Sunday, February 1, 2009

Lost Tribes of Lesbians

It's impossible NOT to read an article with the subheading "Lost Tribes of Lesbians." Try it. Just try to set the newspaper down on the dining room table. You can't! It's stuck to your hand. See? Physically impracticable.

So you read the NYT article My Sister's Keeper by Sarah Kershaw. It's a peek into the lives of older "radical separatist lesbians" who have elected to form closed communities, often in rural locations, in which no men -or even heterosexual females- are allowed. Here the women (many prefer the term womyn) live, love, work -and, now that most of them are in their sixties and seventies, die.

Several women in the article speak of a generation gap, and I feel it. I'm in my late twenties: I grew up in an environment where my sex was not a burden, where I never felt discriminated against based on my gender, where I was free to define my sexuality on my own terms. The women of My Sister's Keeper grew up in a harsher world: many married and had children to hide their predilections; many lost jobs and homes and friends.

Now, slowly, their communities are dying. The separatists have trouble attracting younger women to their lifestyle: younger lesbians do not feel the same visceral need for a safe space, a place apart. The older women are "lost" not so much because they can't be found, but because no one looks.

And yet, the subheading is false advertising: one feels instinctively that the phrase "lost tribes of lesbians" should be followed by "twelve-foot high peanut-loving clown" or "two-headed marmoset." Only, instead of sensational revelations, what you get is a series of wistful, wishful meditations on life in a shrinking circle of women. Less entertaining, but still worth some thought.

So I give it some. I think about women; I think about men. I track the interplay in myself between bemusement and hunger.

I'm married to a man. I could call two or three more good friends. I do not believe, as one of the women puts it, that men are inherently violent, that a man instantly changes the dynamic of any interaction. Still, there's something I envy, here. The circle of women, the female community: this is how civilization gets shit done. Groups of women run schools, rule communities, organize food drives, stage peaceful demonstrations, help one another. Groups of men blow stuff up.

I miss women. Maybe not to the point of becoming an aging radical separatist lesbian, but enough to join a book club, damn it.


Josh said...

I just had a moment of keen appreciation for your sense of humor. I think that I, perhaps, did not fully appreciate it while I was living in the same town with you.

Let me know how the book club goes.

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