“Sea Life”

By Karis Walsh

Tales From Sea Glass Inn 300 DPITales from Sea Glass Inn, my tenth novel, was released this month. I journeyed back in time with this one—back to the setting of my third book, back to memories of Cannon Beach, and back to the time I spent working at the ocean after an oil spill. I was accompanied by Pam and Mel, as well as eight of their friends, neighbors, and guests. As if the tour bus wasn’t full enough on the trip, I also had another element in the forefront of my mind as I traveled through these novellas—the ocean itself.

 

I often feel that my settings are characters as much as they are places, and this is most true when I’m writing about the sea. For many of us, the ocean seems to speak to something deep and primal. The throbbing beat of the waves, the taste of salt on our lips, the shifting sand under our feet. We connect to nature and the timelessness of tides and the vastness of the world in a way we can’t in any other place. I’m sure there are as many reasons for the ocean’s effects as there are people who experience them, but for my novellas I came up with four key ideas. Being near the ocean heals us. It provokes creativity. Its beauty causes passion to flare inside us. And the concentration of life along a narrow strip of shore, singing to the constant beat of waves and tides, turns communities into families.Ocean1

 

Like the beach, the women in this book are nurturers, healers, creators, and lovers, but their hearts carry the sludge of old wounds. As they scrub the oil off the birds and beaches, they find themselves washing away their own pain until their hearts are clean enough to love again.

 

I love walking along cool mountain trails next to trickling streams. I am awed by the scorched and prickly beauty of Texas. I am far from the ocean now, but I felt close to it while I wrote these tales. I hope my readers are able to hear the oceancry of gulls and smell the tangled seaweed and feel the ocean in all its healing power on this second visit to the Sea Glass Inn.

 

The Amazon Trail

Freedom Clothes

By Lee Lynch

Lee Lynch by Sue Hardesty

 

 

So here I am, trying on men’s dress pants for the Golden Crown Literary Society Awards ceremony, and I keep thinking of the photos of our people in Orlando. They dressed up too in their best freedom clothes, also anticipating an evening of togetherness. I’m grateful to be alive and able to gather with other gay women, while I can barely take in how many of us were killed, wounded, traumatized and experienced losses because of our gender preferences.

 Lainie and Lee dressed up for GCLS 2014

Lainie and Lee dressed up for GCLS 2014

I’m reading about NYC Gay Pride. When I attended the early NYC marches, there was security, but nothing like what’s planned in 2016. Blocks and blocks are closed to parking. There will be thousands of officers on the streets, on rooftops, in the air and in boats. My biggest fear in the early 1970s was that my mother would see me on T.V. and I’d have to deal with laying that trip on her.
Yet ever since the 1980s, when the right wing decided it would be politically expedient to build their power base by turning us into a featureless symbol against whom multitudes of non-gays could unite, I have expected mass killings. We’re natural targets for people taught by their religions that their deities find us an abomination.
The horror of that Central Florida night brought back the general horror of gay bars for me. Like whole neighborhoods that house other minorities, the bars pen us in one place where we are queer ducks— queer sitting ducks. Orlando was a pogrom, “the organized killing of many helpless people,”* in this case organized by a stealth enemy that turns people like the deeply conflicted, unstable shooter into murderers.
I think affectionately of some gay bars—I got to wear freedom clothes there too—but I also remember the horror of them. They were a nightmare then, they’re a nightmare again. Yet I thought of them as fun. Didn’t we all? I loved being with other gays, but drank to tolerate the demeaning conditions of our loud, cold, dirty, dangerous pens.
Truth be told, I’m a wallflower by nature with seldom enough self-confidence to ask a woman to dance. Even with the drink in me and a cigarette going, the bars bored me silly. Any excitement came from dancing with my partner and being surrounded by our kind.
The gawking het couples on dates who came to laugh and stare at what to them was a grotesque sideshow, the ones who always managed to get tables because they knew the owners of the joints while we stood around without a place to set our drinks, degraded, intimidated and antagonized us, their very presence a warning that we danced to their fiddle. My rage at them continues to this day and fuels some of what I write. It’s due to the gentle nature of our people we are the victims of violence and our tormentors get off scot-free.
I expected such an attack on LGBTQ people at least since the night, in the mid-1970s, when my friend and co-worker Carm was shot outside Partners Cafe in New Haven, Connecticut. Carm was walking to his car when out of nowhere, someone started shooting from a moving vehicle. Young, handsome Carm got a bullet in the arm. Now I’m only surprised at the infrequency of the attacks.
I am surprised that a gay bar has been designated a National Monument. This is only one of many such dichotomies. We’re central to the frightening divide between U.S. voters, which only confirms how powerful we really are.
It’s fitting that our monument should be a bar. Human communities form where they can, spontaneously, and eventually develop traditions. Hellish as they can be, at times they were glorious, glorious! The music may have been loud past bearing, but we danced all night! Under the glitter balls we saw ourselves reflected in our peers like nowhere else. I was not the only shy one and eventually a few strangers would become friends, friends grew to circles. With a gay bar nearby we never needed to be totally alone.
A night at the bar was always a celebration. Angry, estranged, alcoholic, festive—companionship was there for the taking. Danger united us, as it does still.
There will be increased security at venues and events like the one I’m headed to. I’ll be wearing my dress-up pants, shirt, vest, pocket square and tie. Others will be in alluring frocks, and a number in their full-dress U.S. military uniforms. Day by day, more and more people condemn atrocities against LGBTQ people and other minorities and we are stronger for every changed mind.
I will remember the beautiful, proud and daring men and women who were attacked that nightmare night in Orlando, every time I don my glorious freedom clothes.

