Happy Holidays?

During the holiday season, folks are supposed to be “merry and bright,” right? For many of us, that isn’t very easy.

Let’s talk about the US holiday Thanksgiving, a celebration of colonial oppression and overconsumption. For me, Thanksgiving is a mixed bag.

When I was 13, my parents announced on the Sunday after Thanksgiving that they were getting divorced. My mother had made strides to create a huge family tree for my grandmother. She had traced photos of five generations of my stepfathers’ relatives onto fabric that she then made into a quilt for my grandmother. It had taken her over a year to complete the project. It was my parents’ turn to host the family reunion, and they had chosen Thanksgiving as a way to have a one-day celebration, rather than the week-long camping trip that was a family tradition. After all of my mother’s hard work, it was very traumatizing to hear that we were being kicked to the curb. It’s hard to be thankful for a stark reminder of family trauma. [Read more…]

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Paula Aboud: An Optimistic Voice of Reason

paula aboudI live in a very conservative state. It’s a fact. Despite living in a state full of households who hang Tea Party flags on their porch, I have hope. One of the reasons that I feel like Arizona isn’t a lost cause is because we have political representatives who defy the odds by speaking out in favor of women’s reproductive justice and equality for the queer community. Former State Senator Paula Aboud is a prime example of a rainbow-flag-flying feminist role model in the middle of a sea of red.

Paula Aboud was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. She attended Tucson High School and earned a BA in English from the University of Arizona. After graduating from UA, Aboud taught English and coached volleyball and tennis coach at Rincon High School. Paula’s devotion to education and sports eventually motivated her to get involved in local politics, and she served in the Arizona Senate for six years.

Senator Aboud explains that her involvement in politics was not a conscious choice. She left teaching at Rincon High School and moved to Maine. Soon after relocating, a high school student was beaten up by his peers and thrown over a bridge. He died just because he was gay. This ignited Paula’s motivation to get involved with the gay community in Maine. The gay community decided to form a community organization that was dedicated to passing laws to protect the civil rights of lesbians, gays, bisexual, and transgender individuals. Although she wasn’t teaching anymore, Paula was still coaching sports. She realized that coaching and teaching provided an opportunity to make a difference for young people, but that she could make an even bigger difference by getting involved in local politics. [Read more…]

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Family is About Love

Toni Nielson and Bronwyn Grant NielsonJune 1st was National LGBTQ Families Day. Last week I talked about my own definitions of the word “family.” Family can be genetic, but family is also about choice. Two people who have helped me form my own definition of the word “family” are members of my chosen family, Bronwyn and Toni. I have been lucky enough to know them for sixteen years. Despite our NFL rivalry (I like the Niners, they like the Cowboys), we’ve leaned on each other for support. I love having Toni and Bronwyn in my life. I caught up with them to ask them what family, marriage, and parenthood mean to them.

How did you meet?

Bronwyn: Dixie College debate team in St. George, Utah (1997). I was the debate team president. Toni was by far our best debater, but she didn’t come to class much. Lol. Spring semester we finally recognized each other. She was so funny, sincere, genuine.

Toni: We met on the debate team. Bronwyn was the team president and I was the team’s “bad child” (assuming they even thought I was on the team). I had a habit of showing up on my own schedule, but always the week of the tournament so I could go. In the spring semester, we went to a tournament together and I got a chance to watch Bronwyn in one of her events. It was a theater piece on modeling. At the end there was a section where each person spoke about their perspective on beauty. Bronwyn said she had a complicated relationship with beauty. What she said was deep and powerful. I needed to know if it was scripted, or is these were her real thoughts. I marched up to her and asked. Once she said the thoughts were her own, I felt like I had to know her. She wasn’t the Mormon preppy president I thought she was; there was more to her. After that night, we spent a ton of time together and have ever since.

When did you get married?

B: October 8, 2000; later legally recognized July 26, 2013; legal partnership happened shortly after the wedding.

T: To add to Bronwyn’s account, we had a domestic partnership in grad school, probably around 2003. We don’t know the date because it wasn’t emotionally significant to either of us. We registered with the government because Bronwyn worked for the county and they decided to offer health insurance benefits to domestic partners. I was in grad school and needed insurance. We have been through every phase of gay marriage together. Honestly, I’m not sure what the date of the legal wedding was. The legal wedding felt like a triumph and we treated it as a celebration, but our wedding was on October 8, 2000. [Read more…]

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What Does Family Mean?

