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publisher Jeffrey Escoffier managing editor Robin Stevens art director Rupert Kinnard editors Tomas Almaguer Rudiger Busto

Allan Berube Jeffery Escoffier

Lisa Kahaleole Chang Hall Rebecca Isaacs Carla Trujillo Francisco X. Alarcon (poetry! Jim Woods (contributing editor! Arlene Stein (book reviews! surveys director Gary Rocchio

copy editor Michael Douqlas-Llvr art associates Rob Fein Kris Kovick Blake Riley development director David Lindsay general manager Kelly Lee advertising director Lisa Geduldig



advertising Justin Belsley Terry Magnett

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subscription manager Elissa Perry accountant Daniel Cawley





interns Rick Fallis Kate Krauss Madeleine Sausotte




special thanks to Martha Baer Martin Chavez John DeLois Rebekah Eppley Steve Lawson Christine Loughlin John Preckel Tom Rielly Sarah Rosen Cynthia Schrager Scott Stapley

Volume 4, Number 4, Spring 1992. OUT/LOOK, National Lesbian & Gay Quarterly (ISSN 0089-7733) is published quarterly by the OUT/LOOK Foundation, 540 Castro Street, San Francisco, CA 94114-2512, (415) 626-7929. Postmaster: Send address changes to OUT/LOOK, 540 Castro Street, San Francisco, CA 94114-2512. Second class postage paid at San Francisco and additional mailing offices. Correspondence: OUT/LOOK welcomes le u ers to [he editor, queries, unsolicited manuscripts. and artwork. Submissions cannot be returned unless a stamped, self-addressed envelope is included. No responsibility is assumed for loss or damage. Letters may be edited for length. Send all editorial, business, advenising. and subscription correspondence to the address listed above. Subscriptions: Annual rates are S23 for individuals, S32 for libraries and institutions, 326 for Canada/Mexico, and 332 international. Add Sl6 for first-class international. All rates are ill US dollars. Rights: All rights reserved. Contents copyright Š 1991 by the OUT/LOOK Foundation except where otherwise noted. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited. Note: Publication of the name 0'" photograph of any person or organization in articles, advertising, or listings in OUT/LOOK is not to be construed as an indication of thai person's or organization's sexual orientation (unless stated specifically). Opinions expressed in the pages of OUT/LOOK do not necessarily represent the opinions of the editors, unless stated specifically. The OUT/LOOK Foundation is a member of the International Lesbian and Gay Association.

advisory Roberta Achtenberg John D'Emilio Melvin Dixon Joan Nestle Urvashi Vaid OUT/LOOK board of Debra Chasnoff Tod Hill Barbara Wezelman

board Virginia Apuzzo Michael Denneny Armistead Maupin Sarah Schulman Edmund White Foundation directors Michael Douglas-Llyr Sam Tucker Karen Wickre

founders Peter Babcock (1951-1991) Debra Chasnoff E.G.Crichton Jeffrey Escoffier Kim Klausner Michael Sexton










ast night, two days before we shipped this issue off to the printer, OUT/LOOK staff, board members and volunteers met to discuss the future of the magazine. As we squeezed into my office, we had a sense of urgency, and a realization that we could lose the magazine unless we meet an immediate challenge. Like most of you, OUT/LOOKs been feeling the recession more and more in the last few months. Costs are escalating, and as is the case for other independent publications, subscription renewals and direct mail response are down. In February, we laid off two of our employees (until then we had a staff of five). We examined our budget and cut back in every way we could think of. We'll do what we have to in order to survive: print on cheaper paper, trim the size of the magazine, run fewer pages for a couple of issues .... We know though, that this won't be enough. We've got to have financial support and contributions from those of you who think OUT/LOOK is important.

sexual theorist Camille Paglia who's been lesbian bashing on the talk show and interview circuit. OUT/LOOK continues to explore the implications of "in community" arguments in the debate we present about the politics of the bisexual movement. We see it as our role to print pieces that distill controversy, make people mad (sometimes), and get people thinking (definitely) . We're committed to bringing you unfiltered, passionate voices so that you can make your own decisions about the political issues we are facing. In this issue we are also publishing our firstever com m issioned reporting piece. Last fall we asked newspaper reporter Nancy Solomon to assess the information available about lesbian safe sex and woman-to-woman transmission of the HIV-virus. No one else has done this. She reports on her research here-and presents the controversial argument that safe sex for lesbians may not be necessary all of the time.

We've Come This Far

... But We Need Your Help

t'shard to think about all of this, because it also feels as if there is no limit to the editorial possibility for OUT/LOOK. The issue in your hands reflects the extent to which the lesbian and gay communities, and the magazine, have changed since we began publishing in 1988. Lesbians, gay men, and all kinds of queers are pushing their various ways into the mainstream, gaining visibility, causing a fuss, and creating change while we're at it. Making sense of these changes, and understanding how our artists and leaders approach them, is part of a new challenge for all of us. In this issue, OUT/LOOK takes a look at several people who are representing lesbians and gays to a broader audience. One of Britain's leading independent filmmakers, Isaac Julien, explains his approach to depicting black and gay experiences in films intended for a mixed audience. Illustrator Jaime Hernandez talks about his popular comic heroines and what he thinks about his lesbian and feminist fans. And Susie Bright has a satisfying confrontation with controversial

he progress we're making as a magazine is exciting, but if we're going to keep on plugging, we need your help. We're tightening our belts, we're reorganizing our business operations, we're examining our editorial work, but we also need to raise $30,000 by the end of March to stabilize our finances. Six people who donate $5000 apiece could do this for us. Or thirty people at $1000 each. Contributions of any amount will help. If you can donate to us, now is the time. If you know anyone who you think should know about and support OUI/LOOK, call us today at the number below. It's important to preserve the spaces that we have for authentic, diverse cultural and political expression. All of us have so much at stake. -Robin Stevens, Managing Editor







You can contact us at: OUT/LOOK 540 Castro Street San Francisco, CA 94114 (415) 626-7929



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Letter from an 'Enemy' I was conditionally pleased with your Winter '92 articles on interracial love. That your editors had so many doubts about whether or not anything so good as love could be involved in interracial sexuality was one of the main factors that made my pleasure conditional. Another factor was the absence of any of we white "enemies" in the discussion. It makes me sympathize with women when we men talk about them as if they did not exist or have feelings. JOHN KAVANAUGH Detroit, MI


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The finer arts of S/M Your art department did a fabulous job with the visuals for the two articles on S/M in issue 15. However, some of the captions convey information that is either erroneous or misleading. l. The print of the drawing by Zach did hang in the bar area of San Francisco's Catacombs, but it did not hang "over the bar." It was at eye level where it could be appreciated. 2. The motorcycle caps favored by leather men have come in two basic styles. The first, pictured on p. 10, was the Harley cap. Marlon Brando wore one in The Wild One, and it was the headgear for leathermen in the fifties and sixties. At some point, Harley Davidson discontinued this style of cap and leathermen began to adopt a different motorcycle cap made by a




Canadian company called Muir. The top was made of a single piece of leather rather than the eight sections of the Harley type. Two examples of Canadian-type caps are pictured in OUT/LOOK on pp. 12 and 14. Both represent a shift from the earlier Harley style, but the second cap does not represent a further, specifically "nineties" evolution from the "mid-seventies" cap on p. 12. 3. The watercolors byJohn Willie on pp. 16 and 17 are not from his Gwendoline and the Missing Princess. They are reprinted from The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline, a retrospective tribute published by Belier Press, edited byJ.B. Rund. 4. Finally, the caption on the drawing by Noreen Scully on p. 19 describes the artist as "an illustrator of the lesbian leather scene in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s." As far as I know, Scully was never part of the organized lesbian S/M scene in the Bay

Area and those wonderful few of her drawings that depict women with whips or in situations with erotic SM overtones predate or parallel the emergence of that scene. It is ironic to recall that before the sex-porn-S/M wars of the late seventies and early eighties, hundreds of proper feminist dykes treasured two incredibly popular posters: Tee Corrine's famous photograph of two nude women making passionate love which had previously graced the cover of that very correct journal, Sinister Wisdom, and Noreen Scully's The Kiss. GAYLERUBIN San Francisco If Pat Califia and John Preston are really the tops they pretend to be, why do they whine all the time? There's no more cliched lament than crying over the passing of the good old days. Preston's salad days were probably just as wilted to those who had been on the leather scene for years before him. Califia sounded as if it might be time for her to switch roles. It was hard to conjure up sympathy for the top who's never read a set of guidelines to preven t her from throwing her back out while whipping someone. JAYGROVE St. Paul, MN I'm tired offeeling like I don't belong to the homosexual community because I do not "get into" leather sex. I


find your topics very degrading to "normal homosexuals." Personally I'd enjoy topics that affect my community and not people in Moscow or Mexico. There is so much going on here in the USA to write about that I'd enjoy reading about. LISA WILLIAMS Golden Valley, MN Artists with AIDS All of us at Visual Aid are so delighted with your Portfolio section featuring us in the winter, 1992 issue. Outside of a small item in Art in America, this is the first national exposure our organization has had. What this will mean for our work here is tremendous in its potential. It could also have enormous effects for

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fORMERti MISS other parts of the countryperhaps because of your Portfolio similar organizations will now form in other areas. GENE RAMEY President, Visual Aid San Francisco, CA Random Notes Ah, sitting in my folks' cozy kitchen, listening to Aretha Franklin and reading Om/LOOK ... what could be finer? Just felt like dropping you a short postcard to let you know I really enjoy every issue and appreciate the different viewpoints on your wonderfully professional pages. (I'm toward the ferni-




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PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE nist bisexual bent myself, but always enjoy articles with a gay male focus and lesbian articles of other philosophical slants; reluctantly even the S/M ones, though I admit I abhor the lifestyle.) SHEILA MORRlSON Vancouver, Be Thank you for your kind offer of a subscription to your magazine, OUT/LOOK I write to let you know that 1will not now, or in the future, be taking advantage of this generous offer, as I believe that homosexual behavior is morally wrong. I would not dream of denying others their right to self-determination. Their right to choose what to do or be or think. Ijust personally do not support, condone, or participate in homosexual behavior. Just save yourselves some postage and don't bother mailing me any more offers. Thank you. HEATHER SLOAT formerly Heather Swenson



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UNDRESSING ILLE Camille Paglia claims lesbians are boring and inert Susie Bright calls her on it. 9




first met Camille Paglia, the most famous anti-lesbian feminist, lesbian feminist in America, during my book tour for Susie Sexpert's Lesbian Sex World. I was speaking at Giovanni's Room bookstore III Philadelphia to a small atten tive audience, when suddenly this bag lady jumped out of her seat, waving her arms as if she was hailing the last cab at Grand Central, and yelled, "I am your only friend in academia." She came up to me and thrust a handful of papers in my direction-reviews of her new book. Later that night when I unfolded them, I expected to read some cosmic conspiracy theory of the sort that are passed out every day in the Haight Ashbury. Instead I found terribly serious book reviews from all the most highbrow quarters, com-

menting with great applause and alarm on this woman's grand oeuvre, Sexual Personae. Soon Camille Paglia was quoted all over the American press on every sex-related subject from amateur porn videos to sexual harassment. In the September 1991 issue of Esquire, Paglia flatly declared lesbians to be sexually and intellectually "inert." Well, you haven't gotten any in a long time, I thought. Ruby Rich quoted Camille in the Village Voice as saying, "Susie Bright and I are on the same track." It's true that we do have a few cars going in the same direction. But as much as she rails against academia, sometimes I think that Paglia has for too long been locked in a tower of her own making. How can she truly think that lesbians are the most "conformist" people on the face of the earth? Where was she during Operation Desert Storm? Has she never been to a suburban shopping mall? Her notions of male civilization building brilliance and sexual vitality are often quoted as being demeaning to women, but they're just as maddening for many men. Men, in her book, are incapable of intimacy or a genuine emotionallife.

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Susie Bright: You know, a lot of lesbians, who read what you've written and read your interviews, are secretly laughing because they enjoy many of your criticisms. On the other hand, when you call lesbians sexually inert, a lot of dykes say, "I'd love to throw Camille Paglia down on the floor and fuck her brains out. " Camille Paglia: Oh, I love it! Who are these women? SB: You love it? (Laughter.) I could give you a list of people who have said this! ... Do you remember the night that I met you in Philadelphia? CP: Of course, it's burned into my memory. (Laughter. ) SB: Well, it is in mine, too. You popped up like a jack-in-the-box and you said that you were my only friend in academia. Why did you say that? CP: The way you were talking about sex was so humorous, spontaneous, improvisational. I am much more amazonlike. I could see that since you are not in the academic world, you didn't understand the degree to which this absolutely sex-phobic, crazed Moonie feminism has taken over the women's studies programs. I'm so happy I do not have any of these amateurish, incompetent, resentful, angry women trifling with my brain. SB: I disagreed with you about women's studies. I knew what you were talking about when you spoke about the feminist party line, but it's not unanimous. When I was in women's studies programs in California, I'd have one class that would be very anti-porn, very fundamentalist feminist, and then I'd walk into another class and the woman's studies teacher-a lesbianwould be very sexually radical. My first exposure to S/M, butch/femme, etc., was on campus. And so when you said, "I'm your only friend in academia," I thought, well, actually, you're not, there's lots of people who are very open-minded about this. CP: I am making headway because I am lib-


erating people to say things that they have been saying only privately. Women must blame themselves for their impotence, their paralysis, their failure to engage their own culture. It's no good being hip in a gay ghetto or in a bar or someplace. Feminism is damaging itself from its own prudity. SB: What did you think when you saw your first issue of On Our Backs? How did you reconcile the kind of women you saw in the magazine with your view of lesbians as these inert, mother-sucking creatures? How did you feel when you opened up On Our Backs and everyone was fucking each other in the ass, talking dirty and crossdressing and so on. CP: First of all, you have to realize that I am playing a game. My remarks about lesbians are my form of guerilla warfare. It is a criticism that comes from within, because for most of my life I have identified myself as a lesbian, so there is a lot of parody in what I'm saying. With On Our Backs, I was really excited when I first saw it, but I also felt like it reflected a very minority culture from San Francisco, a culture that wasn't easily imported. SB: Tell me one of your erotic fantasies: something that would be physically impossible or you would never do it, but as a fantasy it works beautifully. CP: If I was young, I could get into a whole line of scenarios. But now it's too late for me! I wrote this book that contains all my fantasy life, and now I sort of look with bemusement at the rest of the world, and I feel almost posthumous in certain ways. SB: Really, you act like it's all overfor you. These statements from you are a little bit hard to take. CP: It's true, Susie, it's true! SB: At this point there's got to be more to why you're not having this wild sex life than lack of opportunity. You're not going to be able to use that as an excuse anymore. CP: Well, at this point, no, because there are star fuckers and groupies, obviously-so you cannot judge in terms of people's desire for me now what my life was like before this. But when I think about my past, I've had to conclude that my level of inten-


sity is really male. What lesbians did not like about me was my intensity. They really couldn't deal with it, whereas straight women-because they are used to dealing with men-never had a problem with me. I never connected with lesbians. I mean, I talk very fast, but even when I wasn't opening my mouth, there is something about me that just was not interesting to lesbians. Men, on the other hand, have always been interested in me, but my problem with men is that I refuse to play any games of nursing and caretaking, all the stroking you have to do to keep men going from day to day. What I want from men is good sex-virility. SB: I had sex with women for years and where I was very inhibited because of what I thought would be offensive as a feminist. I didn't want to objectifY women. I didn't want to be like a man. I didn't want to be unequal. CP: I had the opposite problem. I was trying to be dirty with women and I wasn't finding it. I was having a lot of trouble finding who wanted just sex. My entire inability to relate to lesbians appears to be due to the fact that I was looking for sex-and they weren't. In the lesbian world you can't just walk into a bar. Oh no! You have to get into a sort of "musical chairs" group where you have to either play volleyball or do things with them or hang out with them. SB: Isn't it like that anyplace, though? CP: Oh, no. That's certainly not the case with men's bars at all. The people arrive there as strangers looking for sex and it is absolutely admitted that the men are looking for sex-that has always been the case, and I find that so wonderful about men, that they don't even pretend that they are looking for friendship. It is a bold admission of desire. SB: Was your first sexual experience with a man or with a woman? CP: Let me think. Are you talking about really early? I think it was with boys. Girls were later. I've been moving toward this idea of bisexuality because I have concluded that straight women are stronger than most lesbians. Last month I was in

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Bloomingdale's and saw this incredibly butch woman, and I thought, Look at that woman, she is so fabulous. Wow! It turned out that she was aJewish mother, and I realized the power that she was emanating was coming from her control of men and that was attracting me enormously: her power. I rarely find that in lesbians. But listen, these women who want to throw me down on the floor-what coast are they on? SB: Name your city, and I'll send one over. (Laughter.) You said that you've called yourself a lesbian most of your life, and yet you save your heaviest criticisms for lesbians. In some ways it makes sense because whatever group you identify with you also tend to be hardest on. But why were you attracted to women in the first place? Why did you call yourself a lesbian at any point if you're so sickened fry them that you never connected, and nobody would talk to you, and you weren't on the softball team, and yedy, yedy, yedy.... Something had to make you feel passionate about women, and I think we all want to know what that is. CP: Well, when I began to be attracted to women, they weren't lesbians. I was basically attracted to the straight women of the world. That's what I'm attracted to. The point is, I identified with myself as a lesbian before practically anyone. SB: (Laughter.) Before Christ! CP: When I was in college, I was dressing in gender-bending ways with ties, and I had my hair cut short, even though I also had white and blue iridescent sixties eye-makeup, you know? I wanted to find a woman I would get along with, but the thing was, as lesbian culture suddenlydeveloped, it turned into this feminist thing. It was anti-art, anti-Freud, anti-this and anti-that, and suddenly I was not attracted to these women who were calling themselves lesbians. In the beginning, I liked the old-style diesel dyke, I thought they were great. They were women, older than me, the ones in town, who were like men, and I got along with them. They were funny, they were very competitive, they would break a beer bottle on the edge of a table and go for people in

the bars. I thought they were great! Those are the ones I got along with. The new group of lesbian feminists really alienated me, and so, after that, the only affairs I had were with people who did not call themselves lesbians. There were lots of straight women who were borderline-had been with men-and they somehow connected with me and got these crushes on me, and they developed into major relationships that I had. For me some of the greatest moments in lesbian eroticism have been in a heterosexual context. You know that scene in The Conformist when Dominique Sanda is caressing Stephanie Sandrelli's legs? It's absolutely blazing with eroticism! I think lesbian sex lost big when it started to think of itself as totally apart from the world of heterosexual sex. It lost a lot of zap, the sizzle, and then it degenerated into what it is now, which is a huge, locked insular cage. SB: How come when men are together-completely without women-it doesn't turn into the same thing? CP: Well, sex is often a longing for intimacy. Women have this ability to be intimate without getting into bed with each other, this intuitive understanding of each other and people in general, and that leads to this fusion phenomena in lesbian relationships. Men aren't capable of being intimate. Ultimately they are blocked from their own emotions. There are some exceptionsartists, some gay men-but most heterosexual men really don't have a clue about what is going on in their own emotional life. So when men have sex, that desire to have sex with another man is a desire for intimacy which has no other way to express itself. I'm not for intimacy, particularly. I think we have too much intimacy right now. SB: (Laughter.) Camille, do you really have too much intimacy in your own life? CP: No, but I think there is too much intimacy in the world. Sex is hottest for me, usually, in the beginning, when people don't really know each other. And then the minute you start knowing someone, it just

gets into this immediate banal thing of "OK, who's going to take the shower first?" "Your mother's on the phone." I grew up in the fifties. I spent my whole life rebelling against banality! SB: Camille, who do you tell your secrets to? CB: Who do I tell my secrets to? SB: A woman or a man. CB: Well, I'm particularly close to women. I mean, secrets? What kind of secrets? Either gay men or women I tell my secrets to. Why? SB: Well, we are talking about intimacy. I don't buy it when you say that there is too much intimacy. I know what you're saying about the hunt being over, and all you can think about is TV dinners, but that is not intimacy, either. Intimacy and sexual excitement together is incredibly intoxicating, don't you think? CP: One of my ex-lovers went back to being straight, and of course all the lesbians turned on her and said: "How can you betray us? You were the greatest lesbian in

the world ...." She said she got tired-after a while in lesbian relationships-of the need to know every thought, to share everything. It wasjust too much. The thing about men that is so refreshing is that you just sort of pat them on the head and they go off and conquer the North Pole. Basically they are slightly absurd and you get great sex from them and so forth, but that intricate fusion of the mental lives is possible only between women and it eventually suffocates the sex-it certainly does for me. Men and women have hot sex because they will never know each other. Men can never truly bond in the way that women can. I am sick and tired of women retreating to their own world. They've got to join the human race and change the culture without whining about the culture, about "Big, Bad Daddy Patriarchy." That is so simplistic, so adolescent, so naive. And that is why I am



