Monday, December 27, 2010

Alanis rocks

My capacities are temporarily limited as a result of expending too much energy digging out from the Blizzard of 2010. Therefore, I will address a lightweight issue of the day. No heavy lifting for me after a day of butching it up with a snow shovel. So the topic is my girl Alanis Morissette. First we hear that her ex, Ryan Reynolds, is divorcing Scarlett Johansson. Then we learn that Alanis, meanwhile, has had a nice healthy baby boy with her new younger man hubby, underground rapper (and Massachusetts native) Souleye. The baby was born on Christmas day. Congratulations, Alanis! ("I'm sure she'd make a really excellent mother...")

One thing I love about Alanis is her openness about her past bisexual experiences. I also love that she has convincingly played a lesbian—if not a very nice lesbian—on Nip/Tuck. She's also funny, which is always sexy. And naturally, I love her music. Many people do. She has sold 40 million albums worldwide. (In case you forgot, Jagged Little Pill was the best selling album of the 1990s.) I even love her songs with the occasional crappy lyrics. The music and her voice make up for everything. She is unapologetic about who she is. She's a rock star. And a true artist. Her remake of Seal's Crazy is particularly good, and the video has a sweet lesbian surprise at the end! See for yourself.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

We'll have no more of DADT

In celebration of President Obama's signature this morning on the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, let's salute some of our favorite women in uniform. Obviously, our first salute goes out to all the brave lesbians who have served and are serving in the armed forces. President Obama said some remarkable things during the historic event this morning, including offering recognition that gays and lesbians were part of some of the US military's most important battles throughout history. And he recognized that gay soldiers did all this while being "asked to carry the additional burden of secrecy and isolation." President Obama also told a moving story of traveling to Afghanistan and meeting a female soldier—a lesbian, we can assume—who greeted him and pulled him into a hug. He said she whispered in his ear a plea to repeal DADT. Thank you, sister! Stay safe.
Since I don't have a photo of our brave sister serving in Afghanistan, we'll have to make do with the fictional characters of GI Jane—or, more accurately, Lieutenant Jordan O'Neil played by an ultra-fit Demi Moore—and the unforgettable Private Vasquez from Aliens played by Jenette Goldstein. Vasquez was a badass Marine gunner who was part of the military unit that returned with Ripley to find the alien. One of my favorite lines of all time is Vasquez's response to a fellow Marine's trash talk about her butchness. He said, "Have you ever been mistaken for a man?" Vasquez replied, "No, have you?"

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fran Lebowitz is attractive

I have a friend who resembles Fran Lebowitz. I've always thought this was an attractive quality because I've always considered Fran Lebowitz attractive. From the first time I saw Fran—in the late 1970s on the back cover of Metropolitan Life, which somehow, thank God, had made it into my childhood home in rural New Hampshire—I thought she was handsome. And from the moment I read the first paragraph of the first essay in the book, I knew I was not alone in the world:

"12:35 P.M. - The phone rings. I am not amused. This is not my favorite way to wake up. My favorite way to wake up is to have a certain French movie star whisper to me softly at two-thirty in the afternoon that if I want to get to Sweden in time to pick up my Nobel Prize for Literature I had better ring for breakfast. This occurs rather less often than one might wish."

So much is conveyed in that opening paragraph. First, we know she is a lesbian. Or at least, I, as an adolescent, knew it. The person whispering softly in her ear is a woman. There simply is no debating it. Second, we know there is room service, one of the great pleasures in life, about which I had not known when I was 12. I have since become acquainted. Third, there is an aversion to the telephone, which indicates rational thought. Fourth, there is a swaggering quality a bit like a Handsome Sailor if the Handsome Sailor had not been a dimwit.

So, there you have it. Intelligence, sapphism, and good looks. So if someone suggests you remind them of Fran Lebowitz, you should take it as a compliment.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lesbian Haircuts

Dis Magazine, a hipster fashion website run by a group of (I can only assume) West Coast art students, has published a autocratic helpful guide to lesbian haircuts. The poster seems to be designed for display in hair salons so that twentysomething lesbians will have, at last, a less disconfirming way than "boys regular" to describe the hairstyle they want. The accompanying article at dismagazine.com discusses Judith Butler and lesbian cyborgs and the subversiveness of drag. You know, in case you're in the mood to read someone's dissertation abstract.

