A few days ago I attended the the Golden Crown Literary Society Conference held in 110 degrees, Las Vegas. Whew! I didn’t step outside for three days.
Every year this amazing group of lesbian fiction writers get together to learn from each other. I attended great classes and panel discussions with the best take away being the support, rather than competition, these women feel for each other. In that vein, I offer my congratulations to the winning authors in the Debut and Historical categories.
Even though a finalist in both those categories, The Winter Loon didn’t take home a Goldie award, but I still feel like a winner and am honored to be in the company of these fine writers.
In the Debut category the Goldie awards went to:
And the winner in the Historical category is:
You can check out all the rest of the 2018 winners here:
Today, in honor of Mothers Day, I share an essay that first appeared in the November 2017 issue of Gay Parent Magazine. Amazing stories of LGBTQ parents and kids are published in the magazine. They are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. Read more here.
MY MOTHER. MY FOUNDATION
It didn’t dawn on me that my mother was lesbian until the mid-1980s when working as a therapist with the AIDS Health Project in San Francisco I told a colleague my story. At that time I was attempting to put together the puzzle pieces of my early life because my mother, a woman of mystery with seemingly no family ties, died when I was nine years old, leaving no clues about herself or my biological father.
From my earliest memories we lived as a family with another woman and her son on the Mojave Desert. It was the late 1940s, and our home was about twenty-five miles from the nearest town where both women taught elementary school. The town had unreliable telephone service and no public transportation to larger communities. Far from the prying eyes of neighbors, they could not have found a better place to hide.
When my mother became ill with cancer, our family moved into town, but lived in separate houses. Adding to her hidden life, not long before her death, my mother married a man with two sons about my age. Perhaps she thought it would provide a stable home for me, but with no relatives and the fact that my stepfather had not formally adopted me, I went into the foster care system.
Sometime in my early twenties one of my stepbrothers tracked me down and gave me a box containing letters, photos, and a scrapbook that had belonged to my mother. At the time the sketchy information only inflamed my abandonment issues.
However, a few years later, and after lots of therapy, I managed to focus on the contents of the box and found the remnants of my mother’s life quite fascinating. There were photos of women camping, usually with horses nearby, and a newspaper clipping of my mother as a rodeo competitor.
Hanging with the cowboys.
There was also her Master’s degree certificate in clinical psychology, with an emphasis on vocational rehabilitation, from the 1930s.
She is on the far right.
As I reread the letters that I had only skimmed before, I learned that my grandmother had died when my mother was in her late twenties. With addresses in hand I did a search, but too late to find any living family members, or anyone who remembered or had known any of them.
I spoke with my mother’s companion only once as an adult before realizing they were most likely lovers. She called me, saying she would be in San Francisco and suggested that we meet. I imagined she had known my mother well, and still hopeful I might learn more information about my family legacy, I counted the days as I anticipated our meeting.
Unfortunately, she was unwilling to divulge any information. No matter how I formed the questions, she remained stoic, claiming to know nothing about my mother’s life, and the visit left me with more questions than answers. Their relationship didn’t occur to me until, after listening to my story, my colleague said, “Your mother was lesbian. Her lover must have still been closeted when you talked with her.”
Unable to find any truth about my history, I turned to writing short stories about two women raising children together using the names of my mother and her companion. The stories, which had started as a personal healing journey, gradually transformed over the years into a novel about a young woman struggling to define herself in a world where she does not seem to fit.
When I decided that I wanted to publish the The Winter Loon I googled my mother’s companion before moving forward with using her name, and lo and behold she was alive and still living in the desert. When I called, her son answered and did indeed remember me. He invited me to visit and I accepted, but without divulging that I had written a novel with our mothers as protagonists.
His mother was frail and in the late stage of Alzheimer’s disease, but otherwise mostly healthy. I gathered all the photos I had of my mother and drove from Oregon to the Mojave Desert.
My hopes went up and down as I sat with her for two hours sharing the photos. I’d say, “Do you know who this is?” and she’d lean forward wrinkling her forehead and squinting at the picture as if she was going to tell a story. She’d say my mother’s name, then lean back into silence, lost in the tangle of her compromised memories. Before saying goodbye, I decided to leave the photos with her.
The next day her son and I drove to the canyon where we had lived as children. Overwhelmed with emotion, he seemed to have forgotten that we had lived together as a family. I stayed safe as I shared my memories, feeling it was not my place to out his mother.
Sadly, he called less than two weeks later to tell me his mother had died, and that she had kept the photos in her lap, sorting through them as she spent her day in her wheelchair. Can there be any doubt that our mothers were lovers in their youth?
I finally understood that my mother had done the best she could in an era when she would have faced dangerous repercussions if her truth had been discovered. It took many years for me to claim my scars as badges of honor, but I made peace and, after finding my mother’s grave in a cemetery in Mojave, California, identified only with her name on a simple wooden plaque, I ordered a marble marker inscribed with her name, her date of birth and the date of her death along with the words, My Mother My Foundation because she was my foundation, despite the secrets she was forced to keep.