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going on the attack. American sexuality is always puritanical, but in the lesbian world everyone is so damned smug and self-satisfied, always patting each other on the back, all so complacent: "Oh, we're so fabulous." No, they aren't! ... Women, I think, are naturally bisexual. You know I'm not telling lesbians to stop sleeping only with women, but I think if they leave open a part of the brain toward men and accept male lust and find men extremely attractive and get horny in relation to men and ogle their bodies and do something with them, then sex with women will be hotter. SB: I have a different take on you, Camille, a different label for you: I think that you are a "butch bottom. " I think you are very attracted to femme women who might flip you. Virile men you admire, but you can't be in love with them. You are also very competitive with other lesbians who you sense are butch but not as butch as you or as good as you, which is typical among butch dykes: They don't like each other or have sex with each other very often, and they compete for the same girls. Most of them are "butch bottoms, " and they would agree with a lot of what you say. VVhenyou talk about the bad stuff, the banal stuff that we see, and even the latest Naiad Press romance literature, I understand-and every lesbian understands-what you are talking about .... VVhenyou say you see On Our Backs and San Francisco as a kind of minority, unusual experience-it isn't, it isn't! The reason that you would say, "Oh, Susie Bright is on the same track as I am even though she is in a different world than I am, " is that you're not the only one. You really aren't. There are a lot of dykes out there who are thrilled to hear some of the things you are saying but can't just go up and shake your hand because you are damning the whole group. You call it a guerilla tactic but there is guerilla with a "u" and gorilla with an "0. " CP: (Laughter.) I'm trying to break into these bunkers of women's studies, of feminism, and so on-they're absolutely locked tight, and what I am doing is blowing them all open. I just am. People who were invisible are actually talking to each other or yelling at me for the first time. There is also

an element of revenge in it-no doubt about that-because I am pissed that I spent the best years of my sex life in misery. SB: VVhat do you think of my take on your sexuality? CP: I thought that was fabulous! I loved that. SB: Oh, really? CP: Yes, I don't know if it's true, but it gives me a nice little "free feel." SB: How do you feel when people call you a fag hag? Does that upset you, or do you laugh and think, God, that's really true. CP: Well, I certainly love that phrase. Some of my most intimate relationships have been with gay men. I have been profoundly influenced by gay men. The way that they value beauty and art and their interest in pornography, the level of their sexual desire, their elitism ... I believe in the elitism of talent. I can't bear the egalitarianism that is going on in feminism: Heaven forbid we should make qualitative judgements about anything. SB: But it gets to the point where someone reads what you are saying-for instance, about masculinity signifying sexual freedom and "if women want this freedom, they have to be willing to accept certain risks like date rape"-and think, That's right. Women should wear veils. Women should not go out at night because they are not prepared to handle sexual freedom. CP: You can't believe that I have to be responsible for people misreading what I am saying and having half-baked ideas about me! I am a new thinker, I have just come on the scene, I have the most comprehensive vision of sexuality in the world right now. As for myself, I feel like I'm a sexual freak-my life in that area has been kind of miserable. And yet I got the compensation of writing this completely pornographic, massive book which eroticizes everything in history, and now the book is seducing other people, too! The book seduces people for me .â&#x20AC;˘ A version of this article originally appeared in NYQ.

fter nine films and videos, Isaac Julien has emerged at age 31 as Bri tain' s leading black independent filmmaker. He isn't doing so badly stateside either. His latest film Young Soul Rebels, an explosive consideration of soul music, homosexuality and interracial desire, opened at the end of 1991 in the US. The film drew a good deal of critical praise, and Julien turned up in American magazines like Mirabella, Vanity Fair and Interview. Despite the film's stylistic departure from his impressionistic and dreamy 1989 film Looking for Langston (which Julien called a "meditation"), Young Soul Rebels is still experimental in its mix of genrescoming of age/buddy movie, gay romance, murder-mystery and racial narrative. The Boston Globe declared Julien "miles ahead of most American directors," while The Advocate quipped "Young Soul Rebels makes Jungle Fever look like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." Isaac Julien looks like one of the "soul boys" whose culture is celebrated in Young Soul Rebels. He dresses nostalgically, characteristically all in black, in the kind of outfit someone like R&B legend Wilson Pickett might have worn offstage during his sixties peak. The look is tailored, natty and ultramasculine with a flash of sartorial whimsy. His very personal, visual homage to seventies soul style was the jumping off point of our discussion.


A Conversation with Isaac Julien

Writer and critic Don Belton talks with Britain's leading black independent filmmaker.




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Don Belton: To look at you, you could be a seventies soul artist as easily as a contemporary filmmaker. Is the seventies R&B artist a touchstone for you in your own approach to cultural production? Isaac Julien: Yes, I think so. I was a teenager in the seventies. That was an important period in the development of black pop culture. Not only in Britain, but in America and the Caribbean as well. In 1977, an audio connection was made in our diaspora. You had the American, Caribbean and British black cultures speaking to each other through the technology of music. In England there has been this awful reduction of the seventies youth cultural identity, so that most people think of the white youths of that time in terms of punk music and black culture as reggae music, while the more hybrid influence of soul boys and soul girls-black and white-was a community that got neglected. The white punk image really got exploited in the media, and soul culture was swept under the carpet. The white punk movement fit more precisely with Britain's fascistic political shift in the seventies with the rise of Margaret Thatcher and all that. Young Soul Rebels was really my revenge against the dominant representation of punk culture in the mainstream media back then. I wanted to show other more vitalizing influences on that period. DB: Where did you grow up? IJ: In London's East End, which is the working class area. You had white neo-nazis and militant blacks claiming pretty much the same territory. DB: Wereyou in a high school gang? IJ: I was in a gang of boys called poofs. We were a sort of queer gang. DB: R&B, soul, jazz, blues become interesting ways of understanding and looking at black culture. Do you think they serve also as a mirror for black sexuality? IJ: With Little Richard you had a powerful statement about black sexual identity. It's a highly pleasurable and erotic parody of all the stereotypes about black masculinity.

The soul boy style was effeminate really and quite different from the macho black male stereotype. DB: You evoke that in Young Soul Rebels through the character Chris, who is straight, with his tight pants, his ear pierced with a diamond stud and a gold hoop, his slicked down hair with the shaved sides. I love the scene where his sister and the other little black girls get him to dance with them. It's a beautiful scene, showing a side of black masculinity I've rarely seen in films. In both Looking for Langston and Young Soul Rebels, there are these wonderful moments of gay celebration around music. You seem to be reminding us of the pleasure of gay politics as part of a gay heritage. You seem to be saying somehow, especially in this era of AIDS and other kinds of uncertainty: "Dammit, rejoice! Celebrate!" In Looking for Langston, I'm thinking of a scene where black gay men are dancing freestyle across the floor and on the table tops, whirling and pumping their bodies in this imagined Harlem Renaissance nightclub. It's very joyous. Viewing that, I really felt the sense of expression and release we've experienced through music as gay people and as black people. I'm thinking specifically now of the wonderful celebratory voice someone like Sylvester brought to disco. In Young Soul Rebels, there's that moment that closes the film where the main characters-gay and straight, white and black-join together and dance. It's as though something specific to black gay culture is being offered up to the mainstream. IJ: That closing image in Young Soul Rebels reconstructs the whole notion of cultureand family. It's not exactly the "family of man" where different races come together and all their differences are annihilated like in a Benetton ad where black people and white people are hand in hand wearing expensive clothes and suddenly history no longer exists. In Young Soul Rebels histories do matter. The histories of postcolonialism matter. The histories of sexuality matter. The identities of the characters in the film are positioned through their relationship to a narrative of the past because identities do have a history. They come from some place.

But we also know that identities are constructed. We participate in making up who we are collectively and as individuals. So in the movie, this new culture or family isn't the family of just the black middle class as it is in Spike Lee's Jungle Fever. It isn't just black people either. It represents family more in the sense of what Sister Sledge is singing about in "We Are Family," and this coming together is being enacted on the dance floor. It's a metaphor, but it's also an image I've seen on the dance floor where you have these different people dancing both together and apart. It's an image of the future. And of now. It was important to me to end the film that way. It's not just a tacked on, happy ending. DB: At last year's Cannes Film Festival where Young Soul Rebels won the Critic's Week Prize, you were introduced as "Britain's answer to Spike Lee. "What do you think of Spike Lee's work? IJ: Well, Spike Lee was there with his film Jungle Fever, and he was very supportive. It's to be expected that people would try to lump young black male filmmakers together. I think Spike Lee's work has been very important, but for me there have been more important filmmakers. Charles Burnett, who made To Sleep With Anger, has been very important. And Julie Dash, who made Illusions. Those two directors and their films Killers of Sheep and Illusions respectively were important to me as marking off for the first time what I would consider black films that were dealing with black subjectivity in a complex fashion. In the popular race narratives of filmmakers like Spike Lee and John Singleton's Boyz N the Hood politics get lost. Those films aren't very self-questioning. My films are their antithesis. DB: Mostly because your films deal with complexity and variance within black male identity, and those films don't. Still, I think what your work, especially Young Soul Rebels, has in common with theirs is that you each use black popular culture, music and style as a point of departure to make your own cultural statements.

IJ: A film like Jungle Fever which professes to be a film about race relations only pathologizes race relations. It's a film that is supposed to be a serious critique about what something like crack cocaine is doing to the black community. But all it ends up saying is let's get the black middle class family together and get rid of the bad element. So the father shoots the junkie son, and there's no sympathy for the junkie really; we're too busy rallying around the black middle class family to save it from the spectre of drugs


and black men running off with white women. It's oversimplified. There's a relationship between a film like Jungle Fever's idea of the family and the way corporate America uses the idea of family throughout various ethnicities to serve a very dangerous and reactionary function. This can really be seen in the recent black gangster films like New Jack City and Boyz N the Hood. I think these films are very problematic, ideologically speaking. DB: They're problematic because they espouse black patriarchy as though black patriarchy were something new or could save anybody at this point. IJ: Or ever did save anyone. DB: If it could have, we would never have had colonialism, slavery or the exploitation of the third world for the past four centuries.


Your work has a capacity to go beyond easy solutions to engender real discussions about these kinds of issues. You manage to raise a lot of questions people generally may not want to hear or perhaps aren't fully able to hear. IJ: Which is why with the films I've made, I'm very interested in pleasure and seduction, because I believe not only that people may not want to hear the questions I want to put forward but they may not want to see the images I may want to construct. So it becomes terribly important to seduce audiences into considering these questions. I reject the term black gay filmmaker. I see myself as a filmmaker making films about black and gay experiences who tries to deal with racial and sexual difference. I prefer it in those terms. Otherwise black gay filmmaker means you're a representative for a particular community and I don't see myself as being representative for any community. I see myself as a cultural activist who tries to make interventions into cultural spaces and those interventions may draw on very personal experiences. It's only that this issue of being a representative falls squarely on one's shoulders because there aren't many filmmakers around who are out or who want to make films about gay themes. DB: I'm interested in your use of the term cultural intervention, as well as the fact that you see yourself as a cultural activist. IJ: When I started making films in 1984, I was responding to several compelling crises-the crisis on the social and political left, Britain's economic crisis, the AIDS crisis, a crisis in the avant garde filmmaking community, the crisis in black leadership and the crisis being articulated by feminists. In my undergraduate courses I was influenced by a number of theoreticians, including Derrida and Foucault. Their ideas affected me, but I was also aware that I was learning in a context in which I was somehow absent because questions of race were never dealt with in these theories. Still, I knew there was something empowering about reading, for example, Foucault's

ideas about relations between knowledge and power or Derrida's theories of deconstruction which undermine traditional notions of "the author," or "reading" or "history." I knew he was raising questions most black people weren't considering and this seemed to have something to do with why there's so much oppression and lack of real power in our communities. So I wasn't only interested in the representation of politics in my work but the politics of representation as well. That meant I might need to create work that also had to help build its own audience. For me, being a cultural activist means using art and ideas as a forum for social change. DB: Clearly, you were able to make a cultural intervention with Looking for Langston by opening the closet of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance. In large part that intervention was facilitated fly the academic and legal disputes the film caused fly associating Langston Hughes and other founding-artists of the Harlem Renaissance with their homosexuality. Black academic studies will never be the same. That closet is open. Young Soul Rebels reminds me of Hanif Kureishi's My Beautiful Laundrette. Both films integrate gay characters into stories with a fair amount of mass appeal. Is that another kind of cultural intervention? IJ: It's right that you should bring up Hanif Kureishi. Hanif Kureishi's work was a big influence on Young Soul Rebels. In fact, both Kureishi and Salman Rushdie were on the British Film Institute production board, and they gave advice throughout various drafts of the script for Young Soul Rebels. So there is a correlation. I greatly admired My Beautiful Laundrette, and after seeing it wanted to somehow make a similar intervention into black popular culture. In order to do that, I chose to adhere to some of the forms of team genre-filmmaking and at the same time to subvert them. DB: What do you 'think of the critical reaction to your work, particularly in the gay community? IJ: Looking for Langston has been well-celebrated, both here and in Europe, but, of

course, that celebration was not without some question marks: "Maybe Looking for Langston looks too beautiful for an avant garde film," or "isn't there a problem here of fetishizing the black male body?" That's something I wanted to do and something that's politically necessary, working in and against the grain of fetishism to produce new meanings. DB: How does this activity produce new meanings? IJ: By impacting a concentration of questions the way that Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs did or George Platt Lynes photographs did. I think it's an important area, because, again, pleasure is important in my work. As an avant garde filmmaker, the major transgression I can commit is to make a narrative film just to confuse everybody. That's what I did with Young Soul Rebels so as not to become fixed. DB: Why is the use of the narrative form so transgressive? IJ: Well it isn't, but the perception that it is comes from a bankrupt notion of what it means to be radical. I think that some of the recently produced Hollywood films like Thelma and Louise and My Own Private Idaho show that narrative films can provide interest and meaning for audiences who have previously been disenfranchised from participating in these channels of desire and pleasure. Young Soul Rebels was well received, but judging from a review in the San Francisco Examiner that reception also had some reservations. The Examiner review compared Young Soul Rebels negatively with the Jodie Foster movie, The Silence of the Lambs. DB: That review took you to task specifically for disrupting a film about racial and sexual togetherness with a character like Ken, the white closet case uiho desires and murders a black man in the park. IJ: The review was very interesting for me because it criticizes precisely what I wanted to set out for discussion. Obviously for many white gay men or whites in general

the character of Ken produces some discomfort, but the idea that you could make a cinema of only positive images of gay culture and white gay culture in particular is absurd. Obviously there is a lot of anxiety in our culture around the black male body, and I wanted to address that through a character like Ken who plays hide and seek with his own identity and desire. DB: The criticism would have more validity if you hadn't put Ken into a context that also includes the positive depiction of the relationship between Caz and Billibudd, a black man and a white man, in addition to so many other empowering elements in Young Soul Rebels that are 19





missing from a gay-baiting movie like The Silenceof the Lambs. VVhat'syour next project? IJ: I'm developing a film script called Confessions of a Snow Queen which I borrow from Lyle Harris's essay ["Revenge of a Snow Queen," OUT/LOOK Summer 1991]. His essay was fabulous, and I think that needs to be the next step in my work, dealing with black desire for white and what that all means. I dealt with it a bit in Looking for Langston and a bit in Young Soul Rebels, but it's something I really think I need to come out about. DB: About being a snow queen? IJ: Yes! DB: Oh, me too. Let's come out!Âť

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ngay and lesbian communities, there is little disagreement about the factual existence of bisexual behavior and experience. Statistically,a vast majority of people have experienced some form of erotic attraction for both sexes, no matter how brief, whether acted upon or not. We do disagree, however, when we begin to interpret the meaning of bisexual behavior, its implications for the way we identify ourselves, and for creating a political movement. Is it important to adopt the word "bisexual" into the names of our organizations? This adoption would imply that bisexual identity is comparable to gay or lesbian identity. Further, what constitutes a bisexual identity? If we sleep with a person of the opposite sex once, or occasionally, or if we have in the past, must we identify ourselves as bisexual? Bisexual politics, which focus mainly on a declaration of sexual experience and demands for recognition from the lesbian and gay movement, force us to think about the waywe see ourselves as a political force. In one model of the lesbian and gay movement we organIze around the experience of being homosexual in a homophobic society. In this context, it seems irrelevant to create a distinct bisexual identity-what bisexuals have in common with lesbians and gays is their experience as homosexuals. In another model, we are a coalition of


commmunities of distinct sexual identities, committed to sexual liberation. Whether we should add sexual liberation to a civil rights agenda has been a source of tension with us since before Stonewall. It's natural we would struggle to find a definitive answer. Bisexuality has been a particularly loaded topic for women. Is one implication of the bisexual movement the inclusion of opposite sex partners at, for example, "women-only" events? For years, lesbian feminists have worked to carve a societal niche in which women have power and autonomy. Perhaps the lesbian rejection of bisexuality comes from a rejection of the notion of male power and female powerlessness-and an unwillingness to relinquish the little they have won. We've located our OUT/LOOK debate where it is taking place most heatedly-among women. Ara , Wilson distills some of the concerns of the gay-and particularly lesbianmovement about bisexuality. Carol Que e n reminds us that bisexuals are part of the moverrent whether lesbians and gays like it or not. We'll probably be debating the effects of the emergence of a vocal bisexual contingent for some time to come .•



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By Ara Wilson maginea world in which our genders had nothing to do with whom we fell into bed with. To be sure, for some lesbian and gay readers, that image is a nightmare. But for many anti-authoritarian and progressive groups, from the Bloomsbury circle of Woolf and Keynes to socialist sects, the relaxed freedom, radical plurality, and sheer polymorphic humanity of a bisexual world is a recurring utopian ideal. From the sounds of it, the new "bisexual movement" may be the latest


incarnation of the longing for an existence free from constricting gender and sex classifications. Ignoring, for a moment, that one movement's utopia may be another movement's hell, I'll allow the possibility that a radical, humanistic ideal underpins this fledgling bisexual "movemen t." First I have to ask, though: what kind of "movement" is this? It doesn't seem to be about civil rights (especially since gay and lesbian reforms have fought discrimination that is based on "sexuContinued on p. 24

STRANGERSAr HOME Bisexuals in the queer movement By Carol A. Queen a bisexually-identified adolescent, I was alone with my difference. My lot was no different from that of all the lesbian, gay, bisexual, gender-bent, and otherwise queer youths whose hearts and hormones send different messages than those heard by our straight "peers." I went off to college vowing to find others, and did, at the Gay People's Alliance. They



were warm and welcoming until I said I was bi. Then their eyes rolled, and I know in retrospect what they were thinking: "Another poor closet case influenced by Elton John." Patiently it was explained to me that almost every young gay person eases into her or his rightful homosexual identity by leaning on a "safer" and "more socially acceptable" bisexual identification, which provided the person just coming out a cushion of "heterosexual privilege" until s/he had acquired enough Continued on p. 29





al preference"); nor is it revolutionary in the classic sense of that term. One explanation of what the "movement" is about can be found in the premiere issue of a new bisexual magazine. On the inside cover, a six-part dictionary definition of "move" accompanies the publication's clever name, Anything That Moves. The final instance of the last meaning, "to set in motion," is emphasized: "STIR OR SHAKE." Not advance, progress, change, or take action, but movement pure and simple. And,

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from the perspective of an embattled lesbian, this emphasis indeed seems to be appropriate for the bisexual movement's political practices and endeavors thus far: movement and shaking, not direction and vision. Underpinning this understanding of a movemen t as disruption, noise, motion-a quite prevalent notion these days-is, I think, an ideal of sexual freedom that is probably not so different from the vision held by many gays, queers, and even lesbians. So why are so many of us reluctant to unquestioningly acquiesce to the bisexual political agenda?

