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Stonewall 25: Gay Rites

Gay Rites: A Wedding in Denmark, a Ceremony in New York
June 25, 1994

Sometimes you stay around long enough to see things you missed. Whole decades come back, and this is actually the most orienting thing that can happen in New York, a city that’s so utterly about people and time and the prestige certain individuals continually resonate. Jill Johnston, 64, and Ingrid Nyeboe, 46, are beaming, walk­ing up the stairs with a shower of confetti falling down on them. This is all taking place on one of several monitors in a large apartment in Soho one night last fall. For those new in town, Johnston is the author of the anarchic masterpiece of ’70s femi­nism, Lesbian Nation. She was also a leg­endary Voice columnist who made a career of being there and writing about it.

The event being communicated to us is their wedding, last June 27, in Odense, Denmark. Odense was the home of Hans Christian Andersen, author of The Emper­or’s New Clothes, who was gay, I’ve been told. The tape plays on and we see a Flux procession — two blue men carrying flowers. One is Geoff Hendricks, with his pants fall­ing down. There’s a batch of strangers in the ensuing crowd, a Great Dane, someone carrying a little red chair aloft, and soon we see the two women in white sitting down in front of some kind of civil servant. Jill says (I think) “I am” and nods. Ingrid says something in Danish. Later they’re in an art museum, and the happy couple sit in a blue Volkswagen that looks like it’s going no­where. They do look happy sitting there, waving and waving,

What’s going on? The party called “Wed­ding Party” in Soho was, like I said, one of those nights you’re glad you stayed here for. People kept walking in, Beth the young video artist and Lauren her sculptor ex­-lover (what are they doing together here?); there was Pauline Oliveros, Andrea Dwor­kin (omygod!), and numerous people from every walk (mostly art world) who qualified in some way as Fluxfriends or FOJs (Friends of Jill). An ex-lover of Ingrid’s spoke up too as the evening swept us along through recordings of bells from Riverside Church and poet-conceptual artist Alison Knowles did something with bread. Geoff Hendricks, Flux-meister (still blue), had a star shaved in the back of his head (“Stars for Jill and Ingrid”), and Jill got up and read a piece (“Deep Tapioca”) that reminded me of the public secrecy of her Voice columns but glimmered also with a confirmed poetry as solid as stone. Then all of us got up one by one and had a Polaroid taken of ourselves standing with a really silly knit hat on in front of a picture of a statue of Psyche. We handed over our wishes on pale green index cards that were then pinned over the classical image of love, and it was a confus­ing and sweet and inclusive-feeling night in New York.

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The domestic partnership announce­ments had been beaming into my mailbox all fall — Laura and Elizabeth’s full-color snapshot, Cydney and Val’s black on-beige-card stock. Over at Carmelita Tropicana’s, I saw Peggy and Lisa’s stuck on the refrigera­tor. How do you feel about lesbian mar­riage? I asked her. She gave me a long rambling speech about “rights” and then interrupted herself. “Look, I’m trying to date, honey.” In general, “marriage” is not a lesbian thing. Of the 11 couples who got hitched on October 1, 1989, the day mar­riage (or partnership) was legalized for ho­mosexuals in Denmark, all of the takers were men. Else Slange, head of Denmark’s gay organization, says she “has a personal ideological opposition” to marriage. And it’s not so much different here. The Mattachine Society had marriage on its agenda from the get-go; the Daughters of Bilitis were only just deciding to “come out” in the ’50s. You could say dykes are slow, but I think it’s more than that.

Today Tom Stoddard, lawyer and direc­tor of Lambda Legal Defense and Educa­tion Fund, who spoke at Ingrid and Jill’s wedding party, is at the helm of pushing marriage to the front of a national gay agenda. But Paula Ettelbrick, policy director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, expresses a fear that a progressive agenda would be lost if marriage became “the” gay issue and suggests that “those who are most acceptable to the mainstream because of race, gender, and economic sta­tus are the most likely to want the right to marry.”