*www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary

The Passion of the Rain Queen

BY FIONA ZEDDE

IMG_9789

 

All over the world, people have been gay forever. People have had strong relationships with their own gods and traditions forever. People have loved each other, consensually and passionately, in different incarnations forever. But so much of the history of that time and those people has been erased in favor of a white, heteronormative story of the past when religion and war ruled and everything else not falling in line simply didn’t exist.

 

When I go back to look for the vibrant past of pre-colonial African countries, it had been largely impossible to find. It’s both disheartening and heartbreaking. There are hints of us here and there. A word passed down through time, surviving pieces of a statue broken by invaders, a great-grandmother who sometimes remembers a couple or three existing peacefully within the community, couples who were married in the important ways and didn’t look like the typical gender pairings.

Truth: The last ruling Rain Queen (of the Lovedu or Balobedu tribe) died in 2005.

Creation: Rain Queens do not live for centuries.

When the Rain Queen’s story came to me, it wasn’t so much an idea as the memory of a piece of historical fact. After reading about the terrible things being done to LGBTQ people all over Africa and the world in the name of gods or guns or simple cruelty, I felt furious and helpless. With the bible in one hand and a sharp machete or gun in the other, monsters (because what else could they be?) were determined to rid the world of people they think shouldn’t belong. People who in reality have always been and have always belonged.

 

After feeling and crying and wishing for better, I soothed myself by diving into the past to search for signs of us. And I found them. In this under-documented past, there were non-pejorative names for us. There were safe places for us. And, like a certain quote hints at, people across the African continent still had their lands and their beliefs, and no foreign bible telling them their entire lives were wrong.

 

IMG_7649And so, my new novel, Rise of the Rain Queen, is both an imagining and a re-telling. A conflation of histories and mythologies. A universe of god-like beings, strong women, and people who love despite the rules or the odds.

 

In the novel, Nyandoro is a spoiled and well-loved daughter with big dreams that include wooing and marrying one of the most beautiful women in the village, a woman who is already married to a wealthy elder. Through the strength of her will alone, Nyandoro eventually gets what she wants, but these realized desires shatter her life in ways she never expected. Her life changes. She changes.

 

Though the novel is set in the 14th century Tanganyika region, Nyandoro’s aspirations—for wealth and companionship, to make a positive mark on the community—are things we can all empathize with. Who hasn’t seen injustice in the world and wanted to correct it? Who hasn’t yearned deeply and keenly for the unattainable? Who hasn’t loved?

 

I like to think Nyandoro’s story is both mundane and extraordinary. She wants, just like we do. She is impulsive, is awed by beauty. Gets taken in by temptation. Like any human placed on this earth, she deserves a chance to live and to make her world a better place. She is us.

I hope you enjoy her story.

 

To learn more about queer life in different African societies before now, read Boy Wives and Female Husbands by Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe.

 

To learn more about Rain Queens of the Lovedu people, start here: http://bit.ly/297hQJW

 

To read more about Nyandoro, see her short story “Kiss of the Rain Queen” in my story collection, When She Says Yes.

