Sistah Summerfest 2003
                June 6-8, 2003
An Event for Womyn of all Ages,
                               Lifestyles and Persuasions



Vis-a-Vis FemmeNoir Events Contact Coffee Klatch The Village

Pat Parker
Twenty Years . . .
The Women Gather
Since I Do Not Dare
An Ideal Partner
The Greatest of These
In The Spirit
You Were Loved
You Are Not Alone
Choose Your Label
Peace On Earth
This Life I Live
Eros, Pathos
Choice of Weapons
On My Own



Vis-à-vis meaning, in a position facing another or literally “face to face.”  The phrase is often now used in the sense of “in relation to.”  Its origin is French.  I am using the phrase, in this commentary, to mean literally facing myself and to encourage other lesbians of color to face themselves as well as their life partners.  I am also drawing a pun on lesbian visibility.  Why?

On May 26, 2003, I will have been without Christine for one year and her presence is sorely missed in my life.  During the months since her death, I have found myself thinking of her often and wishing I could call her and tell her some great news or share some information I stumbled across.  Early on, I caught myself thinking “I’ve got to tell Christine about this” and quickly realized I cannot call her.  After such thoughts, a feeling of loneliness welled within me and often I think about how I took her presence in my life for granted.  I believe it human to think someone will always be in our lives and thus, sometimes we forget, in our day to day, to do or say something to that special someone in our lives to let them know just how much they are appreciated or even setting aside more time to enjoy that person’s company for as long as we can with full knowledge and awareness that nothing lasts forever.  I think our human conditioning prevents us from thinking about loss or death so we live each day taking so many meaningful people in our lives for granted.  This is what I have had to face within myself this past year while sitting in my comfortable chair of memories while reminiscing on the wonderful person I had in my life. 

It has been said God doesn’t put more on you than you can bear but, in this past year,  I have been moved many times to question that statement.  In March, I almost lost my brother in a horrific auto accident.  When I saw him in emergency I found him with a broken neck, his legs were broken, his ankles were broken and a foot was broken.  In essence, my brother was broken and so was my heart.  For a while I questioned God for taking away the woman I loved and now, I questioned God for allowing this to happen to my brother.  Within days after my brother’s accident, the news just kept getting worse.  A co-worker of mine was informed, on Christine’s birthday, his mother had breast cancer.  For seven months after September 11, 2002, I relived the experiences shared with Christine through my co-worker.  Just as it was seven months for Christine, his mother died on the 27th of March, 2003.   Just the day prior, my boss lost her father suddenly.  I cried out to God “Why?”   I wanted to go for a time without heartache, anger, sorrow or pain, but it was not to be – it just kept getting worse. 

The same week of the aforementioned events I began receiving strange and almost attacking emails from someone I called friend.  She read part of a Commentary I posted earlier and, to put it bluntly, lost her cotton picking mind.  By week’s end, I discovered why she displayed such anger and hostility toward me; she too was informed she had an aggressive cancer and was given little time to live.  At that point, I came nearer to an emotional, physical, psychological, and nervous meltdown.  I felt the need to withdraw from everything.  I could not deal anymore.  I truly wanted to stop the world and get off.  But, it kept getting worse.

I started backing off FemmeNoir and felt I needed to get away from everything for a while.  I wanted to disappear.  The daily emails from my friend, sometimes two or three a day and quite lengthy, became too devastating to read.  These lengthy emails would become a telling tale on the story of her life.  She presented every detail of her life, things she wished she had done, things she wished she’d never done and one of her more recent emails, a good 20-pages or more, detailed her relationship with her partner who passed away some years ago.  She talked about her professional life and how it never mixed with her personal life.  How she attended company affairs without her partner and initially, she felt guilty.  Later, she felt this was what she had to do.  She never told her brothers (who probably knew what was going on) about her relationship and as far as she knew, they considered her friend a roommate.  She went on about the separate bedrooms for show, the separate cars and office space, the lies she told, and her anger.  She was very angry with society for not allowing her the freedom to love.  There were pages upon pages of anger. 

