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.
In a scene from THE WINTER LOON Gisela says to Ruth:
“Sticking together, you mean like what’s happening in Europe? No one over here seems to care, but my father lives in Paris and writes that despite street violence in Germany against the SA Storm Troopers, newspapers sympathetic to Nazi influence continue to wage a propaganda campaign blaming Jews for Germany’s economic and social problems. It’s unbelievable how the general public there often turns a blind eye to the SA thugs trying to intimidate customers from entering Jewish shops.”
“It’s so complicated,” Ruth answers.
“And in this country so many folks who can’t find work, living in hobo villages. Why? Where are all the good Christians who claim to be their brother’s keeper? It doesn’t matter what problems we’re talking about. People are too afraid of consequences of losing what they have. Jesus said, ‘Turn the other cheek,’ not ‘Look the other way.'”
The scene is set in Minneapolis in 1932.
In January 1933 Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. He watched in triumph from the Chancellory balcony while thousands of torch bearing Nazis celebrated his victory. Nineteen months later he achieved absolute power.
A mix of KKK members, Nazi sympathizers and White Nationalists carried torches through the University of Virginia campus last week, menacing people of all races, creed, and religion.
Candidate Trump held the Pride flag upside down, pledging his support for the LGBTQ community and a few months later as president called for a ban of transgender people serving in the military.
We can’t afford to turn a blind eye to what is happening right now in America. We can’t be bystanders. We must stand up against hate and bigotry.
I loved reading this story today from the Huffington Post. I can only imagine how many people Gloria Carter’s story will touch, giving them the courage to also step out of the shadow. I admit I’m more jazz than hip-hop and more Gloria Carter’s generation than Jay-Z’s, but I admire him for giving his mother a platform to tell a part of her story.
“Had to hide in the closet, so she medicate / Society shame and the pain was too much to take,” he adds before asserting, “Cried tears of joy when you fell in love / Don’t matter to me if it’s a him or her.”
Carter herself shows up on track to deliver a spoken word outro.
“Living in the shadow / Can you imagine what kind of life it is to live?” she asks on the close-to-five-minute track. “In the shadows people see you as happy and free / Because that’s what you want them to see,” she continues. “The world is changing and they say it’s time to be free / But you live with the fear of just being me… Living in the shadow feels like the safe place to be / No harm for them, no harm for me / But life is short, and it’s time to be free / Love who you love, because life isn’t guaranteed.”
In 1970 Pride was a political movement to voice demands for LGBT equal rights and protections. As Pride is now celebrated worldwide, itis important toremember that June was chosen to commemorate the Stonewall riots which occurred the end of June 1969 in Manhattan. The month of June is a time to celebrate and honor people from the LGBTQ+ community. It is a time to reflect and continue to fight against discrimination that still occurs and threatens the hard-earned right to marry, to live and work where one choses and shop without the risk of prejudice.
It is pure serendipity that my book The Winter Loon debuts during Pride Month. I missed several self-imposed deadlines for publication and finally in mid-June this year my book is on Amazon available for purchase.
THE WINTER LOON is inspired by my mother, who died when I was nine and who had divulged very little information about her life, refusing even to answer any questions about my biological father. Estranged from her family, she moved across the country from the Midwest to California, ending up in a remote area of the Mojave Desert far from the nearest town. From my earliest memories, the two of us lived as a family with her woman companion until shortly before her death. Some of the things she left behind were a few photos, a newspaper clipping of her as a rodeo competitor, and her master’s degree certificate from the 1930s.
When I started writing, my purpose of embarking on a healing journey gradually transformed into this novel about a young woman who struggles to define herself in a world where she does not seem to fit. As I envisioned how my mother’s life might have been if she was able to live her authentic truth, I realized how much, and how little, has changed for the LGBTQ+ community. It is my hope that this story about the healing power of love will positively influence anyone who reads it.
I just learned about this movement/organization and want to share it.
RaiseAChild.US is the nationwide leader in the recruitment and support of LGBT and all prospective parents interested in building families through fostering and adopting to meet the needs of the 400,000 children in the foster care system. RaiseAChild.US recruits, educates, and nurtures supportive relationships equally with all prospective foster and adoptive parents while partnering with agencies to improve the process of advancing foster children to safe, loving and permanent homes. For information about how you can become a foster or adoptive parent, please visit www.RaiseAChild.US.
As you know, if you read this blog, I spent most of my childhood in foster care because my lesbian mother died estranged from her family ties. I was blown away when I read the story of Adam Reisman and his husband, Ryan:
and then learned that it is part of a series being written by the Huffington Post that highlights LGBT families.
I knew I had to share their story when I read that Adam and Ryan along with their two children live by these rules in their home:
RaiseAChild.US is the nationwide leader in the recruitment and support of LGBT and all prospective parents interested in building families through fostering and adoption to meet the needs of the 415,000 children in the foster care system of the United States. RaiseAChild.US recruits, educates and nurtures supportive relationships equally with all prospective foster and adoptive parents while partnering with agencies to improve the process of advancing foster children to safe, loving and permanent homes. Take the Next Step to Parenthood at http://www.RaiseAChild.US or call us at (323) 417-1440.