Friday, June 27, 2014

Dancing with Stella

“Well you can try to keep it down
Try not to let the words come out
But I tell you it’s no use
In your eyes they see right through.”
    “Dance Song ’97,” Sleater-Kinney
Appearing in “Bodies of Evidence: The Practice of Queer Oral History” is Marcia M. Gallo’s “Dancing with Stella: Los Angeles Daughters of Bilitis Pioneer.” Stella Rush (above) met the love of her life, Helen Sandoz, in 1957 when she was 32 years old, at a meeting of ONE: The Homosexual Viewpoint, a magazine Stella wrote for under the pseudonym Sten Russell.  Shortly thereafter she and Sandoz co-founded the L.A. chapter of Daughters of Bilitis.   Describing her oral history methodology, Gallo asserted that creating space for intimacy was an imperative “when encouraging narrators to share deeply felt, and often closely guarded, erotic and emotional secrets.”  Though Rush was a generation older, Gallo wrote that they were both open lesbians and “had a sisterhood of sorts, tinged by sensuality.”  Given those pronouncements and the intimate  implication of the word “Dancing,” I was disappointed that Gallo seemed to shy away from matters of sex, at least in what she published, even though Stella seemed willing from their very first interview, when she described going to the gay bar If:

Rush: I lasted a day as a femme and about three days as a butch –
Gallo: How about mixing butch and femme?
Rush: No, that’s ki-ki.  And that was a no-no.  I was potentially bisexual if I wanted to go that route – I liked the freedom – and it was a big deal about how you made love, who did what.
Gallo (after Rush asks about a list of questions): Maybe this is a good time to stop.

Gallo never again (at least on tape) asked about “who did what” during sex between Rush and her partners – no queries about orifices penetrated (and whose) or sex toys used.

In a chapter titled “Talking about Sex” editor Nan Alamilla Boyd concludes that men are generally much more willing, even eager, to go into specific detail about their sexual pleasures.  Contributor Jason Ruiz concurred, writing, “Silences persist around female-female sexuality.”  This may be due in part to the reluctance of white middle-class feminist interviewers to probe into matters of butch-femme role-playing that perhaps they frown upon or that make them uncomfortable.  As Dorothy Allison and Carmen Vazquez told Kelly Anderson in a 2007 interview:

Allison: I lived in a lesbian collective.  I was sleeping with a number of women in the collective, and it was okay.  Mostly, I was fucking them because it just didn’t work for them.  To do me, you have to have sincerity.  You know what I mean?
Vazquez: I do. [laughs]
Allison: But they did not know what I was talking about.  So I would leave the collective and go to the pool hall and find sincerity, bring her home and – I was dating across color because I found a better quality butch girl. [laughs]  At least for a time.  Because there was such a huge emphasis on androgyny among white lesbians, it became so asexual to me.  And let’s be clear, not much talent.  Because it’s my opinion that the secret to good sex is a willingness to be humiliated, and that means taking some risks.  And they were all so hesitant and tentative, and that doesn’t work.
Vazquez: They all talked about, why you are a lesbian is because it was safe.
Allison: For some of them, yeah.
Vazquez: Well, girl, that is not what sex is about.

The U.S. lost its World Cup match with Germany, 1-0, but lucked out when Cristiano Ronaldo scored a winning goal against Ghana, enabling the Americans to finish runner-up in the “Group of Death” and advance to the 16-team knock-out tournament phase.  Only the spectacular play of goalkeeper Tim Howard kept a far better team from routing America.

In “As I Knew Them” Indiana Republican James Watson (1864-1928) bragged about outsmarting Democrats.  After hearing complaints about House Speaker Joseph Cannon’s dictatorial power, Watson convinced “Uncle Joe” to allow minority leaders to make committee assignments for their party.  It led to acrimony and divisions within Democratic ranks.  To lure former Civil War general Lew Wallace back in the fold during a tough race, Watson secretly arranged for racist Senator “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman to speak in Wallace’s hometown of Crawfordsville, Indiana.  After Tillman railed against Sherman’s “March through Georgia” and African Americans being allowed to vote, Wallace actively campaigned for the Republican ticket.

