By Jane Fishman
It’s June, the month to be proud. The month to be loud. Have you noticed? Facebook pages, Instagram posts. Gay men, gay women, parents (proud) with their gay children. The message is clear. We’re here, we’re queer. And you thought “coming out” post-Covid meant leaving your house, leaving your kitchen?
The last time I sat up and took notice to this degree was during the Gay and Lesbian Parade on April 25, 1993, not just because I got to ride the steep Metro escalator with my gay brothers and sisters also heading to the March in Washington D.C.–and before that to ride Amtrak from Savannah with hordes of people I suspected might be going as well (gaydar is real)– but because of who I saw on the sidelines cheering us on: straight middle-aged people (oh so straight) from Nebraska, Kansas and Vermont. They wore nametags that said that. They were proud (that word again) and loud members of PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. I cried when I saw them. And I cried again. The tears just gushed up. It was almost embarrassing. They were so earnest. Their dignity and passion touched me. There was a time they wouldn’t have been there. There was a time I wouldn’t have been there.
Does that group still exist? I’m thinking no. Maybe, God bless them, they are no longer needed. I hope they get the recognition they deserve.
All of this, you understand, was way before Schitt’s Creek, which has put a very different spin on same-sex relationships.
This out-and-about thing is real. And, I’m embarrassed to say, it still surprises me. Metaphorically I sometimes look over my shoulder to see if anyone else is seeing what I’m seeing.
A few years ago, when I was walking my dog and I ran into two young women under 30 who had rented a house on our block. I asked one of them, “What brings you to Savannah?”
“My wife is the new manager of Marc Jacobs,” she answered without hesitating. “We moved from New York.”
I repeated it to myself. My wife. Not something I heard every day.
Back in 1993, after the Year of the Queer celebration, when the train south to Savannah was delayed, I was late for work. When I showed up to the newsroom, my editor, a sharp woman I kayaked with once, who knew I had been in Washington, D.C., looked at me, kind of winked in a conspiratorial way and said, “I know where you were.”
“Really?” I said, curious at her demeanor. “Where?”
“You went to the opening of the Holocaust Memorial Museum.”
She stumped me. I was speechless. Why would I keep that a secret? In fact I didn’t even know about that opening. But I said nothing. I did not correct her. Here I am, a woman in my 40s, in my first newspaper job, my fourth year in the features department with several girlfriends and crushes in my past, and my sexuality had never come up. We did not take any chances with the straight world back then. We had our secret club that only select people got to be in and we kept it to ourselves. There was no “pride” then. Fun? Yes. In retrospect, if it wasn’t homophobic, it was, well, closety. But mostly we didn’t care.
We found each other. We searched between the lines in the works of Virginia Woolf for clues. We were in it but we needed more information about this world. We discovered Rita Mae Brown. Another member of the team! We reveled in Martina Navratilova, especially when she hooked up with Rita Mae Brown (and Nancy Lieberman, then a high-level basketball player). In 1981, we squirmed for months when love letters between Billie Jean King and her female secretary became public in what was to become an ugly lawsuit, especially since King was still married to her husband, Larry, and her brother, Randy Moffit, was a Major League Baseball player.
That was the time I was playing in a weekly mixed doubles tennis game with three heterosexual couples and some random guy we’d find for me every year, only to discover two of the women (both good friends of mine) had been having an affair for years until their husbands found out and “forbade” the relationship to continue. One woman acquiesced and stayed in the marriage, the other left.
The pain. The shock. The tears. How did I not know?
It seems like yesterday.
I still wonder about myself and my self-respect. After Carmela and I got married, she started wearing a lovely ring that had been my mom’s that I knew I would never wear. Too fancy. Too many diamonds. Not my style. But I needed a ring. I had no choice. I put on my big girl pants and with Carmela walked into a downtown jewelry store and announced I wanted to buy a gold wedding band.
No problem. Commerce doesn’t comment. But I was never comfortable wearing that band. In the car a few weeks later I Iooked at my hand and shook my head. Finally I decided it was just too heteronormative, too much like that other world. (For the record I have never used that word in the life.) I had a brainstorm. I switched hands. Now the ring is on my right hand. Immediately it felt better, it felt right.
At least that’s what I tell myself, along with “Hey, it’s European!” In my gut I know I have a ways to go. But I do love to say, “We’re here. We’re queer.” I say it whenever I can. That’s a start.
Jane Fishman’s got a great life in Savannah. She gets to grow garlic, write newspaper columns in the Savannah Morning News about any wacko she can find (and get paid for it), publish books (her latest: I’d Rather Be Seen Than Viewed, a collection of her columns; preceded by So What’s the Hurry? Tales From the Train ; I Grew it My Way, How Not to Garden; The Dirt on Jane; and The Woman Who Saved an Island, the Story of Sandy West and Ossabaw Island), listen in on conversations with her two grandchildren, Baker and Benny, while going on morning nature walks as they debate which is better, living in the country or the city (“I like both habitats,” says 7-year-old Benny). Fishman owned a laundromat in Eureka Springs, Ark., cooked in a French restaurant in Key West, won a bunch of journalism awards in Savannah for humorous and serious columns. When she lived in Chicago and worked at WTTW public television, she met Fran of Kukla, Fran and Ollie and watched Abbie Hoffman rant at the trial of the Chicago 7. Fishman grew up in Detroit (Huntington Woods, really), where she never owned a car. She was the sports editor of her high school newspaper (The Acorn) at Royal Oak Dondero. This is her first wedding.