Her language begins to make marriage kind of heinous, referring to it as an “im­penetrable institution [that] gives those who marry an insider status of the most powerful kind” — which does ring true, not just in terms of my married friends’ hetero­sexuality, but how they get kind of close­-mouthed about things after they tie the knot. One feels a little out forevermore, at least until they part ways. Despite our sor­did reputation for moving in after the first date, lesbians are cultural loners, flinging ourselves into relationships because we know all too well how it feels to be the ”odd man out.” In general, lesbians often identify with (or are) economic outsiders, who would have little to gain from entering into this venerable institution, and many lesbi­ans are simply suspicious of a society that protects couples.

Denmark, according to Ingrid and Jill, protects every citizen.”I did it for the bene­fits,” laughed Jill, one Saturday when I visited the two. “I could go there and be a baby.” As a spouse of a Danish citizen, Johnston immediately qualified for a slew of benefits including a medical card, which in a socialist economy means a lot. The coun­try longest occupied by Germany during World War II, Denmark managed to save 80 per cent of its Jewry. The famous gesture of the Danish king putting on a yellow star is part of the national psychology, I’m told. Though it had colonies into the 20th centu­ry, Denmark’s moment as a true empire was over by 800. Today it’s a Lutheran country with a long tradition of compassion and caretaking. “Standing out is not good,” says Ingrid, who came to New York at 21, on the heels of her gay brother, to study theater. ‘”If you do something great, you are congratulated but also reminded that you are still one of us.” Appreciation of this flip­-flopped status resounds through Jill’s wed­ding poem: ‘The [Danish] queen must be a little like the Japanese emperor — a man with no family name and no passport who can’t vote or run for office. The people in these places have all the privileges.”

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Ingrid’s brother died of AIDS in 1989. Then Jill urged her to go back to Denmark where she hadn’t been for 10 years, her parents having both died in 1976. AIDS is cited again and again as the contributing factor in gay marriage, both in relation to inheritance, visiting rights, and leases, as well as being part of a larger emotive move in the gay community toward forming more permanent relationships — getting familial. ”As soon as I got involved with Ingrid I became a better mother,” says Jill of the new friendship that’s developed with her now adult children from a marriage in the ’5os. And Ingrid had been married too, back in the ’60s.

I went to a dinner party last weekend with seven lesbians, our ages ranging from late twenties to mid sixties, and six out of the seven had been married. To help some­one get a green card (maybe even making some money along the way), or for conven­tional reasons, whether seriously embarked upon or vaguely considered. Marriage, the institution, as it sits pretty in so many wom­en’s pasts, is almost the polar opposite of coming out, which is still so much about pushing away from the walls of the, okay, I’ll say it, Patriarchy.

“Women in prison, that’s who like to get married,” says Carmelita. What do you mean? “Women marrying women. It’s very popular in jail.” For months I’ve been poll­ing friends and acquaintances, dykes. What do you think of lesbian marriage? “It’s an oxymoron,” said Patty White. “Why can’t we just make our vows to the rocks and trees,” shrugged Nicole Eisenman, “why the State?” “So we can stop having sex, like them?” said Sarah Schulman. “Every­one knows that’s what happens to people who get married.” “Or live together,” I added. “Right, that’s why I never live with my girlfriends.” “You’d think they’d encourage us to get married just to stop us from having sex,” I suggested, and we both laughed and got off the phone.

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Hawaii is not that different from Den­mark. Now there’s a ludicrous statement. But let me keep going, okay? There are only minorities there (in Hawaii), no real major­ity, so their democratic tradition is structur­al. When Jerry Falwell came to town, they formed the Moral Majority of Hawaii with progressive goals and tried to sue him when he arrived for using their name. Sound familiar? It’s very much like putting on a star. In Hawaii the question is being framed in relation to gender rather than homosexual­ity — if a man can marry a woman, why can’t a woman? The state court will have to have a good answer for that.

According to Jill, the gates were wide open in the early ’70s and thousands of women were rushing through, coming out, and then they closed up by ’76 or so. I like her kind of history. The sweeping lives of individuals shine like symbols — “they appointed certain people,” she explains. Later, when I sat with her and Ingrid and watched their wedding on the monitor again, I suppose it was like sitting with any couple over their album. Then we’re looking at a map of Denmark, and it’s explained to me that Ingrid’s family drove five hours, from here to here — she points on these fish-­shaped slices of land that mean “nation”­ — and I’m shocked, I suppose, that cultures are so different that one country in the world, and then one state, could open the gates to such a basic human privilege, the ceremony of belonging (or owning), wheth­er we want it or not.