The Supreme Court unanimously struck down a Massachusetts law that created 35-foot buffer zones around entrances to abortion clinics to prevent anti-abortion foes from browbeating patients.  Prior to the 2007 measure, protestors could stand shoulder to shoulder in clinic doorways, screaming at people attempting to squeeze through.  Political parties have employed “Free Speech” buffer zones at political conventions, citing the need for public safety.  Recently, skittish IUN administrators used the tactic to discourage a demonstration protesting Anne Balay being unjustly terminated.  One wonders if Chief Justice John Roberts, who hails from LaPorte, IN, and wrote the decision, will defend free speech as vigorously to protect minorities.

Jay and Linda Keck sent me a dozen Vietnam photos, one showing the marine the marine private receiving a Purple Heart, to add to Jay’s Archives collection, which includes several volumes of poetry. Jay wrote: “They say that history repeats itself, but when it comes to war I wish it wouldn’t.  A war like that [in Vietnam] is enough for eternity.  Semper Fi and God Bless, PFC Jay Keck, USMC”
Steve White sent me information about Floyd Theus, who in 1960 as a Roosevelt sophomore set a state record in the 440 dash and anchored a mile relay team, coming from behind to capture the Indiana state title.  He went on to the Univestity of Wisconsin and a 50-year career with Johnson Wax.

At Senior College Closing Ceremony I hugged Pat Taylor, who working at IUN in Duplicating for 40 years until the university phased out her job.  A man introduced himself as Authur Thompson, and I immediately recognized him as one of my very first students.  He recently retired after teaching in the Hammond school system for 41 years.  He said, “I know your son.”  Dave student taught under him at Hammond Eggers, and Author recalled that Dave played the guitar for students.  In Steel Shavings, volume 2 (1976), entitled “Families of the Calumet Region” is Thompson’s article on Robert and Lula Vaughn.  In 1919 Robert moved to East Chicago from Crawford, Alabama, stayed with a sister and brother-in-law, found work in a steel mill, and then brought his sweetheart Lula Harris up north to be his wife.  He worked many years for International Lead Co., and Lula raised seven children and worked as a seamstress.  Thompson wrote:
“Mrs. Henrietta Goodman, a former school teacher in the South, started a recreation Center for blacks in which the Vaughns took part.  Mrs. Goodman organized softball teams and pressured the city into laying aside a park for blacks.  Mrs. Vaughn also helped make dresses for needy school children from fabrics obtained free from merchants.  She and Mrs. Goodman acquired other factory-made articles for distribution.  She saved her family many dollars because of her skill as a seamstress.”

Arriving in the mail was the new Indiana Magazine of History with two articles I critiqued and highly recommended, John Fraire’s “Mexicans Playing Baseball in Indiana Harbor, 1925-1942” and John Hmurovic’s “The Battle of Mineral Springs.”  As the succinct titles might suggest, both are free of scholarly jargon and extremely interesting.  I’m amazed at how much research Hmurovic did comparing Governor Thomas Marshall’s heavy-handed tactics against horseracing in Porter, Indiana, in 1912, compared to his tolerating gambling at French Lick resort, whose owner Tom Taggart was a power within the state Democratic Party.
 Mike Brown marries Adam White (with baby) and Eric Evans

For one day Indiana authorities issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples after District Judge Richard Young ruled that a state law prohibiting such unions was unconstitutional.  Then killjoy state Attorney General Greg Zoeller obtained a court order from a circuit court putting that order on hold.  Lake County recorder Mike Brown, who called Zoeller’s action “disheartening,” stated:  “I witnessed the first gay marriage in Lake County and it was a beautiful thing.  The room was full of love.  It was a happy place.”  Referring to those celebrating the stay, Brown wondered: “What joy do you get out of this?”

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