Note from the Editor: Submissions and moving forward.

Hello lovely readers,

I write to you today to let you know we have reached the end of the stock pile of submissions I have been receiving over the past months. I have enjoyed reading every single piece that hit my inbox and cannot wait until I get to see some more of your wonderful work.

Since I first published Birthday Cake by Chale Needle, TROU has managed to have one story or image to share with you each week, which honestly amazes me. I never thought that I would have such success with this little magazine right out of the gate.

I have received messages from some readers about how valuable they have found the content here. I believe it matters so much to provide a platform to showcase acceptance through representation, and the love stories of regular, everyday people who are as much the same as I am as they are different. I will continue to leave the magazine open to submission, just as I always have. I hope I will receive something wonderful in the next few days that I can share with you next week. If that should not happen, then the structure of the magazine will shift a bit to accommodate the  new speed at which I receive suitable material to publish. Ever the optimist, I believe there are lots more stories to share out there.

If you would like to help keep the weekly publications going there are several things you can do. You can share the calls for submission I put out on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook in your feed. Or you could share the link to the submissions page directly with your friends, family, and fellow story tellers.

Best of all, you could submit a story, essay, memoir, poem, or picture yourself. Have an idea I did not think of that you think would fit the mission of the magazine, send that in too! Love appears in many forms, and I am always up to be shown new ways to love.

Building a community from scratch takes work. I hope you will join me in hammering in a few nails to build things up.

-Whitney

“Take Back The Night” by Mary Fairhurst Breen Part 2

Take Back The Night: Part 2

By Mary Fairhurst Breen

Kate and I became the epitome of Lea DeLaria’s popular joke, “What does a lesbian bring on a second date? A U-Haul.” I was smug, so sure that at the advanced age of forty-four, I could distinguish love from lust. I convinced myself that house-hunting with someone after four months together was a perfectly rational thing to be doing. In truth, I was ignoring ample evidence to suggest we had nothing in common, stumbling along in a constant post-coital haze. Our lovemaking was affirming and unrestrained, and I was giddy.

I saw no comparison to my first illogical leap into domestic partnership, two decades earlier. I felt utterly comfortable with Kate. We fit together, and we laughed. I experienced a small flutter of joy when her car pulled into the driveway. After so much solitude and plain hard work, I relished our weekend ritual of tea and coffee in bed. Our politics were aligned, so we had things to say to each other about LGBT issues, workers’ rights, women’s equality. We just avoided the dozens of topics which held no interest for one or the other of us. Kate had been a star athlete until an injury ended her promising sports career. I had been the kid with a puffer and perfect grammar.

My daughters thought I was being ridiculous, of course, but were happy for me. I had let them make their own mistakes, and they granted me the same courtesy. For a while, it seemed pleasant enough at our house, though Kate and fifteen-year-old Maggie rarely spent time alone together or interacted. At dinner, they both directed their conversation towards me. We had lots of space, so if I was out teaching at night, they’d more than likely be watching separate TVs on different floors.

In our bedroom, which we’d merrily painted a colour called “lavender lipstick,” we continued to experiment unabashedly and to satisfy each other in ways neither of us had enjoyed before. I’d always loved sex and orgasmed with minimal incitement. My last male lover, whom I’d been seeing while also sleeping with a woman for the first time, jokingly lamented that by defecting to the other team, I was taking away my gift to the male ego. I figured the male ego would manage without me.

My work had become ever more precarious. I had an unerring ability to choose a job dependent on funding that would dry up with the next political shift. After yet another layoff, I decided I’d fulfill a fantasy and open my own retail arts business; to facilitate this financially, we rented out the basement of our house, meaning that Maggie had to share much closer quarters with us. She and Kate began to grate on each other. Kate had no patience for Maggie’s snippiness and self-absorption. I remembered myself as a teenager and thought we were getting off easy.

Kate started to make noises about not being able to live with Maggie, and I became uncharacteristically passive, afraid of losing my relationship, afraid of loneliness. It was such a welcome relief to share the burden of being an adult with someone. Maggie got the message and moved out shortly after her eighteenth birthday. She put on a brave face, and went along with my rationalizing list of benefits to independent living, but felt forced out of her own home.

Kate had a condo picked out before Maggie’s boxes were even packed, and I numbly agreed to move into it with her. I didn’t even like it. It was in a fancy concrete box full of old people. Rose joked that we had gone beyond Lesbian U-Haul Syndrome and were suffering from full-blown Lesbian U-Haul Chronic Disorder. I chose to keep only a quarter stake in our communal property, freeing up more cash for my fledgling enterprise. Maggie seemed okay in her shared digs nearby, and I went back to the comforts of hot sex and hot dinners, both waiting for me after a long day at my shop. Just as I had with my husband, I let myself be soothed by a nice roast chicken.

Maggie and I had it out after a weekend when she’d been cat-sitting. All her life, I had been the fierce Mama Bear she could rely on to protect her. She did not spare my feelings in letting me know how much I’d hurt her by putting Kate first. We cried and yelled and hugged and cried some more, and I apologized for my unconscionable maternal offense. That was what she needed – acknowledgment that I’d fucked up badly. At the same time, she had the generosity to acknowledge how hard it must have been for me as the only competent parent, and then the only parent, of two headstrong girls who’d suffered severe trauma. She quite liked living on her own, but I made sure we saw more of each other after that.

