I wanted to include this interview I did with two lesbians in their 60s and 70s for several reasons. First, because I found it really useful for my project, and second, because I found it to be a really enriching and powerful experience for me personally. I realized after doing this interview that I had never in my life spoken to any queer women over the age of about 50 or so, and that this was something I was really missing in my life. So I have included this interview here in its entirety for you to peruse at your leisure. It’s fairly long (the interview was over 16 minutes), so I have bolded the parts that I found most interesting.
Interview 7: Participants: A (72), B (62), both white.
A: You realize we are generationally, way back.
Me: Well I’m interested to, I’m interested to know the, like – do you think, what do you think is different about the current kind of state of like queer community from maybe when you were younger?
A: We were talking about that earlier actually. Well, we were saying that, um, there seems to be a difference in the cohesiveness of the queer community now as opposed to what it was back when we were coming out. And uh, When we were coming out as lesbian separatists, lesbian feminists, um, places to be were safe spaces were safe spaces for women only. And now its just kind of all of that has disappeared. People don’t want to identify as separatists of feminists or even lesbians. So, that is very different for us. And also all of the places that were safe spaces just don’t exist anymore.
Me: I’ve never actually been to a lesbian bar because I never can find them.
A: They were nice.
B: Yeah I think for me, you know, coming out, it really was impacted in the 70s just with the feminist movement, you know, that was really important, and the empowerment of women, so it was like the empowerment of gay women, lesbians, and I actually like that every generation has to find its own identifying charms and just define for themselves what they think is most important. There’s just a lot of things that just don’t resonate the same way because we have different experiences, you know. But I think now I like the term queer for like an umbrella term, um but I think um, now because I think there is more acceptance in the dominant culture, than when we were coming up, when we were coming up it was just be to gay or just to come out was really really hard. I think now its a little, of course its its own journey for every individual, but there’s a lot more acceptance of ti and there’s a lot more examples of having made that journey and being public with it so that thats easier. Now it seems that, we’re talking in one of the intermissions, that people are now identifying even more specifically than like if their aromantic or asexual or the different nuances where you know its like say like when we were coming up we might say like we’re lesbians, and you know, we wouldn’t look for an identifier that will then specifically say what level of our sexual relationship were in in that moment. You know I’m a celibate lesbian, or I’m a lesbian or you know that type of thing. It seemed more general. But I think as you go through different generations than its like what becomes the issue that’s getting the most pushback from the dominant culture might be what is more important to put energy behind so that that identity can be validated. I don’t know if that makes sense.
Me: Yeah, that makes sense.
B: Even compared to last year I just noticed there was some themes that came up. Oh, one was, well I went to one of the panels, and this struck me as being interesting but I wasn’t really aware of it. People really talking about mental health issues in LGBTQ community, and the fact that maybe having mental health issues is itself an identity and that people were having trouble of letting go of that and its okay to get, if you’re on the journey of getting healthier, these were some of the psychologists talking about that that its actually okay to get healthy, but some people found that that meant letting go of a certain identity. Okay, so that was interesting.
A: Very much like uh, deaf people won’t get cochlear implants because they don’t want to lose that identity of being a deaf person. So it’s very interesting.
B: And for me generationally, that’s not something that, I mean I think its great for people to uh, address mental health issues, I think everyone should, but I never saw that as a specific thing in the LGBT community, or that that was an identity.
A: Well, yeah, there were other issues. Mostly it was alcoholism and drug use. You know, so.
B: So the depression was at the time, and suicidal ideation and yeah. Um.
A: And we were, when we came out every time we marched or did anything in public, we didn’t; know if we were gonna, it was life threatening to march, or to come out, it was job threatening always to come out, and families were actually, you know, they were disowning children, and throwing them out on the streets, so it was, we came out at a very difficult era, and uh, so when we finally fought to get our identity as lesbians, it was really mind boggling how that changed your whole life and how it changed how you felt about everything and yourself, so it was very, like i said it was life changing to be coming out. So. And even things like relationships, you know. Relationships didn’t last for more than six months or a year, on one hand, and on the other hand there were 20 or 30 year relationships. So it was like there was always this dichotomy. There was always this kind of, these forces, kind of working against each other. Do we wanna be in monogamous relationships or not, and so it was, there were a lot of things that had made the evolution of quere community what it is. You know, so.
B: So what’s important for you to know? Or, specifics, or stories, or what are you looking for in this interview?
Me: Um, I mean what you’ve said is great I would also love to hear um if there when you were coming out if there was anything to similar to like the fandom we see today like people coming together around particular music, movies.
B: In the 70s the women’s music, the independent women’s music was like a big deal. A really big deal.
A: Kriss Williamson, Alex Dobkinn, Meg Christian. All these women who wrote and sang lyrics that spoke to other women were really the focus of our, you know, of our, the arts scene.
B: And yeah so for the women’s coming together and see all the other women there, and the big, uh, hugs that took place. The 20 second hugs. I mean that was representation that you know yeah, we can love each other and it the momentary taking over a public space like a concert hall or something like that just was very empowering like were here and we’re able to have a space of our own. That was cool. And actually, we actually described to friends that when we’re going to ClexaCon, we said it’s kind of like the Michigan Womyn’s music festival without the music. You know, so this is kind of taken a place because we don’t have that as much anymore. Yeah, and so.