It’s National LGBTQ Families Day, and I thought I would share my own experience of coming out and finding my “chosen-family” as part of that celebration. I am a dyke. I came out in the Fall of 1998. I had questioned my gender and sexuality throughout adolescence. The murder of Matthew Sheppard was the final nudge out of the closet. I transferred from Brigham Young University to Arizona State University in 1999, shaved my head and started wearing khakis. I registered for my first Women’s Studies class, stopped shaving my legs, discovered Ani DiFranco, and explored defining my identity as a lesbian. I became very estranged from my birth family and started to forge strong relationships with my friends. I met my soulmate and helped him navigate the pathways out of the closet. One of my professors and her partner became my chosen moms. People from the college debate community were like cousins/siblings. We helped each other deal with emotional and financial challenges. We served as role models and confidants to each other. I realized that biology doesn’t dictate who we are or who we can become in this life – everything is open for interpretation(s). I learned that love is not limited to a single definition. I learned that even damaged relationships can be repaired. After nearly two decades of deconstruction and reconstruction, I still embrace the militant dyke label. I’ve also come to realize that it’s OK to embrace traditional ideas of what family means as long as we remain open to alternative definitions.

To me, family is about love and support. It is about embracing our flaws and celebrating out strengths. It’s about finding joy in the little things, like listening to a two-year-old nephew sing cartoon theme songs, or brushing a four-year-old niece’s hair. It’s watching your partner’s eyes light up when he’s around his fairy godchild, or hearing him roar like a lion with his nephew. It’s watching football with your chosen moms, and playing Magic with your lezbros. It’s about taking someone to chemo, or scrubbing a friend’s toilet when they’re unable. Family can be genetic, but family is also about choice. I choose the people I want to share my love with, and I focus my intentions on building positive relationships. Love manifests itself in many ways, and I am grateful for all of the love in my life.

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Feminist Conversations: An Interview With Lesbian Icon Ann Bannon

Ann Bannon, in my opinion, is the queen of lesbian pulp fiction. Her books in the Beebo Brinker series served as a roadmap for many lesbians in the 1950s and 1960s. I was introduced to Bannon’s work in a Women’s Studies class at ASU. Bannon’s novels helped me navigate my own coming out process. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I was given the opportunity to interview her.

1. What was your initial inspiration for writing the Beebo Brinker novels?
I began by falling in “fascination” with the first original lesbian pulp novel, Spring Fire, by Vin Packer. It’s a story of two young women who meet in their college sorority house and fall in love—not a terribly original premise these days, but a dangerous and thrilling one then. The consequences of being outed in the 1950s were appalling, and I had been close enough to a similar disaster in my own sorority to empathize with the girls in Packer’s novel. I knew I wanted to write, and it turned out that this little pulp paperback I had found on a newsstand shelf was the creative trigger. [Read more…]

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Stone Butches and Lipstick Lesbians: Gender Role Construction in the Works of Ann Bannon

Before the days of Facebook and Twitter, lesbians were largely confined to meeting in bars or in secret, and they had few sources to link them to a broader community. Logging onto the Internet these days, one can literally find thousands of websites and social media groups dedicated to helping lesbians from across the country and around the globe forge a sense of virtual community.

Although we live in an age of hashtags and electronic tablets, many of us still read bound stacks of paper called books. Lesbian pulp fiction still has meaning for both young queers who are just coming out of the closet, as well as with lesbians from an older generation. What is it about these dated stories that both younger lesbians and those who made the journey to Stonewall find compelling?

One explanation is that younger lesbians are turning to these artifacts of the 1940s and 1950s to gain a sense of a separate lesbian history. In particular, what these books teach us about the construction of gender roles within lesbian relationships is a key component in that history. One of the most pervasive questions that helps one to identify her place within the lesbian community is “are you butch or femme?” Although these gender roles are hotly contested (some say they don’t even exist), it is my contention that they still serve an important function for lesbians of all walks of life. Lesbian pulp, then, is a means of tracing the development of butch/femme roles that is difficult to find outside of oral histories. [Read more…]

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