Turn from inspiration to movement: If bisexuals need to move-whether toward an ideal, or just shake shake shake-what are they moving against? What is it that prevents the world from realizing plural erogeneity? To have movement where there had been none or little, the activists organizing around their complex sexuality must have some picture of what blocks their progress.

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most visible model for organizing around sexuality is the kind of gay and lesbian-or "queer"-politics in the foreground today. Gay men and lesbians have taken a sexual identity and organized a politi' cal community around that. And who could ignore the appeal of QUEER NATION, queer politics, and in-your-face strategies of recent or young-post 1985, say--gay and lesbian activism? Like one big gay pride march, gay and lesbian politics of recent years have heralded our sheer existence: "We're here, we're queer, and we're not going shopping." This brash tack diagnoses homophobia as the problem, and loud and proud public identity as the cure. It is often described as the perfect instance of "identity politics," a doubleedged label. The lesson of this queer politics for people who consider their bisexual practices and desires to be of vital importance is this: naming bisexuality in the face of silence or misrepresentation is the key. In this queer-style politics, individual sexual practices and desires, especially those criticized, condemned or scorned, are political precisely because of that scorn. This pervasive idea is yet another interpretation of "the personal is political." Declaring one's deviant, transgressive erotic biography is a political act brimming with the potential to subvert repression and to facilitate the exploration of sexual practices and beings. So, according to the logic of this queer moment in political time, one reason that a polysexual world does not exist, or exists only precariously, is that bisexuals and bisexuality are invisible and misrepresented. The neglect, denial, and coercion surrounding a person's erotic engagements with both men

and women is oppressive; it misrepresents the truth, and recreates a socio-cultural regime that falls far short of a polyerotic utopia. This is so even, or especially, if the repression comes from within the embattled gay and lesbian world itself. Therefore, the chief political strategy of bisexual politics is the enunciation of the existence of men and women who have sex with both men and women. And so we see a florescence of declarations of bisexuality-and even, in some corners, a reclaiming of famous but hidden-from-history bisex-

What Are They Against? tnhis schema, the self-definition ofbisexual individuals is of paramount importance. But is declaring a literal bisexual identity politically or otherwise satisfying enough? Following the model of Queer Nation and other movements, individual bisexual identity suggests the possibility of some kind of group identity, or even "community." Unhappily, the move from individual to community has so far been a tricky one for the bisexual


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uals. Bisexual activists and anthologists Lani Kaahumanu and Loraine Hutchins argue in Anything That Moves for reclaiming Langston Hughes, Ma Rainey, and Bessie Smith, "who wrote and sang wonderfully heterosexual lyrics," as bisexual. The truth is important, and the truth is that many of us have had sex with, or desires for, both men and women (a point widely recognized in gay, lesbian, and queer circles). The bisexual spokespeople understand the expression of this truth about the existence of bisexuality as a political mission. But applying a literal or clinical definition of bisexual-as anyone whose erotic life engages both males and females-is unsettling to many gays and lesbians because it disregards the involuntary, dare we say compulsory, status of heterosexuality. It is also a political problem because of its focus on the identities of individuals.

movement. The historians of bisexuality cited above address this question: Why have we "accepted" invisibility, and why haven't we, up until this point, projected a more visible presence, creating a prominent community that even the most virulent biphobe would have to recognize? The answer, of course, is that this is the way oppression operates, in this case bisexual oppression. This logic suggests that the formation of community is inhibited by oppression and not the complexities of bisexual identity. The opening editorial of Anything That Moves declares: "It is time for the bisexual voice to be heard." It asserts: We are tired of being analyzed, defined




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and represented by people other than ourselves--or worse yet, not considered at all. We are frustrated by the imposed isolation and invisibility that comes from being told or expected to "choose" either a homosexual or a heterosexual identity.... We are angered by those who refuse to accept our existence; our issues; our contributions ... our voice.






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I am intrigued by the incensed demand for recognition. Of course there are the dominant objectionable representations of bisexuals and bisexuality, notably the stereotypes of promiscuity and indecisive immaturity (although, like many guardians, the stepmother of a college friend definitely preferred indecisiveness to the finality of homosexuality, lamenting, "Couldn't you at least be bisexual?"). My library search for recen t academic and media references demonstrated that the most striking image of the bisexual in the popular mind is of the AIDS-carrying bisexual man (there were also many references to the problem of a bisexual husband). And even if I'm not biidentified, I am offended by the depiction of bisexuals in mainstream pornography-after all what are all those soft-focus depictions of sapphic love but the suggestion of a bisexual woman on a female swing? Ijust don't think, though, that the preponderance of annoying (and in the case of bisexual AIDS carriers, dangerous) representations in dominant culture is what the bisexual movement's concern with silence and oppression is all about. What is really preventing the enunciation of bisexual voices? Who expects the choice between het or homo? Who refuses bisexuals? Enter the generic 1970s-vintage lesbian feminist, who wishes to goddess these women

giving energy to men would just quit, and who is committed to condemning, or better yet, policing the bisexual behaviors that underpin the movement. Or so some bisexual spokespeople imagine. It's easy to predict, and in fact to construct, the lesbian-feminist separatist stance on bisexuality, since the figure of the dour lesbian on patrol for incorrect practices and attitudes has become a staple in contemporary gay and lesbian discourse. "Biphobia!" as hostility toward bisexuals has been dubbed, was chanted against a lesbian-feminist's speech in Northampton's Pride celebrations. It is lesbians who most often display, or are said to display, "bip hobia." Now why is that? Undoobtably, there are whole covens of women cursing the drain of bisexual womens' energy (and whenthere aren't, we'll have to hire them). But the treatment of lesbian-feminist resistance to the bisexual movement highlights the flaws in the bisexual political picture.

If bisexuals need to move-whether toward an ideal, or just shake shake shake-what are they moving against?

Rethinking the Enemy isexualactivists seem not only uninterested in the actual lesbian-feminist stance, but dismissive of underlying worries that a rush of bisexuals will clamor into the queer world, possibly with heterosexual lovers-like straight men-in tow. The lack of curiosity about lesbian-feminist anxiety is in part a result of the dismissal of lesbians as stereotypically humorless, PC terrors, with no sense of style. It also shows a complete amnesia about feminist critiques of male dominance and of the increasingly documented but long-argued understanding that men get more money, attention, love, sex, power, and energy than similarly situated


women do. The easy dismissal of lesbian-feminists is a symptom of the displacement of feminism to the background of contemporary sexual identity politics. Only through persistent effort (which is also called "being difficult" or "having no sense of humor") have lesbians won visibility, money, publications, and teeny bits of power in the predominantly male gay world. Still, in the current "queer" landscape, it is lesbians who are hardest to see. If bisexuals are "successful" in claiming a greater share of gay, lesbian, and queer space and resources, it is lesbians who have the most to lose. tI/I{f IJO I kEEP I'1M1NG miNt:.> ~? IT.5 NOT IIEI( FIIW",IIT I'1/SY<ABLt. ~ 1M mE II/OI(5T. â&#x20AC;˘.


(absolutely non-parodic) House UnAmerican Activities Committee of the 1950s. A caption under a photograph printed in Anything That Moues identifies an actress: "A 'Real' Dyke in Steel Boots & Earth Mother for Pure Womynspace coaxing bisexual Cianna Stewart to 'Forswear dick forever.''' The guerilla enterprise went to some pains to skewer gay men as well ("a nerdy faggot in trendy glasses" is the other photo's caption-ouch!), but the real focus of critique is against PC dykes. This image of the righteous, irritable lesbian-feminist sourpuss is not new: what is new is the notion that these small pockets of women hold real power, power enough to

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In May of 1991, bisexual agitators staged a theatrical critique of ''hi-phobia'' in response to a flap (from lesbians) because the San Francisco Bay Times added the word "bisexual" to its masthead. The guerilla troupe chose the Castro for this staging, a site decidedly famous for its unambiguous male queerness and, as an afterthought, for the presence of unarguably junior lesbian colleagues. In order to show that excluding bisexuals from gay and lesbian organizations weakens the fight against heterosexism and homophobia, the actors drew on right-wing motifs. The group called itself HUAC, "Homosexual Unity And Conformity." Just to remind you, the acronym parodies Joseph McCarthy's


oppress, police, and censor the behaviors of young people who have barely encountered this subculture in person. To be sure, some groups do hold sway over arenas of women's culture-publishing and festivals-and were in evidence at the much maligned national lesbian conference in Atlanta. But the notion of an all-powerful politically correct sex police leads to some curious political statements and priorities. A bisexual activist said that "queer het sex" takes place between young, sex-radical gay men and women as a revolt against PC sex. Radical, dude. The bisexual identity movement frames itself with a self-comforting sense of equivalence: oppression by downwardly mobile les-



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bian-ferninists is equivalent to the anti-sex morality of the right and the church. Bi-phobic lesbians are interchangeable with HUAC, a government group which destroyed lives, careers, and a powerful radical spirit. Fellating a man is equivalent to going down on a woman. "Biphobia" becomes equivalent to homophobia because it restricts the freedom of these energetic individuals. This equation is a delusion: a woman's fellatio and cunnilingus are not political equivalents. Not if you take a good look at the way sexual practices and identities are located, defined, and controlled in the social world, and see that men and women are not equivalent as sexual subjects or objects (even if we wan t them to be). Fellatio and cunnilingus may very well be comparable sexual practices in the life of a specific woman. But, as bisexual women must know all too well, compulsory heterosexuality and male domination mean that heterosex (except some interracial forms) brings privileges denied to lesbian sex.

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Oppressors Are Not Alike


ne of the reasons why the bisexual movement is so vexing to me, aside from my insidious biphobia, is this fuzziness of perspective on oppression. The bisexual movement sounds like other progressive political projects. The political identities and moves of lesbians and gays, feminists, lefties, and anti-racists, are motivated by a critique of powerful social systems that oppress them. For instance, if patriarchy is the social system at fault, positioning women as lower status adjuncts to male life, then some lesbian-feminists advocate escape to an allwomyn self-sufficient farm and create a womon's culture. It's easy to mock but it has its own sophisticated mechanism. Who or what has the power in the bisexual vision? Can activists really think that lesbian-feminists oppress them? Perhaps in San Francisco or Northampton-locations of strong gay and lesbian enclaves and, therefore, of bisexual activism-the queer world can seem powerful and secure, but of course this is a place-specific illusion. Given our vulnerability, the priorities of bisexual declarations are baffling: do oppres-

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sion and phobia from the gay world warrant more attention than, say,Jesse Helms or global capitalist patriarchy? Is it vitally important to declare that an African Amercan male poet, whose sex with men during an aggressively virile phase of US history has been an "open secret," is bisexual rather than gay? Locating a compelling or comprehensible project in the bisexual movement is hard. The confident understanding of identity as a political site makes sense for gays and lesbians because of the nature of our histories. The homosexual identity was forged in the laboratories of power and imposed on a diverse group. Identity-identifying, exposing, naming, defining-has been a critical component of hunting and watching and threatening gays and lesbians. Our ghettoized identity has been a central component of our struggles, and dangerous borders have defined a real or imagined gay and lesbian community. Over the hundred years of shouldering stigmas, homosexuals learned to wield them, reform them, redefine them, transforming the sickness into strength, the label into an emblem. The new bisexual movement yearns for recognition and community, but thankfully it has not emerged out of such an involuntary/voluntary process of painful identity formation. If the bisexual movement isn't a similar kind of political "movement" or community in its own right, it nonetheless aspires to achieve political, liberatory aims through broadening the scope of the gay and lesbian world. In the chilly political climate in which we find ourselves, perhaps any motion to disrupt boundaries is politically useful. Some people think it would be ideal-utopian even-to get rid of most or all identity boundaries. But what a good look at the current, decidedly non-utopian world of ours should tell us is that expanding the human potential of some individuals-through positive visualization or boundary transgressioncan quite happily co-exist with diminished life chances for many, many others. While the movement for bisexual recognition undoubtedly offers a liberating framework for some men and women, some lesbians and gay men remain unmoved by heterosexual transgressions into our entrenched, yet fun, little world .â&#x20AC;˘

gay pride to drop the charade. In short, I'd grow out of it. Not much had been written about bisexuality-it was 1974. I found only a couple of bi-positive pieces written from what I now might call a "queer Utopian" perspective: "In a non-sexist and nonhomophobic world, we might all be bisexual." There was a queer movement twenty years ago too, embracing a wider rainbow of non-hetero alternative sexualities than the already-becoming-staid gay movement found acceptable; but before long the radical discourse about queerdom fell out of favor as

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acknowledged and accepted as bisexual. I lived and loved, passing, in the gay community, and for many years only a few people realized that I still harbored erotic desires for men and that, occasionally, I acted on them. Please understand that identifying as heterosexual-relying on that elusive "privilege"-never once occurred to me. I was not and am not heterosexual. Discourse was binary, with only two possible sexual orientations from which to choose, and identifying as heterosexual was not an option. Closeting myself about my bisexuality gave me access to a community where I desperately wanted to belong, and for the next ten years did belong, as an

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the gay movement worked its way towards the political mainstream. I was barely seventeen. I had just kissed my first woman. Maybe my new friends in the gay community were right about, as they termed it, this "phase." I saw that the polite distance between my new gay friends and me would be an obstacle to establishing relationships with women. My few forays into erotic desire for straight women bore the same fruit they usually do for "gold-star" lesbians--frustration and emotional pain. There was no community of bisexual women with whom to explore my attractions. I did what many other bisexual people have done-I stopped insisting I be

activist, an advocate, and a lover of womena lesbian. Perhaps only a queer who has had the narrowness of the closet work at her/his sense of self will understand how this felt to me, and to the many other lesbian and gay community members who hide the truths of their sexual lives. I was an out lesbian with a dirty secret, at odds with the expressed ethics of a queer community which said "out" was good-but hadn't accepted me warmly when, naively, I had taken them at their word. The bones of this story are not just mine. Many other bisexuals have carved out lives (hidden or not) among lesbians and gays. The lesbian and gay movement must come to


terms with the position of bisexual people within it because we're already here. It won't help to vote whether or not bisexuals should be let in: we are in. Nor can there be a vote to exclude us; bisexual people whose longtime and cherished home is the lesbian and gay community will do what we've always done to stay affiliated with it-we will fight, or lie and deny that our opposite sex relationships have any meaning. Many of us come out of our closet only when we get so sick of it that staying in threatens our sanity or our sense of authenticity. Some of us come out when sexual behavior with an other-sex partner leads to love and we can't bring ourselves to deny it. And, increasingly these days, bisexuals are coming out because they realize they canthat a growing bisexual community exists to welcome them.

Why Are We Arguing?



hy are we, even for a minute, searching for the experiences and attitudes that divide bisexuals from lesbians and gay men? Why aren't we searching for what we hold in common? As bisexual theorist Amanda Udis Kessler notes, we "share the same issues, and not just 'half the time.' We don't get half-gaybashed when we walk down the street with our same-sex lovers .... We don't get half-fired from our jobs, or lose only half of our children in court battles .... Lesbian/gay issues are our issues, and we want to work on them with lesbians and gay men." Working in concert with lesbians and gay men, though, can be emotionally difficult; we're forced to contend with the feeling that many of our queer sisters and brothers see us as strangers in the house. These and other factors have led bisexual women and men to look to each other for community. The question of bisexual participation in the lesbian and gay movement in not new, in spite of the attention the recent resurgence of the bisexual movement has received. Bisexuals have generated debate at least as far back as Stonewall. The lesbian and gay movement grapples with issues of sexual diversity-bi and otherwise-because it's fully diverse itself, a microcosm of the larger society in which homosexuality is only the

biggest of many secrets that refuse to stay silenced. I assume that what is healthy for us in our workplaces and families of origin-to own our experience and insist it be honored-is equally right in our queer families of choice and our political organizations. When I finally came out again as bisexual, ten years after my first attempt, I was struck by how many people in my small-city gay community found excuses to chat with me privately so they could confide their feelings of concern about their own opposite-sex desires or to confess that they'd even gone so far as to secretly act on them. These whispered confidences show me that Kinsey, who did so much to help us all out of the closet earlier in this century, was right to sketch us on a continuum, not in fixed categories. But Kinsey had nothing to say about our community affiliations, and it is clear to me that one reason these secrets are not usually aired is because they threaten our sense of who we are and where we are at home. Many lesbians and gay men seem to have bought the line that bisexuals, "confused" about their sexual identities, make unstable mates and community members. Absent from the discourse has been the revelation that many bisexuals are in fact not confused-that the confusion lies, if anywhere, in the reactions of monosexuals to us. Nothing in either our homophobic culture or our homosexual counterculture helps us with the shock that our desires and affections are not always labeled "either/or." Sometimes a bisexual "phase" may be an indicator of confusion generated by a person's internalized homophobia, but I think a more common confusion comes from a monosexual's realization that the walls of her/his box are beginning to crumble. Many bisexuals do not seek refuge in a homophobic closet that contains both pleasure and privilege. Those who do are the people many lesbians and gays think of as representative of bi-ness. That "honor" has gone to those who mirror the gay community's own antipathy. Heterosexuals are not the only people who fall prey to stereotyped thinking: thus the bisexual role models my gay community of the seventies recognized were mostly rock stars who were said to be

closeted about their homosexuality. This is a gay cultural version of our parents' assumptions that homosexual Boy Scouts would grow up to be Liberace-other models of being gay aren't envisioned because they're not seen. When our role models are circumscribed or removed, how are we to be guided in our development? The lesbian and gay community knows the effects of this silencing, but has ironically adopted as forebears some historical figures who were probably bisexual. Some bisexuals want to take back the Virginia Woolfs and Oscar Wildes, but I think we ought to share them-the sexually divergent, and often gender-bent, people of yesterday can be heroes to all of us. Besides, it can be argued that none of us has any business labeling people who are no longer around to speak for themselves; it displays a distressingly ahistorical perspective to use late-twentieth century constructs to describe the lives lived in a social context we can never fully understand. Lesbians and gay men might argue that in the presence of the kind of supportive community we now rely on, people having same- as well as other-sex relationships in other times might have elected to be what we now define

as gay. We'll never know. Many people in other eras have exhibited exclusively samesex erotic behavior. Denying that both homoand heterosexual activity might naturally occur in one person's lifetime (either then or now) is just an academic version of some monosexuals' favorite game: Make Them Choose. Some gays and lesbians wonder at many bisexuals' angry emphasis on biphobia in the gay community: Don't we know who our real enemies are? The answer is yes, and the dismal truth is that we expect homophobia-who in this culture hasn't been subtly or overtly warned against crossing that line? Bisexual anger has a simple genesis: We expected more of others who have faced homophobia. 31

Seeds of Anger


epresentatives of lesbian-feminist separatism may feel singled out as special targets of our anger and distress. To the extent that this is true, the seeds of anger lie in lesbian separatism as a politic: In this reading of feminism, specific sex acts take on politicized meaning. These are said to have consequences for the consciousness of the

Bisexual Community Resources Books Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out, ed. Loraine Hutchins and Lani Kaahumanu (Alyson, 1990). Anthology dealing with bisexual coming out, visibility, politics and more. Bisexuality: A Reader and Sourcebook, ed. Thomas Geller (Times Change Press, 1990). Personalized articles, as well as some academic pieces; great resource guide. International Directory of Bisexual Groups-$5 from BBWN, 338 Newbury Street 202-C, Boston, MA 02115. Magazines and Newsletters Anything That Moves: Beyond the Myths of Bisexuality, 2404 California Street, #24, San Francisco, CA 94115. $24/year. A more-or-Iess quarterly magazine. North Bi Northwest, c/o Seattle Bisexual Women's Network, PO Box 30645, Greenwood Station, Seattle, WA 98103-0645. $15/yr ($10 low income). Feminist bisexual women's newsletter. Organizations BiNet USA, 584 Castro Street#441, San Francisco, CA 94114-2588. National umbrella group. 3x3, PO Box 10436, Oakland, CA 94610. Bisexual People of Color - political, support, and social group. -C.Q.