Primarily the article celebrates the haircut as an emblem of queer identity: "More than any other stylistic signifier, hair has become our window into lesbian visibility. The shorter the hair, the more visibly identifiable one becomes as a lesbian." The pressure is on, ladies. Make sure you have your sexual orientationally appropriate haircuts, shoes, and eyewear.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lesbian Kisses: Hold onto your ears!

An insightful and observant reader has pointed out the odd frequency with which lesbians are portrayed in the media as holding onto the sides of each other's heads while they are kissing. I did not expect to easily find so many examples of this. But here they are, with variations on ear-covering, side-of-head-holding, and upper-neck-grabbing hand positions. We start with the 1985 lesbian classic, Desert Hearts, featuring an earmuffed kiss by Vivian and Cay. Then we fast forward to 1997 when Ellen DeGeneres famously made history and kissed Laura Dern during her coming out season. Next we have lots of ear- and side-of-head fondling on The L Word by not only Bette and Tina but also, as you can see, by Dana and the Soup Chef.
Last, but not least (see previous post with up-to-the-minute images from Black Swan and The Kids Are All Right), we have Dr. Callie Torres holding the side of Dr. Erica Hahn's head on Grey's Anatomy. It's quite a collection. And if we throw in Garbo
in 1933's Queen Christina, we have more than 75 years of lesbian earmuff kissing.

Some of you have offered very insightful explanations of why this unlikely phenomenon is occurring. These theories include:
- Protecting the homophobic viewer from too much unadulterated girl-girl action;
- Preventing the actors from truly getting into it by controlling the intensity of the kiss; and, lastly,
- Suggesting the action is all above the shoulders, as in: "It's OK, my hands are not on her tatas or down her pants — they are right here where you can see them!"
There you have it. An intelligent analysis. Are your ears cold, darling? Let me kiss you.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Portman v. Bening for Oscar



Perhaps the Academy Award will go to the actress with the hottest lesbian kiss. There is already Oscar buzz for both Natalie Portman and Annette Bening, each of whom gave very special performances this year kissing girls onscreen. The difference? Portman in Black Swan reportedly has a steamy sex scene with her gorgeous co-star, and, sadly, Bening does not.

The sapphic community launched bitter criticism of Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right for portraying lesbians as passionless frumps who are just waiting for a real man to unleash their carnal desires. While I liked the film, the criticism was valid. In contrast, Portman's onscreen relationship with Mila Kunis promises to be very passionate and very physical, if also possibly sinister. Hey, I'm not saying I like the lesbian predator stereotype any better than the frumpy sexless lesbian stereotype. But one is indeed more fun to watch. For her sapphic efforts—oh, and probably some exquisite acting—Portman is already being considered the clear winner for the Oscar, and this is before the film has even opened. "Portman will win every award in sight for this including the Heisman Trophy," according to one Academy Award voter who is quoted on Nikki Finke's website Deadline.com. The piece goes on to say that if Portman loses, it will be to Bening. I do agree—as I have said before —Bening's performance is worthy of an Oscar.

Of course, I'm also excited to see Winona Ryder in Black Swan playing a boozy wreck. Wino Forever, indeed. I think I speak for all of us when I say I'm so ready for Winona's comeback.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Book review: Portia de Rossi's memoir

I admit I was not expecting much from Portia de Rossi's new memoir, Unbearable Lightness. Her meticulously documented marriage to Ellen DeGeneres notwithstanding, I just did not have a good grasp of who Portia de Rossi was. I never watched Ally McBeal. I have seen only a few episodes of Arrested Development. Therefore, Portia was a vague figure to me. I could never quite conjure what she actually looked like.

