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Archive for the ‘bisexuals’ Category

If you haven’t seen the website for the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, get thee hither! This amazing project documents historic sites related to LGBT people across all eras and all five boroughs.

Plus, its interactive map has a filter option, so you can search for sites by specific topics you’re particularly interested in, like, say, activist sites or theatrical sites. You can also search just for places related to lesbian history or trans history.

The group also sponsors talks about its work in the area of history and historic sites, and highlights other programs related to LGBT history in the city.

Gay “Be-In” at the Sheep Meadow in Central Park at the end of the first NYC Pride March, June 28, 1970. Photo by Diana Davies. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

 

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… the Duchess was an “experience”—a poorly lit hole with pounding music and thick clouds of smoke. “Our clothes will reek,” Ada said.

From a rickety table in the corner, they watched women half their age dancing and flirting, dressed in everything from tight T-shirts to oversized flannel that resembled Ada’s daddy’s pajamas. The booming beat of a younger generation turned any conversation into a shouting match. The lyrics—the ones Ada could understand—were baffling. “‘Come on, baby, make it hurt so good’? What kind of song is that?” She still preferred the music of her youth—Johnny Mathis, Patsy Cline. Cam just smiled.

In 1982, as middle-aged women, the main characters in my novel, The Ada Decades, make a once-in-a-lifetime journey to New York City for the Gay Pride March. Ada, the protagonist, has never been more than a three-hour drive from Charlotte, N.C., and the two are not “out” in their hometown. Her partner, Cam, plans the trip because, as she says, “I’m fifty years old, and I have never been to a real-life gay event.” After some sightseeing at Macy’s and the New York Public Library, the women head for Greenwich Village and a big dose of queer culture.

It was great fun for me to write this chapter, which is called “The Language of New York.” I lived in NYC for twenty years, and still have a fondness for it. Many of the queer sites Ada and Cam visit in the chapter—like the sleazy, long-defunct women’s bar, the Duchess (101 Seventh Avenue South)—were places I frequented as a young lesbian. The Duchess was the first lesbian bar I ever went to, and my friends and I would often hang out there after volunteering at the feminist newspaper, WomaNews.

Because Ada and Cam are a librarian and a school teacher, respectively, they also hit the lesbian and gay bookstores.

They made a stop at Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop—“Twig won’t believe this!” Ada said, snapping a picture with her Kodak—then found their way to Djuna Books, a lesbian-owned shop where they spent a good hour perusing books even Ada had never heard of. Cam bought a baseball cap emblazoned with the word DYKE and put it on immediately. “When in Rome,” she said. Ada picked out a button that read: We Are Everywhere, but she was afraid it would leave holes in her blouse, so she attached it to her canvas purse instead.

Djuna and Thelma

Djuna Barnes and her lover, Thelma Wood

Even though I bought many a book there back in the day, I only vaguely remember the interior of Djuna Books, a cozy store close to where the author Djuna Barnes (1892-1982) lived at 5 Patchin Place. Barnes—a journalist, illustrator, and author of the classic Modernist novel Nightwood—did not identify as lesbian even though her primary relationships were all with women. She reportedly called her namesake “a terrible little lesbian bookshop,” even phoning to demand the owners change the name.

To read about Ada and Cam’s Manhattan trip and about their other adventures through life, you can now pick up a copy of The Ada Decades at your favorite bookstore or online retailer.

 

 

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They’d gotten off on the wrong foot, and if Cam found out, there would be hell to pay. Ada needed this young man to know she wasn’t like other whites, the ones who touted their Confederate ancestors or acted like Jim Crow was still in force. She could have used the example of Miss Ruthie to explain away her cautious behavior, but it seemed like too elaborate a story, offered too late. Or she could have told him about the early days of integration at Central, but she had done so little—just interrupted one bullying incident.

So instead, she said, “I . . . I’ve read Mr. Baldwin,” just before he reached the library door. Cam had brought the novel Giovanni’s Room home from her trip to Washington, D.C. for the March. “It’s about two men who have an affair,” Cam had explained excitedly. “One white and one black.” The volume had made the rounds in their gay circle before ending up, tattered and well-read, on a high shelf in the bedroom closet.

“He’s a fine writer,” Ada said.

“One of the best,” Mr. Browne said, with a thin smile that suggested he might not hold a grudge.

In this excerpt from my historical novel, The Ada Decades, Ada Shook, a white school librarian in Charlotte, N.C. in 1970, has a run-in with a new teacher, Robert Browne – one of only two black faculty members in the school – about a book order. She worries that some of his choices, including books by Ralph Ellison, W.E.B. DuBois, and James Baldwin, will play badly with the conservative white parents in the school. Mr. Browne calls her on it, and she retracts her concern – but then wants him to know she’s not like “other whites.” A closeted lesbian, she’s read James Baldwin’s novel about an affair between two men in Paris.

