31 October 2006

Two Women of Woman-Stirred with Their Beloveds

I write a lot in my essays and poetry about my beloved and never name her. Then this fall a friend took this fabulous photo of us. It was unusual because when we vacation we are always trading the camera back and forth so that we have photos of one another but few good ones of us together. Getting this photo together seemed very special. I wanted to share it. Then I saw the photos of Jan and Hew at their wedding and wanted to share one of those photos as well. Other women of Woman-Stirred may jump in but for now, here are two of us with the people with whom we share our lives. -- Julie R. Enszer

Jan and her beloved, Hew

Julie and her beloved, Kim

21 October 2006

Boadicea Embarks

Photo © 2003 Jean Sirius
Photo © 2003 Jean Sirius

Boadicea Embarks

by Jan Steckel

A song is a sword, soft words a battle-cry.
The arrow fletched strikes the hawk from the sky.
I was a salmon, a raven, a bitch.
Berries of blood, berries of snow.

Salt in your throat, sister, shoulders sun-gold,
swimming with seal-women. White cliffs, stars wheel,
longboat of the sun, coracle of the moon.
Every star has a message for me:

home is the fisher from under the sea,
home the song-maker and singer of history.
We are protected, the shore-fires say.
Under the same sign we chant the same lay.

Sister, beside me, stay in the world,
hold the wood wheel, sight on the stars with me.
All fires burn for us.
This sky was made for us.

Conquer the conquerors! Call all my warriors.
Now is the time for the land to arise,
and the sea shall meet it,
like a lover a lover.

See in the waves, sister, green spiking holly leaves.
Oak is the flat keel, broad is the beam.
Let them make crosses in ages to come:
now is the moment, and you are my own.

Poem © 2004 Jan Steckel
Jan's poem first appeared in the anthology I'm Home: What It's Like to Love a Woman (iUniverse, 2005), edited by Ann Wells.

Photo © 2003 Jean Sirius
Thanks to Jean for giving permission to publish her photograph of Boadicea.

14 October 2006

The Women of Woman-Stirred on Marriage, Intimacy, and Passion

The conversation evolved through email over the past few days. Julie edited the emails and put them together as this blog entry as a catalyst for discussion. All are welcome to join the conversation.

Nicki wrote,

I feel there's a whole load of cultural and religious baggage surrounding marriage. And therefore surrounding the gay equivalent of marriage, which at the moment is civil partnership in the UK. I think society expects there to be a romantic element. I think a whole swathe of lesbians and gay men who want a civil partnership actually do so because they see it as a marriage. Some want the whole hog of marriage. Some of them just want a big party, I guess. Some see it as a further step towards equality with heterosexual relationships. Others of us are just completely confused about the whole thing and see it as a whole new burden because now we also have to agonise about what our partnerships are, and what commitment is, and whether we want a legal status. With legal rights come responsibilities and the need for divorce, right? When does commitment need legal commitment? Oh, such a huge, huge question! When you don't want the government to get its hands on your money? A part of me thinks that a civil partnership commitment should be emotional, that it's never just a legal or financial arrangement. Shouldn't it be emotional? Shouldn't it be about something more than protecting our legal interests? But then, what's wrong with protecting our legal interests?

Maybe when I'm closer to retirement I will view the pensions issue differently, but I know that at this moment in time I wouldn't be prepared to have a civil partnership for the pension. It kind of raises the age difference issue from a whole new angle, and maybe that's doing my head in a bit too. But it's ok, because [we] {Nicki and her partner} have managed to discuss this and we both feel that the civil partnership/marriage issue is so loaded that it's far too complicated for us to get our heads round, and we don't want to do it. Even though she is pissed off that her pension will get swallowed up and not left to me. Still - you can understand me wanting her to enjoy her pension while she's alive. What do I want with it? Hopefully I'll have my own eventually. But you never know what's going to happen to any of us, do you?

It's our eleventh anniversary today. That's a good day to work some of this out, don't you think? We're going to get our wills in order instead.

So what does this have to do with any of you? Well, it has a bearing on us talking about our long-term relationships as "marriages" and what we mean by that. It has a bearing on how we view commitment, how we view monogamy, how it feels different for everyone, how there are so many different views on civil partnership and gay marriage. My feeling is if I was attracted to men I wouldn't want to get married, so why would I want a civil partnership with a lesbian partner? I also wonder what makes me uncomfortable about it all on a personal level. When on a political level, I totally support equality and our legal rights as LGBT communities, and think we should have the choice to put our relationships on the same legal footing as heterosexual relationships (even if they're are not perceived yet as being on the same cultural footing).