Meanwhile, at least one of the new do­mestic partnerships is making plans for a more formal ceremony. Cydney Wilkes (of Cydney and Val), a choreographer, wants to “score” her wedding, with lots of women kissing on cue and several other mass ges­tures, just across the river in Brooklyn, an event rivaling Ingrid and Jill’s Fluxus pa­rade. And me — I’ve gone around since the end of last year asking every lesbian I know if she wants to get married and of course it’s been a confusing proposal.

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Textual Healing

Dodie Bellamy’s Cunt-Ups is an endearing little book, snug, looking very much like a stocking stuffer. A small mouse on its cover is peering into the darkness. That is, the eternal, glowing night of intense dedication to eating pussy, to sucking cock, to getting fucked.

Edited Leni Riefenstahl-style, in a chopped-up litany of escalating desire, Cunt-Ups constantly reorients: “In the sky I thought I might come,” it tenderly says more than once. This always new monster of sexual description and intent is constructed as an homage to the cut-up technique of William Burroughs and maybe more important the late Kathy Acker. Bellamy generously describes her method at the back of the book. “I used a variety of texts by myself and others.” Then she divided each page of text into four squares and mixed the squares up so that each page was now two or three parts her own work and one or two of someone else’s. Which then she reworked.

Her reworking is where the excitement comes in. Bellamy’s fresh use of this staple of avant-gardism advances maybe the most important stage of feminism yet: a gorgeous and excessive forgetting. Don’t we need to dispense with being only or specifically female to be fully human, to join and even orchestrate the mess? Her seams of meaning are frequently sound: “I have a cunt so that I can fit about the cloud plowed under. Puzzle.” There are other moments where it sounds like what is being constructed is faith: “. . . your eyes will be open,” her creature fervently promises. “There you would be with tears and blood and crosses in my eyes. . . . ” But the impish sexual narrative always prevails: ” . . . you would suck my lungs, and you would.” Like her previous books (Feminine Hijinx, The Letters of Mina Harker, and in the anthology High Risk), she writes with the sheen of a professional gambler. In Cunt-Ups, it’s why her cut-ups rock. It’s all art, but her talking dirty makes us desperately want to play.

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A.I., A Butch-Dyke Fantasy

We queers have been finding ourselves in outer space for a very long time. When Elton “Rocket Man” John sang “I’m not the man they think I am at home,” everyone nodded: That means he’s gay. It was like pointing out drug references in the ’60s. Style was always the pointer—identifying a mise en scene where you belonged. In The Man Who Fell to Earth, David Bowie was just the kind of alien we admired: stylish, melancholic, dispossessed, and queer.

What lesbian—well, what butchy one—didn’t find Sigourney Weaver not just hot but familiar in Alien as she climbed around the ship in a jumpsuit, saving her crew from the viral slime that threatened them. In a sequel, she had the slime’s child, and by Alien: Resurrection her hands were deep (for medical reasons) in the torso of Winona Ryder, an android who, like us, thought Sigourney rocked.

In A.I., Steven Spielberg gives us David, a robo-boy who longs to be real. Is it necessary to explain that one of the quiet facts of lesbian life is that many of us prayed to be “real boys” in early childhood, or else were so often taken to be boys that things would have been easier if we actually were? Instead, one summer it was determined that unlike her brother, the boyish girl must wear a shirt (to cover nothing), thus marking the end of one time and the beginning of another. The butch lesbian enacts this moment all her life.



A.I. came to us by way of sci-fi writer Brian Aldiss’s story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” and Stanley Kubrick’s dying wish. Kubrick felt that robots should take over the earth. In his perversity, he believed ardently that humans had screwed up, and that artificial intelligence would definitely be kinder and gentler than man’s. In a new intro to “Supertoys,” Aldiss describes walking with Kubrick across the director’s estate, after-dinner cigars in hand. They wrestled with plot lines to no avail. For weeks and months and even years, the men struggled to tell the story that Spielberg finally bedded in an oddly queer way.

