Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Fem Body: A Break in the Wall

I have been thinking, and writing, for many years about what it has meant to move in the 20th century as a fem woman, perhaps a laughable way to pass time to some, such a small thing in such a dense time. But I had very little to carry with me from the 50s on, other then this source of my desire, this then strong sturdy body that did not want to be a "woman," did not understand how to be a "woman," who knew from an early age I would never marry or have children--perhaps what I only really knew was that my life was going to be of my own making from the bits and pieces my mother and brother allowed to survive and always work, work and always learn, learn. And always want.

"One summer afternoon, I noticed a new time card, another part-timer like me. Sheila was a year younger, and as physically different from me as she could be. Slim, with sharp, clear features, honey-touched hair drawn tightly back in a ponytail--she was half cheer-leader, half ballerina. Athletic and seductive in her white blouse and slim black-and-white skirt cinched at the waist with one of those wide elastic belts that were so populat at the time, she bounced through the aisles, flirting with us all. I took her up on it, at first wanting only her friendship and enjoying so much the girlish horsing around we did, wrestling behind our counters, stretching our breaks together, me being on the lookout while she sneaked a smoke. We laughed so hard our stomachs hurt. I went home each night tired in a new way, tired with the joy of her physical challenges. We started to have late night telephone talks; it must have been from these that she discovered I had "ideas," and that she too wanted to talk about love and loneliness and freedom. She told me all about her boyfriends, and there were many, and never asked about mine. Then one lunch break, I was lying on the bench my head in her lap, the whole expanse of the parking lot stretching out in front of us, looking up at her as she stroked my hair. The sun was hot, but I was in heaven. "Joan, I don't think you will ever marry," she said right into my eyes, all the wisdom of our play in her fifteen-year-old heart. Here in mid-fifties America, where marriage was a national edict, two young women looked into another world." (from my short story, "Novelities," in A Woman Like That, ed. Joan Larkin, 1991)

In each succeeding decade of my adult life, being a fem carried me into new territory: into the lesbian bars of the late 50s where I had to find ways to make my body speak loud enough to be heard above the songs of Johhny Matthias and Teresa Brewer, my breasts pushing into the alcholic haze of my dance partners. Take me home. Mine or yours, take me. On the weekends was the time my body could speak--all the hours of night and day could become one on these holy days when the deepness of touch was the center of all things. Monday brought with it the tightness of work, the body dressed for competence.
Before I launch into a decade by decade description of how my fem body lived in the world--how it marched in the streets, how it sat at endless lesbian feminist meetings, how it fought for itself in the face of definite ideas about what a woman is, I must listen to my dear wise friend Karin, saying in her Danish-French voice, "Joan, you are always writing about the same things, all these years. Do something new!" And because so much of my earlier writings do explore the movements of our fem-butch bodies, I will refrain from toching the past body once again, but these times, the first decade of the 21st century, do push at this fem body with new ideas. All this talk about borders, boundaries and walls, all this talk about exclusions, deportations, detentions and the rich discussions of lesbian masculinities that have flourished for the last ten years and the always nagging feeling that fem discourse is too limited, does not seem to know how to enter the world in a larger way, even while young and not so young now fem artists are dilineating the curiosities and colors of our world, set me thinking.
Before we left for Israel in 2007, we visited with Liz Kennedy and Bobbi Prebis in Tucson, Arizona; walking the canyon hills with old friends is very conducive to thought. And even more so proved the night at the university when I was asked to host a discussion of the film "FtF: Female to Female" (Kami Chisholm and Elisabeth Stark). One young woman in the audience commented on how cerebral the discussion of the fem body had been, that fem sex was never really part of the fem's witty visual conversation, what is fem sex to you, she asked. A lot had been going on in the large room already that night, much charged discussion of the old question, are fems betrayers of feminism, and I was free floating a little, the night was late. Always in Arizona, the question of borders seems to be present--workers slipping in along the border, workers beckoned and then punished. I don't remember exactly how I started my answer, but I know my love of being fucked was part of it, and then I heard my voice saying, I wanted my fem body to be a break in the wall, a point of entry. I gloried in being a port of entry. A fem discourse about our bodies as symbolic interruptions to guarded national barriers, a fem discourse about inclusions into the interior. I will leave this with you tonight, a beckoning thought.

For those of you in Melbourne, I just want you to know we will stand our Women in Black vigil the first Saturday of every month in 2008 in front of the old GPO on the corner of Burke and Elizabeth, from 12-1. Come say hello.

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