 

My novel, Rise of the Rain Queen, is available now.

Strange Bedfellows: History and Horror

By William Holden

 

For the past two years, I’ve been involved with queer student life at Harvard University. It’s been a great experience to get to know these students, who come from every part of the world. I dine with them, have fun and fascinating conversations with them. It’s been a joy and privilege to watch them learn and grow. This past academic year, two queer Harvard Law School students approached me.  They asked if I would get involved in what they were calling, The Secret Court Committee. Sounds ominous doesn’t it? Let me shed some light into the darkness.

 

In 1920, the then president of Harvard University formed a committee, called “The Court.” It was formed to investigate allegations of homosexual activity running rampant through the campus. For two weeks the members of the court interrogated over thirty students. The students were asked about their sexual activities, and private lives. The members of the court even threatened the students with expulsion, outing, or public shame if they didn’t turn over the names of other men. At the end of the two weeks, eight students, one recent graduate, and a professor were removed from the university.

 

The records of “The Court” disappeared. No one knew or remembered what happened in May of 1920. It wasn’t until 2002, when someone working on a story for the student newspaper, The Crimson, discovered the documents. They were inadvertently given an unmarked box from the archives. Inside the box was the handwritten notes from “The Court.” After further searching, the library staff found more boxes of documents from “The Court.” It was the first time in eighty-two years anyone had ever seen these documents.

 

For those interested in learning more about this “homosexual witch hunt” there was a student group who used the records in the archives to recreate the interrogations. You can watch the one-hour film Perkins 28: Harvard’s Secret Court. A book has also been written about the events of 1920 and is worth reading. The stories that are pieced together from actual documents will haunt you. Harvard’s Secret Court: The Savage 1920 Purge of Campus Homosexuals.

 

Back to the Law School students, and the Secret Court Committee. Every few years a new student-led group comes together. Their goal? To convince Harvard University to honor the expelled students. Unfortunately, Harvard has refused to honor the students, or even commemorate their lives.

 

o-crimson-soulsSo what does all this have to do with my latest novel, Crimson Souls? It’s the heart and soul of the story (pun intended). People who have followed my writings over the years will be familiar with the name Nate, The Midnight Barker. Nate is a shadow demon. To survive, Nate and his follow demons need to feed off the souls of men. In Nate’s Netherworld, the souls of men come in the form of their orgasms.

 

Nate is a character I created seven years ago for a short story. A year later I found him narrating another story, then another. You get the point; he’s a character who has refused to let me go. So when readers kept asking me questions like, “Was Nate ever human?” or “How did he become a shadow demon?” I realized the reason Nate hasn’t left me alone was that he wasn’t done telling his story. It wasn’t until I began reading the history of the homosexual purge at Harvard did Nate’s background and history reveal itself. In his human existence he, Phineas Nathanial Trescott, was one of the interrogated students, and (like the real life student he’s fashioned after) believed to be the source of the perversion.  Nate (unlike his real-life counterpart) is murdered by the men of the Secret Court and vows to come back and seek revenge on the members of the court and their descendants. And so the story unfolds.

Did I alter historical facts of Harvard’s Secret Court? Absolutely, but only for the purpose of storytelling. I did not change the facts to minimize or lessen the harsh realities of what these students endured at the hands of Harvard’s hate and homophobia. Do history and horror make strange bedfellows? Perhaps, but in using history in this way, I hope to get more people aware of what happened during those two weeks of May in 1920. People who perhaps wouldn’t read a book about Harvard, but who may be interested in a horror novel. Through this book, I’m hoping to keep the memory of these students alive, and with that in mind, I have dedicated this book to them.

Next fall as a new academic year begins, the Secret Court Committee will once again reconvene. It is my hope this time, we can make a difference, and get these students the recognition they deserve.

