.

Ashley, a courageous teacher, wrote: …for many of the kids, I’m the first real life adult queer they have ever seen. You know when you’re out in public (not in an urban area) and you see queer people and it’s super exciting. My office is like that for the first two months of school.

Andi replied: I should totally come visit you. “LOOK, KIDS! LIVING HISTORY! AN OLD!”

Ashley also says (about herself and Andi): The most noticeable difference is the decade or so between us. I’d like to look at the differences in our experiences and the ways our heteronormative world treats us the same.

Later, she says: One could easily argue that the answer to queer diaspora is the internet… That’s where we went to organize in terms of activism or whatever else… and the community centers that were in existence.

Andi responded: OH, absolutely. But I do miss having that real-world space because that was where we went to be safe. And to be heard.

I shared their conversation with an OLD.

Mary wrote: I can’t relate to any of this as it was 30 years before being out was even in our vocabulary. In Jr. High School… I knew that lesbians existed but don’t know how. However. A real. Live. Lesbian? Never happen.  

My response: In high school, and I was out then, one of the teachers would toss me a word or two, sometimes just a look, about her life and our connection. Those few words and small gestures of support, clandestine as they were, showed me that my way of life was possible.

Mary: How courageous of your teacher!  She could have been canned, or worse, if she’d been overheard!

Lee: That’s just it. She managed to tell me without saying anything that could get her fired. We were all really good at that. A lift of an eyebrow, a secret little smile, words that could be taken two ways. It was a whole language I’m not sure Ash, for example, ever had or would want to use.

Mary: I think I got in on the tail end of this secret language… I remember commenting to someone who wanted total integration that if we did that, then what would happen to our secret language to recognize each other.

Four generations of lesbians. None of us want to go back to the bad old days, where politicians like Pence would send us. But if we do, well, perhaps that language should be passed on because it literally saved lives. The lives of scared and confused gay kids needing even a hint of a mentor, of adults who found lovers, family, comrades in workplaces, of gay people in bars who knew to vamoose or act straight when the lights blinked or the jukebox plug was pulled and the police poured in with their billy clubs.

But here’s an earlier conversation. This time I’m posting with my old-style lesbian-feminist friend (LF) and we’re worried about getting that reassurance. We’d read a piece in BuzzFeed about LGBT young people being out, but dropping the labels older gays used.

LF asked if this was:  A way of avoiding direct words, meaning, actions?

I said: Or is it yet another closet?

LF said: I’m finding this so true among the young women I meet here.

I said: This really makes me feel old.

LF wondered if losing labels was: Some kind of assimilation.

I whine: We just get to the point where we can say aloud who we are and the next gen denies it. But then I think of science fiction and I can imagine all these Hello Kitty kids willingly duped into shedding their distinctness to join the pod. A corporation-induced mind meld.

The world has moved on, though, and we need the language and tools of the Ashley and the Andi generations.

Andi said: I went to an intergenerational panel, and young people—early 20s and late teens, were just devastated by the [2016] elections… I got up and I told them…We’d pool our resources, we’d teach each other different strategies, and we’d figure this out. I said, you’re first string now. I’m the bench. But I’m here with you to get us all through.

Ash replied: Of course. You can guide, but you’ve already done the trenches. You need reassurance that someone will take your work and continue. Fuck, I’m already tired.

Andi said: omg, right? it’s so exhausting. I’ll get back in the goddamn trenches if necessary, though.

Ashley:  I know you will. I’ll be there with you.

The sparrows hopped and chirped, the bees bumbled among the flowers, and I felt regenerated.

Copyright Lee Lynch 2019. Photo: Valerie Taylor’s typewriter, Courtesy Lee Lynch

Lee Lynch

Lee Lynch

Lee Lynch has been writing lesbian fiction since the 1960s, and is an important influence in modern lesbian literature. Her syndicated column, The Amazon Trail, has been running since 1986. She lives with her wife, Elaine Mulligan Lynch, in the Pacific Northwest.

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