But since reading Portia's affecting memoir—which chronicles her harrowing eating disorder, her shame over being a lesbian, and her frantic drive to prove she was special—I now have a distinct impression of this remarkable woman. This impression took time to develop, however. In the first chapters I was frustrated because Portia was a nebulous character in her own memoir. I did not have a sense of her as a physical person moving through the world—and because I did not come to the book with a clear image of her, she was an elusive presence in the pages. At one point she gave a rare summary of what she was wearing—the uniform of a social outcast, she said. "A vintage Iggy Pop T-shirt, faded black denim jeans, and a pair of perfectly worn black leather engineers' boots." I grew to understand that this hazy presentation of her physicality was likely the author's strategy. Portia de Rossi is clearly an intelligent person, and the writing is decent. Her use of the unreliable narrator device is effective as we experience life through her warped perspective. Her wispy presence is apt, not just because she is starving her body, but because—as a woman whose disorder spirals out of control as her career soars—she is hiding in plain sight.

I also admire that Portia is willing to give us the ugly details of what it means to binge and purge—memorably wiping vomit with her T-shirt after she forced herself to puke into a bag in her car. This is not glamorous stuff. As her disorder expands from bulimia to anorexia, she portrays self-starvation as tedious, disgusting, and frightening. Self-hating insanity. In fact, Portia modestly and, I think, responsibly, downplays her successful Hollywood career and instead concentrates on her personal hell. We clearly get the message that her obsession with her weight was a hindrance, not a help, to her career.

Another achievement of Unbearable Lightness is that we come away convinced that Portia is a good and kind person despite her self-centered obsession with the superficial throughout most of the book. She is loving toward her friends, discreet about her colleagues, and generous with those who contributed to her troubles. Her mother is no angel in this story, but Portia is apparently forgiving, as the evidence suggests Portia would have been within her rights to crucify her "Ma" in this book.

The comic skill that Portia brings to her acting surfaces from time to time in the memoir. In explaining why she changed her name from Amanda Rogers, she says she simply hated her birth name: "It was so ordinary, so perfectly average. It had 'a man' in it, which annoyed me because every time I'd hear someone refer to a man, I would turn my head, waiting for the 'duh.'"

Lastly, I was glad to read about Portia's journey toward coming out, as difficult as it was. Because she now is wed to Ellen, it's easy to forget the importance of her specific lesbian visibility. How many other conventionally beautiful and out Hollywood lesbians can you name?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Jodie Foster's gay Thanksgiving

While you're home for the holidays this weekend, you might consider celebrating all that is dysfunctional about your family by watching Jodie Foster's second directorial effort, the hilarious Home for the Holidays. This film should be considered a classic holiday comedy alongside A Christmas Story. But we should also recognize its gay theme, which, in 1995, was far from common. Mind you, this was two years before Ellen came out and ten years before Brokeback Mountain. For all the impatience we have with Jodie for refusing to publicly acknowledge that she is a lesbian, we should at least appreciate the importance of Jodie Foster making a film in 1995 which addressed homophobia within the family dynamic and which featured a positive—if not triumphant—gay character. Robert Downey Jr. plays the gay brother who arrives for Thanksgiving unexpectedly in his muscle car and simultaneously connects and disrupts the household. Holly Hunter plays the weary protagonist who, while wearing a hideous borrowed pink winter coat, is trying to get through the weekend without falling to pieces. In a particularly funny scene, we get to see her in the shower: "I swear to God, Tommy, I am naked in here and I am too old..." I get the feeling that Home for the Holidays is Jodie's examination of what is likely a fascinating subject for her: Normal family life in America. Jodie has said many times in interviews that her experience as a child prodigy left her with the sense that she grew up as a freak (a theme examined in her directorial debut, Little Man Tate). And many of us queers can very much relate to the film's exploration of feeling like an outsider in our families of origin. Holly's character asks, "When you go home do you look around and wonder, 'Who are these people? Where do I even come from?'"