The Amazon Trail

Searching for Old Dyke Tales

By Lee Lynch

Lee Lynch by Sue Hardesty

 

The only information I had on old gay people when I came out was that we were doomed to be alone and thus miserable. Oh, and lesbians would have leathery skin while gay men would become pitiful predators.
At least, that’s how old perverts were portrayed in the pulps, and in non-fiction about criminology and juvenile delinquency.
First off, let’s define “old.” I’m seventy and happier than I’ve ever been. If you’re under, say, 64, you think I’m old. If you’re over seventy you think I’m a spring chicken. One of my Tai Chi instructors is 80, the other is 88. My best friend is 81 and still writing novels. It’s impossible to define old.
I couldn’t look leathery if I tried, nor could any of the dykes or gay men I know. I’ve seen plenty of people who might be described that way, gay or not, but they’ve usually spent years broiling in the sun on beaches other than Fire Island or Herring Cove in Provincetown.
It’s funny how, most of my life, perfect strangers recoiled at the sight of my androgyny. With white hair I’ve become invisible, even to other dykes. Where once I’d get a smile or nod of recognition in the street in response to my own, the gaze of younger lesbians slides right off me, like I’m a lampost or a (shudder) straight person.
In my thirties and forties, I made up old lesbians in my stories. Perhaps I was looking for my elders. There may have been many around, but the generations before me were so very closeted I was aware only of a vacuum.
Once I got to know some actual true-to-life old dykes, I totally forgot there was an age difference. They treated me as an equal and we developed long, respectful friendships.
But I did such stupid stuff as a kid, made such risky, reasonless decisions, I could have used the guidance of an old dyke. In those younger years I was Alice falling down one rabbit hole after another.

Young Lee in Provincetown

Young Lee in Provincetown

Could I have learned from old lesbians and gay men or would my eyes have slid away from them the way baby dyke eyes do from me? Would I have listened? Yes, I was like that, very respectful of experienced people. As a matter of fact, I longed for such counsel, or at least for tales from people like me.
Would I have used their hard-won knowledge? Would I have followed recommended paths? I have no doubt I would have—and asked for detailed maps.
Would old gays have given me the kind of advice I needed? It would have been tricky for them to even associate with gay kids. Say I doctored my birth certificate (which I most certainly did) so I could go to gay bars. Say Joe Gay or Josie Gay, age 64, taught me how. Say my mother, a teacher, found out, or, worse, the bar was raided. Could Josie or Joe trust that this scared child would withstand a browbeating aimed at naming names?
Very few of us have biological or adoptive lesbian mothers. Where can we find guidance for our early gay adulthood? A local physician calls our mutual friends, the pianist and the handydyke (both 70 plus), her lesbian mothers. The pianist tells of the day a younger woman rushed up to her in the grocery store and announced that she and the handydyke were her lesbian aunties. The pianist knew another young lesbian, in the military, who had her suicide carefully planned out until two gay men stepped in to save her life. She also talks about a student, a homeless high school lesbian who lived with her and the handydyke for a year and who once said, “I wonder what an old lesbian looks like?”
There’s an obvious crying need for links between our young and old. The Old Lesbian Oral Herstory Project,* started by Arden Eversmeyer in 1997, seeks to document our lives. Books published by the project offer our stories. I would have devoured every word right up into my thirties, looking for who I was and who I could become.
The Trevor Project has a huge presence on Twitter that seeks to encourage gay and transgendered kids.
Reportedly, 40% of homeless youth are LGBT. They so need adults to model themselves after, ways of living gay to try on, in order to find themselves. Some have lost their families; some have families to whom they’re unable to relate. Who can hold their hands when they’re slipping on the icier, dicier spots of life? In whose footsteps can they follow on the paths of relationships?
There are more and more visible role models: Edie Windsor, Del Martin, Phyllis Lyon, Ellen Degeneres, Greg Louganis, Anderson Cooper, Janis Ian, who give gay kids something to strive for. But what about the non-celebrities, the lesbian Boy Scout leader, the gay male crossing guard, the hairdressers and auto painters, the farmers and pilots—how do we get them into the lives of lost children, lgbt college students, young gay barflies? Wouldn’t any of us, even now, love a gay grandparent who could teach us to garden or build a boat and rap our knuckles, or at least warn us, at any age, when we leap into the arms of ridiculously incompatible lovers?
The good news is that now we’ve begun to have voices, we have started to display our images, we know the young people are out there, seeking as we did. Our very openness is a way of offering ourselves.