When I chose Zippity Do Dahfor my Z post, I thought it was just a song to sing when you are happy. But in reading about the origins and lyrics of the song, I learned it is surrounded by controversy. So much for singing Zippity Do Dah and doing the dance of joy because we have all reached the end of the A to Z Challenge. Some facts I didn’t know:
~ The song is from a Disney movie called Song of the South about Br’er Rabbit and Uncle Remus.
~ The movie was released in 1946 and criticized by the NAACP: “the production helps to perpetuate a dangerously glorified picture of slavery . . . [the film] unfortunately gives the impression of an idyllic master-slave relationship which is a distortion of the facts.”
~ The stars of the movie and others disagreed. Actress Hattie McDaniel who played the character Tempy in Song of the South and sang Sooner or Later said: “If I had for one moment considered any part of the picture degrading or harmful to my people I would not have appeared therein.”
~Hattie McDaniel is better remembered as the first black actress to win an Oscar in 1939 for her role of Mammy in Gone With the Wind. Her roles portraying hard-working black women were often criticized as stereotypes, and she was criticized for not being politically active. She is loosely quoted as saying, “I can play a maid in the movies for $700 a week or work as a maid downtown for $7 a week.”
~ Hattie McDaniel lost her battle with breast cancer in Los Angeles, California, on October 26, 1952. Since her death, McDaniel has been posthumously awarded two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Additionally, in 1975, she was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. A well-received biography on her life was published in 2005—Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood, by Jill Watts.
~ You can watch her Oscar acceptance speech and read 5 more facts about her here:
~ James Baskett who sang Zippity Do Dah in the film, Song of the South, agreed with Hattie McDaniel, saying, “I believe that certain groups are doing my race more harm in seeking to create dissension than can ever possibly come out of the Song of the South.”
I end with James Baskett in a You Tube video singing Zippity Do Dah:
Have a beautiful day and thanks for stopping by the A to Z Challenge. You can see other bloggers participating in the Challenge:
Xenial ~ of, relating to, or constituting hospitality or relations between host and guest and especially among the ancient Greeks between persons of different cities. ~ Miriam-Webster Dictionary
During the A to Z Challenge, each of us participating has opened the door and invited both strangers and friends into our world.
The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary describes Xenial as pertaining to the friendly relation between host and guest, relating to hospitality.
One of the most respectful forms of hospitality during the 1930s was welcoming guests and sharing a meal. Women cooked and served food even in the poorest of households. It was a sign of good manners to offer food and drink, no matter how poor the household.
Women were often the breadwinners in families. They sewed clothes, tended gardens, and were responsible to stay within the food budget. Hospitality could be expensive. Enjoying one another’s company at potlucks, where each woman brought a dish to share was one way to extend the generosity of hospitality to friends and family.
Women were creative with the less expensive sources of protein: rice, beans, and cheese. Spam and bologna substituted for beef, pork and lamb. Chickens could be raised in the yard and became a staple Sunday sit-down meal for the after-church crowd.
No matter what a woman’s economic circumstances, she did her best to put food on the table and share a meal:
This post is inspired by a PBS program honoring the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) ~ We Served Too: The Story of the WASP.
A trailer is available http://www.wstthemovie.com
In 1939, the day after German tanks rolled into Warsaw, Poland, a woman pilot named Jacqueline Cochran wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt to suggest the use of experienced women pilots in the Armed Forces. Almost a year later, another pilot, Nancy Harkness Love, made the same suggestion to the Ferrying Division of the Armed Forces.
It wasn’t until September 1942 that the Air Transport Command (ATC) realized the reality of a lack of experienced pilots to ferry newly produced warplanes to air bases across the country. The demand for male combat pilots overseas left the ATC with a dilemma until someone remembered and considered Nancy Love’s letter of 1940.
Love was hired to recruit 25 of the most qualified women pilots in the country to ferry military aircraft. The value of the women pilots got the attention of General Henry Arnold of the Army Air Force. He approved a program to train a large group of women as ferry pilots. Cochran and Love recruited the pilots and engineered the program that became Women Air Force Services (WASP).
~Most of the recruited women had 1,000 hours of flying time prior to entering the training.
~They trained for a few weeks before being assigned a post.
~1,074 eventually women graduated from the program.
~The WASP flew every type of plane in the Army’s arsenal.
~They served as flight instructors, tow-target pilots for gunnery training—yes with real ammunition, engineering flight test pilots, and flew radio controlled planes.
~The WASP were hired under Civil Service. They paid for their own uniforms, lodging and personal travel to and from home.
~WASPs were deactivated in December 1944 without military benefits and without recognition. The surviving women were moved to seek recognition in the mid-1970s when the Navy announced that for the FIRST time in history women would be permitted to fly military planes.
~In 1977 the WASP gained their belated military benefits and recognition.
~In 2010 the WASP were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor by Congress.
Highland Veterans Memorial Park, Wisconsin
Thirty-eight WASP lost their lives in service to their country.