Like a train wreck, regardless of how devastating her words, I kept coming back to them to read another line, another paragraph, another phrase, sometimes over and over again.  Her anger with me went back many years to my wanting to be out and not living and loving secretly.  She admitted a desire to see my wishes backfire, but each time, with every situation she considered a backfire, she found I became more resolute.  “With each experience,” she said “you were made stronger.”  In her latest email, she told me this is my destiny and “don’t lose your destiny.”  Well, I almost did lose my Destiny, both literally and figuratively.  It kept getting worse.

My little Cocker Spaniel, Destiny, almost died from a terrible infection.  I had to rush her to emergency where she underwent emergency surgery.  This incident brought me back to Christine.  This little animal was Christine’s gift to me.  Christine hated dogs but she loved herself some Destiny.  Thought Destiny was a little Mensa member she did because of all the things I taught the little Diva Dawg.  Well, here I was almost losing my Destiny – the only little one I have that reminds me of “the other mommy” – the mommy Destiny remembers so well.  I was so devastated behind this I finally gave in to the long-awaited meltdown. 

I realized how little time I had given to Diva Dawg; how little time I had given to her partner in crime, Butch; and how little time I had given myself.  This was key.  For many years I had been trying to be strong for my mother, co-workers, Christine, my brother, everybody and anybody but no one was ever there being strong for me.  The only person I had in my corner for much of what I’ve been through these past few years was Christine and now she’s gone.  Oh, the devastation – the only one I could talk to who understood me was gone.  I had no one to talk to now and the realities soon set in.  My friend wanted me to drop everything and go to her bedside because I knew and understood death.  She went on in anger about friends calling and asking her to call if she needed anything.  “Why should I call them, I’m the one dying” she said.  The guilt trips she sent me on were more than a notion.  She wanted me there, with her, to sit by her side so she wouldn’t die alone.  She felt I understood because I was there for and with Christine.  I do understand.  I understood too well she wanted me to carry a heavier load than I could possibly bear. 

In reality, everyone needs me now for something.  The unspoken words in all of their neediness were:  my brother was still alive and stable so I needed to be available and responsible at work, after all, they lost a parent; I should be more available for my brother probably just as I was for Christine; I went through a loss with Christine so I should be more available for my friend who was after all dying; the vet wanted me to spend 24-7 with my dog to ensure she was okay; in essence, I was needed to step up my responsibilities at work; my mother needed me; my brother needed me; my friend needed me to be there with her; my dog needed me; and I, more importantly, needed me.  What everyone failed to realize was I am still grieving.  I have not had sufficient time to adequately and properly grieve.  No one got it.  What I lost was my wife, my girlfriend, my best friend, the only person I could share 100% of my life with, the only person I had to talk to.  I could not take the three-day paid bereavement leave from work for losing my partner.  Sans my co-workers, I received no flowers for my grief.  I was expected to continue on as if nothing happened -- as if I suffered no loss.

Another reality -- what I heard these past few days and months since Christine’s death was Christine somehow became insignificant in my life.  My relationship with Christine was relegated to that of a close friendship by many including my lesbian friends who are sitting with my friend who is now dying.  Did I somehow do this?  Did I create this illusion?  The answer could be yes and no.  Some people actually understood my relationship with Christine meant more than a simple friendship.  One friend actually gave me a hug and talked about how I must be feeling after hearing the news of my co-worker’s mother’s death.  Even my co-worker, upon returning home to take care of his mother's affairs, sent me an email to say “I know you have an anniversary coming up.”   As for others, my close friends even, somehow they thought her death was something I somehow got over, almost as if she didn't mean very much to me.  I'm strong, yes, but I ain't that strong.

I settled in and allowed my ears to focus and hear the conversations of some of my lesbian friends and what I heard, in the words they chose to use, was how they too minimized the relationship my friend had with her lover of many years.  Their words betrayed them.  I also heard, again, in the words they chose to use, how they minimized their own, existing relationships.  As lesbians, do we minimize our own relationships?  Do we perceive our relationships as transient and incapable of meaning more than two people just living together?  In our day-to-day, working and living in a predominantly straight world, does some of that thinking creep into our private lives and cause us to, unconsciously, devalue our own relationships?  Do we feel our relationships don't, never will, cannot, should not, will not measure up to those of our straight counterparts?  I’m beginning to think it does. 