Kate never joined Maggie and me on our excursions, but she made the sweet gesture of flying Rose in from Halifax for my birthday, about ten months after we’d moved into “Club Crone” (my name for our empty nest). I was delighted to have my daughters together, and the three of us spent a week playing Scrabble and seeing plays. Meanwhile, Kate stewed because her space had been invaded, and because I was so noticeably enjoying activities she disliked.

Rose went back east to university, but Kate became sullen, barely moving from the couch when she got home from work. She wouldn’t open up to me, insisting she was had to work through her own shit. I tried to let her be. She was still physically affectionate, although we were rarely making love anymore. A few times I brought up the obvious issue that my children were never going to go away, suggesting we see a counsellor to help us resolve it.

I think Kate had assumed she’d have me all to herself the minute my children turned eighteen, perhaps because she’d had no further use for her own parents as an adult. She made what she called “stay-in-the-will” visits once or twice a year, and hadn’t even come out to them until after we were living together, and then only because she couldn’t sustain the web of lies surrounding her change of address.

The truth was forced out of her during a conversation with her parents, each on separate phone extensions. Her dad asked about our newly acquired property – the driveway, the garage, the roof. She’d told them she was moving in with a friend, closer to her work. I could hear Kate telling him about the layout, explaining that my daughter had her own sitting room and bedroom in the basement.

Suddenly her mum chimed in, “Do you have your own bedroom?”

“No,” said Kate after a deep breath. “I share a bedroom with Mary.”

“Well, do you have your own bed?” her mum asked mischievously.

“No, mum,” said Kate at long last. “We share a bed. We’re a couple.”

After a pause, her dad broke the tension: “Well, do you have your own office?”

“Yes!” said Kate, “I do have my own office!”

“Well, that’s good,” said her dad.

Soon after this momentous exchange, her mother’s Alzheimer’s rapidly worsened, which meant that Kate had to come out all over again, every time we saw her, and sometimes several times within the same conversation.

“Katie, honey, do you think you’ll ever get married again?”

“Mum, this is my partner, Mary, remember?”

“Oh yes, dear, is my Katie nice to you?”

“Yes, Mrs. Cochrane, she’s very nice.”

“Katie, dear, the doctor here is single and quite handsome.”

“Mum, remember Mary, my partner? We live together.”

“Oh, yes, of course. Do you girls like dancing?”

Nobody could have confused Kate for a straight person, not even in the photo of her at four years old, looking miserable in an itchy wool dress, forlornly holding a softball in one hand. We found Kate’s wedding album at the family cottage. Inside were pictures of a small-town lesbian and gay man doing what they thought they must. On the outside, in her mother’s writing, was a label that read, “Katie and Carl, 1985 –    .“  She was well aware that union had an expiry date.

I had not come out to my own parents, either, but this was mostly a matter of timing. The incident involving the Robert Palmer video had hardly seemed newsworthy, so I hadn’t mentioned it to my mother. My father wouldn’t have dreamed of asking me whether I was dating or interested in marrying again. He stuck to the short list of topics he could handle: watches, dogs, cars, and items found in the L.L. Bean catalogue, for which he had developed a peculiar attachment. Kate and I met the spring after he died. I would have told him about her, introducing tidbits of information in tiny, digestible portions. He had learned not to call grown women “girls” after many decades of reinforcement. I expect he would have come to accept that being gay was fine.

One Saturday morning, as I was getting ready for work, Kate announced that she couldn’t stay around and was going out of town for the weekend. I attributed this to Maggie’s presence in our spare room, where she was spending a couple of weeks before heading abroad. But the desperation in Kate’s tone scared me. I asked a question I was sure she’d answer with a resounding, “No!” Did she want me to move out? She answered, “Yes… but I don’t want you to lose the shop.” Those would be the last words we ever spoke aloud to each other.

I found an apartment that very day. I couldn’t stop crying, and had called in my part-time employee to cover the shop. Maggie came with me and instructed me to sign the lease. It was the first time our mother/daughter roles were reversed. Kate couch-surfed for a couple of weeks until Maggie and I had cleared out. In a small but satisfying gesture of pettiness, I got our collection of sex toys from its discreet location, took the incomparable Hitachi wand for myself, and strew the rest around under the bed, hoping that on Kate’s moving day, some burly guys would lift the box spring and find them there. A month later, I also snuck into our little garden and ate every last cherry tomato we had planted together.

I passed quickly from the shock of being blindsided to the mortification of having been blindsided. I had clued in to the fact that my relationship was in trouble at the eleventh hour, but had never expected to be thrown out like a used Kleenex.

With such a small share in our property, and no further access to credit, I really was at risk of losing my business, which I loved, and had vowed to give a fighting chance. Since this had been the gist of her only comment regarding our break-up, I thought I could expect a decent consolation prize. I sent a few emails proposing what I thought would be fair. The next thing I knew, I received a letter from a lawyer, telling me that a) communication with his client should henceforth go through him and b) I deserved diddly squat. Kate made a tactical error there. I qualified for legal aid and had the power to drag things out indefinitely. She couldn’t sell Club Crone without my consent; I held the card I needed to negotiate a small spousal settlement.

My sadness turned to rage. I can’t abide rudeness. My mother instilled in me a deep appreciation for good manners; hearing from someone’s lawyer is just not called for. Although I had daily conversations with Kate in my head for a full year, they were not laments for lost love, but rather diatribes about proper break-up etiquette. I adopted Maggie’s pet name for her: DevilHornMcPoopFace.