I don't know why I should but I know I've found it difficult for example when Julie speaks of her partner as "my wife", even though Julie is writing about her partner in celebration, and shouldn't we be able to reclaim all of this language? Shouldn't we be able to recreate and reclaim as positive and talk about wives and husbands in our relationships, use whatever terms we want, whether it's in all seriousness or as a joke? Yes, of course we should!! And I don't want to stop anyone doing that. And I support everyone making their own decisions. I just wonder why it all feels so culturally loaded for me, and whether it feels as culturally loaded for the rest of you? And maybe this is a debate too far for us to go into. But I felt we were part way there anyway in the discussions we've opened up recently.

Julie replied:

I've found it interesting to watch as the marriage issue has rolled across the country - and the world - how individuals have navigated it. I've had a whole range of emotions around it. Dear friends of mine have had a commitment ceremony and a marriage in Toronto. I find it really annoying often. Almost as though it is an embrace of privilege that I never had the opportunity to have. I do wonder if we were to get together now if we might "get married" officially or publicly in some way.

The reality is we've been together for ten years and so doing something now - registering, commitment ceremony - seems weird. We are completely enmeshed financially and are committed to one another. There is nothing else that we could do at this moment in our state. Yet we may face that in the future and I don't know what we'll do. I don't know if we would register as DPs or have a civil marriage. It is fraught with emotion. None of the emotion, however, changes how I feel about the commitment in general in my life.

I want to be one of those women who has been with her partner for thirty, forty, fifty years. A little fighting. A little bickering. Challenges along the way. Absolutely. But I want to feel like I made the decision and stuck with it and built a relationship over a lifetime. Good and bad. Painful and wonderful.

Still, of course, I would be lying if I didn't say that sometimes it's boring and tedious. Sometimes I want to sleep with someone new. Still I remind myself, when I am fifty-six, we will have 30 years. I want to celebrate that.

Nicki replied:

You know, you're a breath of fresh air, that's what you are, Julie. Thanks for talking so openly with me.

It's important to me that you think it's fraught with emotion. I know none of us have unique thoughts, but I sometimes wonder if other people think about things in a similar way to me. I don't have other friends in this situation to ask about it. I'm fine, [my partner and I] are fine, but it's easy to choose not to talk about things, isn't it? To just carry on with life without being clear with each other what you're doing. How you and [your partner] might feel about registering after ten years is how a couple of friends feel about registering after twenty years. What does it mean now after twenty years of commitment when they've done everything else they can possibly do to live that commitment? They never thought they would choose to do it, but they're taking the legal rights to the extent they can. And good for them, I say.

Merry replied:

Dear Nicki, I can really sense the intensity in your email! How very loaded the issue is. I haven’t read further into my emails to see who else has responded because I want my response to be fresh and not influenced. But first: CONGRATULATIONS!!! It is an amazing thing, eleven years!!! I would have been married 31 years, if I stayed with Liz’s father! The very thought of THAT chills me to the bone!

Marriage and the right to serve in the military are big issues for the gay rights movement in the US. And I won’t even go into why ANYONE would want to join the military. That’s another issue. But I rail against both.

For the many organizations that are pushing for gay marriage (and collecting millions in contributions to support that goal), I believe they are pushing gay marriage as a means to an end, that end being legal parity. But marriage is still a binary, isn’t it? And doesn’t it mimic patriarchal institutions? Even if it is seen as a way to subvert patriarchy, the laws that support marriage mirror an oppressive, patriarchal system within structures of class and privilege. Marriage and civil unions can be traps. And I should note that in VT civil unions have parity with domestic partnership, NOT marriage. (By the way, all my comments are relevant to VT, it’s different in other states.)

Why would any lesbian want to support gay marriage as an institution that mirrors the dreadful institution which shackled untold millions of women to dependency and servitude? The ease of leaving a marriage is predicated on financial strength. It’s also extremely interesting to see how patriarchal paradigms haunt heterosexual divorces and bleed into homosexual divorce proceedings. Take for example grandparents file for sole custody of their daughter’s children. It seems that divorce always comes down to possessions and money. Who gets what and what about the tots?