 

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Baldwin on the streets of Harlem/AP photo

The work of James Baldwin (1924-1987) figures prominently in this chapter of my book; it becomes the subject of attempted censorship by parents at Ada’s school. I won’t give away what happens, but things get tense at the fictional Central Charlotte Junior High.

I re-read a lot of Baldwin’s nonfiction work as my novel was unfolding, especially Nobody Knows My Name, and I took one of the epigraphs for the book from him: “Love is a growing up.” I felt that so aptly summarized what I had learned about long-term relationships. There’s the tender romance in the early stages of “girl meets girl,” but a relationship over the long haul is so much more than that. It’s about working through problems and plowing through bad times as well as celebrating the joyous moments. I call The Ada Decades a love story for that reason – it’s about two women enduring together and building a life over time, despite the odds.

And more about Baldwin, whose writing is rightfully enjoying a revival: Efforts are underway to save the house in St.-Paul-de-Vence, France, where he lived for the last seventeen years of his life, and turn it into a retreat for writers and artists. As Shannon Cain wrote with regret in July 2016, “There exists no trace of James Baldwin in the village … His half-demolished house bears no plaque… Here in the place he considered home, it appears that this great American literary and civil rights icon has disappeared from history.”

If you haven’t seen the documentary I Am Not Your Negro, please run out and do so. I’ve seen it twice, and I will undoubtedly watch it again. James Baldwin has been gone for thirty years, but his wisdom speaks directly to this moment in American history.

Today is The Ada Decades’s official pub date, and it’s now available everywhere! Pick up a copy at your favorite bookseller.

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They had walked silently for one long block when Auggie broke into a happy trot and pointed with excitement. “There it is!” A sprawling frame bungalow, set back from the street and guarded by a majestic oak, came into view. With its modest height and lack of trim, it was not the peer of its neighbors, but Ada recognized its charm even if she didn’t understand Auggie’s excitement.

“It’s pretty,” she said.

“That, dear librarian, is where Carson McCullers lived, oh, twenty years ago,” Auggie said with a sigh. “She started writing The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter right there in that house.”

This scene takes place in the third chapter of my new historical novel, The Ada Decades. It’s 1958, and Ada Shook’s friendship with Cam Lively has been progressing since they bonded over the integration of the public school where they both work. But Cam would like it to go … well, further. She creates a book club that will get Ada to her apartment in the Dilworth neighborhood of Charlotte, N.C. – because, as their mutual friend Auggie, puts it when he spells it out for Ada: “How else do you get a librarian to come over and meet your friends? She would have preferred a softball team, that’s for sure.”

Everyone at the book club, it turns out, is queer – which both intrigues Ada and makes her nervous, because she hasn’t figured out what her feelings for Cam mean. Cam and her friends have created a social network in which they support each other – “family,” to use the code for LGBT people.

The Carson McCullers house is a real thing that still stands at 311 East Boulevard in Charlotte; it’s now a restaurant where a writer can have excellent Indian food while channeling her inner Carson. The Georgia-born author (1917-1967) and her husband, Reeves, a poet, lived there when they got married and moved to Charlotte in 1937, and it is, in fact, where she wrote the first chapters of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Carson’s biographer, Virginia Spencer Carr, offers a detailed description of the large, furnished flat in her excellent book, The Lonely Hunter.

v1.4

The house where Carson McCullers and her husband first rented an apartment in Charlotte is now a restaurant

The rent was too high, though, and within a few months they moved to an apartment at 806 Central Avenue, which is unfortunately no longer standing. Carr writes that Carson found that place too cold to work in and preferred to write at the Charlotte Public Library.

chearth

806 Central Avenue in Charlotte no longer exists

Carson was conflicted about her sexuality; she was enamored with several women, but likely never consummated the relationships. Her strongest ties were with gay writers and artists, and her identification with social and sexual outcasts figures prominently her fiction. “Carson has such a deep appreciation for freaks,” Auggie says to Ada in my novel.

Right now, you can get a copy of The Ada Decades at the Bywater Books website; after March 14, it will be available in paperback and e-book formats through bookstores and other online vendors.

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This week, LGBT history was ready for its close-up when the National Parks Service (NPS) of the Department of the Interior brought together 16 history scholars – myself included – for the launch of an LGBT initiative on June 10. This was a personal thrill for me, getting to hang with colleagues like pioneer gay historian John D’Emilio and to chat about same-sex marriage with the Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

June 10 LGBT roundtable at the Dept. of the Interior; photo by Gerard Koskovich

June 10 LGBT roundtable at the Dept. of the Interior; photo by Gerard Koskovich

Two immediate goals of the LGBT initiative over the next 18 months are to increase the number of LGBT site listings on the National Register of Historic Places and to nominate sites for the more rigorous National Historic Landmarks program, or to amend current designations.