I reached out after a while to ask if we could talk. I would have liked an explanation, since I’d been left to draw my own conclusions. But all I got back was a text that sounded like it was drafted by either her lawyer or her therapist: “I don’t think it’s in my interest to communicate with you.” From U-Hauling to playing an annual round of Dodge-the-Ex at Pride… my first major same-sex love affair ended as it had begun – with a cliché.

About the author: Mary Fairhurst Breen is pursuing writing after thirty years in the not-for-profit sector, working in the fields of adult literacy, popular history, social services, community arts and women’s equality. She has been involved in the publication of feminist histories, and had her first creative non-fiction story published in a feminist anthology. This was her first foray into memoir, and led to work on a full manuscript that combines memoir and social commentary. As a lesbian over fifty, she is experiencing both the freedom and frustration of being unnoticeable. Mary has two adult daughters and is a foster parent. She lives in Toronto, where she is chair of the board of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

Read Part 1 of this story.

“Hormone Replacement Therapy” by Axel Craig Osterberg

HORMONE REPLACEMENT THERAPY

 

By Axel Craig Osterberg

 

“Hey, Faggot, you are going to get your ass kicked. Oh great, I am almost home from school and here’s Jimmy Walmart and his cousins. I start running fast over the crust of snow and cut across Old Lady Henderson’s field. Big mistake. The crew fans out. Jimmy by-passes me left, and the Walmarts, big beautiful red necks that they are, out run me by a mile. I’m surrounded and the beating begins. I fight like a girl, I am later told by Kenny Walmart. Kenny is one of my secret boyfriends. My eyes tear up and my nose breaks as they punch me. I can see Kenny standing back a bit, his face all twisted and purple from the hatred he is screaming.  I am glad he doesn’t hit me though. Old Lady Henderson starts yelling from her trailer door. “You little shits, cut that out!” She runs out wielding a broom. Jimmy and the crew land another kick apiece as I lay on the snow. “Faggot” Jimmy hisses as he spits in my face. They all run off laughing. Old Lady Henderson swipes at them with her broom as they fly past her.  My nose is gushing blood and now I am pissed. I am up on my feet when Old Lady Henderson gets to me. “Jesus H Christ! What the fuck did you do to them?” She cackles as the snow cracks under her slippers. “Shit, boy, you are a mess.“  She holds a handful of snow to my nose and it turns crimson in her weathered hand. “Oh for Christ’s sake stop crying! You’re Lil’s kid, ain’t ya?” I nod. Inside her trailer it’s hot, like a nursing home. The blue and white flowered wall paper is yellowed from years of chain-smoking.  We light up together and smoke in silence. She hands me her drink and I quaff it down fast., “Easy, buddy! Easy! Hey, you want me to call your mum?”

“No thanks“ I sulk. The walk home is cold and my head starts to throb. Mom’s shiny new Gremlin X is parked in the driveway. I decide to go to Dale’s house. Dale is my other secret boyfriend and my neighbor. He is also Jimmy Walmart’s cousin, those backwoods freaks! Dale’s mother Kitty opens the door to their trailer. Her dinner smells great! Suddenly I am starved: for dinner, for Dale, for love. I hear Dale’s father yelling inside. I hear Dale, too. He is crying.  He is getting another beating. Kitty draws deeply on her Marlboro Light. Marlboro Lights are the cigarette choice of every white trash girl and trailer park faggot in Maine.

“Oh, honey, you’d better get out of here! Dale told us about you two, you know, and Dad is just rippin mad! He says you can’t ever see Dale again, and said if you ever come down here again he’s going to kill you!” Kitty hugs me because I am crying again. “Oh, honey, I love you and I always will. It’s okay to be, uh, like you boys are. I still love you. You are a good boy but you gotta get out of here, now.”

Kitty is crying a little too. I stumble home. I am scared. Mom’s in the kitchen with the lights down again. She’s drinking vodka and seven with a Marlboro Light dangling from her lips.” Old Lady Henderson called and said you been fighting”. She was pissed. Her hand stung hard as she reached out and slapped my face, “Don’t lie! You were, weren’t you?” She slapped me again.  I run into the bathroom and puke. Sometimes I just puke, just like that. I think “What a shitty day!” I open the medicine cabinet. I look at all the bottles of Mom’s pills. After a while, I take her bottle of tranquilizers and pocket them.

In my room, I roll a joint and put on Joni Mitchell, real loud. Now I am scared, pissed and depressed. Self hatred fills in all the holes left by my self pity. Stupid Dale! “Fuck fuck fuck FUCK it all!” I turn Mom’s pill bottle over and over in my hands. I take the pills one by one. Then I lay down and start to cry, loudly, being prone toward the dramatic. I can’t wait to die. “I’ll show them! They will all be really sorry when I die!” I tell myself, but in my heart I know it’s not true, nobody will care.  I start to feel funny, light headed, you know. And is that my stomach starting to hurt? I try to puke but can’t make myself throw up. Suddenly I am terrified! This isn’t nearly as glamorous a death as a fourteen-year-old faggot had imagined! “Shit, shit, shit!!” I think as I sneak into the living room to steal a smoke and get the phone. No problem! Good old Mom is comatose on the couch. I pinch a cig as I grab the phone. In my room, I call my best friend Liz. I am now dying so I spill my guts. “Liz I’m a fag! And Kenny Walmart told Jimmy that we did it, and him and the Walmarts beat me up after school, and Dale told his Dad the we did it too, and Mom and dad and they are going to kill me so I took a bottle of Mom’s pills and I am going to kill myself.”