For women who earn enough money and have resources, marriage is not necessarily the trap it could be for women who do not have a room of their own. But what of the millions of working-class lesbians, or lesbians who fall below the poverty line? Is the drive for marriage rights really going to benefit them too? From what I see here in Vermont, I doubt it. Invariably one of the pair loses out. And we still hear of couples saddled with the credit card debt of their deceased partners, or still have to battle a family of origin in order to keep what has been bequeathed to them.

I sense that the marriage and civil union questions are about assimilation and romance. Gays want to be part of the mainstream so much that they lose sight of the tricks, traps, and complications such legal rights provide. History also tells us assimilation does not guarantee safety or legal protection. So we settle for the crumbs of civil union and figure it out for ourselves while queer lawyers rake in the money.

Elizabeth and I thought long and hard about a civil union before we made the move. We were the first couple in Woodbury (where are home is actually located) to be issued a civil union certificate and we did have a wonderful ceremony and party. For me, our CU was both personal and political—another obstacle to anyone from either family making claim to our assets. We have wills, powers of attorney, and medical power of attorney which are another obstacle to familial interference. As Julie saw for herself when she and Kim visited, we live modestly and deliberately conscious of our environmental footprint. We’re not talking millions here.

But I see danger in romancing the institution of marriage. We can’t stay in bed all the time!! We have to get up and BE partners and spouses and grownups. I find it so interesting, that, when lesbians have children and then endlessly complain about how much work they are (with nanny, play dates, and pre-pre-nursery schools with all the accoutrements of corporatized childrearing—shining in the early morning sun, as children and daddy strap in and buckle-up for the l o n g ride to daycare and office.

I love how you see things Nicki, and thanks for such a great thread!

Jan responded:

Marriage and service in the military are civil rights that are denied to homosexuals, just like they used to be denied to African-Americans. Claiming the right to them is just part of claiming our full civil rights. Whether one then wants to get married or join the military is a personal decision. I wanted to be married to my lover after we had been together between one and three years and it was clear to me that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with that person. I wanted all the emotional and romantic stuff surrounding it, and I wanted the 1,000 or so legal rights that come with marriage which people in same-sex partnerships now have to go through all sorts of hoops to get even a fraction of.

When I was living with a woman, I wanted to marry her. I bought her a diamond ring, and if our relationship had lasted, I'd have wanted whatever ceremony and legal process that was available to us at the time, whether that was a commitment ceremony, a civil partnership, a domestic union, a marriage in Massachusetts or the Netherlands, or a real marriage here in the States.

This should all be interpreted in the light of the fact that I'm pretty much totally monogamous by nature, at least serially so. If I were polyamorous, it would be a whole different ball of wax.

I have dear heterosexual friends who have been together 30 years, and never married because they didn't want one person's financial resources to be legally available to the creditors of the other. It works fine for them. I have homosexual friends who have been together even longer, and I wish they had the legal protections of marriage available to them, as a choice, if they wanted it.

If a couple is childless and plans to remain so, I think there are perfectly good reasons either to marry or not to, and it's a personal choice. As a former pediatrician, I think any union involving children works better with something like marriage in place for the protection of the kids, both emotionally and financially.

Nicki replied:

Hey Merry,

You know that you're a breath of fresh air, too, don't you ;-)

Yeah, getting down to how we support each other and particularly leave things more secure than they might otherwise be in ill health or on the death of a partner - that's really one of the key issues here, isn't it? We talked to each other yesterday about how we feel we can trust our families to include us should there be difficult decisions to make that only someone with the legal status of next of kin can make. A civil partnership would give us that legal status. Do we need that legal status?

The other side of it all for me is how we have to make our own families, and that also involves decisions about what happens with assets. Like you two, we aren't talking millions either. But it's a consideration, and it's also a consideration about not allowing any of this to become a burden.

So these are the other things that have been on my mind.

Thanks for letting me talk it through. Don't you think these are some of the most significant discussions in "Queer Culture" right now? Some of the most difficult ones, perhaps. But ones we can't ignore.

Julie remembered:

One other thing about this. . . . .

I used to hate the word wife as a feminist. Then we moved to a really conservative part of Colorado and when I said my partner everyone asked me, "Oh, what business are you in." Which was really annoying because it brought about even more attention to me coming out. So I started saying "my wife." People got a clue right away. No more explaining. I liked that.

That's why I use the word. It's interesting meeting new people and using it. They still have lots of questions about it, but they understand the relationship immediately - and they respect it. So while I still have issues as a feminist using it, I've come down on the side of convenience and reclaiming the language.