In fairness, the women I am referring to are old friends of mine whom I’ve reconnected with through FemmeNoir.  Now, years later, they are still closeted or are, to use a popular phrase, “closet door ajar.”  My belief is, because of their secret lives, some of the outside prejudices have crept into, and subsequently poisoned, their intimate relations.  Their conversations, whether with a close friend or professional colleague tend to maintain a stagnant tone with regard to the women in their lives.  Only when you invite them to talk about their lovers or special friends do they check their mental database, determine you are in the privilege log, and then consider opening that segment of their lives for discussion.  It has been a long time since I’ve engaged in so much coded conversation and through it, I now realize how little living they are doing.  Much of their lives is spent doing database queries. 

When I look at my gay male friends, however, not only are they out at work, they are out to everyone who has ears and eyes to hear and see.  As I went through my firm’s face book the other day, I identified several openly gay male attorneys as they listed their male significant others along with their professions.  If there are any lesbian attorneys in my firm, they either have no significant others or they are not talking about them.  Gay men I have worked with are usually very out about their lives, but the women I’ve worked with usually are not.  For the women I've know and worked with, their conversations are almost always very guarded. 

When I think back to the time of Christine’s death, I remember the two photographs I had displayed on my desk of the two of us.  People came by and asked how I was doing, left cards and flowers, emailed poems and gave their condolences on my loss.  In the last few years, I’ve never tried to hide my life from anyone and when asked, I answered honestly.  One co-worker was actually quite bold and asked me right out if I was gay and I told him yes.  I’m sure everyone knew what my relationship was with Christine. 

Reflecting on one of my friend’s many emails, she said she wished she had been more open in her life with her partner.  She wished they did more together and wished she had “the balls” her partner had when she finally decided to stop “mincing words” and just told them the truth because she felt “the game was too hard to play.”  My friend never did.  Now, she says only one thing matters in life and that is life itself.

 “It’s the only one we have and we don’t get second chances at this.  If I had been out and just lived my life, I might have been happier.  It’s the hiding thing I resent most.  Hiding from the ones you know and don’t know.  The lies and trying to keep up with the lies.  Then you wonder if you’re hurting your lover by not being honest with everyone else and maybe that’s why she told people what was up, she saw what it was doing to me.  I have regrets Angela.  I hate that I’m dying with regrets.  I’m telling everyone I’m gay now.  I even told the nurse (who don’t care) I’m gay.  I wish I had been free – your word – free.  I wish I had been free.  You’re free.  This is your destiny baby.  Keep being free and live your destiny.  Don’t lose your destiny.  If Marianne and I had traveled together and just got one bed in the room instead of two, bought the house with the large master bedroom instead of the nondescript two-bedroom house, we might have been happier.  What I’m saying is, we might have been happier together and that’s what should have mattered, not what other folk was saying or doing.  US!  It should have been about US!  Not those other folk.  I’m laying here dying and they ain’t here.  Marrianne ain’t here now and I can’t tell her I’m sorry.  At least you had that with Christine.  She understood you as you are and she knew what was up with you and she understood.  I love that picture of the two of you sitting on the couch.  Marianne and I never had any pictures like that, I wish we did.  I felt that was too risky.  I wish we did.  I wish I could look at one of the two of us right now like that.  I have the that picture of the two of you on my nightstand so I can see two people in love being free.  Yeah, I printed it out.  But it’s what I’ve got to hold onto into the next world and hopefully, if I come back, I’m going to remember to be free.  I want to be looking at that picture when I die to see two people in love, smiling and happy with each other.  Don’t go back baby, stay bold and free.  We going to be looking out for you, Christine and I and I’m going to pat her on the back for putting up with your passionate ass.  Damn, I’m dealing with some shit now.  Write me back.” 