What makes a movie queer? Well, it might feature an excessive love between inappropriate people as nonetheless human and true. Or at least interesting and worthy of our attention—gross though it may be. There’s a relationship between the discontent onscreen and the discomfort residing in the body of the disheveled young viewer. In A.I. the kid is being thrown out of his home, trashed, left in the woods—all because he threatened the hegemony of real men and their dominant place in the affections of the women whose lives they control.

Monica is a wreck because her birth son remains frozen until science finds a cure. Out steps the incredibly cute Haley Joel Osment, an 11-year-old heartbreaker, a girl boy. He’s a gift from her husband, a supertoy intended to take away his mother’s pain—like little girls or dolls. David is perfect. He arrives, an elongated shadow resolving into a pair of adorable white shoes, his toes tapping our eyes into an upward pan ending in a gay remark: “I like your floor.” David is cute, cute, cute.

Unfortunately the “real” son, Martin, is soon cured, and David’s perfect toyness (try lesbianity) begins to threaten his spot in the family. Remember, the dyke is always the no. 2 son. When a fat bully at the pool pinches David’s flesh, saying, “So let’s see what you don’t pee with,” David nearly drowns his brother in an attempt to save himself. Of course David doesn’t eat or sleep or pee. He just looks like a boy and acts like one. It’s a performance.

A little before his expulsion from the family, David watches Monica going out with her husband in evening wear, a bit of rare 20th-century perfume (Chanel) on her neck. Steeped in a desire to never let her go, David douses himself in her scent. Then the mother and son have an exchange about how long she will live (50 years). After that, he’ll be alone, he moans, swearing he will love her always. The pact between Monica and David, the temporal-universal female and the immortal-artificial boy, is the inappropriate love at the heart of A.I., a love that’s about the mystery of dovetailing time in a world constructed by “real men.” The perfume of this androgynous kid’s passion speaks to Monica’s hot female mortality. Sigh. What dyke doesn’t know about this?

Yet Monica leaves him in the woods, just yards away from the robot factory. David begins the litany that forms the emotional core of this prim, outlandish, and deeply revolutionary movie. If I become a real boy, like in Pinocchio, he begs her, can I come home? Stories aren’t true, screams Monica. Yes, they are; stories tell what happens. David never accepts that he’s not a real boy. His unshakable belief in his true self and his search to rectify the family’s error through fantasy make A.I. the lesbian legend that it is. David is a story, like the one I’m telling; he doesn’t have a birthday, he has a build day. Once upon a time he began.

A.I. is a toy version of the puberty of gay kids. To plunge through the sea with a chorus of fish flanking you, to float dazzled like a corpse till you see something blue and glowing—Coney Island and the Pinocchio arcade, and up on a hill the Blue Fairy. David finally finds his girl in a broken trellis; doll to doll, their eyes are locked. It feels true. Spielberg built those eyes to lock.

As Dr. Hobby, A.I.‘s Geppetto, tells us, it’s part of our greatness to wish for things that don’t exist. I think he really means “we.” In the way that Bill Clinton was our first black president, Spielberg has given us our first butch lesbian hero.

Predominant on A.I.‘s soundtrack is The Rosenkavalier, an opera full of gender play and artificial flowers. That absolutely clinches it. Thanks for your courage, dude.

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Shore Leave

The general feeling in Provincetown on a Friday night is that you could bump into someone from any part of your life. Family member, ex-lover, someone you went to high school with—Commercial Street is a quintessentially American street. Framed by history, Provincetown is a virtual mall, as teeming as eBay, yet the ocean’s just steps away. Even more crowded than other resorts, P-town is on a tiny spit of land that is sorely overdeveloped (just like New York), steadily driving out the local working class, shrinking the public schools, converting a defunct fishing economy into a service economy. Yet these same class conflicts are, at least for now, making for an oddly inflected, spirited, and authentically new/old bohemian art colony. The vehicular traffic pushes one way, heading west toward the breakwater, the end of Cape Cod where the Pilgrims landed. But the human traffic is pushing east, and we’re going to see art.