Sex and Death

Julie wrote:

For me one of the interesting things is that I have had a will and a medical power of attorney since I was 20. I had seen people die from AIDS and I didn't want my family of birth making ANY decisions for me. So I'd always had the appropriate paperwork in place so that my chosen family could make decisions for me. It's one of the things that I feel really passionately about - people controlling their end of life decisions and what happens to them at the end and afterward. I don't like how the law makes the decisions around kinship, but I don't have another option and I understand that there needs to be some sort of codification for how all of this will be handled. Still, I'd love to see some alternative.


Nicki wrote,

I think something hit me the other day, when a friend said something like, "You have all that romanticism early on in a relationship, but then over time it changes and you become each other's best friends and don't look at it in quite the same way. Gay or straight, that's how relationships work out. You settle down together and the lover emphasis shifts." This is a really bad paraphrase - I can't recall what she said, but it felt like this. And I found myself nodding, because I recognise some of that. But a little voice in me wanted to cry out, "What about the passion? We can't let the passion simply run down. Don't you want some passion still?"

Julie responded,

Um, yeah. This is the key paragraph. So I've clipped it and retitled it and will put some thoughts out here.

The issue of Lesbian Bed Death was fully articulated and examined by Joann Loulan. In some ways, I feel like the focus on marriage and relationship recognition is behavior to divert us from really looking at our relationships. If they were passionate and validating in and of themselves would we look for CU or DP or marriage? Perhaps not. I have a hard time understanding why people get all worked up about equity arguments. Believe me, I care about them. I want to have equity for my relationship with Kim, but we don't. And, is it a diversion? I feel really depressed when I hear, "you settled down together and the lover emphasis shifts." What, what, what??!!?? Sure the flush of those great hormones is gone and there is more work at the passion - work in the sense that it isn't naturally kicked in hormonally. But I want to have a passionate relationship because let's be frank all of that blah blah about being together 30 years is bullsh*t if there isn't hot, passionate, dirty, gnarly sex. Sex trumps the emotional and nostalgic desires to be in a LTR.

I can agree with different and perhaps less frequent, but I can't cotton to infrequent. We have a matrix of rules about sex in our relationship - including someone recently asked me how long it took us to have sex after my partner's mom died (she died in January) and I said, um 2 hours, because we had sex two hours after the funeral so that we weren't overwhelmed by grief. The person I was talking with was shocked. Still, we are quite attentive to the regular occurrence of sex. Now the regular occurrence doesn't always translate into passion, but it facilitates the presence of passion.

So perhaps that is oversharing, but I wanted to key in on this point.

And Nicki is now sleeping so she won't read until after work - in which case, set down the computer and go have really hot sex!

Jan wrote,

Actually, I find funerals a real turn-on. I thought most people did. Something about the need to assert one's life in the face of death? I had sex immediately after my grandmother's funeral.

Merry wrote,

Well, I do like this thread… and am very happy to report that we at 55 and 52 are still going strong in the hot sex department. And I think so much of our freedom has to do with, frankly, too old to care what the hell anybody thinks of any kind of position, role-playing, fantasizing, suggestive behavior and the like… and let me add that one of the benefits of living off the beaten track: we can make all the noise we want.

6 October 2006

Dark Flowers by Deela Khan


(For Nadia Anjuman Herawi 1980 - 2005)

Dark flowers come blazing from the night skies
Sulphurous blooms burn, mutilate; blow bodies apart.
Tell me who are the warmongers, terror-stokers–why do innocents die?

The planet pirouettes on its bloodied axis
Missiles fly dragonflies of fire carted by hands hollow of heart
Dark flowers come blazing from the night skies

Bombs blast away towers and trees up high
Emit rays, scrape skin. Scorched faces smart.
Tell me who are the warmongers, terror-stokers–why do innocents die?

In times of jittery Peace we’re living with war, Why, I ask, why?
Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, live walls and camps, state-of-the-art
Dark flowers come blazing from the night skies

On continents and seas of plenty, people war, starve and die
Who attached the price-tags, carved land, diamonds, coal, oil, and water apart?
Tell me who are the warmongers, terror-stokers–why do innocents die?

And you, my Dylan, scintillating star in the nightsky
I thank, praise you now for villanelles that sting and dart
Dark flowers come blazing from the night skies
Tell me who are the warmongers, terror-stokers–why do innocents die?

© Deela Khan
7 September 2006

About Deela Khan

Deela KhanDeela (Dilaram) Khan was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa. She studied English, History, Psychology and Creative Writing in the Western Cape and New York.  As poet, writer and gatherer of folk tales, fables and histories, she lives and writes from the trenches of Poetry, History, Political vision and Moral witness.

