Seasonal Salon

Silver Threads

Sometimes, sweet treasures pop up in my memory.  Here’s one from today:

In about 1977ish, I went with my girlfriend and two other women to a gay rights conference in Bloomington, Indiana. .  It might well have been the first such conference in Indiana.

 It was terrifying for me. My divorce wasn’t final, and I was afraid I’d lose custody of my beloved sons if someone took my picture or the wrong person saw me.  Of course, I had no idea who that person might be. Nevertheless, as a precaution,  I wore a raincoat with a big collar that I could turn up to hide my face and a broad-brimmed hat to pull down.

 The first panel discussion featured the local chief of police, a clergyman, an attorney, and Phyllis Lyon. Phyllis and Del Martin wrote Lesbian/Woman. Reading that  book had actually prevented me from taking my own life suicide and had begun to ease the internalized homophobia that had driven me to such desperation. In that conference session we heard  presentations on how to educate law enforcement officials, and how to enact local ordinances. We heard about the true meaning of biblical passages that were being used – in error – as justifications for religious intolerance.

And then Phyllis spoke. The only thing I remember her saying is, “You must speak up for the lesbian mothers and protect them. They can’t speak up for themselves without losing their kids.” I began to cry. With my hand over my mouth and my body curled into a fetal positon on my chair, I sobbed and sobbed. I couldn’t stop even though I was determined not to be a distraction to those around me. I had a hard time breathing. With one compassionate sentence, Phyllis Lyon had touched my deepest fears, my new-found lesbian self, and my hope for justice all at the same time. Only after the room emptied was I able to pull myself together. I could barely say thank you to her as we left.

Out in the lobby, we met up with one of the few other women at the conference, who was also from Indianapolis. We agreed we needed to get together so we hatched a plan for – what else? – a potluck. At the first gathering, about 10 women came. Three potlucks later, there were 40 or  50. Forty years later, the potlucks continue to be a monthly event.

Through the years, I longed to say thank you to Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin for their work. Their writing and their example taught me to live with the expectation that I be treated with respect, to keep my head up no matter what. I quoted them to young women who were coming out, to lesbians who were struggling, to feminist professors, to other artists working for social justice. I hope I carry on some of their work. My life purpose now is to empower other women, especially lesbians, in whatever ways I can.

Sometime in the late 1980’s, my college friend, Pat Jordan, wanted to introduce me to her aunts. We were at the National Women’s Music Festival and I was performing or emceeing and was quite busy. But it was Pat, so I agreed. She walked me into the cafeteria and there were her aunts: Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon! “They are your aunts?” I might have shouted. “Well, yeah,” said Pat. “Come and meet them.” I did my best to express my gratitude and they were, of course, gracious and welcoming. Only later did it strike me how far I’d come from hiding in the raincoat and broad-brimmed hat and how many friends and teachers have carried me on my journey.

Blessed Be the foremothers.

 

Nan Brooks is a retired ordained priestess of RCG-I with over 40 years’ experience as a ritualist and educator in women’s spirituality. Among her published works are “The Circle of Ritual and Theatre” in Stepping Into Ourselves: an Anthology of Writings on Priestesses and  Ceremonies for Our Lives: A Ritualmaking Workbook for Women. Nan cherishes her memories of working alongside and learning from leaders of the early women’s spirituality movement. She has taught intensives and workshops and led rituals at festivals, conferences, and universities across the U.S.  Nan is a co-founder of WomanShine Theatre, a company that integrated the collaborative theatre arts and women’s spirituality. Her life mission is to empower women.

 

Category: Fall Equinox 2017