P.S. I just learned that William M. Miller, a former Southern Oregon Historical society Historian and history columnist for the Medford Mail Tribune newspaper has written a book To Live and Die a WASP that is a tribute to the 38 WASP who did not survive. The book is available on Amazon.
A brief and incomplete history of violence against women:
During the 1800s husbands had the choice of whether or not to beat their wives. It was a right and a privilege condoned by society. All states in the U.S. made “wife beating” illegal by 1920, the same year women won the right to vote. It was presumed, under the umbrella of privacy and sanctity of home, that there was a reluctance to interfere when men beat or raped their wives.
However, a recent 2013 article The Exit Myth: Family Law, Gender Roles, and changing Attitudes Toward Female Victims of Domestic Violence by Carolyn B. Ramsey
suggests that until 1930 offenders were likely to be charged in criminal court and sentenced to a jail term. Wife killers often faced the death penalty and juries tended to acquit women who killed their husbands in self-defense.
It is now thought that changing gender roles, women exercising their right to vote and entering the workforce, led to the premise that women were capable of leaving an abusive relationship. Sympathy for female victims of violence in the home waned. The changing view that women no longer needed to be cared for in paternalistic ways resulted in a period of apathy, leaving women of the 1930s basically unprotected from domestic violence.
In 1945 the State of California passed a law that made corporal injury of a wife, or cruel and inhumane punishment of a child, a felony. But it wasn’t until the late 1960s and early 70s that The Women’s Liberation Movement set the stage for the legal protection of battered women by claiming that what goes on in the privacy of people’s homes is deeply political.
In 1994 Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), part of the federal Crime Victims Act, which funds services for victims of rape and domestic violence, allows women to seek civil rights remedies for gender-related crimes, and provides training to increase police and court officials’ sensitivity. Its attempt to connect the crime of violence with an assault on civil rights was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court.
The VAWA has been controversial and subsequently improved and expanded in 2000, 2005 and again in 2013 (giving jurisdiction to Native American tribal leaders).
Domestic violence is now a serious crime.
Recognize violence. Don’t sweep it under the rug
Domestic violence — also called intimate partner violence — occurs between people in an intimate relationship. Domestic violence can take many forms, including emotional, sexual and physical abuse and threats of abuse. Men are sometimes abused by partners, but domestic violence is most often directed toward women. Domestic violence can happen in heterosexual or same-sex relationships.
It might not be easy to identify domestic violence at first. While some relationships are clearly abusive from the outset, abuse often starts subtly and gets worse over time. You might be experiencing domestic violence if you’re in a relationship with someone who:
Calls you names, insults you or puts you down
Prevents or discourages you from going to work or school
Prevents or discourages you from seeing family members or friends
Tries to control how you spend money, where you go, what medicines you take or what you wear
Acts jealous or possessive or constantly accuses you of being unfaithful
Gets angry when drinking alcohol or using drugs
Threatens you with violence or a weapon
Hits, kicks, shoves, slaps, chokes or otherwise hurts you, your children or your pets
Forces you to have sex or engage in sexual acts against your will
Blames you for his or her violent behavior or tells you that you deserve it
If you’re lesbian, bisexual or transgender, you might also be experiencing domestic violence if you’re in a relationship with someone who:
Threatens to tell friends, family, colleagues or community members your sexual orientation or gender identity
Tells you that authorities won’t help a lesbian, bisexual or transgender person
Tells you that leaving the relationship means you’re admitting that lesbian, bisexual or transgender relationships are deviant
Says women can’t be violent
Justifies abuse by telling you that you’re not “really” lesbian, bisexual or transgender
The threat of war wasn’t much on the minds of America during the early 1930s. Dealing with the economic and social issues of the Great Depression occupied most people’s time.
After World War I, during the 1920s and 1930s, the U.S., weary of war, moved toward isolationism, described as the avoidance of political and military commitments to our alliances with foreign powers, particularly those of Europe.
A powerful force in isolationism was the peace movement that attracted women who had won the right to vote in 1920.
The destructive forces of WWI and the hardships of women’s lives during wartime further strengthened women against the U.S. getting involved in overseas conflict. However, toward the end of the 1930s, even though unemployment was still high, the social reforms of FDR’s New Deal raised the hope of many men and women that the crisis had passed.
People in America began to take notice of the rise in fascism overseas, Hitler’s takeover of Germany, and Mussolini in Italy. In addition, the aggressiveness of Japan got the attention of the U.S. population. All of this, plus learning that Hitler’s intent was to conquer the world scared people into moving away from isolation. Debates raged around the country until on a peaceful Sunday morning at 7:55 Honolulu time, December 7, 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. On December 8, President Roosevelt went before Congress to declare war against Japan and enter World War II.
Suddenly, the women who for the last decade had worked for 50% less than a man at menial jobs became the workforce as the men went off to war.
Women found out how strong they could be.
How important they could be.
How they could do the same jobs as a man.
My mother working in Chrysler Corporation factory during War years