Friday, November 19, 2010

Acerbic, brilliant, dandy dyke

Did I ever tell you the story about running into Fran Lebowitz on the street in the West Village? It was on a corner not far from the basketball courts near the Waverly Theater. I don't remember exactly which street. It was a nice day. I was wearing a blue seersucker jacket, which I remember because I wondered if Fran, the dandy, liked my seersucker jacket. Anyway, as I was walking along with my girlfriend, I recognized Fran. (Facial recognition is my superpower.) I approached Fran with my hand extended for a handshake, saying, "Fran, it's so nice to see you out!" She looked at me like she was trying to gauge where I fell on the weirdo spectrum: dangerous lunatic or odd friendly person. Fran, if anything, is a streetwise New Yorker. Nonetheless, she shook my hand. Still with the suspicious look, but she was game, and I got a hint of a smile. Was it the seersucker? What on earth did I mean by "so nice to see you out"? In hindsight, it is a loaded choice of words, since Fran, whom everyone seems to know is a lesbian, has never officially come out, according to Michael Musto in the Village Voice. In any case, we can see a lot more of the brilliant Fran Lebowitz on Monday, Nov. 22, when Public Speaking, the Martin Scorsese-directed documentary about her view of the world, debuts on HBO. In the preview, Fran says she does not necessary promote public speaking, but rather, "As a general directive, I would really advise public listening."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Royal swashbuckler

I admit, I am a sucker for a good story about the royals. The happy news of Prince William and lovely Kate Middleton this week got me thinking about Queen Christina, the Swedish cross-dressing lesbian who ruled Sweden in the 17th century. At birth, she was mistaken for a boy because she was covered in hair and cried in a strong, hoarse voice. She was consistently described as masculine, and she preferred men's clothes. Sound like anyone you know? She was also quite skilled as a horseman and at other traditionally male pursuits. Her father, King Gustavus Adolphus, was struck by his daughter's bright intelligence—which, in that era, was not considered a female attribute—and ordered that she be raised as a prince to become the future monarch. She never married. When she abdicated the throne in 1654, she shed her regalia, left the country, and rode as a man on horseback through Denmark. Don't you just love a swashbuckling dyke?

Greta Garbo, another queer Swede, played Queen Christina in the 1933 motion picture. The film did not accurately portray Christina's life—which was extraordinarily eventful—but did offer sexy tomboy Garbo kissing another woman on screen.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Sapphist Gazetteer worldwide community

I thought I'd let you, my beloved readers, know that when you read the Sapphist Gazetteer you are part of a community that spans the globe. Not to sound too lofty. But I'm always fascinated to check the stats of this site and find hits coming from all parts of the world. This week alone there are multiple readers in each of the following countries: France, Argentina, the UK, South Africa, Latvia, Malaysia, Brazil, Switzerland, and India. I'm also proud to say that I occasionally get hits from Iran, where, I imagine, lesbians have a great need to find community. Welcome, sisters!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Imagine Me and You in Tokyo

I know we all need a break after these crazy freaking elections. For your well deserved respite, I recommend watching Love My Life, a sweet Japanese film in the romantic tradition of Imagine Me and You or Loving Annabelle, if Loving Annabelle had had a happy ending, for the love of God. Love My Life was made in 2006, but had somehow escaped me. (Had anyone seen it? Why is it I don't hear about these things, hmm?) It is adorable and funny and has a strong story. And it's such a relief to listen to another language for a while. So different, and yet they play out their dyke drama in the street just like the rest of us.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rapace as Ripley precursor

Nikki Finke's website Deadline is reporting that director Ridley Scott is planning a prequel to the Alien franchise and is favoring casting Noomi Rapace—yes, Lisbeth Salander!—in the role of the Ellen Ripley-esque heroine. It is almost too good to be true. But, alas, it's not final because there is some concern about Rapace's ability to speak English. But I saw her on Charlie Rose recently (I know, I know, good grief), and she was perfectly fluent. So I hope they just finalize the deal. Wrap it up, people! I want to see Noomi Rapace as Ripley's predecessor. I mean, we know Noomi can handle a gun as well as Sigourney Weaver. We know she looks great lounging with bare arms and midriff. We know she can project the intense Ripley-style facial expression that says, WTF is going on in this crazy effing Nostromo spacecraft? (She's talking to you, Ash, you creepy droid.) Carey Mulligan and Abbie Cornish are also apparently being considered. But they, however adorable and talented, simply will not be convincing against the acid-for-blood badassness that is the alien.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Elisabeth Moss in iconic lesbian role