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person performing them. Lesbian feminism is arguably the most proscriptive gay or lesbian politic, generating in its adherents the greatest tendency to judge others' (especially sexual) behavior. Gay men, for example, seem more likely to cite personal antipathy or simple stereotypes about bisexuals as a source of their chagrin. A great many bisexual women, particularly those who are feminist and lesbian-identified, have felt both personally and politically rejected and judged by the separatist sisters. Even those with no such experience may feel wary having heard other bisexual women's stories. No one likes to feel attacked, even politically. In today's climate of attack against sexual minorities, we have little to gain from separatism. Much as we need to honor our differences, we must understand that the strategic risks we run as fractionalized peoples are greater than any risks to individuals' identities. Struggling toward a more inclusive community does not mean we have to put an end to difference-it means we have to deal with it. I understand the antipathy some gays and

lesbians feel about bisexuals; I felt it myself when I was trying to live within a normative lesbian community. I sometimes feel it today in the presence of bisexual people who are not queer identified: Once a faggot-bi boyfriend and I were at a bi Thanksgiving celebration at which all the men were visibly nervous about Boyfriend's fey mannerisms. The two of us left shaking our heads, having felt not home, but homophobia. The difference between a gay-identified and a heterosexually-identified bisexuality challenges us when we come together to build bisexual identity. But I have to ask: how will any of





Love and Rockets By Robin Stevens



ou've never heard of Maggie and Hopey?!" My friend pushed me down onto her couch. "Oh my God," she said. "Don't move." She ran through the house and muttered under her breath. She pulled comic books from amidst piles of reading lying around for her master's thesis. Then she plopped herself down next to me and began to open issues of Love and Rockets. Soon there was an entire universe spread out on the table in front of us. "Maggie and Hopey are lovers," she explained. "Hopey plays in a punk band called "Ape Sex," with her old girlfriend Terry. I don't think she and Maggie are really lesbians, because Maggie's mostly in love with men (like Ray, he was her boyfriend for a while, that's a whole other story). But they're

really cute. Maggie's aunt Vicki Glori is always fighting for the women's heavyweight wrestling championship with her archrival, Rena Titanon. But Maggie likes Rena, because Rena rescued her after a bomb was planted in Maggie's rocket factory. She's a pro solar mechanic." "Wait," I interjected. "A pro solar mechanic?" . "She fixes robots and rockets. It's kind of science fiction," she said impatiently. I learned the basics about Maggie and Hopey that day, and left with a pile of comic books under my arm. The cute pair aren't the only characters--in fact their story line is one of several. They're drawn by Jaime Her-

those (mostly newly-out) bisexuals ever come to be queer identified if they have no access to the queer community? How will they learn the folkways of the lesbian/gay world if that world does not welcome them as bisexuals? Ironically, there is a strongly feminist bent to the organized bisexual movement today. Activists push to include political issues that have seen more play in the lesbian feminist community than elsewhere in the lesbian and gay world. Issues of access and inclusion around race, economic status, and dis/abilities, have been high priorities at nationally and regionally-organized conferences. Bisex-

ual women are no more comfortable with sexism than lesbians, in spite of the fact that some lesbians code some bi women's sexual practices as inherently sexist. With the rise of the queer movement we still define ourselves in relation-nay, opposition-to a culturally conservative heterosexual norm, but we are increasingly aware that gold-star lesbians and gay men are not the only people who lead dissident lives and that, in fact, heterosexual behavior does not always equal "straight." When I strap on a dildo and fuck my male partner, we are engaging in "heterosexual" behavior, but I can tell you that it feels altogether queer, and I'm sure my grandmother and jesse Helms would say the same. Reifying other-sex behavior and making its absence the basis of gay politics doesn't strike me as very careful analysis. Sexual variation brought out of the closet is seen as dangerous and dissident by the status quo-please remember that homosexuality is not the only sexual behavior for which people have been arrested, institutionalized, or persecuted .â&#x20AC;˘


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nandez, other stories are drawn by his brother Gilbert. For a while they were joined by a third brother, Mario, who is now working on his own. For lesbians, jaime's work is the most compelling. The two dykey-looking heroines are irresistible. In most of pop culture, we have to infer lesbian relationships. But jaime makes theirs explicit: he draws sex scenes, shows us their affection for one another, and once in a while puts Hopey in great butch drag. The characters ring true, and they don't feel exploitive. Maggie has weight problems. She lost an exciting job and struggles with her self-esteem. Some readers identify with

her emotional changes. Others see themselves in Hopey's punk lifestyle and rock and roll attitude. jaime's pretty comfortable with his lesbian following. He lives in Oxnard, California, in the Mexican American community where he grew up. These days, because he draws characters often rendered invisible by the mainstream, he sees himself as a champion of the underdog. He drew his inspiration, he says, from people he knew in the Los Angeles punk scene of the late seventies. "I don't know much about bisexual politics," he warned me before the interview. "My charactersjust do what they do, you know?" 1

Robin Stevens: There's a big debate in lesbian circles about bisexuality. Many lesbians seem to resent the bisexual women in their life-or it's at least been a bone of contention. How do Maggie and Hopey identifY themselves? How would they talk about their own sexuality? '

Jaime Hernandez: They don't go exactly by the rules that have been set by a lot of people. I've never really pointed it out, but they're kind of criticized by the lesbian community-theyare outcasts in a way. I would never actually label them because they can be anything. Hopey is more of a lesbian than Maggie. Maggie's bisexual. RS: They seem to have lived with that pretty easily. JH: I guess I've never really shown how they're not accepted in society. They're punks anyway, whatever they do, they do it no matter what anyone says. I've never known much about the whole "rules" of bisexuality except that you love everybody. So that's why I keep it pretty vague. There are particular characters, like Terry, who are lesbians, who don't particularly like men. In fact, she hates men. RS: VVhat do yfYUthink about feminism? JH: I think it's great. RS: Are Maggie and Hopey feminists? JH: Sure. It's also how you define feminism. As with everything some people take things too far and are out of control. Feminism is great as feminism, but I think a lot of it has been ruined by a lot of out-of-control, selfproclaimed leaders. RS: VVhat tuould an example be? JH: If someone who called themselves a feminist looked at our comic and said, "Oh, you men and your male fantasies." But these women are having their fantasies too-l give them equal time. RS: Why do yfYUportray women so well? JH: It started off with liking women, first of all. Then there's the sexual part, the sensitive part. It's all rolled into giving them equal time. I just thought, "Why not make these people characters?" That's another thing that hasn't been done right in comics. A lot of people say that there are strong women characters, but I don't mean the kind that can beat up somebody. I think Maggie and Hopey are strong characters because of their faults. If you are a well-rounded character, you are a strong character-not because you can beat up somebody. RS: Did yfYU draw these characters from YfYUrown circle of friends? Are these the kind of people you grew up with and hung out with? JH: That I hung out with when I got into the whole punk thing. I had a pretty normal life

in Oxnard-a pretty Mexican American upbringing. RS: When yfYUfirst started Love & Rockets, it was 1981? JH: That's when we did our own-a cheap black and white version. We knew nothing about the comic market, we just printed it up. We were kind of wondering where we were going to go from there, then our publisher got a copy of it and said, "Hey, do you want us to publish this? We'll pay you money." RS: How toould yfYUdescribe the differences between your strip and those of YfYUrbrothers? JH: Mario hasn't been in Love & Rockets for years-he's really an action adventure type person. Gilbert stresses the political more than I do. That's only because he chooses to. I don't try to shy away from it, I just don't have much to say. When we were growing up, we didn't have a chance to be real comic geeks, because we were the only people we knew who collected comics. We didn't have ... RS: YfYUdidn't have lots of comic geek friends to bond with. JH: We didn't have comic clubs or stuff like that. I wonder if we did, if we would be doing superhero comics right now. I did go through that phase when I was young. When I was a teenager I was planning to have my superhero characters. RS: Do yfYUremember what they were? JH: Oh sure. In my adolescent years when I learned to draw girls, I had this character called ActionGiri. She was a reporter who by night was a superheroine. She had no powers, she just knew how to fight. Maggie and some of my other characters now have a lot of her in them. RS: You don't think of yourself as political-but isn't it a somewhat political act to make heroes and heroines out of the characters that YfYU've chosen? They're working class, Mexican American, sexually marginalized-these are not yfYUrtraditional heroes and heroines. JH: These are the Southern Californians you don't know about, or that many people don't know about from the TV or the media. I mean, if it's a Mexican it's a gang member or someone very very poor. When you paint someone poor it's as if they're insignificant. "Oh these poor people-look on TV." I'm saying, "Look, these people are Mexi-

cans." And if someone tells me, 'They're not really Mexicans ..." We've always taken advantage of using the underdog. We like to show that they're here too, to say "pay attention-and if you guys don't watch out, you're going to get clobbered from behind." I always try to take advantage of stuff that's ignored. RS: Yetyou don't make overt political points. JH: Gilbert likes to beat people over the head with his stuff. There is always something more in my work than what you read, but a lot of people don't catch that. You've got to beat them over the head. I think I've got to do that more often. RS: Do you try to make your characters symbolic oj certain personality traits or aspects of human nature? JH: I never try to do that. I just pick out particular personalities or types of people. I never try to make them stand for something or symbolize somebody. Ray just wants to be liked. He's a lot like me. He's a typical male, but in order for him to be liked, I have to make him sensitive. RS: He seems to be attracted to very strong women-and women who are attracted to other women. JH: I never noticed the latter. Wow! RS: We lesbians pick up on these things. JH: Maybe it's subconscious. I put thoughts and events into Ray that have been in my past. Sometimes I try to picture what I would have done in his situation. Ray is pretty much my male Maggie. A lot of him is me. A lot of Maggie is me too. She's the main character that you put all your thoughts into. Once in a while I twist them around just so it won't be one sided. You can make characters bad as long as they're not downright evil shits. Even Terry, as mean as she is-I've

never tried to make her an outright evil villain. Characters like that ... RS: R'ho'd want to hang out with them? JH: I wouldn't even want to write them. RS: How would you define your audience? And how has the comic evolved because of the audience? JH: When we were first doing the comic, we did them the only way we knew how. We just said, "Let's hope that somebody will read this." Then we got such a good response, and people liked the characters over the rocket ships. They liked the women characters. So I said, "Hey, this is the stuff I like to do." We took advantage of that. RS: They liked the characters more than they liked " -~ the science fic,--"" tion? , JH: They liked - the dialogue I and the characters intermin! gling. , RS: In one letter you printed, a reader said she thought you romanticized the tolerance your straight characters have for gay characters and relationships. Do , you think that's ...--.~. true?



JH: I should pay more attention to just how much my characters are discriminated against in society. I always tend to forget that there are really dumb people out there, that are not tolerant. After talking to you here, I'll put a note in my mind. I've got to make a real asshole come out. I'll put an asshole in the next issue or something. RS: Maggie's been missing from the comic for a while. Where is she? JH: You won't see her for a while. As a matter of fact, she won't look the same the next time you see her. RS: Will she be losing weight again? JH: No. That's what people think, that I have this plan that she's going to go away and come back the old Maggie-thin and short haired. No, she'll stay fat. â&#x20AC;˘


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"In rural America, there is an epidemic of fear and bigotry, fanned by absence of education and knowledge, surrounding HIV infection and AIDS.... The fear of being 'found out, ' we were told, is almost as great as the fear of the disease itself. " National Commission on AIDS Report Number 3 August 1990


"With my family, I know that if I died tomorrow they'd want to skirt the whole issue of AIDS. Which is stupid, because what I'm finding is that if you give people a chance to be compassionate they usually are. " Anonymous: Billings, Montana August 1990

aul Clark of Billings, Montana was a debater in high school, a maker of speeches. In his senior year, he won the state debating championship. Later, he studied accounting at the University of Montana, grafting a love of numerical orderliness onto his passion for argument. He has always been one to see the world in absolutes. Paul had landed an accounting job near Los Angeles, and he soon immersed himself in gay life there. In 1986, Paul fell into what he later characterized as an emotionally dis-


Snapshots of Rural AIDS By William Poole 37

trouble. The word "suicide" was mentioned. tructive love affair. His lover's Within an hour Paul's brother, Neil, was in name was Robert. He's dead now, the family pickup headed west across the as is Robert's subsequent lover and dark Montana plains. Neil had visited Paul perhaps a dozen of Paul's other in Los Angeles the year before and had conLos Angeles friends. Both Robert cluded that his brother might be gay. He and Paul started getting sick their first didn't want to conclude why Paul might be year together-low-grade fevers, diarsick. "I've got the truck outside," Neil told rhea, skin infections that wouldn't heal. him. "You're coming home." Paul had heard of AIDS, had heard it was a On the way back to Montana, sometimes gay disease, but this knowledge was but a Neil drove small fist and Paul banging c r i e d . against For now, slim infection rates have led some Sometimes the sturdy Paul drove door of Montanans to see AIDS in the most generous and cried his denial. at the same Through case as somebody else's problem; in the least time. He the winter was an exof 1986, generous case as a sort of polluting toxin debating Paul grew champion, more and flowing into the heartland from both coasts. an exm 0 r e honor stuexhausted, dent, suffering his first real defeat. and soon he couldn't sort out where his It was a Billings dermatologist who finally emotional distractions over his relationship accomplished the obvious by testing Paul left off and where his physical ailments for the Hl'V virus. Paul was standing in the began. family living room, his father at his elbow, In April, 1987, a worried friend phoned when the doctor dumped the news on him Paul's family in Billings one morning in the over the phone. Later that day Paul would early hours after midnight to announce an share his diagnosis with Neil, but he wasn't emergency and counsel haste. Paul was in



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ready yet for his father's tears. "Oh it was no big deal," he lied to Ted Clark about the doctor's call. It was all Paul could do to compose his face and go back to mowing the lawn. rom the sandstone cliffs to the north, Billings, Montana presents a suburban aspect, a leafy congregation of neighborhoods amid bleached, undulating plains along the Yellowstone River. With 80,000 people, Billings is Montana's largest city, home to two oil refineries, five colleges, four high schools, a pair of hospitals, and at least one statue of Frederick Billings, who established the city as a rail center in the 1880s. Lengthy freight trains still roll through downtown, which, with two buildings over twenty stories, is the skyscraper capital of the state. Still in all, the place feels like a small community. Walking the city's streets, out in its restaurants, Paul Clark is always encountering people he knows, people who increasingly know about him. In the summer of 1990, when I visited Billings to research this article for the San Francisco Chronicle, Paul was one of sixty-four Montanans officially diagnosed with AIDSabout 8 cases per 100,000 population to date, well below the national average of 58 cases per 100,000, and dramatically lower than the 100 cases per 100,000 in urban states like California. Federal disease experts expect AIDS to increase rapidly in rural areas. But for now, slim infection rates have led some Montanans to see..AIDS in the most generous case as somebody else's problem; in the least generous case as a sort of polluting toxin flowing into the heartland from both coasts. Such attitudes are conditioned in part by a long-standing lie. For decades, homosexuals-the earliest and most visible victims of AIDS in the United States-have either departed the state in their youth or lived deeply underground, giving rise to the fiction that gays are some sort of troubled aliens rather than native-born sons of the

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Treasure State, where homosexual acts are still felonies. For a while after returning to Billings, Paul Clark worked in personnel at the local Sears store, where he was once asked by a coworker if he didn't think everyone with AIDS should be tattooed. "What do you think?" the man asked Paul. "Wouldn't you want to know if someone had AIDS?" "I don't think tattooing is really necessary," Paul said. The forces to obscure AIDS in Montana are strong. It is widely assumed, for example, that the official AIDS statistics are kept artificially low by some rural physicians: they simply fail to report occasional cases to spare the reputations of well-loved families. In like manner, parents terrified of the "Aword" will report a son's illness as leukemia or cancer to their friends. Paul Clark has already put his family on notice: Paul's obituary, should one be necessary, will tell it straight. "I wish other people with AIDS would just get out of the Goddamned closet," he says, "because it is pissing me off."


had. come to Montana to write a story on rural AIDS, and Paul Clark had volunteered to be my guide. In some ways, I concluded, Montana was ahead of what I had heard about other rural areas in dealing with the disease. Montana state law mandates both confidential reporting of AIDS and the counseling of AIDS patients at the time of diagnosis. Larger communities-Billings, Butte, Missoula, Helena-include small but increasingly vocal gay populations. Around the state, AIDS hotlines are sprouting up; support groups are being formed. Billings even has a lawyer who specializes in AIDSdiscrimination cases. To be sure, I heard plenty of stories about fear and discrimination-but I detected also a countervailing force in Montana. I heard stories about small-town support, about compassionate health care, about a Iive-and-let-live tradition and a

going to die of this disease, what have I got native sympathy that breaks through under the right conditions-particularly when the to lose." disease approaches close to home. "There Paul has lately acquired a mission of are a lot of compassionate people in sorts, studying his disease, researching treatMontana," says ments, helping Paul Clark, to organize both a local "especially AIDS support once they find group and the out a person Yellowstone they know is AIDS Project, a infected with community this disease. organization. People in In the process, Montana can he has recovhave pretty big ered some of hearts." his old nature, Which is becoming why Paul again a encourages debater, a gadother persons with AIDS to fly, a purveyor of logic, impago public with tient with argutheir disease. ments not his The sooner own. He was Montanans recen tly electrealize that it is ed to board of their children directors of the and the chilNational dren of their Association of friends who People with are dying, Paul AIDS, and he believes, the has spoken to sooner they "There are a lot of compassionate people in Montana, " says Paul Clark. will demand "Especially once they find out a person they know is infected with this disease. " college classes and school better AIDS children about the disease. education, confidential AIDS testing, and In his educational efforts, Paul has better treatments. retained his flair for dramatic statement. He A year earlier, Paul Clark would have once showered an assembly of high school balked at touring a visitor through the landstudents with AZT pills to impress upon scape of local AIDS. On returning to them the never-ending rounds of medicaBillings in 1987, he kept his own counsel tion AIDS patients face. He stresses prevenand his head down-at least until August, tion, caution, and he issues a warning. "Ten 1989, when he suffered an episode of pneuyears from now, someone in here, if not sevmocystis pneumonia. "Getting sick scared eral of you are going to be infected," he me enough to get much more involved and told one group. "You're going to be tested vocal about AIDS," he says. "Now, if people for AIDS and you're going to think back. want to ask me if I have AIDS, I'm going to You're going to find out your results and tell them. If people want to ask me if I'm remember me." gay, I'm going to tell them. I'm probably