A: We don’t have the women’s concerts and women’s music and you know, the uh, the music that you can go out and buy and play at home and love, you know, and play over and over and over again because it spoke to you. It’s really different now. And that was the extent of fandom, we didn’t have movies, we didn’t have movies we didn’t have TV shows.
B: But we did have, we did have public forums though there were a lot more discussion groups. There was like a lesbian feminist liberation that you know put on on like Sundays, women getting together to talk about topics or like politics, or that type of thing. So that’s not really fandom, that was like a different thing. But at least that gave people the opportunity to come together and discuss things that was important in their life.
A: And politics was really important.
B: So what are you gonna do with this research is this qualitative, or is it quantitative are you gonna count the number of times we use the word queer as oppsoed to the times we use lesbian?
Me: No, no [laughs] Just qualitative, I mean I mostly just wanna hear people’s experiences and how they understand like queer community and queer fandom and identity and those types of things.
B: I was very impressed though with the um the you know recently with you know recently with the popular shows where lesbians were getting killed off, and then you know, and then you know ‘lesbian fans deserve better’ you know came out of that. and you know, I thought that was great. I think that type of response is empowering and uh, that’s great.
A: Yeah, because lesbians always die. No matter what, if it’s a movie, whatever it was. If it was a book or a movie, they always die. That was it. They weren’t allowed to be happy. In a relationship and be happy. So um, that’s big change and that’s good.
B: Yeah, what did we get to see, The Killing of Sister George, The Children’s Hour. You know, the group with Mary McCarthy. Really old movies. But and you know, the negative outcomes, or just side plots.
A: Yeah, we always died. We always died or went crazy, you know. It was never a good end for a lesbian, or even gay guys. Gay guys had, uh, quite a hard time too. They were always dying off.
B: This is different type of fandom but I do think like in the 70s just like women’s literaeture and the writers you know, books, and poetry, were a big, that was very liberating, the lesbian poets that came out of that era, were some of the first to write about the emotions and the feelings.
A: Women’s bookstores were founded all over the country. I mean, they were so popular, cafes, um, women’s coffee houses were very popular for a long time. And so, that’s where you found artists and performers and the fandom gathered there in those little conclaves. And not so much in these big conventions. Just in the coffee houses and in a school auditorium or a church auditorium. Something like that. So it was smaller but very tight knit community.
B: Very intimate, yeah.
Me: Why do you think those kind of spaces have disappeared mostly?
B: Some of it is because some of the stuff has been absorbed into the more mainstream culture, so you know, at one point you couldnt find womens books or lesbian books in any place except the womens bookstore, and you know, then barnes and noble started a section, and you know you could just find it there. So it was just as a business model things just come and go.
[I ask their ages – 72 and 62]
A: And just for the record we’ve been a couple for 40 years.
B: This is our 40th year, yeah.
Me: Wow, that’s amazing.
A: We are married, but, now, but, we had to do that, twice. Cuz the first time they, we live in Oregon, and the first time they passed the law that we could get married…
B: The first time they gave out licenses but then it was struck down
A: Yeah we got married, we got a license, we gave them a check for the license, we got married, and then they returned the check two months later.
B: Yeah, it was, yeah. So they just, Multnomah county, which is where Portland is, they started, they sent, there’s no reason why you know same sex couples cant get married, so therefore we have to give marriage licenses out. So they started doing it, 3,000 people got them and got married, and then the state put a stop to it.
A: And amended the state constitution.
B: Well first they said that the state supreme court would have to rule on it, whether the county had the right to do it. And they ended up ruling that they didn’t. That it was a statewide decision. And in the interum there was a big backlash, and so the voters voted and they voted to amend the constitution to disalow marriage for same sex couples but only after the federal Windsor case. Then everyone had to switch it.
A: Then everyone had a switchback, so we had to get married again.
Me: That’s crazy.
A: All of that ridiculous stuff goes on. It’s kind of all meant to wear you down. You know.
B: I just saw an article I don’t know a week ago, saying that um, um, fitness, gyms, LGBTQ gyms are datking the place of uh, like lesbian bars. There are no more lesbian bars. But it’s more like a niche market. I think there should be something thought that, we were just talking about how each generation, we want younger people to just go out just have their fun with young people. That’s great. But if you’re working on a project or you’re doing something where you see each other like once a week, you develop friendships even across generations, you know. And we kinda missed that, because it’s just less of a structure to provide for that. We had a queer center, in uh, Portland. But it just doesn’t really, I don’t know, It just doesn’t seem to have programs or whatever that seems to um, provide for regular attendance.
A: And we were also talking about earlier today that we have uh, we have more interaction with young straight women than we do with young queer women. And I really kind of, I don’t understand that. Because you think they’d be, we’d have more in common, but it doesn’t seem to be that way. Young straight women are more interested in socializing with us than queer women are.
B: Because I don’t think…because the friends that we’ve made that happened to be straight you know, the community that we’re each a part of isn’t the basis of our friendship. We’re finding other commonalities. But young queer women. I understand, they wanna kind of be hanging out with age appropriate people, maybe potential partners or whatever. The energy that they’re into. But finding the commonality isn’t as easy.
Me: That’s very interesting. Yeah. That’s so helpful, thank you for talking to me.