One of the great pleasures of the new millennium has been watching Elisabeth Moss play the role of Peggy Olson on Mad Men. Now we learn she will play the iconic lesbian role of Martha Dobie in Lillian Hellman's groundbreaking 1934 play, The Children's Hour, to be staged in London. Moss's co-star—and forbidden love interest—will be the toothsome and toothy Keira Knightley, playing the universally adored straight girl, Karen Wright. I would love to see what Elisabeth Moss does with the role of Martha. And I enjoy imagining the chemistry between Moss and Knightley, who play headmistresses at a girls boarding school. One of the girls accuses the pair of having a lesbian relationship. Naturally, much revulsion ensues, gossip spreads, scandal erupts, and devastation results. Even though the play is more than 75 years old, the demise of Martha Dobie is timely in today's climate of anti-gay bullying. When the play was first produced in the 1930s, the lesbian content—such as it is—was so controversial that the play was initially banned in Boston and London. The film, too, which was made in 1961, was controversial. Shirley MacLaine, who played Martha opposite Audrey Hepburn, said scenes were cut that explored Martha's true feelings for Karen.

The news of Elisabeth Moss in The Children's Hour presents many lesbian connections that we could record on The Chart, if Alice Pieszecki were available. Aside from the lesbian theme of the play, we have the following:

- Lillian Hellman, who herself was reputedly bisexual,
- Keira Knightley, who played the tomboy and similarly suspect friend in Bend It Like Beckham, to say nothing of her butch Domino role,
- Fred Armisen, Moss's ex-husband, who is currently in the comedy duo Thunderant with Carrie Brownstein, who we know from iconic queer grrrl punk band Sleater Kinney. By the way, Fred and Carrie's video The Perfect Song really makes me laugh,
- Peggy Olson is friends on Mad Men with the one lesbian character, Joyce Ramsay, and Peggy is so queer friendly that she even lets Joyce lick her face.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Melissa Ferrick, the brave one

This is for all you hard core Melissa Ferrick fans out there. (You know who you are.) And if you are not yet a fan, you should be. Our girl Melissa Ferrick has been tearing things up for more than twenty years, and she was an out performer long before most everyone else. She is also mesmerizing on stage—even if in recent years she is listing toward playing the elder eccentric. She's still charming and cute and vaguely dissolute. You should make an effort to see Melissa Ferrick perform live whenever you can. The girl is intense, and she is a first class, Berklee-trained musician.

I admit, she's my homegirl. I've been keeping track, losing track, and keeping track again of Melissa Ferrick for a couple decades, so, yes, I am biased. (But, ironically, when I met her many, many years ago, I was not familiar with her music.) Lately, I love her more than even. Just the other day I came across Melissa in my hometown newspaper, The Boston Globe, being interviewed with other Bostonians about their experiences as gay youth. In the article Melissa describes being harassed in the Harvard Square T station when she was a teenager. (This photo, at right, is of her at that age.) Someone hit her, shouting, "[expletive] gay freak.’’ She said: "I was terrified. I felt completely powerless and lonelier than I have ever felt. No one did or said anything. No one asked me if I was OK. No one stood up for me. It became very clear to me that I was alone in this." From there, she came out, stayed out, performs out. We should all be so brave.

Melissa Ferrick is currently touring on the East Coast with Ani Difranco. She'll be in Massachusetts and New York next month. You can check show dates here.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Thank you, Sarah Silverman. Please listen, President Obama.