Liz, a strawberry blond Aries girl with big boobs flies to the rescue. She is my best friend.  Everyone thinks we we are boyfriend and girlfriend because we disappear together for hours, but all we do is talk and smoke a lot of pot.

“Where’s your Mom?” she asks. “Passed out on the couch drunk” I answer.

“Hang on! I will be right over!” She hangs up. I wait 30 or 40 minutes to die. I don’t. Liz shows up finally and she has got my dad with her. Great! She has called my Drill Sergeant dad away from his job to bring me to the emergency room because I am committing suicide because I am gay! Good call Liz! We are silent on the 30 miles drive to the hospital except for my occasional sigh. Dad keeps eying Liz’s tits. “Nice sweater” he finally barks and Liz and me nearly die trying not to laugh. In the emergency room Liz blurts out “He’s trying to kill himself because he is GAY and he took a whole bottle of his mom’s tranquilizers.” Nurses and orderlies surround me. I am whisked off for examination. Lights shine into each of my eyes. “What kind of pills did you take? How many pills did you take? What is the name of the pills? When did you take them? All I can do is cry. They pump m my stomach. In a little while I see my dad and he is talking to the doctor. They are whispering but I hear them talking about Ward 86. I know it’s the psychiatric wing of The Maine Medical Center. Mom stays there from time to time. In the Emergency Room Waiting Lounge, an ambulance driver chats with Liz’s breasts. She likes it/him. Liz suddenly remembers. I have given her the pill bottle on the ride to the hospital. She jumps up shouting “I have the pill bottle! I have the bottle!” She thrusts the bottle into the doctor’s hands. He studies it intently. He pulls my dad aside and they whisper again.  As they approach me I hear the doctor “I still think he should spend the night on Ward 86, just for observation.” Dad groans audibly and barks “No fucking way!” He barks a lot. He grabs me by the shoulder and drags me out of the ER. We are silent on the ride home too. Dad’s old GMC 8-cylinder lulls Liz and she falls asleep with her head on Dad’s shoulder. At home, I am immediately sent to my room. Liz is told to wait in the car. I hear Mom and Dad arguing. Dad leaves to take Liz home.  I wait a few minutes, then sneak into the living room to snag another smoke. Mom is talking on the phone laughing. “Yes, the stupid little queer tried to kill himself!” her laugh was filled with disgust.
“Oh, yeah, he’s a faggot alright! The neighbor caught with his son. I’ve known he was a little faggot since he was six years old.” She is laughing again. “I know it’s not funny! You know how much this little stunt of his is going to cost us? Stupid little queer can’t do anything right, not even kill himself. I mean, stupid little faggot took a whole bottle of my Premarin. Yes. Premarin, my estrogen replacement pills! Thank God they pumped his stomach, he’s queer enough already!” I hear my Aunt cackling over the telephone line. Mom suddenly sobers up a bit. “Oh, yeah his father knows all about it! He had to leave work to take him to the ER!”  And he is going to kick his faggotty ass when he gets home! That ought to teach him!” She hangs up and hears me crying. “I know you’re there! I can hear you blubberin’!” She knows by my tears that I was listening. “That’s right little mister, you are going to get the ass kickin’ of your young life when your dad gets home. Just you wait!”  I make her a drink, real strong, out of habit. I hand her the tumbler of vodka, seven and ice. She laughs as she palms me a smoke and settles in on the couch. In my room, the cigarette helps.

Liz calls me the next day because I didn’t go to school. “You alright?” she asks.

“Dad didn’t beat me up” I say.  Liz hesitates just a second, then she says “I let him feel me up on the ride home.” I know right then that she is the best friend a fourteen years old fag could ever have.

“I owe you big time” I say.

“I liked it” she says.

“I know” I say.

About the author: Axel Craig Osterberg lives in San Francisco. He is facilitator of All Tribes Playhouse, a living arts workshop whose mission is to Celebrate the Sanctity of Daily Life with creative arts. Axel volunteers at Maitri Hospice. He writes, acts, and directs for the Theater. He has two amazing service dogs named Tuffy and Lovey Howl Osterberg. HIs astrology column, ASTROLOGIK has appeared in HIP INK, Odyssey, CreamPuff and Oblivion Magazines. HIs plays include “12 Steps to the Bar”HOMELESS, the OdysseyViagra Falls, and HOSPICE or Dancing with Starlight. 

“Take Back The Night” By Mary Fairhurst Breen Part 1.

Take Back the Night

Mary Fairhurst Breen

I was twenty-three years old, and had just given birth to my first child. One night, pacing frantically back and forth with my wailing newborn strapped to my chest, I discovered that I was, at the very minimum, bisexual. And it was all because of Robert Palmer.

MuchMusic was new, and I had the television on in the background while I wore a path in the carpet. The now iconic music video for Addicted to Love came on, featuring Palmer’s signature back-up “band” of models with shiny red lips, slicked-back hair and micro-skirts. It’s quite dreadful, really – all those glassy-eyed women fake-playing guitars. I was recovering from an infected episiotomy, yet somehow, in my sleep-deprived post-partum state, I was wildly turned on by them. I thought, “Huh,” and filed the incident away.