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n my Billings motel room, a voice on the phone: a warm voice, but cautious. The woman does not want her name published: although everybody her town of 30,000 knows she has AIDS, this is not publicly acknowledged. She has her children to think about; and her parents, who run a business. She is a third-generation Montanan who never really moved away. By the time she was thirty-eight she found herself a single mother with two teenaged daughters and a stable, five-year relationship with a man who had done what she calls "some dangerous things" many years before. In 1987, her lover got sick and they were both tested for AIDS. The results, the woman says, "were big news in this town." So big that the morning after the woman learned of her diagnosis, her disease was public discourse at the local bank-apparently the hospital had sprung an information leak. When the woman went to tell her parents she was sick, she found that the rumor had reached them first. In succeeding weeks, her daughter suffered ostracism at school and plunged from the honor role to the academic basement, in part because private knowledge had become community property overnight. The school nurse phoned, worried that the girl might infect other students. The local newspaper wrote an article containing a thinly veiled reference to the woman's boyfriend as "a walking time bomb." "A period of hysteria," the woman now calls this time. Since then, hospital workers have been very understanding; school administrators have supported her child. "I really think they've come a long way," the woman says. But her diagnosis remains an open secret. She is the hometown girl, the mother with AIDS. Confidentiality is one of the longeststanding problems of persons with AIDS in Montana-not surprising for a state with a population of only 800,000. Some counties in Montana are as big as Eastern states but with fewer people than a New York City

block. Garfield County-the size of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island combined-is home to only eleven hundred people. In such counties there is little meaningful distinction between your business and somebody else's. Larry Fritz, a therapist at the Billings Mental Health Center, points out that hospitals and clinics are natural places for confidentiality to rupture. For a while, Fritz says, a sign announcing that such and such a patient had AIDS was prominently displayed in the basement lab of a Billing's hospital (the protection of laboratory workers being the original in ten t). Fritz-whose own brother died of AIDS and who specializes in gay and HIV-infected clients-counsels one man, a small-town minister, who drives two hundred miles a week for therapy because he doesn't trust the confidentiality of the Mental Health Centers nearer home. Confidentiality can be easily breached when therapists talk to other professionals, Fritz says. "Maybe a therapist goes to a judge to talk about a client they both have in common. And maybe the superintendent of schools who has an office next door overhears the whole conversation because the room isn't soundproof." And then, of course, because this is a county of three thousand people rather than three million, it turns out that the superintendent of schools is married to the client's second cousin perhaps, or he plays poker with the man's brother. People are interested; they talk. It is a process as old as village life itself, and wouldn't be such a big deal if AIDS wasn't heavily laced with fear and shame. Once the word is out there's no telling what might happen. In Cody, Wyoming, a town of 20,000 people southwest of Billings, I talked to a man we will call Charlie, a former health technician in Seattle who had returned home after being diagnosed with AIDS. A wry, wispy-voiced man with china-blue eyes behind big glasses, Charlie never hoped to

keep his disease a secret in Cody-Hlf I hadn't wanted everybody to know, I wouldn't have told anybody," he says. Still, he was surprised at how quickly the word spread. On the evening of the day of his first local doctor's appointment, his stepmother received a call from her sister in Utah, who had herself received a call from a friend who worked in that doctor's office. The sister was worried. "I understand your husband's boy has AIDS."

sprawled in a stack of canned goods. His assailant ended up, briefly, in jail. Similar stories abound: In Sheridan, Wyoming, south of Billings, a woman was thrown out of her apartment and finally hassled from her job after her son was diagnosed with AIDS. Out near Baker, Montana, a local man was asked to leave town after an AIDS diagnosis. 'Tve treated AIDS pa-tients whose own families won't have anything to do with them," says therapist Larry Fritz. "I


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Later, Charlie spoke at an AIDS conference in nearby Casper, and then began what he calls in retrospect "a little bit of trouble." First the threatening phone calls started. Then a painted warning appeared on his old Cadillac overnight: FAG AIDS, GO AWAY "Somebody with a problem," Charlie says now. He would like to put the incident behind him, since he has lately been feeling supported by the town. But at the time, he was angrier at himself and his disease, hotter under the collar, less forgiving. So when, soon after his car was vandalized, a yahoo in the grocery store called him "some fairy fag with AIDS," his response was both frank and scatological. Within moments, Charlie was

talked with one parent here in Billings whose friends stopped coming over when they heard a son had AIDS. Suddenly the whole family was excommunicated from everybody else." Even those without the disease can be socially contaminated by touching it. In Billings many citizens simply assume that volunteers for the Yellowstone AIDS Project themselves have AIDS, Paul Clark says. The AIDS project spent ten minutes at a recent meeting debating whether or not to release its rolls to the members themselves-confidentiality had been guaranteed. At a dinner party in Billings one night I heard a story about a woman who volunteered with grieving AIDS families who lost

a long-held friend because of this work. "You have no business with these people," her friend said, "You're not a nurse, you're not clergy." I t was this woman also who came home from the hospital after a particularly difficult evening and told her husband that she was discouraged and needed a hug. "After you've had a hot bath," he responded, "after you've changed your clothes, then I'll hug you." or several years when Paul Clark was young, his family lived in Scobey, Montana-a town of about 1200 residents in the rolling wheat country near the Canadian border. It is from that town, from a family the Clarks knew in those days, that I heard another kind of AIDS story, of a type that would become familiar to me in Montana. In generic form such a story features a large and close-knit rural family; a bright, sensitive child who leaves town after high school; a diagnosis; and then a decision-how much to tell, how much to risk. Mitch Kincannon went to the university at Missoula after he left Scobey, then to work for a non-profit circus, performing all over the country from its base in California. Much of the rest of the family stayed near home. Two of Don and Irene Kincannon's children have planted their own households in Scobey's fertile environs. Irene works at the local bank; her husband is a retired farm-implement dealer. Last July, Irene's side of the family alone mustered over two hundred people for a local reunion. Mitch had come out to his family while still in college, and in 1988 he announced that he might have AIDS. After this diagnosis was confirmed and as his disease progressed, the Kincannons wondered how to tell the town, how their accumulated goodwill in Scobey might stand against prairiegrown homophobia and fear of AIDS. "It was a scary decision at first," Irene Kincannon says. But in a way, there was no choice. The family had had its conscious-

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ness raised. In October of 1989, Don, Irene, and Mitch's sister and her husband had joined Mitch at an AIDS march in Washington, had viewed the AIDS quilt commemorating the tens of thousands who have died. "People in town were bound to ask why he was sick. We weren't going to lie." So one Friday afternoon, in a period of about an hour, Don and Irene Kincannon passed out around Scobey, Montana, a dozen copies of a three-page letter addressed to "Dear Friends and Associates." Irene distributed the letter to her coworkers at the bank. Don circulated it at the garage where he was working as a mechanic. The letter reviewed in detail Mitch's condition, and it solicited "thoughts and support," but not "sympathy." And instead of asking that the news be kept confidential, the letter requested its recipients to "help pass the word along in a responsible manner." "We've known for many years that Mitch was gay," the letter read. "We learned a good lesson in developing an open mind and accepting people for who they are rather than what we want them to be ... It is our hope that our friends and neighbors will come one step closer to being educated about this disease that in the future may very well touch you through friends and relatives more than you probably allow yourselves to realize." Irene understands that her letter hit Scobey with a "double whammy," disclosing Mitch's homosexuality and his AIDS at the same time. "We can't expect everybody to just understand right away," she says. "AIDS is so new to this area, it's natural for people to be afraid. But we decided that people needed to know about AIDS. They needed to get rid of the fear so there can be more testing and early intervention." As for the town's reaction, the family took the risk and was rewarded with what Irene calls "overwhelming support." In April, 1990, while Mitch Kincannon was home for a visit, he spoke to two classes about AIDS at the Scobey school. The show

got rave reviews, and schools from nearby towns called to request encores. But by then Mitch was headed back to California. "Historically small towns in Montana get behind their people," a public health nurse named Lori Lindholm told me. "If some little kid gets leukemia or somebody gets hurt in a farming accident, people will throw dances for them, or you'll go into a grocery store and there'll be ajar by the cash register for them where you throw your small change. That love and community spirit are here in Montana when people with AIDS and their families are brave enough to tap it." verywhere I went in Montana, I asked HIV infected persons why they had come home. No surprise that the answers often involved family. The hotline at the Yellowstone AIDS Project rings regularly with distracted parents or siblings whose sons and brothers have "come home for a visit and are getting sick." Others come home while they are still healthy to invest their last years with family, to confront mortal issues in a familiar landscape. "I just needed to come home," one man said. "All my family had left the state, but this was where I wanted to be. The kind of countryside I wanted to be around. The kind of people I wanted to be with." Paul Clark came home for emotional solace, took a job, found out he was sick, and quickly felt pinned in place. "I needed my health insurance," he says, "I couldn't afford to go anywhere else. But a place is what you make it. My family is here. They know everything about me and love me and accept me as I am. And I love Montana. There are some wonderful things about


being here. The solitude of waking up in the morning and seeing six inches of snow hanging from the trees, and it's cold, and its really beautiful. This lifts my spirits and makes me want to live." Paul has been lucky in several ways. Sears maintains a firm policy against AIDS discrimination, and Paul felt warmly supported by many of his coworkers before taking a disability leave earlier this year. He has also been fortunate in finding health caremore so apparently than other persons with AIDS in rural America. One morning while I was in Billings I opened the local newspaper to read that the National AIDS Commission was reporting "a singular lack of access to primary health care services in rural areas. " In Billings, however, an infectious disease specialist named Dr. Ron Smith has plunged in to care for virtually all the area's AIDS patients. His presence, and that of two large, relatively progressive hospitals, has made the town a kind of AIDS center, where (unlike early in the epidemic) patients have access to new drugs and treatments. In Billings, also, patients do not compete as ferociously for services as they would in over-stressed larger city health systems. In even smaller communities, finding care can be more difficult. "Some older physicians are often unwilling to take on AIDS patients," I was told by Tom Robertson, until recently the health director of Dawson County. "Some younger physicians are more likely to feel limited in dealing with the complicated care." Nurses also come in for criticism. Pete Johnson told me of being admitted to one Billings hospi tal floor where it became immediately clear that some of the nurses

After this diagnosis was confirmed and as his disease progressed, the Kincannons wondered how to tell the town.


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"had a problem" with AIDS. After his emergency admission, the nurses left him alone in the room for a long time, and when a nurse finally did show up, she was swathed head to toe in total precaution gear: gown, mask, goggles-a get-up universally known as a space suit-normally unnecessary for AIDS patients. The nursing supervisor subsequently apologized for this incident, and nothing like it happened to Pete again. As a nurse myself, I didn't find these revelations particularly shocking. Like other humans, nurses are fearful and unfearful, tolerant and intolerant, with ample variation in between. Unlike nurses in the nation's major cities-who were caring for AIDS sufferers before the disease had a name, for whom the epidemic arrived with a human face-rural nurses encountered AIDS first as a rumor, a dire prediction: The AIDS patients are coming, The AIDS patients are comzng. But fear fades with experience, with personal encounter, and while intolerance is a professional liability, it need not always interfere with competent care. From all over the state, I heard how much better things were getting, and patient after patient told me how well-cared-for they had felt in the Billings hospitals.


ne evening, while Paul Clark is working late, his parents invite me to dinner. Their neighborhood is a notch or two above middle-class for Billings, a grassy enclave of snipped shrubbery and contented homes. The Clarks' three-bedroom home is orderly, uncluttered, and furnished in matching sets, and I think again of Paul's orderly accountant's mind. "He would have made a good auditor," Ted Clark tells me of his son, and I wonder if he hears himself slipping into the past tense. They are both teachers, Ted and Jane Clark-the sort of people you might see in a State Farm ad-warm but not gushing, good-humored, level-headed, thoughtful, faithful Lutherans both. Their non-judg-

mental acceptance of Paul's disease has made possible his activism, and, one suspects, supported his fragile health. Jane would not have her eldest son living anywhere but at home right now, she tells me. It helps her to see him every day, to talk with him, to know what he's thinking. And Ted Clark's efforts to understand Paul's homosexuality are almost painfully poignant, as when he announced one evening that he had spent the day searching for a physical tug toward other men. It was no surprise to Paul that this didn't work. In his living room after dinner, Ted digs out Paul's senior yearbook from Billings West High. Ten years younger, Paul is a little shaggier and looks like a kid who might tell a joke. Like all middle-class high school faces, it looks unformed. When Paul arrives home, he wants to talk. "Did you suspect I was gay before I came home and told you?" he asks his parents. Ted says he had; Jane had not. We talk for a while about how they are handling the news of Paul's disease with their friends. Jane says she admires Irene Kincannon for 'Jumping in with both feet." She herself has "tested the water first," telling first one friend and then another. Paul turns to me. "See how my family supports me?" he says. "What are people afraid of." And then he is off on a familiar theme. Why don't other people with AIDS tell their families? Why don't they tell the world? What do they have to lose? Montanans are good people. Ted and Jane and I gang up on Paul over this point. Families are different, we tell him, everybody is at a different point in this disease. He looks from one of us to the others and shakes his head. He is a debater, a reasonable man, and he understands our logic. But his impatience won't let him agree. There is, after all, so very little time .â&#x20AC;˘ Paul died in September of 1991 and at his funeral the church overflowed with mourners. His obituary stated that he had died of AIDS.



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In fact, a small group of San Francisco lesbian health educators decided this winter to hold a forum to educate themselves about safe sex after they discovered that no one in the group--despite their public pronouncements otherwise-ever pulled the latex out of their nightstand drawers. Those who spend their days on the lesbian safe sex bandwagon appear to be no different than the rest of us. The scant research on woman-to-woman transmission of HIV leaves lesbians nationwide asking "Is sex a risk or or isn't it? Are we in denial or are we being realistic?" The answer depends on whom you ask.

lated that seven could be cases of woman-towoman transmission. A report published by Denise Ribble of the Community Health Project in New York contended that two of thirty one lesbians with HIV she had worked with had no risk factor aside from lesbian sex. San



see woman-towoman transmission," contends Rita Shimmin, the HIV program coordinator for Lyon-Martin Women's Health Services in San Francisco. "The numbers are small, that is true ... but just because there aren't the numbers doesn't mean it isn't happening." Dozens of health educators, HIV counselors, and activists agree. Four cases of woman-to-woman transmission have been reported by doctors to mainstream medical journals. The cases were said to have involved women who reported oral sex with an HIV-positive woman as the only possible route of infection. 'There is no reason that this number should be considered insignificant since six gay men with PCP were considered significant in 1981," says a 1991 background paper circulated nationwide through the ACT UP women's network. ACT UP has made a name for itself by challenging the underlying assumptions of the science profession, and is thought by many to be the premier clearinghouse for the latest in AIDS research information. The same activists cite an "obervational data base" study undertaken by the US Centers for Disease Control (the CDC-the federal agency that studies and tracks AIDS) of patients at twenty- seven community based clinics that includes 287 female HIV cases. Among the female cases, researchers postu-

Francisco's Susan Foster of Lyon-Martin Women's Health Services reported the same for five of thirty-one lesbians who have attended her lesbians with HIV support group. "In 1989 I assumed IV drug use or heterosexual contact," Foster said, but when she realized some of the women fit neither risk group, she began to ask newcomers how they could have possibly become infected. Not all the women in ACT UP, or in women's health education, agree that cases



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of woman-to-woman transmission have been properly documented, however. Some side with a number of reputable, skeptical doctors and government-sponsored researchers who say lesbian sexual transmission is virtually non-existent. They point out other si nifi-

can t risks in the cases attributed to woman-to-woman transmission. They say it's impossible to depend on patients to truthfully disclose how they were exposed to HIV. Most risk behaviors are highly stigmatized argues Sarah Schulman, an ACT UP member who has been writing about the AIDS epidemic since 1983. An out lesbian might find it easier to talk about sexual behavior than a drug or alcohol history; she might be unwilling to talk about heterosexual contacts; she could have memory blackouts from drug or alcohol use. And Michael Marmor, of the Department of Environmental Medicine at New York University, who published one of the four reported cases of woman-to-woman transmission in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 1986, has continued to study lesbians-and although the study is not complete, his preliminary findings show no new cases of woman-to-woman transmission. Some activists and researchers dispute each of the four reported cases, pointing to significant unexamined risk behavior. In addition, scientists believe that HIV takes about four years to become clearly present in an at-risk community once it has been introduced there; lesbian injection drug users were diagnosed with AIDS as early as the mid-eighties, but the number of lesbian cases today remains low. Similar discrepancies turn up in anecdotal cases. Susan Foster of Lyon-Martin Health

Clinic arranged for me to meet two lesbians she counted in her unknown risk category. One, twenty-five-year-old Joan Baker, tested positive in December 1986. She says she may have gotten HIV by having unprotected oral sex with a former girlfriend who injected drugs. But her girlfriend has consistently tested HIV negative. A more likely scenario is that she got HIV during an incident when she was drunk and got "taken advantage of' by someone who injected her with drugs without her consent. The other "unknown risk" lesbian, Donna, had had fifty sexual contacts, about half of which were men. survey of several heterosexual-partners studies published in AIDSFILE, a newsletter put out by San Francisco General Hospital and the University of California/San Francisco, found little transmission from women to men, which seems to imply that woman-to-woman transmission would be just as rare. "Results from cross-sectional studies of couples consisting of one HIV-infected partner are fairly consistent in reporting approximately a 20 percent transmission rate from infected men to their female sexual partners. Results from studies of transmission from infected women to their male partners are far more erratic." The report goes on to explain that the various partner studies "report rates of transmission that range from nonexistent to only one-half the rate of male-to-female transmission." The lesbian activists who contend that woman-to-woman transmission is nonexistent or highly inefficient (the ranks of whom now include Beth Elliott who wrote about the topic in Off Our Backs, and Garance FrankeRuta who argued similarly in NYQ) find themselves in uneasy agreement with the staff at the CDC. The agency has identified no high risk sexual behavior between women, and finds no reason to believe that lesbians are a high risk group. CDC spokesman Bob Howard points to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health in November 1990, which looked at 9,717 AIDS cases of adult women from 1980 to 1989. Seventynine of the women said they had sex exclusively with women since 1977; of that group, seventy five were intravenous drug users and



four received blood transfusions-all transmission accounted for under CDC guidelines. "Every case fits into one of the categories," says Howard, who didn't mention the three cases reported in the medical journals, or know anything about the CDC's own "observational data base."

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e know there are HIV-positive lesbians. Why don't we know whether we can transmit it to one another? The medical establishment historically has not allocated research funds for women's health. Women's health and treatments are not researched; women have less money than men and thus have less access to health care; and they are often misdiagnosed by a male-dominated profession that doesn't have a clue about how women's bodies actually work. Complicating sex discrimination are issues of race and class. HN is concentrated among women of color, poor women, bisexuals and injection drug users. Of the thirty one members of Susan Foster's lesbian support group, 23% were women of color, 81 % were of working class or poor background, 16% had graduated from high school and none had attended college. In addition, many lesbians never come out to their health care providers. A 1989 survey of 1,681 lesbians in Michigan found that 61 % of the respondents "felt unable to come out to provider." Sixty percent said their provider assumed they were straight. This certainly affects treatment and reporting methods for lesbians with sexually transmitted diseases or problems with their reproductive organs. The government approached AIDS from the beginning as a disease affecting only gay men. It devoted resources to heterosexual transmission studies, but, for the most part, chose not to study woman-to-woman transmission. "Lesbians don't have much sex," CDC spokesman Dr. Charles Schable went so far as to say in the late eighties. The CDC decided early in the epidemic to categorize cases according to "risk group" instead of "risk behavior." When women are diagnosed with AIDS, they are asked if they

belong to one of three identified risk groups: injection drug users, those who have received blood transfusions, or those who've had heterosexual sex. A lesbian with AIDS who does not claim one of the risk groups is classified in the murky "no identified risk" category, where no research resources are currently allocated. As a result of the CDC's approach, many women are not properly diagnosed with AIDS. Doctors monitor gay men for signs of HN infection, but don't consider women's early warning signs: vaginal infections, pelvic inflammatory disease or cervical cancer. We don't know how many women remain undiagnosed, but it's likely that some are lesbians.

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lthough the medical establishment has been negligent in gathering information about woman-to-woman transmission, most agree that if transmission between women is happening, it is "inefficient." Even if it is occurring at a very slow rate, social-sexual patterns-lesbians tend to have fewer sexual partners than gay men-make it unlikely that lesbians as a group will ever be devastated in the same way that gay men have been.

But as one lesbian scientist told me, "we're not talking about fruitflies." Any lesbian who dies from AIDS is significant. To assess risk, we must become acquainted with the little known about woman-to-woman HN transmission. The key to whether or not women can transmit HN to one another appears to lie with the amount of HN in vaginal secretions and menstrual blood. Two studies published in the March 1986 edition of Lancet, a British medical journal, found HN in vaginal secretions, but at a low level relative to blood or semen. There are no exact comparisons to the amount of HN in each body fluid, but the study suggests that although the amount

of HIV in tears and saliva is too low to be considered infectious, vaginal secretions may be infectious under "certain conditions." The study goes no further, but we do know that for the virus to travel from one person to the next, infected body fluids must find a break in the skin, presumably on a finger or inside the mouth, vagina or anus. An HIVpositive woman with a vaginal infection probably has a higher concentration than usual of HIV in the white blood cells that are drawn to fight the infection,

argue that rough cuticles or gums that bleed could allow infection. Others maintain that an opening in the skin would have to be more receptive-an oral herpes sore or an open cut on a finger-because the amount of the virus in vaginal secretion or menses is low. Researchers agree that menstrual blood does not carry the virus in the same potency as circulatory blood, which has a higher living cell density than other body fluids. The only published report on HIV transmission during menses (Annals of Internal Medicine, 1987) found traces of HIV in cervical secretions of four of the seven HIV-positivewomen in the study. A large scale study on menses has yet to be published, so the level of HIV in menstrual blood remains unknown.