We were all pretty shaken up by the suicide of Tyler Clementi last month. Many of us out in the world, away from the uncivilized behavior of dorm rooms and teenage callousness, forget the kind of hell that our gay younglings go through. I was reminded of it when I spoke to my campus Gay/Straight Alliance about two weeks after Clementi took his life. I was on a panel for Coming Out Week. The room was filled with young people who did not seem all that surprised by Clementi's despair. They seemed familiar with vicious treatment. This is why I was so impressed and grateful to hear "Sarah Silverman's "Message to America on Gay Suicide." With just a few words, Ms. Silverman made it all too clear why America's gay youth are harassed:
"Dear America,
When you tell gay Americans that they can't serve their country openly or marry the person that they love, you're telling that to kids, too. So don't be fucking shocked and wondering where all these bullies are coming from that are torturing young kids and driving them to kill themselves because they're different. They learned it from watching you."


Sarah Silverman's compelling message about discrimination was made all the more chilling just a few weeks later when President Obama chose to fight the court ruling that threw out Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Even though President Obama has claimed to oppose the anti-gay military policy, he is choosing to fight for it to remain in place. He says the better place to dispose of Don't Ask, Don't Tell is in the courts—even though the Pentagon seems happy to suspend its enforcement and even though more than half the country opposes the policy (according to the latest Pew Research poll). One of my in-laws is a decorated Army officer who has served in Iraq. He is straight and says he does not care if gays serve openly. "A soldier's a soldier," he says.

Perhaps an even better argument against President Obama's resistance to overturning DADT can be found in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail" Dr. King criticizes those who cry "wait" to Americans seeking swift action against unjust laws. Dr. King's greatest disappointment is in those who should know better. "Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Butch Mystique

I am fascinated that my description of Mary Carillo as "butch" sparked such an interesting conversation.  Here I am, living my entire adult life in lesbian culture, thinking I know everything about who we are. And thinking that Mary Carillo is the tall gallant epitome of butch. But a few of my darling readers have said, whoa, no, not the case. They say she's more accurately described as "androgynous" or "just Mary" because she occasionally wears pastels and because we have no way of knowing if she is butch-identified (or even lesbian.)  These are very good points. But I do not concede the argument.

First, I want to talk about this comment: "Butchness requires a degree of self-identification, meaning I don't think that you can assume a woman is butch based on superficial characteristics." This is interesting and, to me, a little troubling. Maybe because I came out during the Reagan administration my views on such things are outdated. (Example: I still say "transgendered person" rather than what I've noticed everyone else says, "transgender." When did the shift occur? Beats me. But keep in mind the speed-of-light changes occuring in this realm: My 1993 copy of Stone Butch Blues (purchased at Shakespeare & Co. in NYC in 1994!) uses the term "transgendered" on the back cover blurb. Judith Butler's seminal work Gender Trouble, published in 1990, includes neither "transgendered" nor "transgender.") In any case, here is what I understand about the term "butch" in lesbian culture:

It's an unfortunate and uninformed mistake to view "butch/femme" as simply limited to bedroom roles and—good grief—the heterosexual construct. If we say you can't assume a woman is butch based on superficial characteristics, we are suggesting that butch is something we can't see. Or that it's strictly a sexual behavior rather than an aesthetic. A noun rather than an adjective. It also seems to belie that old chestnut: "Butch on the streets, femme in the sheets," which suggests butch presentation is often just bravado concealing an emotional trainwreck.

In contrast, I think butch is something you can express when you want to. For some of us, it's diurnal. For others, it's as infrequent as chopping wood. To me, it simply describes traditionally masculine characteristics — bold, brave, macho, robust, strong, strapping, virile — displayed by a woman. Yes, there are the anachronistic "butch/femme" pairings described in Leslie Feinberg's groundbreaking novel Stone Butch Blues, but Feinberg is describing a pre-Stonewall era. Lillian Faderman documents this bygone period thoroughly in Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, and she even establishes that butch/femme roles in the 1950s and 1960s were exclusive to working class lesbians who had no other way of identifying their community. Faderman also points out that wealthy and middle class lesbians "generally rejected" the butch/femme roles and dress codes, which they found "aesthetically repulsive."