My mother had always been my grounding force. She was a scientist and an artist, a pragmatist and a creator. Her death when I was twenty-six left me with only my young husband Dan to lean on, and he was not a solid structure. My intense grief coincided with two conflicting impulses: I decided I wanted another baby; and I fell in love with a woman. Dan had lost interest in sex, probably because he was drinking heavily by this time. This impeded the first situation and facilitated the latter. But having just been through the agony of dealing with one terminally ill and one mentally ill parent with no siblings to share the load, I was determined that Rose should not be an only child.

My professional circle in the not-for-profit sector was disproportionately full of out lesbians, closeted lesbians, and women who, like me, were curious and would later make a full switch. During my mother’s illness, I had gravitated towards my co-worker Joan, who could not have looked more butch, but was married to a man. I obsessed about her, and directed much unsolicited attention her way. Six months after my mum’s death, although I was diligently forcing myself on Dan on ovulation days, I professed my love to her at a Take Back the Night march. I had no clear intentions, just a fantasy in which we absconded from real life to raise babies together. She gently indicated that she didn’t want to leave her marriage (yet… she did come out later), nor did she want to have an affair. It was too uncomfortable to be around her, so I left that job. Immediately upon starting a new one, I got pregnant.

I felt it only fair to tell Dan about my attraction to Joan. He had never been the jealous type, and was remarkably unperturbed. He dismissed my feelings as a reaction to the void left by my mother. He was on board with having another child. He loved our first daughter with all his heart, and was a hands-on, diaper-changing dad.

After I left him, I dated men for another few years, then I took the plunge and asked out another mum at Maggie’s school. Chatter quickly spread among the parents, which struck me as odd. It was a liberal alternative school, and by then Ellen had come out on TV and Will and Grace was a primetime hit. It was uncomfortable to be the object of so much attention. I remember another mother saying to me in a hushed voice, “I saw your ‘friend’ in the paper,” referring to a front-page picture from the Dyke March. She seemed to be going for a wink-wink-nudge-nudge tone, but couldn’t manage the word “girlfriend.” Even Dan didn’t like it when he overheard one mother say to another, “There’s nothing wrong with it, but I didn’t want to have to introduce the subject so soon.” As if the mind-boggling mechanics of heterosexuality require no explanation to a child!

I preferred to keep my adult adventures to myself, but Rose had picked up a suggestive message from my lover on the answering machine, and another grade two kid had told Maggie that her mummy was dating Janie’s mummy. Neither of my daughters batted an eye. Dan opportunistically ventured the opinion that I was adding to the girls’ burden as children of a broken home, but he didn’t really buy into what he was saying, and sheepishly let it drop. We had raised our children to be ambassadors for inclusion, and they had other preoccupations. If asked, they would probably say that the most interesting thing to happen in our family in 1999 was that we got a dog.

After my initial foray into lesbian life (the other mum had several girlfriends, which wasn’t really my cup of tea), I had another quick fling with a married former colleague, whose husband seemed to feel that sex with a woman didn’t count as infidelity, and was probably titillated by the whole thing.  When she had an indiscretion with a man some time later, he divorced her ass in a flash. What senseless power penises hold. But not for me. By that time, I was in hot pursuit of the alternative.

Online dating had become the new normal, so I tried my luck on a site called The Pink Sofa. I had just started seeing someone I’d met in cyberspace, when another suitor appeared out of the blue. As it turned out, our meeting was not coincidental, but in fact orchestrated down to the very last detail. A mutual acquaintance had arranged for Kate to attend an Equality Day event where I had a key role, and had fed her as much biographical information as was available. Oblivious, I brought my Pink Sofa lady, confounding everyone who was in on the scheme.

Undaunted, Kate took several opportunities to flirt, sidling up to me at the chocolate foundation and suggestively immersing pieces of fruit. She made an awkward joke about bananas being too phallic for the occasion. Once the dignitaries were gone, I unwound by dancing with some spritely young grassroots activists, inadvertently affording Kate a clear view down my blouse. The next day, our matchmaker was more forthright in her meddling, asking me if she could give Kate my phone number. It was all very flattering.

We had brunch the following weekend. Kate had a second activity up her sleeve, in the hope we’d want to extend our date. She took me to a flea market at a hipster hotel – a fundraiser for a local LGBT film festival. It was a treasure trove of books, which I kept holding up for Kate as I added to my pile. “Have you read this?” I’d ask. “Don’t you love Jane Urquhart?” She mumbled something and wandered off towards the used biker boots. It turned out Kate had not picked up a book since university, and never read for pleasure.

And yet. I did not run the other way, library card clutched firmly to my chest. Instead, I shook myself free of the other woman I’d been seeing, and Kate and I became the epitome of Lea DeLaria’s popular joke, “What does a lesbian bring on a second date? A U-Haul.” I was smug, so sure that at the advanced age of forty-four, I could distinguish love from lust. I convinced myself that house-hunting with someone after four months together was a perfectly rational thing to be doing. In truth, I was ignoring ample evidence to suggest we had nothing in common, stumbling along in a constant post-coital haze. Our lovemaking was affirming and unrestrained, and I was giddy.