Michael Carroll, a painter and the director of the Schoolhouse Art Center, tells me there’s a Roman aspect to all of Provincetown’s art legacy, a historical too-muchness, like a beautiful old graveyard that keeps heaping more and more on top of a never-quite-absent past. Schoolhouse, which is the heart and engine of a very New York-driven art scene exploding on the Lower Cape, is unique in that it’s a for-profit gallery that also provides artists with space to work. Of P-town, Carroll says: “It’s a place to sit still and do the same thing, wringing the same materials, shoving the same words into position, pushing again and again. It’s very obsessive here,” he grins.

Schoolhouse opened in 1998. Its building once housed the Long Point Gallery, which carried the ball for the old-boy network of abstract expressionism that held the town captive aesthetically for many years. Today, Schoolhouse is a web of nooks and hallways and exhibition spaces upstairs and down. In the Driskel Gallery, Allen Ginsberg’s nudes are seeing their first light of . . . well, halogen. Still our first bard (“I remember when I first got laid, H.P. graciously took my cherry, I sat on the docks of Provincetown, age 23 . . . “), Ginsberg made photos that are a luminous equivalent to his telegraphic verse. Begin with his own touching nude self-portrait: He holds a black camera vertically at midsection, like an arrow pointing to his sweet, stroke-marked mug. Then your gaze slips down his slim torso to a vulnerable scar from gallbladder surgery. The men and boys that inhabit the Ginsbergian myth of love range from Mark (Ewart)—eyes shut and knee bent toward the viewer, a peaceful paw holding his belly, graciously flocked by rumpled sheets—to a rare seminude of the old geezer himself, Bill Burroughs, angular and resplendent on chenille.

As you enter Schoolhouse, a single painting on the back wall of the gallery faces the street. Doug Padgett’s grand Untitled is a cartoony 19th-century vista of drippy, cellular stalactites hanging deep within a morphing natural interior that is oddly reminiscent of small paintings of the vaults of Dutch churches. Two or three human witnesses stand in the lower right and one crosses the bottom of the painting on a tourists’ ramp; their hair flickers in the same yellow, blue, and red daubs that animate the painting’s pulsating, ancient stone.

Like Padgett, who labored on his painting for a year, many of the artists in P-town this summer are quietly confronting time in their work. Melanie Braverman shows a single white cotton quilt behind glass further down the same wall. It’s blocked off in red stitching that says: “Love, Death, Love, Death. . . . ” The quilt is a relic from Braverman’s large Love and Death July installation, which featured a fractured poem, written a few phrases at a time on a series of tiny open books framed in glass, all together, an elegantly paced memorial to a friend who killed herself in the fall. Under each phrase Braverman attached a small plaster vessel—a tiny eyecup for tears. The minibook sections are being sold off individually, and they are going like hotcakes. Folk art and irony frequently meet here, perhaps as a result of the locale’s physical isolation combined with rabid tourism.

I stepped out into a twilit Commercial Street where foot traffic, scooters, and wobbly bikes surged, filling the narrow street. On holiday weekends it feels like the Day of the Locust. Pat de Groot has lived across from Schoolhouse for almost 40 years, and shows at the Cherry Stone Gallery in Wellfleet (70 East Commercial Street) as well as at Pat Hearn this fall. Her vision is impossibly simple and bold. She works quickly with a palette knife, making tiny Zen-like paintings of the rising and falling line between sky and sea. The line collapses into a small, thin scumble of blue or explodes in a fizzy spattering of yellowed white foam. On the opposite wall at Cherry Stone, sculptor Paul Bowen specializes in shipwreck, honing small pieces of found wood into conceptually edged constructions.

The window of the Albert Merola Gallery (424 Commercial), a smallish storefront about five minutes from Schoolhouse, holds Duane Slick’s beckoning single hand and arm, one of a series of pearly acrylics on linen. In Merola’s back gallery, there’s a selection from its stable, which includes James Balla, Richard Baker, Donna Flax, Jack Pierson, and John Waters, with his funny photo collages. I return loyally to one of Helen Miranda Wilson’s small oils on panel. Boxing Day is a flurry of clouds scurrying away from an anxious but constant moon. It’s silvery, moving across the viewer’s face like a quick but unforgettable vision.