Risk Assessment ome activists add that advocating safer sex for lesbians undermines a fragile sexual liberation. If safe sex educators aren't even practicing safe sex, prevention efforts aimed at lesbians should call for risk assessment: evaluating one's vaginal and oral health before coming into contact with vaginal juices and menstrual blood. "It's sick-women are putting on gloves to touch other women," says Schulman. "No lesbian has gotten AIDS because she fist fucked another woman. We're stigmatizing sexual practices." Safer sex advocates scoff at the idea that they are promoting lesbian shame about sex. 'The same thing could be said: You don't feel that you're worth protecting," says Rita Shimmin. She understands, however, the reluctance to practice safe sex. 'We want to feel it, we want to taste it. That's the enjoyment." She suggests that one thing lesbians can do is to get tested for HIV. "It's a numbers game people play. Get the test so you know your status. Why not?" NYQ writer Franke-Ruta, a member of ACT UP-NYs treatment and data committee, also objects to blanket safe-sex guidelines for lesbians. "Each woman has to determine what she does when she has sex," she said. "A


thus risk of transmission is probably higher when a secondary infection is present, explains Joanne Genet of the California Partners Study. Most health educators also agree that sharing dildos (which are likely to break skin in either the vagina or anus) could also possibly transmit the disease. If vaginal secretion from an HIV-positivewoman is on a dildo which is then used to fuck an HIV-negative woman, it is possible that the virus could be transmitted through breaks in the skin caused by the dildo. At this point opinions diverge. Some


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quantity of semen sitting inside the vagina for three days is different than sticking your finger in for half an hour." In the absence of research, at-risk and HIV-positive lesbians have been forced to draw their own conclusions about safe sex. Jennifer Lorvick at Urban Health Study in San Francisco surveyed twenty-eight lesbian injection drug users and found that although a majority found it imperative to use safe needle-cleaning practices, only two reported using a latex barrier with their female partners-most didn't consider sex with women a risk. None of them tested positive for HN. Her discussions with at-risk lesbians led her to consider a prevention strategy based on risk assessment. "It makes more sense to tell people to make informed decisions given what information we have--even gay men are making decisions about whether to use condoms for oral sex," she says. It seems inappropriate to tell every lesbian to hermetically seal her vagina in latex, but making a risk assessment based on who you are sleeping with involves exactly what it says-risk.


"Don't make any assumptions," says women's health advocate Marisa Davis. "I'm a professional woman. I shot drugs. We all have a past." Imani Harrington is an HIV-positive poet and dancer who has had to reach her own conclusions about the sexual transmission of the virus and safe sex for women. She kicked her drug habit in 1985 and tested positive in 1987. It was at least another year before she was able to get any information about woman-to-woman transmission. Most of her risk assessment strategy has come from common sense and experimentation in the bedroom. To avoid using latex constantly, her lovers dip their hands in peroxide, which bubbles on open sores. She uses her knowledge of the way HN operates in the body to decide when and how to use latex barriers. "I think there is an alarmist attitude with all of this," Harrington says. ''You don't always have to use dental dams or condoms. I think latex should be incorporated into the bedroom but I don't think it should be the law.".

The Art of David



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"Bad Moon Rising"

1989. Acrylic,


collage, on masonite.



1987. Acrylic

and mixed media on wood.



he raging soulful tirade David Wojnarowicz lets loose through his writings, paintings, photographs and film is powered in great part by his genius for cutting through the bullshit to uncover a stark reality. Much of his art is about politics and the AIDS crisis, but to see that alone is to miss the more timeless spiritual exploration that hovers just behind the anger and outrage of his images. Like an intense dream or a religious meditation,

T "Anatomy

& Architecture

of Desire"

1988-89. Mixed media on wood.


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Wojnarowicz illuminates connections that are present but unseen, and creates associations that help us understand the web within web of our complex existence. Through startling juxtapositions he describes the real ecology between man and nature, economics and the environment, compassion and compulsion. His photo-collage The Weight of the Earth Part 2, for example, juxtaposes images of repression, hunger, and hornelessness with planets floating in a void and a hand holding a tiny, vulnerable frog. The viewer becomes both perpetrator and victim,

surveilled and surveillor, infinitesimally small and inconceivably large. The horrors Wojnarowicz depicts may be beyond what we are willing to consciously claim as our own. Art critic Lucy Lippard admits his paintings "map a territory I recognize but don't really know. They blow me away." According to one critic "part of his power comes from the palpable sense that he is desperately trying to tell us something that our language is too limited to describe, that he has been forced to create a new language from existing imagery to accurately represent the new psychological realities he

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of Peter Hujar"

(7 miles a Second). Acrylic,

spray paint, collage,

perceives in our culture." None of this "territory" is new-especially not for the gay community. Wojnarowicz isjust making everyone see, as Andy Warhol did with a soup can, what they've been looking at all along. By tapping into a collective unconscious Wojnarowicz picks up where surrealists left off, despite his lack of formal art training. His painting Wind (for Peter Hujar) is a good example. Continuing the free association and non-chronological narrative developed by Dada and Surrealism, Wojnarowicz paints an oncoming tornado bearing down on a young man whose brain is wired through a microchip to a wing, a blowing curtain, a dinosaur, two paratroopers, and a trio of stony male nude figures fondling each other. His composition generates distinct associations: he ties a disaster (the AIDS crisis) to extinction (dinosaur), helplessness (crying baby), and the poten-

on canvas.

tial of science (a mechanical wing), and suspends them in a perfect summer sky, half devoured by an oncoming storm. Like Pop artists, he employs iconic and borrowed imagery saturated with assumed meanings. He has reinterpreted the graphic symbols our culture and combined them with his own personal lexicon of stiches, bugs, rubble, and eyeballs. Like Keith Haring, Wojnarowicz communicates his politics with directness and immediacy. But as critic John Carlin has pointed out, Wojnarowicz's works, which are constructed from a more personal arsenal, rupture the smooth happy discourse perpetrated by the media. Unlike Haring's art they could never be used for advertising. Robert Mapplethorpe also spoke forcefully and explicitly about sexuality, powering his statements with focused purity and isolated beauty. Wojnarowicz uses equally



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~ o ~ ::l o explicit and forceful gay imagery, but ties it so inextricably to the greater environment that it reads as an indisputable proclamation-that being gay is part of us and we are part of the world. Adam Kuby: Your art indicts most institutions in America-government, religion, the art world, the media. Is there any institution you feel is worth salvaging? David Wojnarowicz: I'm not aware of any. I just see them as one power structure being exchanged for another. Sometimes I don't see any difference between what different institutions or groups demand from the populace as they get more power; demands to see things a certain way, to speak things a certain way. I call that the conservative left and the conservative right. I just don't feel comfortable around groups, around institutions, because invariably there's somebody or some handful of people inside vying for

some perceived position of power. AK: Your work contains violent images representing injustices as well as violent responses to them. Is violence something you present as an option or are you a pacifist underneath it all? DW: I think I've acted as a pacifist all my life. Recently it shocked me to realize that I could more easily become a victim than a victimizer. Not that I would tolerate being a victim, but that I could live with being a victim easier than with being a victimizer. As far as violence, yes, I have impulses to violence. I kill people in my head endlessly, certain politicians or religious leaders or people I feel are killing me on a daily basis. I believe in violence as self-protection; I have fantasies of violence as revenge and I don't feel uncomfortable with those fantasies. AK: But do you feel people may be taking that in your art as a call to violence?

58 "Sex Series"

(train) 1988-89. B/W photograph.

DW: That's a good question. There may be people who don't know their boundaries. I know mine and I know how far I can go inside my head with certain impulses. And a lot of what I try to do for myself is to break down taboos that were instilled in me, those of anger, of sexuality-I could go all the way down the line. But I know my own boundaries and sometimes wonder if other people do. AK: You were once quoted as saying that art helped stem the self-destructive tide that you were

facing. Do you think that art has the power to heal a person or a society? DW: Absolutely. I know I could speak of what art is for me. It's a communication and making things opened up a place where I could communicate a lot of the things that I just couldn't socially. It released a lot of that pressure. If I didn't have that outlet I don't know if I would have survived a lot of things that I went through. I think it saved my life in some way.

AK: It's clear that you haven't secluded yourself

I once saw my work in the context of an enormous collection at some rich person's house. It was a huge collection, coming all the way through this century. And I was shocked. I didn't feel I belonged there at all. I felt very powerfully that many of the artists who made these things had a totally different intent than I do. There's an edge of luxury to most art. I realize that I have some luxury in terms of being able to afford supplies and time, but I never viewed the making of things like that.

in a studio or retreated into an exclusively gay world. What are your feelings about ghettoization? DW: I have never felt kinship with the gay community, at least the visible gay community, except for what we all have to endure. I just can't relate. When I was living on the street in the late sixties I got involved in this Gay Activists Alliance on Wooster Street and they let me sleep there. I watched the dynamics of the people and could recognize people I was attracted to in terms of their individual sensibility, but I just can't do that social scene, and have never felt attracted to participating. Going through all the different clone things, the seventies clone look, the activist clone look. It makes my blood go cold. Not that people shouldn't do exactly what they want. I just can't participate. AK: I think your work is diversifying our gay vocabulary, broadening auailable images away from the stereotypical. DW: Thanks, but one of my intents in writing my book is to deal with just my personal structure and it is not indicative of gay culture or gay activity. Wanting to deal with my own structure, the way I view things-I guess that is what's kept me from joining groups, political groups or otherwise. Once I got away from an extremely destructive and violent family, once I got off the streets, I have fiercely protected whatever emotions I decide to engage in, whatever changes, whatever thoughts, whatever self-education -I need room for all of it. If an activist community is going to denounce a writer who writes books of sex without any mention of condoms, then I say Fuck You to that activist community. I really believe in the value of unrestricted fantasy, unrestricted thought. AK: You use a lot of pornographic images in your work. What do you think of pornography? DW: The images I use are just naked bodies, sometimes engaged in explicit sex acts. I know they are loaded images but I'm not


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just putting sex pictures on a wall, I'm surrounding them with information that reverberates against whatever that image sparks in people. AK: You've made your struggle with AIDS and other events in your life public for the benefit of all of us. Has there been a price? DW: The media stuff was intially very painful because it broke some of my anonymity. I was ready to leave the country at one point when The New York Post did a full-page editorial saying I was somebody who would worship Hitler. Where they got that ... just because I called the Cardinal a fat cannibal. Stuff like that really unnerved me, but in a very short period of time I had to become articulate and speak to people I didn't know and in the long run it was great. It was very valuable to me. I feel more comfortable about it [the media] now. AK: Could we deconstruct one of your paintings? DW: We could try if! can remember it. AK: I was thinking of "Queerbasher: Icarus Falling. " DW: It's actually a very simple piece. I had been down in Argentina, where there is this enormous train station with a cruising scene in the bathroom late at night and I was thinking how when you're cruising somebody, you really don't know if they have a potential of being violent. So the painting essentially deals with a queer-basher and a guy who is feeling all this desire. I used these mythic images on the interior of the silhouettes, so that here's this guy with a cyclops, holding a little human that he's about to devour; and here the guy with desire has two guys bathing themselves without their shirts on. It was a sort of sexy image to me. In the lower part of the desire guy's body, they're in a boat moving across a body of water, and one of the guy's head is like an explosion of light, symbolizing sexual release and abandonment. And in the lower part of the body of the queer-basher is the shark who is metaphorically lurking under the other guy's boat-their intents are totally opposite. Then I just started laying in various fragments and discards of civ-

ilization, gear wheels, a little train .... The sirloin steak posters is mostly about meat but I was also thinking of it as a symbol of consumption in gneral, not so much of food but of concepts and influences that we consume on a daily basis-homophobia, violence. AK: What's this [grey bars at right angles}? DW: I've always thought it's this odd mechanical arm, which kind of signifies society at this point in time, bringing it up to date. And this [top of painting] is a landscape from the window of a jet with all these different jet streams; it's actually a fragment of a photograph of landscapes from above as they were being bombed in World War II. And there's Icarus ... kind of representing the idea of an angelic state, not related to Catholicism, but more to the innocent states of mind and body and to the release and flight of orgasm. AK: I guess he's about to get shot out of the sky fry this queer basher: DW: Yeah, you could see it that way. AK: How has your art making been going lately? DW: Actually in the last year I've sort of gone blank-partly because I just burned out, but also I've been in bed trying to fight some really horrible fucking infections in my body that basically went untreated because they couldn't find it. I hit a point where I couldn't conceive of a single thing. I thought everything was finished in terms of my work, especially since what I always loved my whole life was movement and travel. All my work sprang out of travel. The last time I went out on the road I just couldn't respond to anything. It was very painful-it was like seeing a xerox of my former self, like it was all in the past; that-oh yeah, I used to love that-but now I feel nothing. It was a strange experience. However, things have changed over the last month since I started seeing another doctor who actually found out whats was going on and I've started writing again. That woke up some things. I feel like there has been a radical shift in me, but I haven't seen what that is yet. â&#x20AC;˘



Falling" '1986. Spray paint/acrylic

on masonite.

ward. There's this cloudy kind of sunlight moving about the room. The guy on the bed takes two breaths and arches his back almost imperceptibly, his lips slightly partby David Wojnarowicz ed. I have hold of one leg and his sister one hand philip another hand or part of his There were so many days of waiting for him arm and we're sobbing and I'm totally to die the third and final time and we'd amazed at how quietly he dies how beautiful been talking to him daily because they say everything is with us holding him down on hearing is the last sense to go. Sometimes the bed on the floor fourteen stories above alone with him, the nurse outside the room the earth and the light and wind scattering I'd take his hands and bend over whisperoutside the windows and his folks at this ing in his ears: hey, I don't know what moment standing somewhere on the obseryou're seeing but if there's light move vation deck of the empire state building toward it; if there's warmth move toward it" hundreds of stories up in the clouds and if you see nothing then try to imagine that light and how perone period of calm fect that is to me in the midst of that how the whole sky just where it world is still turnreaches the ocean. ing and someThat one place I've where it's raining always seen as a and somewhere point of time and it's snowing and space where everysomewhere forest thing is possible, fires rage and where I could somewhere else dream myself anysomething moves where in any posibeneath dark tion and I said waters and somemove into that, where blood become that, appears 111 the merge with it. hallway of the Death. I don't nec-wh"", I w ••~ III .r ~ S_l tj"'1 ~ ;u....~- "f home of some old '" u.••w,,1 , •...\t. .•. -1-'''- n,.&. \00-'- . ~ •.••-..k essarily believe that ".. rl ••ro;t\ ol ""," \:It,,,,) •.•• '" c..~,... It couple who aren't it's part of some (Fcl~ S""-v """I A.u ~ I \t~ \.:"" \o.tCf .+. bleeding and cycle that repeats somewhere somein other lifetimes one else spontaneously self-combusts and and what difference does it make anyway? somehow all the mysteries of this world as I Are you supposed to save all your living for know it offer me comfort and I don't know the next life? I just tend to see it as some beans about heaven and hell and somehow final moment where all the energy of my all that stuff is no longer an issue and at the body will disperse. So now it's day three or moment I'm a sixteen-foot-tall five-hunfour or five, I can't remember, and his pardred-and-forty-eight-pound man inside this ents and two sisters are visiting the empire six-foot body and a~l I can feel is the presstate building; me and philip and betty, one sure all I can feel is the pressure and the of his other sisters, are standing in the need for release .• room. The doctor comes in and removes © 7997 David Wojnarowicz. Reprinted bv arrangement with him from the pumps and hisses of hoses Vintage Books. a division of Random House, Inc. and he leaves the room immediately after-

Excerpt: From Close to the Knives

A Journal of Disintegration


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rapt in the hotel ballroom in Arlington, Virginia, sometimes laughing, or gathering a collective gasp of emotional resonance. After several days of skills training, movement debates and occasional political haggling, the two writers presented attendees with a thoughtful and beautifully written gift, an inspiration to examine our lives, our tactics and our goals. We hope it will do the same for OUT/LOOK readers.

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Minnie Bruce: We've been inhabiting the dreary terrain of the Reagan-Bush years for a long time now, a landscape in which acts of injustice and oppression are presented as inevitable, part of the natural order, or part of a well-ordered government. In this land, men in power steal and call that "deregulation," men in power lie and call that "misspeaking," men in power subvert the Constitution and call that "national defense." When we who long for a more just world object to injustice, we are trivialized by the label "politically correct," we are accused of limiting others with "censorship." When we testify to another reality, our reality, we are called "fantasizer s" and "liars." When we attempt to depict our reality in art, or have it reflected in public policy, we are called "indecent" and "disgusting." How do we cling to the beauty and truth of our own lives, our own reality, in this land? How do we stay connected to the passion of creating change, which is the art of creating out of our lives a future that is not inevitable, like a poem whose ending we don't know, can't know because we are in the middle of writing it, in the middle of the joy of creation? Jewelle: At a time when we feel attacked politically, economically, sometimes from within as well as from the outside, asking questions may seem irrelevant. Yet over the years it is really those who dare ask the questions who are the touchstones for change. On her deathbed Gertrude Stein said to her beloved Alice: "What's the answer?" When Alice admitted she did not know the answer to the meaning of life Gertrude said, "More importantly, what is the question?" In looking for a means of changing our own inner lives and thus promoting change in the world around us it is often the torturous journey that leads us to articulate the

questions that is the most profound and empowering. Where do we begin to question our own classism, racism, anti-semitism? When do we notice "we" are also "them"? When do we demand as much of ourselves as we do of the other? Minnie Bruce: To a younger poet, the poet Rilke once said: "be patient toward all that is

I want everybody路s mother to like me. That desire for aceeptaace is the complete antithesis to the desire for change.

unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms ... the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer." As a way of clinging to our own truths, here are some questions we ask of ourselves, of you, as part of "living along ... into the answer."

What in our early lives gave us a sense that political change was possible? What was our first political act? Jewelle: Early in the sixties it was clear that my life had been outlined for me simply as a projection of someone else's fantasy-

Hollywood myth, IV news, educational propaganda. But several events opened up the possibility that there was a reality beyond the lies, beyond the stereotype. The narrow place of schism between society's myth and my reality was a deeply powerful place. A political place. In 1963 Black Day was declared by local Civil Rights organizations in Boston. All black

people were asked to stay home from school and from work as a way of letting the rest of the city see us, simply see us. I didn't stay home. I was 14 years old and believed the newspapers when it said that those who called for this action were simply troublemakers. My great-grandmother, who'd grown up poor, black and Native American, felt the decision should be mine. I seemed to know more of this world than she did. It wasn't until the following year, when I was fifteen, that I realized the newspapers were lying. Sitting at my school desk, in a predominately black school with only a handful of white and Chinese students and even fewer black students brought home to me the singularity of my position as a black person in white society.

The isolation I felt looking at the other young black girls who too had been afraid to be labeled as troublemakers made me understand the power of unity with others and the fear such a unity inspired in those who are in charge. Other incidents broadened the light that shone on the schism between myth and reality. The time I saw a woman riding the trolley car with me and I noticed the numbers tatooed on her arm. In that moment I realized that even though the schools told us nothing of the Holocaust, it did really happen and not just in the movies. Watching my greatgrandmother make the decision to not buy stockings so she could send me to those movies ... these were the moments when I saw myself unexpectedly in a political sea. ot observing Black Day was a first political act. The nature of it still stings me and shapes the urgency of my political life. Minnie Bruce: My first political act was not about change at all but about keeping things the way they were. As a teenager in the early sixties, I had a German pen pal, a matter of great excitement for a young curious girl isolated in a tiny town in the deep South. His name was Horst Werner-I can remember it easily, thirty years later. As the civil rights movement in Alabama began to receive international attention, he wrote inquiring what I thought of it. I replied with a justification of segregation in which I used many stupid lies about Black inferiority. My mother read and praised the letter. It was the first-the only-time I wrote down a defense of the political and social views I had been raised with. Proud of myself, I thought I had answered all the questions. Yet why did he never write again? I had no way of standing outside myself and asking questions as if my life were the locked room mystery. But the civil rights movement kept on, and



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the people in it were asking questions, the ones marching, the ones singing, the ones being beaten, the ones dying. All of this was at the edge of my attention, at the periphery of my vision; I did not want to look too closely. Yet their questions changed me, nevertheless. In 1967, when I turned 21, I committed my second political act. In the courthouse named after my grandfather, I went to vote for the first time, in a big room with no voting booths, no curtained privacy, just a table and the paper ballot handed to me. Some of the candidates were running as members of what was Alabama's equivalent of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party-their symbol the black panther instead of the coxcombed rooster of Southern Democratic white supremacy. I sat at the table and my father leaned over my shoulder; he began telling me how to vote, and though I had given no thought to this election, when I saw the black panther I began to make my X by those candidates. My father said, "NO. Don't vote for them." But in me, deep down, was my mother's voice telling me, as she always had, "You have to do what you think is right, no matter what others say."

