Monday, August 21, 2006

Lesbian power at its best

By Guest Columnist Genet


Over the weekend, I had the good fortune of attending a lesbian business event. Several organizations joined together for networking, a pool party, and conversation.

We had over 50 women attend from women's studies professors to lawyers to financial planners to real estate investors. Clearly, the lesbian world is gaining in economic power, and I'm pleased with this state of affairs.

But what we now have to watch out for is the big picture. When women's liberation hit in the '60s and '70s, we had passion, we had protests, and we changed laws. When I look back on these events, I find myself reflecting on all the lesbian feminist activists I once knew. Almost every one of those women is no longer doing anything for the movement. They have all dropped out to raise children, rescue bunnies (I'm not kidding), or they seem dead to the world or dead literally. Alcoholism has hit older lesbians hard!

When one of my old international feminist buddies called out of the blue the other day, I was worried. At 73, Gretchen is still going strong, still a lesbian cheerleader, and now with a new companion of six years. She sounded great, but ten years ago she was on the verge of poverty, and times were very hard for her. Gretchen was a very special mentor to me when I was in my 20s and she was in her 40s. She was one of the first lesbian Christians I had ever met, and I believe her strong faith has truly helped her. She was the first lesbian AA member I had ever met. I liked knowing she still had passion for the lesbian cause, but others of our tribe have gone elsewhere.

So when I went to the big lesbian networking event over the weekend, I was impressed with the wealth and power in the room. Yahoo, I loved to see lesbians buying million dollar homes, and displaying beautiful artwork. I loved to see success in the material form. It was a time to celebrate.

But I wondered, would we divide into classes? Would we forget that we had work to do changing the world?

I looked at the two hapless women's studies professors at this event, and I asked them if they were engaging the financial world and the world of business in their critical studies classes. They seemed stunned at my commentary. They had fought the good fight, to preserve lesbian culture within the academy, but they remained isolated from the world of real estate brokers, attorneys and financial people that were so well represented at this event. I had the feeling that they were disturbed that I knew as much about their women's studies and history department as I did about finance and real estate. I consider lesbian feminist theory instrumental in my approach to business, for example. It bothers me that women's studies and finance is separate.

It is crucial for us to move in all worlds, and it is our duty as lesbians to encourage and "uplift the race." I've long admired African-Americans for doing this. I've long respected all ethnic groups who advance in America.

When I looked around that mansion, I saw incredible artwork from Asia, beautiful colors, and no one in the room was smoking. Most women were drinking healthy bottled water. They seemed fit, and not once did I experience a woman who "pulled a lesbian" -- overreacted to a social comment out of proportion to the actual situation. I'm not southern, but manners are important to me. I believe in old-fashioned charm, and I don't like it when women use vulgar words. They were a polite group, and that made me look off into the hills, and comment dreamily, "Rudolph Valentino's ghost is smiling at us." I often say these romantic things in conversation, but this commentary can be disturbing to lesbians. We are not a romantic species these days, and the women I spoke these words to didn't even know that Valentino was gay. Oy vey! But overall, it was the first time I had ever seen that kind of social adeptness among such a large group of lesbians. Everyone was being a best self that day, and I greatly enjoyed this. It was impressive.

The trouble with success is that it can seduce you, or it can isolate you from your sisters worldwide. Wealth is not significant unless it can be passed on and shared. I want us all to succeed. I want us all to use this wealth not only for lesbian disaster relief, but to be the lesbian Intelligentsia, the lesbian Medici, the lesbian patrons of art. Our community has fundraisers, but again, it's about battered women or breast cancer or disaster relief. Plenty of agencies are doing disaster relief, but romantic me is interested in funding the arts, in building the shining city on a hill.

Our success can enhance beauty, and literally give us a view from the mansion on the hill. We need to achieve and dream big, and then complete the lesbian revolution in the process. We need to continue to name patriarchy as worldwide enemy number one, just as racism is continually attacked.

I am concerned that older women aren't mentoring younger women. I see the difficulty in social class and cross-class interaction. The women who led the feminist revolution are now in their 70s. They didn't take over the government the way Jefferson, Washington and company did, and maybe therein lies the contradiction. The women who brought us workplace parity, were not the same people who rose in the corporations. So the corporate lesbians didn't really see the connection to rising in a system, and changing the system.

If I have any role at all in the world, it is to encourage and uplift the lesbian race, to demand that sexism be as serious a matter as racism, and to encourage lesbians to support our artists. Art is important, because art is the visionary engine of uplift and inspiration. When I have art, I can make leaps of brilliance in my own field, and I can move beyond tepid "theology" to something more radical in seeing lesbian moral agency in the world.

There was real beauty in the Spanish revival home, there was sunshine coming through the trees late in the afternoon, and a beautiful Indian Buddha sat serenely across from a pool table in the front room. I could only smile, and know that I was on the right track, and that lesbians really are gaining economic power. But we will need our artists and visionaries even more than ever! We will need to resist the temptation to be Mary Cheneys, and if we don't realize how we can cooperate, collaborate and support each other's visions, what good is having a mansion or even seeing Rudolph Valentino's ghost in the fading summer light?

IMAGES: The photo collage at the top of this post is an imaginary interpretation of Genet's wonderful description in the last paragraph of her column. Next is the legendary silent film star, Rudolph Valentino, followed by a painting entitled, Judith and her Maidservant, by master painter of the post-Renaissance, Artemisia Gentileschi.