Smack in the middle of the strip, but still East End, the Bang Street Gallery (432 Commercial) is showing Jennifer Ditacchio, the harbormaster’s daughter, a local girl via Yale, whose bold striped canvases manage to connect the ab-ex moment to a more savvy postmodern read on landscape. There’s a cocky roughness to her blue, white, and mutating gray designs. Each of these hunky minimalist canvases (stripes, stripes, stripes) feels as brutally uncontestable as the weather. The water that slurps and beckons on the other side of Commercial works pretty much the same way, cheerfully or fatally striped, whatever—no amount of thought can override it.

Dianna Matherly’s new work at Tristan (148 Commercial) trumpets light and dark and bravery. The show mounted here last fall, “In Honor of Survival,” culled a terrific array of new and recognized talents focusing on this theme. Several of those participating artists died this past winter. Now Matherly presents a tributary show of mixed media. Four oil paintings with a similar memorializing intent are funky, allegorical takes on the disordering power of illness.

Sal Randolph is twisting thousands of yellow chenille stems (pipe cleaners) into a cloudlike sculptural form. Her studio upstairs in Schoolhouse boasts a computer named Bruce, reciting her poems and splaying a gorgeous array of cascading wallpaper on its screen. “This will go in a glass case downstairs in September,” she says, pointing to the growing yellow mass, “with rope-light snaking through.” “Do you think it needs sound?” she wonders.

“The place is weird,” says Jack Pierson. “I was afraid to come here when I was a child. I mean,” he adds softly, “that’s what we like about it.” Pierson is probably the best symbol of the new/old P-town art scene: an artist who makes work that’s not so much “about” life as it is about how he imagines it. On September 1, Pierson will exhibit at the Provincetown Art Association (460 Commercial), the longest-standing art space in town, practically a museum, which is currently bursting with “Hans Hofmann: Four Decades in Provincetown.” “No fences, nudes, beaches,” promises Pierson, referring to practically everyone’s proclivity to produce work that flies here. He’s planning to install a group of new word sculptures—his own take on Cape Cod’s dark past. “Artists almost feel trampled by the beauty here. It’s the light,” says Jack, laughing.

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My Intergeneration

At a dark point in my life about five years ago—on the heels of a breakup—I went to San Francisco to do a reading. I was feeling bad and had convinced myself that no one would show. But I do believe in lifting a finger, and with it I picked up the ringing phone.

“Is this Eileen Myles?” The excited female voice on the other side asked. “I don’t really expect you to know who I am. I sent you a postcard last summer.”

I remembered the postcard with a picture of a big-faced, redheaded girl waving a ham sandwich. She had been traveling cross-country and she was telling me about her adventures like I was an old friend, and she signed it Michelle. Weird, I thought, and put the postcard down.

“Well, let me tell you why I’m calling,” Michelle said. “We have this excellent girls’ open mike at the Coco Club on Sunday nights. We can’t offer you money or anything, but a lot of us are huge fans of your work, and I would be so pleased if you would come. You would? Omygod!”

That was my initial encounter with Sister Spit’s Rambling Road Show, a lesbian spoken-word tour. I toast that drizzly December night as one of the defining events in my life.


I came out in New York in the late ’70s. But lesbian feminism left me feeling like I didn’t cut the mustard, like I’d gone to the wrong non-Ivy League school and liked punk rock and amphetamines too much and Aphra Behn too little. Generally I hung out with the boys and often I was alone. With poetry.

When I did connect with a girl (I could drink with), we were at war with the lesbian culture around us. I remember throwing beer cans off the balcony at an Alive concert. They were these dykes in leisure suits playing fusion jazz to a roomful of women with dangly earrings. “Ugh,” we yelled up the street.

Now, I was a guest at the phantasmagoric Coco Club. Sini Anderson, then 25, dressed kind of preppy with a TV-younger-brother’s scratchy voice. She was a Midwestern girl from an unreadable class playing easygoing straight man to Michelle’s wiry ecstatic hostess girl, squealing and cheering the readers off and onto the stage. Michelle’s hair was blue—or red. Sini’s was bright yellow. This was normal in San Francisco, a cornucopia of weird and adorable young dykes, clearly one moment out of college (or not), migrating West in buses and planes and vans in the mid ’90s. Now they wanted to speak.