I saw no comparison to my first illogical leap into domestic partnership, two decades earlier. I felt utterly comfortable with Kate. We fit together, and we laughed. I experienced a small flutter of joy when her car pulled into the driveway. After so much solitude and plain hard work, I relished our weekend ritual of tea and coffee in bed. Our politics were aligned, so we had things to say to each other about LGBT issues, workers’ rights, women’s equality. We just avoided the dozens of topics which held no interest for one or the other of us. Kate had been a star athlete until an injury ended her promising sports career. I had been the kid with a puffer and perfect grammar.

… Continued in two weeks.

About the Author: Mary Fairhurst Breen is pursuing writing after thirty years in the not-for-profit sector, working in the fields of adult literacy, popular history, social services, community arts and women’s equality. She has been involved in the publication of feminist histories, and had her first creative non-fiction story published in a feminist anthology. This was her first foray into memoir, and led to work on a full manuscript that combines memoir and social commentary. As a lesbian over fifty, she is experiencing both the freedom and frustration of being unnoticeable. Mary has two adult daughters and is a foster parent. She lives in Toronto, where she is chair of the board of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

Read Part 2 here.

“Ms. Manners (or The Perils of Dating)” by Mary Fairhust Breen

Ms. Manners (or The Perils of Dating)

Mary Fairhurst Breen

 

The first time I sought out women for purposes of dating, it involved actual letters, handwritten on paper. People placed ads in the back of Toronto’s NOW magazine (earnest ones, not the kind that require the pixilation of nipples and anuses), and I answered one. A smattering of dates resulted, but the letter-writing proved the most enjoyable part of the whole endeavour.

There was a self-imposed dry spell, while I supported my children through the loss of their father, before I felt I had a spare ounce of energy or emotion to offer anyone else. One day when she was a young teen, my daughter Maggie ventured the opinion that it might do me good to get laid. The cheek! It’s possible I had built up some discernable tension.

Off into wild lavender yonder I went. I had one date with a woman who told me she specialized in bedding both halves of a straight couple, either together or separately. It was a pastime with an extra element of challenge, I suppose, like the Globe and Mail holiday crossword. I thought I’d prefer the crossword.

I took myself downtown to a venue in the gay village for a women’s dance one night in Pride season, to meet up with a jazz singer. Just that one detail was intriguing enough to get me out of the house. We located each other on the patio, and she told me she just needed to take her vitamins before we went inside. I wasn’t sure why she needed to announce this, until she hauled out a giant tote bag, and set a good fifteen bottles of assorted natural supplements on the table. It turned out she was big into alternative medicine, which is fine with me, but the inordinate amount of time she spent actually ingesting all the items she felt she required was simply bananas. She did not, it became apparent, believe in deodorant, natural or chemical. And she told me with some satisfaction that she owned Crocs in every colour. I feigned an early morning.

At a coffee shop, I met a woman who had indicated she’d recently left her husband, but had been in previous same-sex relationships. I was curious to note she was still wearing a wedding band and honking great diamond engagement ring. She and her husband were still under the same roof, and she told me he spent his evenings sobbing outside her bedroom door. I beat a hasty retreat.

I had dinner with a one-armed electrician, who had chosen her career field after losing her arm in an electrocution accident. I thought that took some hutzpah, and was fascinated that she had started learning Hindi because she was so moved by the films of Deepa Mehta. She ordered for both of us, which was off-putting, but it was an Indian restaurant and she basically asked for (and paid for) one of everything, so I chose to be gracious about it. I was interested enough to invite her over for a game night at my house, where she initiated a screaming argument with another guest who merely expressed a difference of opinion. Lesson learned: always introduce a prospective suitor into a group situation very early on.

At that time, in the mid-two-thousands, online dating etiquette demanded that if someone sent you a message, you replied with either an inviting “tell me more” or a polite “no thank you.” Ten years later, when I waded back in, such was not the case.

After the disillusionment of my first longish lesbian relationship, I came to the conclusion that my picker was broken, and until I could somehow repair it, I should stop trying to use it. I vowed to live alone – for the first time in my whole life – and to take proper time to recover from a truly horrid break-up. But that is not what I did. I had barely weaned off my daily forty-minute crying jag when a friend asked if she could introduce me to a woman who’d been divorced for about a year (from another woman), and lived conveniently close by. Against my better judgement, I agreed. As always, fear of loneliness was insinuating its way into my decision-making process.

Brenda was lovely, and attractive, and extremely attentive. I didn’t feel a deep connection, but I didn’t want one. I told her as plainly as I could that I was rebounding and had to take things at a crawl. Within a month, she had told me she loved me and started planning our summer holidays. I felt terrible when I broke her heart a little, because I know how easy it is to ignore evidence and cling to hope.

I really did keep to myself for a good long while. Every now and again I would peek at the popular lesbian dating sites, where some of the same characters from a decade before were still looking for love. I would log off without uploading a profile. Fortunately for me, menopause had dragged my libido down to a normal range, from its previous setting of “nineteen-year-old boy.”

My daughter’s best gay friend (I call him my fairy godson) gave me a demonstration of Tinder one spring day while we were sipping Americanos in a park, and told me everyone of every age was on it, and not just for hook-ups. I took a peek and quickly shut my computer right off in abject fear of the unseemly swiping. But the exercise motivated me to try a paid online dating site, where I assumed I would find a more mature clientele.