http://www.oloc.org/projects/herstory.php
Copyright Lee Lynch 2016

The Amazon Trail

Emily Dickinson’s Desk

By Lee Lynch

Lee Lynch by Sue Hardesty

How do gay writers celebrate the end of a book, a poem, a story? I don’t know about Sarah Orne Jewett, Langston Hughes, Willa Cather, or Allen Ginsberg, but after that brief moment of relief, before the serious editorial worrying begins, after my sweetheart takes me for a long walk on the beach and a romantic dinner with a view, I clean my desk.
Okay, I don’t clean it that night. Or the next day. It might take a month. Or two. I like to get a few short stories written between books, so the purging comes in fits and starts. But definitely before I begin the next book.
This time, after four years of concentrated writing and nine years of research on my new book, Rainbow Gap (due out in December), I’m still struggling with the logistics of making the desk optimally functional. For inspiration, I went on line.Rainbow gap
I found a photo of Emily Dickinson’s desk. In an old issue of Amherst Magazine, Dickinson’s niece is quoted: Emily’s “only writing desk… a table, 18-inches square, with a drawer deep enough to take in her ink bottle, paper and pen. It was placed in the corner by the window facing west.” Eighteen inches square? No wonder she wrote such short poems. Didn’t she need space for her drafts? Her little red toy tractor? An index card file? Her thermometer/barometer? Oh—I guess that would be me.
I do the household filing and a while back that situation got out of hand. Our filing consists of shoving the right piece of paper into the right folder—eventually. I never expected the pile would climb to such heights. As a stopgap measure I plopped a cardboard inbox on the desk.
There were complications.
Bolo In Desk DrawerOur cat’s personal physician suggested some time ago that we provide stimulation with kibble “hunts.” It soon emerged that Bolo’s most stimulating place to hunt was my desk. Kibble could be found inside the overflowing inbox, under the escaped bills, behind the paperweights and hand thrown pots of pens, and inside irresistibly tiny boxes and mini-crates filled with small hand tools, pretty rocks, batteries, a penknife, outdated newspaper clippings—the ephemera of the writers’ trade.
The kitty dumped the contents of the inbox between the desk and the adjacent four-drawer file cabinet so often I placed a wicker trash can there and labeled it Inbox.
“There was a secret compartment in Henry James’ desk,” according to the brilliant biographer Leon Edel. He wrote that, when explored, no secret stash was discovered. I would have found something to put in that compartment, you betcha.
Louisa May Alcott’s “… father built her a half-moon desk between two windows and a bookcase to hold her favorite books.” That sounds a bit roomier than Emily’s. I wouldn’t want a desktop computer on it, though, cutting out the window view. I’ve learned to place my desk to one side of the window, so I can watch birds at feeders we’ve hung right outside. As a matter of fact, I just spotted my first Chestnut-backed Chickadee of the season. I’ll bet Louisa May was as distracted by the view as I am.
Langston Hughes was more disciplined. His very small manual typewriter and metal gooseneck lamp were on a desk that faced a wall. To use a typewriter, a sturdy desk was necessary. Hughes’ desk also held a large telephone, his cigarettes and matches. Neat, and a far cry from Emily Dickinson’s writing table.
Although Willa Cather is sometimes pictured with a substantial desk—perhaps after she moved to Greenwich Village—one of her writing desks was a “secretary.” I have my Nana’s secretary. Spindly legs, a flip down writing surface that rests on the open drawer for support. Some cubbies inside. A narrow shelf low to the floor. I never penned a word there.
Sarah Orne Jewett wrote at an elaborate secretary, more of a hutch with glass display case above, ample drawers below, and a hinged writing flap. I could no more write on a secretary than I could build a skyscraper on a placemat. Nana’s is in our kitchen storing address books and gewgaws.
A 1986 photograph Dave Breithaupt took of Allen Ginsberg’s desk, in his bedroom on East 12th in New York, shows neatly arranged stacks of paper, a lamp with a bare bulb, a pen. It looks as if Ginsberg tamed his desktop and would have known where to find exactly which page of “Howl” he was looking for. Of course, he had at least four, maybe six, drawers that hid who knows what.
James Baldwin’s desk was gloriously outrageous. Large, a photograph shows it covered edge to edge with paper and more paper and a great big electronic typewriter. My desk except for the machine.
Because writers no longer need desks. A desk makes a great surface for stapling and organizing. Its drawers are indispensable. I write seated in a small recliner, but it seems an apt celebratory ritual and homage to the queer writers before me to give my desk periodic respectful attention.

Copyright Lee Lynch 2016
May 2016


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