I had lunch yesterday with a friend from Topeka, KS and her partner, who was in the area. Cherl and I have been friends since I was 18 years old. I came out as a lesbian when I was 16 and heard about a group called TLC--the Topeka Lesbian Community. I knew they met weekly and I would often drive by the nights they held their meetings and longingly wish I could go inside, but I figured it was for adults only. So the week I turned 18 I showed up and attended every meeting until I joined the USAF. Cherl and I talked about those days...how it was a special time to be a lesbian in the late '70s in Topeka, KS. We all wore flannel shirts and jeans, most had short-cropped hair (not me..I was too chicken to get my hair cut at the time and had it styled the way it had been for years...shoulder length and bangs feathered back). There was a sense of radicalism in being a lesbian then... alternative insemination was virtually unheard of, marriage not even on the radar. There were no social networks outside of the TLC and The Lambda (the one bar in town, seedy, run-down with exotic drag shows on Friday nights). Feminism and women's rights, pro-choice were all big deals back then and we members of the TLC did our part. There were no vehicles with rainbow bumper stickers. There were no "out" singers or entertainers (although everyone assumed Liberace was gay) and women's music was shared with the lesbian community via a small record company called Olivia. Singers like Cris Williamson and Meg Christian, Tret Fure and Deirdre McCalla, Teresa Trull and the Berkeley Women's Music Collectice would travel across the country playing on college campuses and in small venues. The Changer and the Changed by Cris Williamson was the largest grossing album by Olivia, having sold more than 100,000 copies... in 10 years. AIDS was a gathering storm of which we were ignorant. Everyone smoked.
It was a magical time and a historic time, too, I think. We were on the verge of something big, we felt and yet we were also a small enclave of women who came together to create community. I remember those days like a crisp autumn season, the air brisk , the colors vibrant, both life and death crackling in the trees of possibilities.It made me reflect on my life's journey since then, the autumns I've lived through, the lives and deaths I've experienced, the many changes I've undergone.
In some ways I've come so far from that 16, 17, 18 year old girl I was back then and yet, in other ways, I am still her. She is still me, radical and bold, timid and tentative, longing to change the world and striving to find her place in it. I feel a little sorry for those coming out as lesbian or gay today, whisking off to California or Massachusetts to get married, considering children in their future as a matter of right, not as battles to be won. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad for these opportunities (and have certainly availed myself of alternative insemination to my ever-lasting joy). I'm glad for youth support groups and services and for laws on the dockets in states and cities and companies providing protection for LGBT employees. I'm glad Melissa came out, and the Indigo Girls and Greg Louganis. It would have been great if all that had taken place when I was 16, wearing a t-shirt to high school proclaiming "How Dare You Assume I'm Heterosexual!" But I gained something in those lean years when the only affirmation we had was given by one another, when the only role models were the ones we were creating. It was a sisterhood, a family, it truly was a community of TLC-- tender, loving care.
As we left the restaurant, Cherl hugged me, and said, a little sheepishly, "I don't know if I ever told you, but I had the biggest crush on you in those days." I laughed, remembering how much in awe I was of the women in the TLC when I first joined. They were all at least 9 years older than me and I thought them so wise and powerful and wonderful. "That's funny," I said. "I had crushes on all of you."