When I was coming up and trying to come out, I never talked about my relationships with women.  I kept these things to myself.  As I engaged in conversations with people I worked with, I would listen to them describe their girlfriends or boyfriends as they openly discussed their relationships.  I felt I could not talk about my relationship or I would simply lie.  When I got tired of lying, I stopped talking altogether.  Eventually, as I noticed how small my world became, I started talking and didn’t care about the eyes that wondered or rolled off to the next person as if to ask, “did she say what I think she said?”  I stopped caring about that and knew they would eventually get over it.  Everyone knew what Christine and I did over the weekend, the events we attended, the restaurants where we ate.  I had to be, as my friend says, free.  The little box became too small for me to continue to live in if I wanted to survive. 

I want the world to know how important my significant other is to me.  I want the world to know because I want everyone to know and understand her significance in my life, just as straight women honor their husbands or straight men honor their wives.  My loss of Christine is just as important as losing a husband or wife – she was not a mere friend or acquaintance.  By telling the world how wonderful she is to me encourages me to come home and live, on a personal level, how wonderful she really is to me.  I want the world to know my relationship is not insignificant, is not based on sex; our relationship, like everyone else, is based on love and I demand the same respect of my relationship as I give others in their relationships.  The two women who lived across the street from me in Chicago were definitely lesbians.  Their home was not firebombed.  The words “dyke” or “bulldagger” was not spray painted on their walls.  They were not attacked by the neighbors.  If anything, they educated an entire neighborhood of straight Black folk.  Their relationship lasted longer than some of the married folks on my block.  Another reality -- once folks get over their initial shock, they get over it.  We need to get over it as well lest we begin to minimize our own relationships and those of others.  We need to honor our relationships. 

As I almost lost my brother – “but you two weren’t that close, were you?  He has your mother.”    As I almost lost Destiny – “but that’s a dog, I’m talking about someone who is dying.”  As I lost Christine – “but you two didn’t live together.”   As I relived the experience of Christine’s final days and months through my co-worker – “but you really didn’t know his mother.”  I learned people have an uncanny ability to make insignificant what you find most significant.  They minimize your feelings and present arguments for why their concerns are more important than yours.  People will throw guilt trips your way in an effort to make you feel you are somehow being selfish if your thoughts or actions are different than theirs.  What a horrible thing to do to another human being and I beg to differ.  No, some of their words and actions are most selfish particularly when they fail to consider what you are going through.  This is why, as I stand before myself, vis-à-vis, I now realize the importance of seeing everyone’s point of view, however, I will maintain my own beliefs thank you.  I can neither be everything to everyone nor should I and as Christine said to me last year, “you can do everything people want you to do, you can be everything they want you to be, you can give all you have until you can’t give anymore, no matter what you do you still will not have done enough to satisfy them.  What are you willing to give for your soul?”  Why should I care about what others think of me, particularly when they have no concern for me to even begin to understand where I am or what I’m going through?  This included my friend.

In anger, I sent her a heated email detailing what I felt was her insensitivity to my grief, my sadness, my depression and how dare she criticize me and my life and call me to task about not being there for her.  I went off.  I understood why she never called me back when I was going through my experiences with Christine, it hit too close to home as she lost Marianne to breast cancer.  When she was strong enough, she called me and I never once took her to task for not being there for me.  I understood.  I fired back enumerating what I've been through this past year -- not even a year has passed and already I'm dealing with much more than I can bear.  I went on and stated with great specificity how she minimized my relationship with Christine and to be honest, she had done likewise with her own relationship.  I am known to be blatantly honest and I refuse to change who I am for anyone.  Early one morning, after she received my email, she called me to apologize.  She did not realize how she minimized my relationship with Christine or my grief.  From that point on, either telephonically or through emails, she has talked much about her partner and how wonderful she was.  Even our mutual friends have said they have never heard this much about Marianne.  My friend very rarely talked about her relationship with Marianne.  Friends now say they are seeing a softer side of our cantankerous old friend.   Now we both talk about our partners who passed and have found it good for the soul.  I hear she smiles and laughs more now as she reminisces about Marianne and sometimes she talks them to death about her.  The miraculous in these events has been a renewed belief in all who are around her to take stock of their own relationships and honor them as they should be honored.  We need to honor our relationships while we have them and let everyone know how important the women in our lives are. 