It was better. There were about a hundred women in my vicinity and age range. After culling those who couldn’t use punctuation, those passionate about sports, and those who posted pictures of their pets instead of themselves, my prospects shrunk to about a dozen. I sent out a few feelers, determined to get my money’s worth.

One was directed to a woman whose photo I recognized straight away. She was a well-known author; I’d read all her books, so I knew we had some experiences in common. I thought it would be odd to use her pseudonym and pretend I didn’t know who she was, so I addressed her by her real name and referred to her writing. She took down her profile immediately. I feel badly that a deserving Canadian author may not be getting any action because of me.

Clearly, protocol demands that one not “out” someone from their photo. I had also sent a very short, casual message to a woman I had met a few times, using her real name and mine, and she did not reply. Now it’s going to be awkward when I bump into her. It would be much less awkward if she’d simply written, “Oh hello. Can’t say I’m interested, but good luck on this site,” or words to that effect. I always made a point of saying, “thanks but no thanks” to women who had the gumption to contact me. To ignore a greeting, online as in person, seems needlessly callous. These people haven’t affronted or insulted you. You’re all on the damn Internet for the sole purpose of connecting.  The routine rudeness flummoxes me.

I had one encounter that was a primer in poor manners. A woman contacted me and suggested we talk on the phone, which she felt was a suitable commitment of time halfway between chatting online and hauling ourselves to a café. I don’t really enjoy talking on the phone, but I agreed. Her first questions were, “Is that your real picture?” and “Is that your real age?” I thought perhaps she had reason to be skeptical, and let it slide. Then she wanted to know which paper I read. I told her. She said, “Well, that article on Wednesday about the link between the mayor and the transit lobbyists was based on information I uncovered and made public.” I had to confess I had not seen the article in question. She snarked, “I thought you said you read the Star.”

It got worse. She told me her real name, so while she prattled on about all the many causes she supported and injustices she fought, I Goggled her. There she was, looking drop-dead gorgeous, holding up signs at various and sundry protests, or sometimes in a very small ragtag group, admonishing everything from the treatment of chickens, to the plight of refugees, as if each situation was equally egregious. When a bit of clicking linked her to the anti-vaccine movement, I was done. I started playing online Scrabble while she kept talking. She finally wrapped up with, “Unless you’re a full-time activist, I don’t think it makes sense for us to get together.” I wished her luck in her quest for such a person.

Honestly, I would rather never have sex again until the day I die than be forced to go on even one more first date. Apparently, a lot of people feel the same way. New stats have revealed that something like thirty percent of Canadian households contain one lone person. For a lot of us, the cure for solitude isn’t to pair off. Many of the old ideas about coupledom are in disrepute, and family is being redefined, which is all to the good. That’s what feminism is for, among other things.

I have lamented the tiny size of my tribe, for the sake of my daughters, though. At various times in the past, I’ve tried to semi-formally add members to my family, especially when they were younger and so bereft of blood relatives. As adults, they’ve been collecting their own mentors to fill some of those voids. My chosen family at this point includes a fine assortment of folks. As long as I have people to love, I’m in pretty good shape.

 

About the author: Mary Fairhurst Breen is pursuing writing after thirty years in the not-for-profit sector, working in the fields of adult literacy, popular history, social services, community arts and women’s equality. She has been involved in the publication of feminist histories, and had her first creative non-fiction story published in a feminist anthology. This was her first foray into memoir, and led to work on a full manuscript that combines memoir and social commentary. As a lesbian over fifty, she is experiencing both the freedom and frustration of being unnoticeable. Mary has two adult daughters and is a foster parent. She lives in Toronto, where she is chair of the board of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

 

 

Opinion Piece: “Love Bubble Living” by Whitney Sweet

Love Bubble Living

A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine moved to a new condo with her family. It was their first home purchase and they were very excited to move to a new city, one that boasts a multicultural living situation. As a mixed-race family, they were excited to show their son around in a place where he would feel welcomed and fit in among a diverse world of skin colours and people.

Unfortunately, their first foray to the local grocery store was ruined when someone decided to throw shame toward them, for being a family with a white mother, an Indian father, and a mixed race child. Unaccustomed to being watched and judged, this day was an upsetting event for all of them.

Being watched is something that I am used to, we are used to. My husband Paul has Spina B

60574_446628983183_2583446_n

[Image description: Paul and Whitney sit on a bench. Paul wears an orange shirt and blue jeans, he has short dark hair. Whitney wears a brown t-shirt and green khaki pants, with a red purse slung across her body. She has short, light brown, curly hair, and glasses. There is a big leafy green tree in the background with a white picket fence. They are visiting Green Gables in P.E.I.]

ifida and walks differently than most people. When we are out, especially someplace new, we are watched. Mostly by children who like to scream out “What’s the matter with that man?” or “What happened to that man’s legs?”, which is especially popular during summertime months when Paul likes to wear shorts, showing off his leg splints while keeping cool. At worst, he is stared at by slack jawed men in their forties while we grocery shop, at best, treated just like everyone else. Mostly, people just watch him, watch how he does things. Or they watch us, together. I’m plus size, and I suppose when we are together, we make an unusual visual for people to look at.  We have developed a coping mechanism for being different, and just as I shared this with my friend, I am sharing it with you lovely people of the internet.  It is the love bubble, and using it goes like this:

  1. It requires actively ignoring those around you. Don’t pay any mind to ignorant people. Now, this doesn’t so much apply to children, who might never have seen the thing that makes you different. They just want to know why you are the way you are, so, they might get a pass, or an explanation if they are brave enough to ask. Adults, on the other hand, you can freely ignore, with no guilt whatsoever.
  2. Have fun. Paul and I always have fun when we go out. We flirt, we laugh, we possibly even make a spectacle of ourselves from time to time. I like to push the boundaries of what people are used to seeing.
    Wedding 1

    [Image description: Paul and Whitney on their wedding day. Paul wears a brown tux, Whitney is in a strapless white dress. There are large green hills in the background, and a moody grey sky above them. Paul holds Whitney’s bouquet, that is wrapped in blue satin ribbon, as they kiss.]