At the Coco Club, poetry was the rule. Or literature was. One girl from L.A., long hair, kind of bourgie, read a slick and nasty piece of fiction about plopping a red-ant hill on the crotch of an evil ex-girlfriend. The audience howled wickedly. A Jersey-looking girl with big hair and scrub denim jean jacket and heavy metal shirt did a chugging rant. A tall, cute-cute-cute Elvis lookalike in a baseball hat read a lyric lament about home—and abuse. A pale girl stood up in academic attire, sincere, and read translations of a young Russian poet who had killed herself last year.

The room was resonant and warm. During most of the readings you could hear the audience breathing. In a fucked-up, messy way we were one. I looked around, feeling my cheeks blazing in the crowded club. I was sipping a Diet Coke and thinking: I can’t believe I’ve found my generation at last.


For dykes, generations are less about age than attitude. Try standing with a clump of your lesbian contemporaries. The dividing lines of race and class, shoes and musical taste, will predictably send us flying to our corners quicker than you can say butch/femme.

I know I’m not alone in my ancient alienation and new affinity. There’s a teeming society of women who identify the postpunk third wave of feminism as the beat we’re listening to, because unlike the taboo-laden feminism of my youth, the new lesbian mise-en-scène is a fierce, wildly infectious, and inclusive cultural force. It’s a dyke world where straight girls can come too, and maybe even men. Who needs separatism if you’re the boss?

Meanwhile at the Coco Club, it was my turn to perform. Have you ever gone to heaven? I mean, maybe it’s like getting a Guggenheim. I think every time a poet or a writer finishes something, even stands at a mike reading, it goes off into some secret place in the future. And now I was standing there with this tribe of loud and articulate girls who looked like me. I have a micro-tattoo and my hair is white and brown, but inside I look like them—and they knew it.

A few years later, Sini and Michelle invited me to go to the Womyn’s Music Festival in Michigan with them. I hated that festival—with its millions of bare breasts and fanny packs and “Womyn-Born Only” signs—and they did too. Horrible! That’s why it would be fun. And when we were rejected by the festival’s committee, the perfection continued. They explained that we were sort of like music—and they already had Phranc—and also sort of like literature—and they had Dorothy Allison.

So we decided to take our show on the road. Sister Spit started raising money frantically and bought two vans. Those same cheering girls kept dropping their money in the bucket from working at the Bearded Lady café, the Lickety Split moving company, and other Bay Area businesses. I had always wanted to tour in a van and sleep on floors and live on what I make. Well? I was 25 years older than everyone else, and didn’t everyone drink and I didn’t anymore? Drugs? And everyone looking for girls?

We did 30 cities in 28 days, sleeping on the floor in anarchist bookstores and tattooed girls’ apartments. In Cambridge, my hometown, the lines of girls were wrapped around the block and up and down the street. Boston girls are a little less varied than in San Francisco, a little more tame, it seemed. Many of them were recovering from very good girls’ colleges. Lots of the Sister Spit girls are working-class like me, and to shoot our wry and explosive wad of lyric culture here on a Cambridge stage was the sweetest success. I have never felt so proud in my life, standing there about a block away from where my mother was born, being a member at last of a utopian cadre of female outlaw optimists, teeming butch/femme talent, total tattoos and fearlessness, gaudiness, booziness, and flaunting a complex sexuality that would embarrass anyone’s mother.

At home, I have a great girlfriend. Karin is 32, white-haired (for real) since her teens, and now a Jean Seberg-looking novelist educated by wolves at Vassar. Not a Spitter at all—and she often rolls her eyes at what I like. We’re constantly working out the generation gap in reverse. Karin likes classic rock; I want Le Tigre. “Don’t get mean,” she pushes back. “You knew I was old when you met me.”

Karin was aboard for the Boston show. But we were going to Buffalo and she was heading for P-town. I kissed her goodbye and got back in the van.

I was 46 on that tour. I’m 50 now. I just had to wait to be young.


Eileen Myles’s upcoming novel, Cool for You (Soft Skull Press), will be published this fall.