Her poems and short-fiction have appeared in local and overseas anthologies and journals. Her first selection of poetry, So Hard to Heal in a Hard Age, was published in Kentucky, USA, by White Fields Press in 1994.  Her second offering of poems, Engaging the Shades of Robben Island, was published in Cape Town, South Africa, by Realities in 2002. She is currently preparing her first novel, Hold the Sky, for publication.                

Reflections from Julie of the Woman-Stirred Collective

Nadia Anjuman’s life and poetry has been of interest to me since I learned about her death. We posted about Anjuman’s death when it was first reported. Last Sunday in response to that post, Deela Khan, a poet in South Africa, posted her wonderful villanelle “Dark Flowers” in the comment section of that Woman-Stirred blog entry. We were all taken with this lovely poem and asked Deela if we could post it as a full blog entry on Woman-Stirred. Deela graciously complied.

When I first read this poem, I was so moved by how Deela takes the image of the “Dark Flower“ which is central to the Anjuman work that is available in English translations and uses it to reflect on the wars that terrorize us today. Her mournful language, so carefully matched to the villanelle form, with the contemporary evocations of human-made horrors creates a powerful experience for me as a reader.

Deela is a member of a women’s writing and publishing collective, WEAVE, in South Africa. Perhaps future collaboration between Woman-Stirred and WEAVE will be in the making. In the meantime, reread ”Dark Flowers“ and post your appreciation and reflections on Deela Khan’s important work.

1 October 2006

Grief: A Poem by G.L. Morrison

G.L. Morrison, the "list mother" and a long-time member of the "Lesbian Writers" listserv, now over at Yahoo! groups, has written a gorgeous poem for Tee Corinne. All of us at Woman-Stirred were taken with it and requested the honor of publishing it here.

We continue to remember and honor Tee Corinne and her many contributions and appreciate these words from G.L. Morrison.

Grief: A Poem

there will be other women
many who knew you better
many who knew you longer
some that were witness to that breath
the one that went out to find your lungs
had changed the lock, the breath that went out
and could not get back in again
perhaps some spark of spirit went
out with that breath to seek a new address
there will be other women to tell that story
there will be other women to talk about the circle of life
about spirit and hope and the natural order of things
and the old ways and release from pain and reunion,
loves reunited and death and birth and the goddess
but I will not be that woman
there is only one goddess for me today, Tee,
and my soul rages blasphemy
damn the stars
could the night be so dark
it had to steal your light for the heavens?
damn them
selfish, selfish
my heart paints each star black

memorail I wrote when I meant to say memorial
and I thought of Plath writing of the manmoth
(from a typo or typ-eye for mammoth)
and I thought of what you would say
of malaprops and solipsism

memorail- its tracks are the yellow line
on the highway, dashed or broken lines,
the ellipse between my house and yours
the stretch of road and circumstance
that made a 3 hour trip take how many years
the memory train takes me to you
I did not want to come here
the child in me believes
that attending your funeral causes your death
I cannot explain to her this is not so
this is the fault of the way we live
and love over time and distance

I do not need to see you every day or
every year to know how real your love for me was
and this I know is the crucible of my tears
your leaving does not stop my love for you
what could--not time or miles--
what hope could death have to still my heart
my unstoppable love,
my admiration, my respect for you
but selfish, selfish
it stole yours from me

O Teeberry, my friend,
who was sometimes the mother
we neither had and both longed for,
and always the Galatea who breathed life
into canvas, film and print
will breathe no more art, no poetry,
no stories to me
O Galatea, breathe... breathe again
you who made so many women immortal
oh my goddess, my friend
my inspiration, my yantra
how dare you be mortal
selfish, selfish
I know every pot eventually is broken
back to the clay it was shaped from
but selfish, selfish
I thought you were unbreakable
I do not want to remember your rakku smile,
chiaroscuro wit, and watercolor optimism
I do not want to hang you in the gallery of my memory
selfish, selfish
how could you leave me behind
you always knew the way
you said draw a map between today and tomorrow
where you are today and where you want to be tomorrow
Where I want to be, Ms. Tee A. Corinne,
is you
selfish, selfish
you have left us no map
selfish, selfish
tho you made your life a map for strangers
what am I to make of all this death?

© G.L. Morrison

You can reach G.L. Morrison at glzenfish@yahoo.com