I have zero interest in igniting class warfare in the lesbian community. It is also my understanding that lesbian culture has evolved since the '50s and '60s. Yes, we still have our special "stone butches," but I don't think anyone would argue that the terms "butch" and "stone butch" are interchangeable. And these days, wouldn't a woman who seeks to pass as a man or who identifies as a man be described as trans rather than butch? Butch in my mind is inherently lesbian; it is implicit that the person is female. Judith Butler herself has spent her career asserting that sexuality is not linked to gender. And I assume that would include sexual roles assigned to the genderqueer, no? Being butch does not come with a required list of sexual behaviors.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Coverqueers

While maneuvering a giant plastic carriage through the vast rows of a big box store, I stumbled upon an aisle of queer women. The Covergirl makeup section displays larger-than-life photos of Ellen Degeneres, Queen Latifah, and Drew Barrymore. I'm wondering, is this an intentional marketing strategy to turn lesbians into Covergirl consumers? Or did Proctor & Gamble not realize the obvious? I mean, there's Ellen. No explanation necessary. There's Queen Latifah, who most of us figured was not straight long before she was recently outed by the paparazzi. Then there's Drew Barrymore, who is quite open about her bisexuality. So, ladies, in support of the Covergirl queers, we might consider expanding our cosmetics purchases beyond mint lip balm.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

On the streets of Ptown at night

I recently returned from Provincetown with a sinus infection as my souvenir, thank you very much. So much for the clean sea air—it's tainted with the toxic pollen of sea grass. But aside from my misery with allergens, my biggest news to report is that Commercial Street in late August was filled with Grade A lesbians. Not only did I run into my chiropractor—whose touch is magical—and not only did I run into an old friend and met some new ones, but I also witnessed a "Free Feminist Classics Reading" with comic Kate Clinton and her GF, activist Urvashi Vaid, and some young cuties in plaid shirts. These photos were not taken at the event (nor were they taken by me, for that matter), but they capture the nighttime spirit of the scene. The feminist reading took place in front of the ATM next to Spiritus Pizza, which has truly excellent pizza in addition to being a great place from which to watch the drag queens sail by. (For hours of enjoyment, view the Spiritus cam online.) At first, the choice of the ATM location was a mystery, but I soon could see the advantages. There is a bench, on which the lesbians could stand and be heard while they read some Audre Lourde, some Judith Butler. And I assume there was no cost for the, ah, space. Plus, a personal advantage for me was that during the reading I could enjoy my slice and my root beer while seated on the Spiritus bench near the ATM machine. From my perch I also had a great view of the crowd that gathered—which included, to my delight, Elizabeth Streb! I spotted her standing near the back, but she soon came closer and sat on the Spiritus steps. She was carrying a bag from Map, a very cool clothing store in Ptown (so cool that I feel slightly not cool when I'm in there), and she was working on a little project while she listened: She was tying and untying knots in a small white rope. Streb uses a lot of ropes in her choreography, so I assume she needs to be good at tying knots, right? She was with her spouse, Laura Flanders, who was similarly multi-tasking: She was reading something on her Kindle. Despite my efforts, I could not see what Laura Flanders was reading. But I could see that she was wearing a fantastic pin-striped jacket with raw seams. Streb was wearing knickers with white piping and black combat boots. (I'd like to post a fashion trend alert: Knickers will soon be big.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Winona Forever

You soon can expect another film to use the lesbian predator device, this time with Natalie Portman as the prey. In Black Swan, to be released later this year, Portman plays a prima ballerina tormented by a younger dancer who may or may not be a figment of her imagination. In any case, the younger ballerina (Mila Kunis) has a stalker quality, and there is quite of bit of sexual/romantic activity between these two women.

