BY CINDY ZELMAN
When I was a younger woman, I donned leather pants, white ribbed tanks, and high-heeled black boots. I’d take off most weekends to meet women at lesbian dances in Boston. I was slim and fit because I worked out. I learned how to flex my muscles without looking as though I was flexing. This is how I met girlfriends-to-be: with a dash of egoism and a sexy outfit.
I attended these dances to validate myself as an attractive woman, measured by how many women wanted to talk with me, dance with me or get my phone number. I’m embarrassed now to admit how shallow my motives were, and that such a superficial validation was so important to me, but it was — and for a long time.
But times have changed.
I’m in my early fifties, and I don’t wear leather pants anymore. Although I’m still in good shape, I eat too many cheese puffs and red velvet cupcakes to fit into any leather-hugging trousers. I don’t wear heeled boots either, due to a nerve condition I have between my toes. Today I took delivery on three pairs of “Grasshopper” shoes. These are sensible and very comfortable tie shoes for a woman who no longer is trying to impress anyone. I realize I am no longer bringing sexy back, but I’m bringing something else these days, something more important — a wider perspective on the LGBTQ community.
For example, my views on Michfest have evolved. Known to those of us of the 1980s coming out era as The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, in those days the featured singers were Holly Near and Ferron and Cris Williamson, among others. Today, there is controversy as to what kind of woman should be allowed in — whether trans-women should or should not welcomed. The Indigo Girls plan an onstage protest of this womyn-born-womyn only policy.
Once I would have agreed with the only-born-as-a-woman policy and said, no, if you still have a penis or an Adam’s apple, you are not a woman, and therefore, you are not allowed into MichFest.
Now I find such a view as embarrassing as my leather pants. One of the ideas behind such an event is to end the isolation of a group of people who have been kept down in society. Who could be more isolated than a “man” who is really a woman? A transsexual, or a woman in transition, who has always felt like a woman but has never been welcomed into the women’s community? I believe anyone who identifies as a woman should able to attend. We must be more open-minded about what we mean by “woman.” Gender is no longer “bifurcated” as the intellectuals might say, and it can be very complex.
Other things have changed over the decades, for example, in the 21st century so many (r)evolutions in thought and technology have allowed me to be “out” in numerous ways that I felt unable to be in the 20th century.
Well, look, I’m writing a blog on Lesbian.com. There was no Lesbian.com way back when. There was no dot.com anything. Here I have a forum to talk about whatever I want as a gay woman where once I felt I could not even say the word lesbian. I have Twitter and Facebook accounts and a WordPress blog, and every so often, The Huffington Post, to talk about gay issues. I don’t take this for granted. If having to reach my fifties and move into comfortable shoes is the price I’ve had to pay to get to this place of expressive freedom, so be it.
My feelings for Pride, too, have changed. Years ago, I was embarrassed by the parades – by the parading – with lesbians going topless and the men in full flame. I used to think: flaunting it is no way to garner support from the rest of society. Even when you’re gay, you can still carry mainstream homophobia with you, and that’s exactly what I did in my leather pants and heeled boots. I thought we needed to “please” the rest of society in some way in order to gain acceptance.
Now, in my looser-fitting blue jeans and comfortable shoes, I’m more of a mind to say, ‘go eff yourself’ and let us be what we are. I now realize that we need to flaunt our identities just to remain visible and Pride is a place for that to happen annually, and all around the world! We need the shock value — until we are accepted wholesale with full rights and full love — into society.
As I’ve shed my sexy boots, so, too, have I shed my narrow-minded views on the queer community and let go of my own socialized homophobia. I may not be bringing sexy back with my new dress style, but I’m bringing back something much more important: a wider and more encompassing perspective, that for me personally, couldn’t have happened until I’d had time to grow into middle age. Maybe I don’t look so cool now, but I am so much cooler than I was in those boots.
Cindy Zelman is a writer based in Boston, whose blog, “The Early Draft,” explores a variety of topics, including lesbianism, writing, agoraphobia and humor.