    Nothing too crazy, but enough to show that we are just like them. People who present in a different package are just the same on the inside.
  3. Getting into the love bubble is by invite only. Not everyone is welcome. And you must be okay with that. When you are different, you don’t fit in everywhere. The same goes for outsiders, they don’t always fit inside the love bubble. Who fits and who doesn’t is a personal choice.
  4. The love bubble is a safe space, for just you and your loved one(s). It is also self preservation. Expending energy on mean spirited, judgmental people in this life is just too sad.

I don’t understand why, in this modern time, people should be so cruel to one another. It seems like the biggest waste of energy to judge and purse your lips at how someone else lives their life. I always try to see the beauty of love, and hopefully manage to be an example of beautiful love with my husband. The love bubble helps to facilitate, and protect, the delicate balance that needs to be found for those who are different.

10685334_10152725643158184_4216874217626275645_n

[Image description: Whitney and Paul pose with their dog Echo (AKA the editor’s assistant). We see just their faces, laughing as Echo pushes his head between Whitney and Paul and mugs for the camera.]

I hope that for those of you who get stared at or shamed, when you go out and about in this world, find these words helpful in some way. They are based on my personal experiences and are my own opinion on how to handle the situation. I would love to know what you do to create your own love bubbles out there. Please share your comments and experiences.

 

Want to know about the author? Click here

“Ophelia’s Death” Installment Two by Presley Nassise. Interview with model Maddie Natoli

Presley 2

[Image Description] Ophelia wears a dark dress. She has pale skin, dark hair and painted lips. She floats in a pool of blue water, her hands near her face, the finger tips and face left uncovered by the water. Her eyes are closed. Pink flower petals float around her. A red stain is in the water near her body. ]

Interview with Maddie Natoli, model featured in both “Ophelia’s Death” pictures.

TLM: What was the inspiration for these photographs?
MN: I have always wanted to do an Ophelia themed photo shoot actually. She has always been one of my favorite Shakespearean characters, and in my opinion Gertrude’s monologue on how she died is one of my favorite Shakespearean pieces. He eloquently captured her death in a way that addressed her beauty, but [also] the tragic nature that was her death. I asked Presley if she would do the shoot, because I was familiar with her love for photography, but I also knew she would be able to appreciate and enjoy doing the shoot because she is as big of a Shakespeare fan as I am.
TLM: What are you trying to change about diversity or representation through creating these images?
MN: I would love to be able to say I witnessed the acceptance of ‘unconventional’ models be referred to [as] just models. Creating and encouraging projects that are inclusive will help show the world that there’s nothing wrong with being disabled, heavier set, being a part of the LGBTQ+ community, or the POC community. Casting unconventional people in traditional roles helps us break down social barriers. A recent and widely popular example of this would be Lin Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton”. Representation matters, and at the end of the day, all anyone wants to know is that their presence on this Earth matters, and when you can’t find characters that you relate to, or that look like you, it can be very hurtful to younger audiences. I want people to see themselves in these characters and in our project.
TLM: Why do you feel these aspects of representation need to be challenged or changed?
MN: Representation hasn’t really changed much, until this last decade, about. We need to, as a society, need to become more conscious of how repetitive our media, our blockbuster movies, and our New York Times best selling lists have become. It’s boring to see the same stories over and over again. We need new faces, we need to allow POC and LGBTQ artists tell their stories. We need to see the way they deal with their struggles and how they celebrate their triumphs.
TLM: What about this Shakespeare character did you find inspirational?
MN: I find Ophelia to be a very strong character who had to deal with the loss of not only her father, but of the man she loved. She watched Hamlet slowly descend into madness, and then the effect of that madness took her beloved father from her, which in turn, cemented the decision that she take her own life. Nothing about suicide is romantic, and despite the act being the central part of our piece, neither Presley or I wanted to portray her suicide in a light that was seen as romantic, but as a depressed character who made the irreversible decision.
TLM: What place do you think this character has in today’s media?
MN: We have seen many different characterizations of characters who are mentally ill or who have taken their own life pop up in the last couple of years, but none of the characters have been properly portrayed, in my opinion. I hope people look at our Ophelia and understand that she stands for people who have dealt with hardships, that she stands for all those struggling with illnesses, whether they are mental or physical, and last but not least, that she stands for those we’ve lost to suicide.
TLM: Where can readers learn more about your work?
MN: Readers can go check Presley and I out on our Instagrams, @mimzee_madz_photography and @presleynasissephotography. To follow the project as a whole, the Instagram @shakespearephotoproject is where we keep all of our sets. To be a part of the project, you can private message us on Instagram, or email us at shakespearephotoproject@gmail.com.