But my interest in this film is not due to its lesbian subtext. I'm more interested in the fact that Winona Ryder is also in this film. I just love that she's making a comeback. No, she is not the leading ingenue she once was, but she is carving out interesting roles for herself at age 38 after self-destructing ten years ago. I didn't realize she was back until I recognized her in Star Trek last year, playing Spock's human mother. After being the It Girl of the 1990s, she unraveled. In 2001 she was arrested for shoplifting more than $5,000 of nice things from Saks in Beverly Hills—including a $760 cashmere Marc Jacobs sweater and pair of $80 cashmere Donna Karan socks. Hey, at least she still had some aesthetic sense while under the influence of too many prescription drugs. After an ugly trial, she was convicted of grand theft and sentenced to community service and drug counseling. If Timothy Leary is your godfather, which he is in her case, and if you grew up in a California commune, which she did, I think it's understandable that drugs might have an unhealthy presence your life. But she has apparently put that behind her and is still pursuing her craft of acting. I admire that she's taking supporting roles and becoming something of a character actor—more of an artist, I'd say, which seems to be her sensibility. As Johnny Depp once tattooed on his arm: Winona Forever! (Even though, after their breakup, he changed it to Wino Forever.)

Lesbian predators redux

Lesbians are abuzz about the recent I Kissed a Girl episode of Rizzoli & Isles—which, I concede, was remarkable in just how thoroughly it was steeped in sapphism—HOWEVER, I must offer a word of caution in the celebration. I must turn on the lights at this rowdy house party. (Fair warning to those who have not yet seen the show.)

The plot of the episode relies on the age-old portrayal of lesbians as crazed sexual predators, and it also presents a clear anti-butch theme throughout. Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles are trying to solve the murder of a lesbian, whose sexually assaulted body is discovered in an alley near a dyke bar. In the victim's wedding photo, we see her in a white dress holding hands with her butch spouse in a suit. To catch the killer, Rizzoli is urged by a giddy Isles to go undercover as a lesbian. Isles herself ultimately joins in, posing as a busty waitress at the dyke bar. To attract the killer, Isles posts Rizzoli's profile on a dating website for lesbians. While our two gals spend most of the show acting like adolescents with crushes on each other—this includes discussing what kind of lesbians they would be if they were lesbians, talking side-by-side in bed while fully clothed, trading shoves during yoga class, and reacting excitedly to the slightest hint of emotion or insult from each other. When checking the categories of the online dating form, Isles seems to think she is defending her beloved tomboy friend by insisting that Rizzoli should be classified not as a butch, but, rather, as a "sporty" lesbian. "Butch" clearly indicated a slur. In the end, of course, it turns out the victim was killed by her butch spouse, who was working in cahoots with the butch bartender. As the curtain closes, Rizzoli & Isles celebrate their confirmed heterosexuality. The butches are punished, and the straight girls stride into the future.

All this is not to say that I did not enjoy the show. (Embrace double negatives.) Yes, it was fun to see Rizzoli brush up against Isles's breasts. Yes, it is generally a thrill to watch Angie Harmon swagger around as a rangy tomboy. But the show also confirmed that the ugly stereotype of the mannish lesbian predator is alive and well in popular culture. Are we still celebrating crumbs of visibility?

We've seen all this before. The Celluloid Closet documented it well. For most of the history of film (and television), gays and lesbians have been portrayed as something to laugh at, pity, or fear. Lesbians in particular were often seen as predators. The Rizzoli & Isles episode, with its murderous lesbians, fits this unfortunate model. The lesbians on the show reminded me of the sadistic drunk June Buckridge in The Killing of Sister George, of the doomed Martha Dobie in Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour, of the chilling Mrs. Danvers in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca. For the film, Hitchcock modified the masterpiece novel by Daphne du Maurier (herself a secret bisexual, as often was the case with lesbians of her generation), to amplify the creepy lesbian undertones. It's interesting to note that Mrs. Danvers was played by Oscar-nominee Judith Anderson, who also played another hated mannish woman on screen: Memnet in The Ten Commandments. I always kind of liked Memnet, but, naturally, she was thrown off the balcony.
I am reminded of another recent memorable unfeminine villainous lesbian. Regal old Dame Judi Dench pursues scrumptious Cate Blanchett in Notes on a Scandal. Both women behave very badly, but the straight woman behaves criminally. Nevertheless, be confident that the dyke is the villain. Even so, I can't take my eyes off Blanchett's performance as her character—dressed in the most beautiful knitwear—completely loses it. When things go badly, blame the dyke.