BY SID MARCH
All month, writers at Lesbian.com have been working on pieces about women they love. We couldn’t come up with a closed list of who was worthy of being talked about; there are just so many amazing queer women, lesbians and allies doing phenomenal things. We decided to make it personal: who makes each of us tick? Cindy Zelman blogged about coming out stories that were important to her. Other writers are working on bios and interviews. Me?
I started writing a simple list of 5 amazing queer women, but it’s impossibly hard to condense my appreciation for people into some kind of abbreviated index. I admire courage, tenacity, creativity and the ability to be oneself even when society says to be otherwise. I like people with edge, people with well-balanced power rooted in kindness, writers who harness words and ride them at full canter, musicians who play heart strings like violins, socialites whose charisma can knock you off your feet, activists motivated by powerful compassion. My list has evolved to include people of different levels of fame, with numerous talents and diverse identities (because one-size-fits-all actually fits almost no one)… Oh, and there’s way more than five.
Andrea Gibson was one of the first people that came to mind. She is a master of spoken-word poetry, confronting social issues like privilege, war, class, gender and bullying in her work, as well as weaving her way through love and sexuality. Often a voice at events like Take Back The Night, Pride and beyond, she is an activist for social justice, a brilliant thinker and a poet in a poet’s truest form. Every quote she shares, whether her own or an inspiration picked up elsewhere, resonates.
Staceyann Chin, a Jamaican-American poet and performer, is a lioness. Her words are sometimes unexpected, magnificently volatile, commanding, confrontational, playful, human. She is a stunning performer and watching her can shake me. She is fearless. Then there’s Ivan Coyote, a Canadian storyteller, writer and spoken word artist. Considered at once a voice for the butch experience, the lesbian experience and the transgender experience, Ivan has recently been working on a performance project called Gender Failure (along with indie musician Rae Spoon). Ivan’s stories are beautiful. They’re written in achingly genuine language and often challenge notions of binary gender (my inclusion of Ivan is to honor how these stories have shaped me, not to make any assumptions/statements about someone else’s identity), while telling stories that are so perfectly real, they are accessible to everyone.
I wish I had discovered narratives like Ivan’s during my teen years, but I relied more upon music to find my way. Laura Jane Grace is the lead singer of Against Me!, a band that was part of the soundtrack to my noisy and tumultuous adolescence. After years in the public eye as a modern punk rock icon who had been seen as male, she came out as a transgender woman. It was a risk, the world isn’t always as kind as we hope it will be, but she was true to herself. Remaining married to her wife Heather, she continues playing music that makes my getting-gray-around-the-edges heart pound like I’m still in front of the speakers. She is an inspiration to the many trans* youth that have welcomed her as their star. Some, however, may have already had an idol in Lana Wachowski, another gifted transwoman (married to another amazing, supportive wife), who came out publicly. She is one of the brains behind the “Matrix” trilogy and has spoken emotionally and honestly about her experiences growing up transgender.
So, with “Matrix” comes Hollywood. I’m not always impressed by the movies I watch; it’s strange to look into a thousand mirrors and never see yourself. Dee Rees, the filmmaker behind the critically acclaimed, semi-autobiographical movie “Pariah,” created a mirror for her own experience by bringing a black, masculine-of-center lesbian protagonist to the silver screen, yet another character that is all too often exempt from mainstream cinema. Rees is quoted as saying that many in the industry thought the “scope” was too small — going on to call it code for there being little Hollywood desire to back black/gay/coming of age films. It didn’t stop her. She even earned the support of Spike Lee, and together they brought the film to light and big success.
What determines success, anyway? Is it when someone like me recognizes you because you have a cool blog on the internet? That’s how I encountered Bevin Branlandingham, all that clever behind QueerFatFemme.com and the hostess of Rebel Cupcake, a fabulous dance party “for all shapes and flavors” that rocks NYC every month. She is a vocal advocate for self-love and body-positivity. While women are still subjected to heavily airbrushed images of what can be unreasonable body ideals, Bevin is cheering us on not despite of who we are, but because of who we are. She writes candidly about her own experiences in a way that validates all body types: yes, everyone deserves to feel great in their own skin!
Thinking about bodies led me to thinking about tattoos (a little habit that’s taken over a serious percentage of my own body), and I could talk about a tattoo artist, but I’m in the mood to talk about Margaret Cho, the (tattooed) comedian and serious advocate of LGBT-rights. Cho is vocal about who and what she supports and how she sees different issues. You can be Christian and gay, you can be a woman married to a man and not be straight (true and true!). She’s out as bisexual/queer (labels that she discussed publicly) which is fairly uncommon when the public focus is on either “gay” or “straight.” It takes guts to be raw and funny and uncensored and queer.
There are so many others that I want to mention. From household names like Rachel Maddow, Cat Cora and Beth Ditto, to lesser known artists and performers like Dalila Ali Rajah to countless LGBTQ and women’s rights activists across the world, I could keep writing until the letters on my keyboard all disappear. But I’m generous, and I think I ought to leave a few for someone else to talk about. Who has changed the way you see the world?