What did we learn about living from our first lesbian or gay gathering, event, dance, or night at the bar? Jewelle: If we don't include the Saturdays of my teenaged years devoted to best girlfriends, my first lesbian gathering was outside of the "lesbian community." In the mid-seventies I went to a salon in Brooklyn designed to share the work of black women. Alexis Deveaux for a number of years invited women to read their writing, dance, perform their music for each other. It wasn't specifically lesbian but the ethos was lesbian. I first heard Edwina Lee Tyler there, first heard Evelyn Harris of Sweet Honey sing there, first read my vam-

pire stories there. My entire world opened up. I could actually imagine myself creating, living, thriving as a lesbian with the women J met at these events. They were erudite, politically savvy,and stylish. They were independent women in the U.S. without having lost their sense of Africa, the Americas, Japan, Puerto Rico or the man)' other places that their ancestors may have come from. Those

moments gave me the sense of myself as a lesbian connected to other women, loyal to other women in the world. That sense of connection and loyalty has been at the heart of what I expect, what I demand from others when working politically. I also realized that this group of women was quite insulated from the lesbian/ fem in ist movement. We were outsiders because we were not white. No one thought about us in 1975 off there in Brooklyn creating a world and many of us maintained that isolation deliberately, trying not to think about them/you. It frightens me to be reminded how many other colored lesbians, small-town lesbians, working-class or poor lesbians remain outside the realm of lesbian politics because we don't remember them because they don't think

they have anything to teach us. Minnie Bruce: With my lover and some friends, I sat at a table in my first gay bar, The Other Side, Fayetteville, North Carolina, 1975. I knew no one else in the room. A woman walked over, leaned over me, tough, butch, asked me to dance. Confused, I said no-thank-you and whispered to my lover: "What do I do? I don't know the rules." She

with my lover and several hundred other dykes, singing our question: "I've been cheated/been mistreated/when will I be loved?" The Red Dyke Theatre was about to perform, and my political education was beginning with a troupe of revolutionary socialist lesbians, one dressed in male drag doing a hot number to "Steam Heat," another doing a wicked femme routine complete with whip. During the day, we had trotted around to workshops held in different lesbian homes in the Little Five Points area, sessions on lesbian mothers, armed revolution, women in nontraditional jobs, lesbian culture. Later at the ALFA (Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance) house, in the middle of a lot of drinking, I began thinking about how I had to go home and figure out what to do about my husband and my children. I had seen that there was no one answer given by these women, that I had to make up my own answers to my questions of how to have a family, a community, and a political coalition that included me and my boys and my lover, and the people at the bar, the drag queens, the military women and men, the closeted teachers, and the political lesbians at the conference.

Sometimes I feel like 11m writing a letter, the page covered with scrawled words, the same letter . over and over, without knowing who will read it or answer it. said: "There are no rules." Then later she danced with me alone on the tiny spotlit stage, backed me up against the wall, and kissed me there, everyone watching. Of course there were rules, but she wasn't telling. I learned as I went along how we've made up our own rules, hurtful, joyful, and sometimes we don't tell each other because of power, because of shame, or maybe we're just in a hurry, but sometimes we do tell, sometimes we ask our questions again, and then make up new answers together, make a new place to dance. I can't remember if I wen t to the bar before or after I went to the Great Southeast Lesbian Conference in Atlanta, spring of 1975, but I remember, as one of the happiest nights of my life, sitting in a little auditorium

What personal change has come about for us because of /Jolitical consciousness? Jewelle: There was that smug satisfaction that I got from not buying grapes in the sixties in support of Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers Union and the same with not buying Polaroid products then because of their development of the passbook system implemented against black South Africans. But where did real personal change come? Still hard to say. In 1968 when I was working for public television in Boston, our show regularly explored the issues raised by the Black Arts Movement, and one day I decided to



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stop straightening my hair and have a natural, or Afro, as it was called then. It seems trivial now, but after years of having the world describe my hair as "bad," "unmanageable," "undesirable," it was the most liberating thing in the world for me to realize I didn't need to be tortured by hotcombs and chemicals in order to try and look like I had "good" hair. Once I made that decision, and faced my great-grandmother with it, anything seemed possible. And I never looked in the mirror with that type of dissatisfaction again. I actually saw myself for the first time. That changed my reaction to others. Because I felt less inadequate I was able to insist on more respect from others and I expected more from myself. That elemental, supposedly cosmetic, change shifted my entire perspective. Minnie Bruce: Before I came out as a lesbian, when I was still married but becoming familiar with the ideas of women's liberation and with some of the women who had those ideas, I was shopping for groceries at the A&P, and saw, hustling by with her cart, a tall strong woman who I recognized from the university and realized to be a neighbor. And inspired by the politics of my women's liberation friends, I said to myself, for the first time ever making a conscious choice of this: "I want to be friends with that woman; I'm going to try to have that woman as a friend." That began my knowing that I did not have to be alone as a woman, nor did I have to accept values or community chosen for me by others. That began my understanding that political consciousness could mean a way to end the fragmentation and isolation imposed on people by inequalityand prejudice, a way to work at being friends with people I had been told should not be, would never be my friendsother women, women and men of color, Jewish women, gay men, Lesbians. I could create the life I wanted to live, not in some theoretical future, but in the very moment.

What is still our greatest obstacle to change, personally and in our community? Jewelle: For me the greatest obstacle to personal change is not succumbing to the desire to be liked and accepted. In grade school I didn't want to be known as a troublemaker; that's why I didn't stay out of school for the first Black Day. I was desperate for society to accept this fat black girl as one of its own. Thirty years later it's not much different.

As a fiction writer 11malways trying to find a way to push myself to imagine the best that we might be, and it ain't the army! There's a part of me that wants to be accepted by the larger society and by lesbians and by gays and by bisexuals and by the AfroAmerican community. I want everybody's mother to like me. That desire for acceptance is the complete antithesis to the desire for change. I fight every day not to return to that desire to be accepted into the familiar order of things. And for our community I see our own acceptance of our righteousness as our greatest obstacle. We know a lot about the world by virtue of our experience as outsiders. But more and more that experience is codified into an insular world. Our perspective is often one of wanting more of the same rather than challenging the actual shape of the world we've created.

Minnie Bruce: Last year when Jesse Helms renewed his attack on lesbians, gay men and feminists in the arts, I was one of the people he targeted, along with Audre Lorde and Chrystos. I was seized by a terrible fear, like that I'd lived with for years in North Carolina, when I was coming out as a lesbian. I was struck back into the isolation and helplessness I felt as a lesbian mother, facing a social and judicial system designed to punish me, and based on values that held me to be despi-

cable. For months after Helms pointed his accusing finger at me and my work, I was surrounded by fear and unable to write, my belief in my own reality shaken, my personal life constricted, under seige. I was trapped in the past, the immediate threat calling up the pain I still carried from that time, amplified out of proportion. Though I was no longer isolated, though now I was part of a lesbian and gay movement, thousands of people organizing, lending support, I shivered, frozen in the past, unable to imagine myself strong in the present. And how many other, different, times have we seen ourselves immobilized when the pain of the present calls up the pain of the past? During the Gulf War, over and over I heard friends speak in numbed depression about

how the invasion evoked memories of brutal fighting within their family, or their sexual abuse as a child, or their rape as a grown woman. I have listened to students in my classroom: the gay man, beaten as a sissyas a child, now death threats on his answering machine; the lesbian whose female roommate moved her boyfriend into their dorm room, would never be alone with her, forced the lesbian out to stay with friends, sleep on their couch, try to stay in school through all this. I have watched this man, this woman, try to articulate their reality to a circle of uncomprehending listeners. I have watched them, weighted by the past, heroically moving on in the present. We need rituals of memory among us. We need ways of listening carefully to each other about what has really happened to us in the past, the distant past, the past that was just yesterday. We need this because a political movement, the public policy and tactics of our movement, does not come from our ideas, but from the bloody and joyful substance of our lives. We need to be conscious about what our lives have been, to grieve and to honor our strength, in order to break out of the past into the future. We can challenge The Washington Post and NBC news to more accurately reflect our reality.We can support our artists, our alternative newspapers and cable TV programs. But we know these efforts will reflect only a fragment of our amazingly complex lives: the rest of it is up to us, in the small circles of our daily lives.

Who do we speak to, who do we question, as we attempt to create change? Jewelle: I want the people I admire for going to the barricades to also feel a deep sense of full political involvement when they go back






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to their regular gigs or just walking down the street, or deciding what house to buy. I want the people I work with, read poetry with, to feel the connection to "community" in a concrete, feminist way. I am also trying to talk to the people I grew up with. When I 'spoke at the 25th anniversary reunion of my high school class in October of 1991 I realized how strong a part of each other's pasts we still are and the kind of power that represents. Rather than distance myself from them and condescend to them about their style or beliefs I recognized that I was still a part of what made them who they were and they a part of me. I felt good to be able to say I'd written a book that I knew they'd like. And if they picked up feminism and socialism on the way then great! I'm sure they can get to it since I really learned it alongside them. I just interpreted it for a different future. Minnie Bruce: To me my writing is sometimes: A shout to someone to do something; A reminder to myself of what I need to remember, words to center me in a hostile and chaotic universe; A prayer, a justification of need; A repetition to keep my sanity, a stubborn clinging to what I need in order to go on with my life on the edge, on the margin of power. Sometimes I feel like I'm writing a letter, the page covered with scrawled words, the same letter over and over, without knowing who will read or answer it. And organizing has often been like that to me, the difficulty in believing that anyone is listening. I've seen this insularity of oppression in the demonstrations that I've organized, been part of, when none of us bothered to talk to people on the street, when we didn't have flyers that clearly explained why we were doing what we were doing, when we didn't make signs big and plain enough to be read by those watching. But people are

watching, are listening, and we have been answered. Sometimes we speak and the listener's voice sends her life back to us, like the acquaintance in Michigan who phoned after the 1987 lesbian and gay mass civil disobedience action. She had been listening to

National Public Radio and had heard my affinity group preparing to be arrested, singing "When the dykes go marching in"; she told me that she'd burst into tears, listening, she was so happy.

What aspects of gay and lesbian life are we still nollooking at? Whose voices do we still not hear? Jewelle: Power. The fear of it, the use of it. We have power. White gay men have power they use over each other, and over women. They use it to the benefit of each other and the few lesbians they find acceptable. Lesbians use their power of acceptance in their various social circles for each other and against others they don't think are cool enough or well-dressed enough. White gay men use the power of the press to promote each other, and ignore women. Or harass lesbians for not letting them into women's clubs or lesbian conferences. Black gays use our

power to 'dis' to keep ourselves isolated from the movement, to justify not participating. Lesbians as well as gay men use their power to buy property in economically disadvantaged communities and don't think about what they might do to help that community

or last year either; he charged "overt discrimination." (Rex Wockner, "Readers Forum," The Washington Blade, October 11, 1991) But he is certainly not the only person within our movement to feel threatened by "the other" raising questions about how power, prestige, money, and privilege are distributed among us. When do those kinds of questions make us uncomfortable? When do we wish someone would just shut up? Recently I read these words of Lee Evans, which made me uncomfortable:

We avert our eves from the one who is [lifferent from ourselves, from the other; but the other shifts endlessly, depending on who we are. to stay whole. Some lesbians curse the power of sexual imagery without ever examining what that power really means to lesbians. We, as victims of the power and bigotry of others, are terrified of the power we possess. Even when we are using it for and against each other. Some of us want to use our position as preeminent lesbian author or preeminant gay editor to create a little feifdom of opinion. Others want to be the ultimate voice listened to about AIDS, rather than acknowledge that there are many valuable approaches. We will not look at our own power and how we misuse it. Minnie Bruce: We avert our eyes from the one who is different from ourselves, from the other; but the other shifts endlessly, depending on who we are. For at least one white gay man, "the other" this weekend was me and Jewelle and Mario Solis-Marich, women and people of color; he objected that there were no white gay male plenary speakers this year

As a poor dyke, I think about my teeth a lot. J have a memory of a day spent swimming at a lesbian-owned retreat when the subject of dentists came up. One dyke, a dental student, asked, "What kind of parents wouldn't provide their children with something as important as dental care?" shaking her head in what I think must be disapproval. 0 one says anything. My friends, a group of ten dykes from uppermiddle-class, middle-class and working-class backgrounds, change the subject. I grow quiet as r think of my childhood, of not having gone to the dentist until I was in my mid-teens (and only then because I was visiting relatives who felt obligated to take me), of having teeth pulled because they were too decayed to fill, of knowing that what stood between the pain of an infected tooth and the relief of novocaine was something as simple and elusive as a couple of twenty-dollar bills.... I have the urge to stop this playful group ... and tell them, "The answer to that question is my kind of parents, my parents couldn't provide their kids with dental care." But as I watch my friends ... gossiping ... on a sunny summer afternoon, there is no context to talk about poverty, about scarcity. So I keep my mouth shut, for my mouth is one of the places T carry evidence of my poverty." (Lesbian Ethics, Spring (991)



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What does our imagination have to do with our political work? What might be possible that we haven't yet imagined? JeweUe: As a fiction writer I'm always trying to find a way to push myself to imagine the best that we might be, and it ain't the Army! I feel that my imagination is what makes me able to be expansive, to not give up; to feel the urgency of an election in Nicaragua or the US invasion of Iraq or the high death rate of newborns in Spanish-speaking communities and know my immediate stake in it. It is imagination that has made lesbian publishers


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ing of dissident opinions, against any kind of loving that might challenge the belief that some people should not talk to others, and some could not lie down with those others except in degradation, and someone had to be on top in love and someone underneath. We lived in a fear that was meant to kill the imagination, any yearning in us toward what was different from ourselves. Yet enough of my imagination survived so that, offered the possibility, I eventually imagined myself living as a lesbian, and then writing as a poet, my voice raised against the voice of the demagogue. But I was only able to do this because others were imagining this possibility at the same time, were working politically to make

We, as victims of the power and . bigotry of others, are terrified of the power we possess. Even when we are using it for and again~teach otlier.



struggle along each year to keep putting out the magazines and books that it has become so fashionable to disparage now that commercial publishers have found out they can make money off of us. It's imagination that makes it possible for me to think there might be friendship and coalition with Minnie Bruce. It is imagination which allowed women to work in coalition with gay men to fight AIDS although they'd received little but rude dismissal or cleverly cruel jokes for the previous 50 years. It's imagination that gets us the sex we want. Minnie Bruce: I grew up in a place which was literally an authoritarian state, where the violence done to Black people by white people laid on all of us a paralyzing fear, a silence, a deadly conformity of thought and of feeling. The violence set strict taboos against any voic-

lesbian and gay life a reality. That we have all imagined ourselves into living today as lesbian and gay people, that we have done this over and over, in a country, in a world, that says over and over that we do not exist-the incredible power of our imagination gives me so much hope. With the power of our collective imagination we can create a future that contains us all, where those old divisions do not reappear to perpetuate inequality among us. And because our community crosses all boundaries, if we can imagine ourselves into the future all together, true to our selves, true to our love for each other, we will offer to the world the practical details and the vision of a community creating change that is rooted in the liberation of all people .â&#x20AC;˘

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EDITED BY TESSA BOFFIN AND JEAN FRASER Thirty lesbians toke lasting shots at sexuality, art, and culture in this landmark album of hip, subversive, and affecting images .

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Paperback • $23.00 Also available from HarperCollins Canada LId.

Fault Lines By Rodrigo Reyes I feel tremors as I slide up on you like a continental plate my moustache tickling your erect nipples my tongue crawling, slug-like across the plains of your chest up to your neck and around to your ear where I linger a life-size earring hanging by two teeth waiting for the big one

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REAP THIS By Rita Losch Even as we introduced the first spade, I knew the ground we broke Was virgin territory. Never before or since was earth So unearthly so rich so deep. If only well-turned soil yields fruit, Your loving leaving has plowed me, Has charged my most subterranean roots, Has been harrowing. You are my tiller: come back and farm me.

Poetry, like love and religion, is a glorious conjunction of sense and nonsense. Without joy there is no wonder, without wonder there is no magic, without magic there is no poem. -James Broughton

Holy Imp of the Inner Ear An amorous old poet beset by visions of totally undressed irregularity I am socially suspect and politically incorrect. But I'd rather be kissed than stamped with approval. My lubricity I blame on a chattering angel who sits in my ear prodding me with precepts, telling me to treasure the likes of men as Nature's most original experiment. Since he comes from a region of high ideals where he specialized in the summits of joy he berates me with more than usual dudgeon when bodies are biting the dust of war. Why, he asks, do men revel in murder? Everyday somewhere on every continent prodded by hypocrisies of dogma and greed men are exterminating their own species. Why spill the blood of a shapely stranger because his prejudice is not your own? Why not welcome him to a frisky armistice, welcome him into the hug of your home? Whether ally or alien he is brother of your flesh. All wars are follies of fratricide. Don't hold your breath for belligerent leaders to unfurl a kinder or sensible world. They vandalize persons as readily as planets. They would never grant love government priority and risk disarming the arms of the law. Will bigot and phony continue to reign



or are there fresh blueprints for a golden age? The virus of war needs a vaccine of love. Man must love man or war is forever. Hear how he bugs me, this holy imp of my inner ear. And chides me too: Poet, speak out! Rouse the unwary from their bastions of snooze. Wrap yourself in bright audacity, wag the tongue of your heart, and yawp. Generals of jingo are raping the state. Genital censors are castrating bliss. Hexes on red-necks! Poxes on orthodoxes! Death to the national sport of sleazeball! Strike back! he prods. Rally those cohorts who have had their fill of petty rivalry and giant disaster. Ratify their hopes. Dispatch them across embattled frontiers to salvage the beauty in human geography. Send them as missionaries of carnality and glee to transform calamities into carousals. Send them to relight the radiance in man that he may inhabit the glow of his birthright. Glory sings in every drop of his sweat. Glory laughs in every spurt of his sperm. Fear of love is fear of the sublime. Being caressed is a wizardry of God.

Caressing another is to be Jehovah admiring the mortal wonder of Adam. Do you know why the universe keeps expanding? To make room for the waves of cosmic love that electrify the heavenly bodies with euphoric zip and orgasmic tingle. If you want ajolt of transmogrification plug your desire into that high voltage and feel your balls bounce to kingdom come. A penis exposes the tip of the heart. When men at last rub their cocks together and ignite a blaze of phallic brotherhood war fares can be dumped at the crematorium. Thus he prattles on, this preachy sprite till I am haunted by his recurrent question: Can you believe in a convalescing world furnished with flowering beds of soul where the loveless men of all the nations could lie together, healing their wounds with tender merriment and rough rapture? -fames Broughton


NOT MEN? Robert Bly's IronJohn is the primer for the "men's movement." But has anyone noticed? He leaves out gays.