Recently, a message was posted on the message board that warmed my heart about the love between two women.  It was inspiring and I’m so glad the person who posted it shared their story with the community.  [Click here to read]   We need to honor our relationships. 

Vis-à-vis, with ourselves, each other, the people in our lives, we need to honor our relationships and not live a schizophrenic existence pretending one part of our lives cannot coexist with the other.  We deserve more than this and we risk the danger of exporting this thinking to others.  My brother means a lot to me, my co-workers mean a lot to me, my friends mean a lot to me, my dogs mean a lot to me and Christine meant the world to me.  None of my relationships are insignificant and they should never be deemed so.  Living the schizophrenic existence means not stopping by the florist at work because you don’t want to be seen sending flowers to a woman and having to explain it if you are seen.  Not stopping by the florist before going home because you don’t want the neighbors to know you're bringing her flowers.  Putting the straight world ahead of the woman you love when the straight co-worker or friend calls and you stay on the phone with them because you don’t want to lie and say you need to call your boyfriend and you believe they would not understand if you say you need to call or share time with your girlfriend, your partner, your lover.  You put your partner on hold until you can get to her safely, without being seen or heard.  It means going out and consciously making it a point to not look into her lovely eyes for fear you will give it away.  It means making a conscious decision to not touch her, no matter how slight, as to not alert others to your love for her.  It means not giving her that look in public when you know, that you know, that you know because you don’t want others to know.  It means lying to subdue rumors subsequently denying her and your love.  It also means spending too much time and energy pretending your love for her does not exist for far too many hours in a day.  I’m too old, too hurt and too tired to care anymore.  I don’t know how many more years I have in my life but I refuse to spend it living for someone else’s comfort and not my own.  Life's too short.  From my friend Theressa, aka T3PO.

“Mary and I were walking in the park one day with her dog; you know that dog died shortly after she died.  That was her dog.  I really wanted to hold her hand, touch her, or kiss her under a tree like other folks in the park.  I wanted to do all that romantic shit I’ve seen other people do and wished I could do.  Why do they have a right to kiss each other or damn near have sex in public and we can’t?  That’s my question.  Why?  I probably loved her more than some of those trifling folks professing love out there.  But I couldn’t.  I never forgot that.  It was a nice summer day and the breeze was so nice.  We were happy and having fun with that old spoiled dog of hers.  I wanted to take a chance and just hold her, but I couldn’t get up the nerve to do it.  I remember you said you just grabbed on Christine one day and kissed her cheek in a parking lot and folks around y’all just laughed.  Y’all used to hit each others butts and bump each other in public.   Damn I wish I had the balls to do that.  I remember telling people I lived with my cousin and had her picture on my desk surrounded by nieces and nephews.  I should have had a big picture of the two of us on my desk.  You got some damn balls girl.  Keep doing what you’re doing and share my damn story of misery.  Bust the damn world wide open and let everybody out.  I’m dying and wishing I had lived.  I don’t want nobody else to go through this.  In the end, all that matters is life and how you live it.  It’s funny the weird shit you think about when you know you’re going to die.  I would have taken an ass whoping just to have kissed her in public.  She would have liked that.  I bet she would have had a big grin on her face too.  Tell those women to be out and don’t do what I did, hiding and not loving my woman like I should.  Be out.  Be free. All that matters is life itself.  It’s the only one we have and we don’t get second chances at this.”

That’s right “T”, be free.  Vis-à-vis, look at the woman in your life and enjoy every minute of her.  Don’t let a single moment go to waste.  What’s the worst that can happen?  You could die wishing you had.  Life's too short for that.

Note:  This is the cleaner, kinder and gentler version of my friend’s emails.  She, like Christine, curse like sailors.  These are her words with severe edits. 

Okay, how's that?  Much better huh?  Love ya lady.  Angela





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