Currently, we have just one landmark – the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan – and four sites on the National Register: Frank Kameny’s home in Washington, DC; the Cherry Grove Community House and Theater on Fire Island; the James Merrill House in Stonington, CT; and the Carrington House on Fire Island.

Considering the richness and breadth of LGBT history in this country, that’s far too few. And in addition, these sites are all very heavily East Coast-centric and “G.” What about the L, B and T? Where are our sites in California, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Florida, and all the other states? Who are the people and what are the events that shaped LGBT history and civil rights in the Heartland or in the Deep South? Put your thinking caps on, folks!

The confab of scholars was a call to all of us to dig in and contribute. LGBT people don’t just live in New York City and San Francisco – we are, literally, everywhere and always have been. The NPS is looking for public input and comments on the initiative, which you can give by heading over to the dedicated website for this project or emailing lgbthistory@nps.gov.

Don’t be afraid to suggest sites that you think have a place on the National Register or to bring attention to LGBT local history projects in your town or city that may be interested in contributing to this historic drive for the visibility of our heritage. Or, if you prefer, email me at queerestplace [at] gmail.com and I’ll be happy to pass your suggestions along.

Let’s take advantage of this opportunity. June 10 was a moving day and I am still on a “history high” realizing that the work queer historians have been doing for years is finally getting the spotlight and recognition it deserves.

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Today I welcome author Joan Opyr, whose novel Shaken and Stirred has just been released by Bywater Books. Shaken and Stirred is the story of Poppy Koslowski, who is trying to recover from a hysterectomy while her family has other ideas. Poppy is the one with the responsibility to pull the plug on her alcoholic grandfather in North Carolina. So she’s dragged back across the country from her rebuilt life into the bosom of a family who barely notice the old man’s imminent death. “And it’s a comedy,” remarks Joan. “Really. It’s quite funny.”

Considering that Joan Opyr’s first novel was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, this new novel should be a terrific read!

So where does her inspiration come from? Joan told me the queer writer she’d most like to sit down with for a chat is the Bard of Avon himself, William Shakespeare. Here’s Joan:

It doesn’t surprise me that the greatest writer in English, the most deeply kind, funny, and forgiving in his approach to humanity, was a bisexual.  Shakespeare was open to the world, to all that it had to offer.  And I have no time for the fruitcakes who argue that a glover’s son from Stratford could never have written such tremendous body of work.  In truth, you’d have to be a working man or a working woman to understand the broad spectrum of life.  Shakespeare was perfectly placed.  He knew people from the bottom to the top. And he knew love in all its guises.

Has Shakespeare influenced my writing?  It seems obnoxious to say yes, but it’s the truth.  You don’t have to compare yourself to Shakespeare to see that knowing his work broadens your perspective, or makes you more aware of language, and how you can use a vocabulary and an accent to sketch out a character.  Chaucer did this too, of course, but you asked for queer writers.  I like bawdy comedy.  I like slapstick and farce.  I also like the histories and the tragedies, but I’m not ready to write one of those yet.  I’ll need to be a little closer to taking the old dirt nap before I get to tragedy.

Sometimes, I think my story is about addiction and adultery. Other times, I think it’s about bad luck with the Avon lady. And not just one—one I could chalk up to chance. Two rotten Avon ladies feel more like a curse.”

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Taos, N.M.

Mabel Dodge Luhan home
240 Morada Lane

Born to a wealthy family, Mabel Ganson (1879-1962) made a name for herself in early 20th-century New York as Mabel Dodge, a patron of the arts and the host of a weekly salon at her apartment. She married four times and enjoyed numerous heterosexual affairs, but her autobiography, Intimate Memories (1932), also chronicles her early passions for women.

Dodge first saw New Mexico on a trip in 1916. She fell in love with the area, moving there in the 1920s and marrying Tony Luhan, a Pueblo Indian. They settled in this adobe home in Taos, which at that time was a dusty village with few white inhabitants. She helped promote an artists’ colony in the town, introducing artists and writers such as Georgia O’Keeffe and D.H. Lawrence to the area. The Luhans’ home is now an inn and conference center.

In 1925, while visiting Santa Fe, Willa Cather received an invitation to call on the Luhans. Taken with the beauty of the region and determined to write a novel set there, Cather accepted the offer, and she and her partner, Edith Lewis, spent two weeks with the Luhans. They stayed in the “Pink House,” which had been decorated with a drawing of a phoenix by its previous resident, D.H. Lawrence. Tony Luhan graciously acted as tour guidem driving Cather and Lewis throughout the countryside and showing them sites that would later be incorporated into Cather’s New Mexico novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop.

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