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By Kelly Gabriel Lee



Iron John, by Robert Bly, Addison-Wesley, 1990. Fire in the Belly, by Sam Keen, Bantam, 1991. Jung, Jungians and Homosexuality, by Robert Hopcke, Shambhala, 1989.


or more than a decade, poet Robert Bly has been conducting workshops for men, using poetry, myths, and storytelling to evoke personal confession and healing. A leading figure in today's "men's movement," Bly has been featured in a Bill Moyer's PBS special, "A Gathering of Men," and his recent book, Iron John, has been a phenomenal best-seller. Bly addresses masculinity-ostensibly attacking the falsehoods and stereotypes perpetuated by American cultural norms, as well as uncovering hidden truths that lie deep within the male psyche. The most hidden or repressed part of the contemporary male, asserts Bly,

is found in the dark but vital figure of the Wild Man. In Iron John, Bly adopts the Grimm fairy tale of the same name that tells of a "wild man's" mentorship of a young boy, interpreting it as a psychological tale of male initiation. For Bly, it is the lack of such initiation for men that is responsible for what he sees as "the wounding and the grief' of the American male. Yet, for all its attention from various psychological/spiritual/New Age circles concerned with "men's consciousness," is Bly's theory truly applicable to all men? Are his ideas relevant to the experience of gay men? This reviewer has some serious doubts. In striking contrast to Iron John are two other books, Sam Keen's Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man and Robert Hopcke's Jung, Jungians and Homosexuality. Although nei-


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ther author has yet to receive much popular attention, each recognizes the fact that the male experience is not entirely heterosexual. Although Keen is heterosexual, he succeeds in acknowledging the lives and concerns of gay men. Hopcke, as a gay therapist, boldly confronts the psychology establishment and attacks the predominan tly heterosexist perspective from which gay men are analyzed. He arrives at an understanding of the inner life of gay men without completely dispensing with Jung's ideas. But because Iron John and its author have more or less established the popular terms of the current debate over masculinity, it is Bly that I find most provocativeespecially when examined alongside the more inspiring works of Keen and ~,ÂŤ, ice: 'fo2. Hopcke. VWith one brief paragraph in his preface to Iron John, Bly simultaneously acknowledges and dismisses the experience of gay men: Most of the language in this book speaks to hetero sexual men but does not exclude homosexual men .... The mythology as I see it does not make a big distinction between homosexual and heterosexual men.

And so, with "no distinction," Bly blindly submerges the psychological experience of gay men as part of the experience of heterosexuals and continues without again mentioning "gay" or "homosexual" more than once or twice. Beginning in the 1950s, says Bly, the American male "was supposed to like football, be aggressive, stick up for the United States, never cry, and always provide. But receptive space or intimate space was missing in this image of man." Prompted by the feminist movement in the late sixties, men were forced to become more socially con-

scious and sensitive to the concerns of others (especially women). "There's something wonderful about this development," Bly admits. But "I have the sense that there is something wrong." These sensitive men lack energy. "They are life-preserving but not exactly life-giving. Ironically, you often see these men with strong women who positively radiate energy." Oh-oh, strong women! Bly stumbles across the minefield of gender stereotypes. His polarization of men's and women's gender roles is narrow and insulting to both sexes. Thoughtful and gentle men are "soft," he feels, while strong and energetic women are "hard." Keen's work, in contrast, explores diverse sexual and social roles for both men and women, and even proposes roles that seem particularly appropriate for gay men; I will mention them later in this essay. Many women, naturally, have voiced their objections to Bly. The men's movement as a whole has often been greeted as being anti-feminist, if not anti-female. Whether as mother or as a man's sexual/romantic partner, a woman, in Bly's view, impedes the necessary developmental "growth" of a man. According to him, the mother-son relationship in America is laden with danger and ill intent. In much the same way that Freud's often disparaging view of the mother and women in general ultimately reveals his own individual neuroses, it would seem that Bly's judgments, too, are autobiographical confessions: the son often grows up with a wounded image of his father-not brought about necessarily by the father's actions, or words, but based on the mother's observation of these words or actions.

It is interesting to note that Bly, as revealed in Esquire (October 1991), grew up with "a doting mother and a distant, alcoholic father with whom [he] did not come to terms with in his life ... until he was fortysix." The idea that Bly's theories might really be founded on little more than inflations of his own psychological history comes to the fore when he makes such sweeping statements as: "If the son learns feeling primarily from the mother, then he will probably see his own masculinity from the feminine





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point of view as well. He may be fascinated with it, but he will be afraid of it." In one fell swoop, Bly degrades the mother-son relationship for all men and dismisses the "feminine point of view" that many gay men, I would argue, incorporate early in their experience as part of their identity. A cornerstone in Bly's scheme is that of initiation. Over generalizing, he asserts that in indigenous cultures (he doesn't specify which) older men ritually initiate younger men into adult masculinity; in American society today, that process would-or should-happen between father and son. The dilemma for the great majority of men, argues Bly, is that the father has (since the

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Industrial Revolution) been absent from the family, and thus, most men grow up without the mentorship of an older male. Only by participating in rituals-workshops and retreats with other men, using poetry, myths, and so forth-a man can heal the wound and grief of the distant or absent father. ith many, if not most, gay men, the separation between a father and son is a much more complicated issue. Often, gay men have chosen separation from their fathers. While many heterosexual men, sitting together in a weekend of "male bonding," may anguish over


how their fathers never told them how they loved them (or vice versa), gay men, I would assert, are more likely to have had devastating experiences of being rejected. Many gay men-and women-find that they can only be "accepted" by the family if they completely hide their sexual orientation. Thus, for some gay men to reunite with the father is to admit subjugation and personal defeat. Even when Bly cites mythological examples from various cultures to make a statement that on the surface sounds completely valid, he neglects-or purposely avoidsmentioning anything that might suggest effeminate or homosexual behavior. (At

this point, one almost wishes Bly could be locked in a room with Hopcke, for their own private retreat.) For Bly, masculinity falls only within certain parameters. The Wild Man-who represents the primordial impulse ("He's able to shout and say what he wants ...")-is as "wild" as a man can get. What if he wants to suck cock, I wonder? As I see it, most gay men incorporated the Wild Man a long time ago. One needs to be pretty wild (or wildly pretty) to French-kiss someone you only met five minutes beforehand against the back wall of a bar while heterosexuals are snug in their beds dreaming of stock options.



nother important facet of Bly's male psyche is the "wound." It is traditionally an integral part of many ritual initiations. In one large gathering in San Francisco recently, hundreds of men testified to the extensiveness of their wounds by tying red strips to the parts of their bodies that had been wounded (cut, broken, ete.) in some way. It's too bad, really, that Bly doesn't include gay men in his analysisthat would be fascinating ground for analysis. The wounds of gay men may not be physical or visible. (The effects of the AIDS epidemic, of course, are never mentioned in Iron John.) Considering the pain and suffering that most gays and lesbians experi-


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ence throughout much of their lives, the wounds are most likely numerous. I think most gay men will be disappointed if they turn to Bly for "soul work." For an alternative analysis of the range of roles available to men, few books can surpass Sam Keen's Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man. Keen offers a "sampler of heroic virtues" that every man, heterosexual and homosexual alike, can consider. Keen proposes a portrait for the "new man" that incorporates such virtues or qualities as "wonder," "empathy," "a heartful mind," and "moral outrage." Much to his credit, Keen discusses the virtue of "husbanding"not in the expected heterosexual/heterosexist defini-

tion of the term, but rather as the act of protecting and caring for the environment or community. "The image is as central to gay men," he adds, "... as to married or landed householders. Psychologically, the husbandman is a man who has made a decision to be in place, to make commitments, to forge bonds, to put down roots, to translate the feeling of empathy and compassion into an action of caring." This is certainly a relevant role for gay men in this time of crisis. But perhaps no other work addresses the psychological lives of gay men more directly than Hopcke's Jung, Jungians and Homosexuality. Although Jungian psychology has tradition-

ally said very little about homosexuality, Hopcke manages to exhaustively analyze every statement Jung ever made about it. He examines the work of other Jungian analysts and re-formulates the archetypes of anima-animus as a means for understanding same-sex attraction. For gay men (and women, as well) it is the Self archetype that is most relevant. While probably not as accessible for most readers as Blys or Keen's books, Jung, Jungians and Homosexuality does draw on many of the same archetypes that Bly and Keen do and applies them specifically to gay men. It's a useful tool for evaluating the ideas of the men's movernent., 81





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THE WISHINGWELL-established 1974. Women loving women write/meet everywhere, through WRITING WANTEDFOR ANTHOLObeautiful alternative to "The Well GIES-Eating Our Hearts Out: of Loneliness." Supportive, confiWomen and Food seeks first person dential (codes used), prompt. non-fiction narratives by women, maximum ten pages. How Do I Introductory copy US $5.00. Free P.O. Box 713090, Love Me? Let Me Count the Ways information: seeks love poems by women to Santee, CA 92072-3090. Or (900) 903-3343 ($2/minute). themselves. SASE plus stamped



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& Relationships

By Gary Rocchio &John Merciadez

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In Issue No. 13 we asked our readers about their experiences and attitudes about race and relationships. An overwhelming majority of those who responded said they would consider dating someone of a different racial or ethnic background; one quarter reported being in an interracial relationship at the time. We were surprised that fewer people responded to this survey than any other we've done. Only 358 people answered our questionsabout half the normal queery response. But the proportion of men and women who answered the survey did closely reflect the proportion in OUT/LOOK's subscriber base: 54% of the respondents were women, 46% were men. Respondents were geographically concentrated areas with large urban lesbian and gay communties: 25% in Cailfornia, 13% in New York, and 6% in Massachusetts (this is also reflective of the OUT/LOOK subscriber base). As usual, the data we've col-

lected reflects only the views of those who chose to respond-our surveys are never reflective of the "en tire" lesbian and gay population. Altogether, 52% (186 peopie) reported being in a relationship with someone of their own race, 28% (100 peopIe) were in a relationship with someone of a different race, and 20% (72 people) reported that they did not have a lover at the time. Among people of color, 46% were in an interracial relationship and 37% were in a same-race relationship. Only 23% of the white respondents were in an interracial relationship, and 60% were in a samerace relationship. Slightly more men than women reported being in an interracial relationship (26% and 20%, respectively). It is unfortunate, for the purpose of this survey, that people of color are not very well represented (26% of the respondents), with women making up only 16% and men only 9% of the total sample. One particularly interest-

ing finding was that 32% of the people of color respondents indicated that their attraction to people of their own race had significantly or somewhat increased over the past five years. Conversely, only 8% of the white respondents said that their attraction to people from their own race had significantly or somewhat increased over the past five years. The growing visibility of people of color in our communities and organizations, as well as the trend towards exploring differences may account for the increase in same-race attraction by people of color. Respondent's in interracial relationships expressed a higher level of satisfaction than those who were not. Sixty four percent reported being either extremely or very satisfied with their current relationships, as compared to 5S% of same-race couples. On the other hand, more samerace couples (39%) reported being in their current relationship for longer than five years, as compared to interra-

cial couples (25%). Racial differences seemed to be an explicit component of most interracial relationships. Eighty percent of the respondents in interracial relationships talk regularly about race issues (only 19% reported that they seldom or never talk about race issues), and a majority (63%) reported that racial differences had a positive effect on their relationship. As one respondent put it, 'This is not only a sexual attraction, but also an attraction of cultural differences and appreciation of different outlooks due to our different backgrounds." At least 70% of the people who responded said they would consider dating persons from every racial/ ethnic group. Interracial dating, of course, is limited to the options available. 'We live in a very rural part of Michigan's thumb," another wrote. 'There is not much cultural diversity-if single-and given the opportunity to date someone of a different race, I'm sure we would." There was a tendency, though, for respondents in same-race relationships to be mostly or exclusively attracted to people from their own race, as compared to respondents in interracial relationships (41% and 10%, respectively). Economic and class differences felt more problematic for some of our respondents' relationships than racial ones. As one person put it, "I feel that race is irrelevant but that education and similarity of

values are quite important." Another respondent expressed similar views, 'When we got together she admits that my not being Hispanic helped, but she now admits that the class differences can sometimes be more ofa problem than race." And finally, "Our problems stemmed more from class and educational differences than from race, I think." These sentiments indicate a shift away

from race and ethnicity differences and toward a concern with class divisions, although most respondents in relationships (both white and people of color) were more likely to have at least a college degree and some graduate training (65%). It's hard to say whether the same would hold true for a broader cross section of lesbians and gays.â&#x20AC;˘



Of all respondents ... 70% said they would consider dating persons of every racial and cultural background.

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Among people of color ... 32% said their attraction to persons of their own race had increased over the past five years (as compared to 8% of white people).

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Of respondents in interracial relationships . . . "The impact of racial differences on the relationship has been ... " "Extremely/somewhat positive. 63% II

"Neither negative nor positive. 33% II



Don Belton ("Young Soul Rebel") is a writer, critic and professor of literature and fiction writing at Macalester College in Minnesota. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Breaking Ice: Contemporary African-American Fiction. Susie Bright's ("Undressing Camille") new book Susie Bright's Sexual Reality is due out this spring. So is Herotica ll, a collection of women's erotic short fiction she edited.



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James Broughton ("The Holy Imp of the Inner Ear") is one of the most widely 路known gay poets. His book Special Deliveries was a 1991 Lambda Literary Award nominee. Phyllis Christopher (photos, p. 46) is a San Francisco based photographer. Pamela Gentile (photos, p. 15) is the photo editor at the San Francisco Weekly.


Jewelle Gomez ("Poets live the Questions") is on the board of Open Meadows, a women's funding organization. She is the author of The Gilda Stories.

Carolina at Greensboro and lives in Chapel Hill where he worked as the town's urban forester. Kelly Gabriel Lee ("Are We Not Men?") is pursuing a PhD in interdisciplinary cross-cultural historical studies at the California Institute ofIntegral Studies. Until February, he was OUT/LOOK's General Manager. Rita Losch ("Reap This") lives in San Francisco writing body-poems (verbal collages), and making collages (visual poems). John Merciadez ("Queery Results: Race and Relationships") is conducting research on gay Asian males and is also developing a film on this topic. William Poole ("Bringing AIDS Home") is a former registered nurse and a freelance writer based in San Francisco who often writes about rural issues. His writing has appeared in Sierra, Geo, Women's Day and in The San Francisco Chronicle.

the Man Played On," inside front) is a San Francisco photo collage artist.

Minnie Bruce Pratt ("Poets Live the Questions") is a poet and essayist. Her most recent book is Rebellion: Essays 1980-1991. Her collection of poetry, Crime Against Nature was the 1989 Lamont Poetry selection.

Adam Kuby ("The Art of David Wojnarowicz") is currently completing his master's degree in sculpture at University of North

Carol A. Queen ("Bisexuals in the Queer Movement") writing has appeared in Bi A ny Other Name: Bisexual People Speak

S. Brett Kaufman ("And

Out, Frightf'n the Horses, The Advocate and other publications. Her work will appear in the upcoming anthologies Herotica II and Honoring the Erotic Impulse. Rodrigo Reyes was a copublisher of the first collection of homoerotic Chicano poetry Ya vas, carnal. He was the co-founder of GAIA (the Gay Latino Alliance), and CUI~S, the first community-based Latino Aids project in San Francisco. He diedJanuary 19,1992. Gary Rocchio ("Race and Relationships") is the Surveys Director for OUT/I.OOK and is the Vice President of Research for Macworld Communications,lnc. Manuel Rodriguez (illustration, p. 75) is a Bay Area freelance illustrator. Nancy Solomon ("Risky Business") is a reporter for the San Mateo Times and a member of ACT UP/San Francisco. Ara Wilson ('Just Add Water") has worked at the lesbian sex magazine On Our Barks, and as the managing editor at Socialist Review, with which she remains affiliated. Jim Woods ("Queery: Coming Out at Work") teaches communication and media studies at CUNY/Staten Island. He is currently finishing a book on gay professionals.


Self-disclosure at work The workplace is an expanding frontier for lesbian and gay activism. We spend more than half our waking lives there, and our ways of handling self-disclosure are as diverse as we are. The results will appear in a forthcoming issue, as part of a special feature on lesbians and gays at work. "COMING OUT" AT WORK


1) Are you "out" to other co-workers? all of them most of them

sex to a formal company event 0 brought someone of the opposite sex to an informal gathering with co-

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D some of them few of them none of them


1a) If so, how would you characterize their response: very positive positive


o o indifferent

4) Are you "out" to your immediate boss?

0 yes

o no

o somewhat negative o very negative

o not sure what

o hard to tell

1b) Among co-workers who know you're lesbian/gay, how many are lesbian/gay themselves?

o all

he/she thinks

4a) If so, how would you characterize his/her response 0 very positive 0 somewhat positive 0 indifferent


somewhat negative 0 very negative 5) If you are in a supervisory position, do you find it most difficult to "come out" to:

o most o some o a few o none 2)With co-workers who do know you're gay, which of the following have you done in the past six months (check all that apply)

o discussed AIDS o discussed gay politics or activism o discussed gay celebrities o mentioned your partner or lover

o brought a lover or date to a formal company event brought a lover or date to an informal gathering with co-workers


o displayed

photographs of a lover spoken with a co-worker about a "gay" subject


3)With co-workers who don't know you're gay, which of the following have you done in the past six months (check all that apply) friend/boyfriend

workers a "fag" or "dyke" joke 0 expressed sexual interest in someone of the opposite sex 0 other 0 none o-f-th-e-a-b-ov-e-----

0 told


o discussed a fictional

brought someone of the opposite

date or girl-

0 those 0 those 0 those 0 about

"below" you "above" you at your same level the same for all levels

6) Do you think your sexual orientation has influenced your choice of career in any way? 0 definitely influenced my choice 0 probably influenced 0 possibly influenced 0 probably didn't influence 0 definitely didn't influence 7) Did sexual orientation influence your choice of company in any way? 0 definitely influenced my choice 0 probably 0 possibly 0 probably 0 definitely

influenced influenced didn't influence didn't influence

8) In those situations where you haven't "come out" at work (if any), which of the following influenced your decision

(check all that apply)?

o homophobic

boss or co-workers

o fear of being fired o fear of being harassed at work

o desire for privacy

o consider it unprofessional o haven't got around to it yet o it never became an issue o other 9) In those situations where you have "come out" at work (if any), which of


the following influenced your decision (check all that apply)?

o to include spouse or lover in companyevents

o to improve relationships

with boss

or co-workers to educate co-workers

o o to help change company policy about lesbians or gay men

o to feel more honest o to avoid the hassle of misleading co-workers

o other COMPANY ENVIRONMENT 10) Are any of your co-workers generally known by others to be lesbian or gay?

o yes, several of them o yes, one of them o no, none of them lOa) If so, how are they usually treated by others?

o same as everyone else

o worse than others o better than others o hard to tell

11) Does your company have a written policy that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation? Dyes no not sure

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12) Would you say that your sexual orientation creates stressful situations for you at work? always a source of stress often sometimes seldom never

o o o o o

13) Do you work for yourself (or your own company) yourself (as a student) a company a not-for-profit organization

o o

o o

o an educational

institution Oa branch of government/military other _


14) How many people work in your immediate office? 025 or more fewer than 25


o other (please specify) 16) How many people do you supervise at work (if any)?

education that you have completed?

o some high school o finished high school

o o

o finished o finished



17) What is the highest level of formal

o o

15) Is the nature of your work primarily manual labor technical sales or customer service professional managerial


o finished

college trade/vocational


graduate school

Place stamp here


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OUT/LOOK SURVEY # 16 540 Castro Street San Francisco, CA 94114-2512






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19. Which of the following categories best describes your sexual orientation? 1 gay or lesbian 02 bisexual 3 heterosexual

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20. What is your current HIV status? 1 diagnosed AIDS/ARC 2 HIV-postive 3 HIV-negative 4 don't know

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21. What is your age? __

22. What is your race? 1 Asian/Pacific Islander 2 Black/African American 3 Hispanic/Latin 4 Native American 5 White 6 Mixed race 7 Other (Please specify)


18. Are you male or female? 1 male 0 2 female


o o o o

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23. Please estimate your total personal income before taxes for all of 1991. (Please include income from all sources: salary, bonuses, investment income, interest, rental income, etc)


24. Where do you live? City State/Zip

_ _

We'd like to contact some of our respondents to learn more about their careers. May we contact you? If so, please leave instructions on how we should contact you All calls will be handled discreetly and will be kept strictly confidential. Name Phone Best time to call




Out/Look 16