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The Cost Of Coming Out "losing Home"

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Editor's Note: The following essay by Elizabeth Clare is reprinted f rom a newly published anthology, "Oueerly Classed: Gay Men & Lesbians Write About Class," edited by Susan Raffo (South End Press, 1997). The book contains 22 pieces, mostly essays, but there are poems and two dialogues as well, all centered around the themes of queerness and class. "Queerly Classed is intended as a workbook," writes Raffo in the Introduction, "as part of an ongoing conversation rather than an endpoint." Elizabeth Clare is a poet, essayist, and activist living in Ann Arbor (transplanted f rom Oregon). Her contribution to the book, "Losing Home," is the first essay in the anthology. Elizabeth's poems and essays have been published in a varíety of anthologies and periodicals, including Sojourner: The Women's Forum, Sinister Wisdom, The Disability Rag, Hanging Loose, and The Are ofLove: An Anthology of Lesbian Love Poems. Readers may also be familiar with Elizabeth's writings from earlier articles published in AGENDA, "Clearcut ... Not So Clearcut" (August, 1996), orfrom her preview of the play , "I n the Heart of the Wood" (January, 1997). Imust find the words to speak oí losing home. Then I never want to utter them again. They throb like an abscessed tooth; homesick is a platitude. I need to grab at seemingly unrelated words. Queer. Exile. Class. I reach for my red and gold American Heritage Dictionary but restrain myself. I know the definitions. I need to enter the maze created by lesbian identity, class location, and rural roots. Let me start with queer, the easiest point of entry . In its largest sense, queer has always been where I belong. A girl child not convinced of her girlness. A backwoods hick in the city . A dy ke in a straight world. A gimp in an ableist world. The eldest child of a poor father and a workingclass mother, both teachers who pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps, using luck and white skin privilege. In its narrower sense, queer has been home since I became conscious of being a dyke. At age 17 I left the backwoods of Oregon with a high school diploma and a scholarship to college, grateful that I didn't have a baby or a husband. A year later, after months of soul searching, I finally realized that I was a lesbian and had been for years. Since then, I have lived among lesbians and created chosen families and homes, not rooted in geography but in identity. Out collective dyke household in Oakland with its vegetable garden in the front yard and chicken coop in the back. The women's circle on the Great Peace March from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. The Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice outside the Seneca Army Depot. Lesbian potlucks in Ann Arbor, where I now live. Whether I've been walking across the country for peace or just hanging out listening to lesbian gossip, learning to cook tofu or use red-handled bolt cutters to cut fence at the Army Depot, being a dyke in dyke communities is as close as I've ever feit to belonging. And still I feel queer. Exile. If queer is the easiest, then exile is the hardest. I lie when I write that home is being a dyke in dyke communities. Rather, home is particular wild and ragged beaches, specific kinds of trees and berry brambles, the exact meander of the river I grew up near, the familiar sounds and sights of a dy ing logging and fishing town. Exile is the hardest because I have irrevocably lost that place as actual home. Let me return to queer. Queer people - using the narrow definition - don ' t live in Port Orford, or at least I have never found them. And if we did, we would have to tolérate lack of community, 'unspoken disdain, a wicked rumor mili, and the very real possibility of homophobic violence. Now if I moved back and lived quietly , never saying the word lesbian but living a Ufe centered upon women, no one would shoot at my house, throw stones through my windshield, or run me out of town. Muscles Smith at the cannery , Bonnie Wagner at the one-room library, and Dick Tucker at the lumber mili would just shake their heads and talk about Bob Johnson' s oldest back from the city. As long as I maintained the balance - my unspoken lesbianism weighed against their tacit acceptance - I would be fine. Urban, middle-class queer activists may mock this balance as simply another "don't ask, don't teil" situation contributing to queer invisibility. While I agree that it isn ' t the ideal relationship between queer people and straight people, it is far better than the polite and disdainful invisibility bestowed on us by many middle-class, liberal heterosexuals. If you don't believe me, let me take you to my maternal grandfather's funeral. At the service I sat with family, my sister to the right, my great aunt Esther to the left, my aunt Shirley in front of us, her long-time lover to her right. Marge is an African American dyke, unmistakable whether or not she's in heels and a skirt I am quite sure my aunt has never introduced Marge to Uncle John or Aunt Esther, Uncle Henry or Aunt Lillian as her partnerlover girlftiend or explicitly come out to them. Yet Marge is unquestionably f amily , sitting with my grandf ather' s immediate relatives near the coflBn, openly comforting my aunt. My grandfather was a mechanic in Detroit; his surviving brothers and sisters are Lutheran corn farmers from southern Illinois. Most of them never graduated from high school, still speak Germán at home, and have voted Republicanalltheir lives. They are about as "redneck" as middleand upper-class urban folks could ever imagine (see footnote). Here in this extended working-class family, unspoken lesbianism balanced against tacit acceptance means that Marge is family, that Aunt Shirley and she are treated as a couple, and that the overt racism Marge would otherwise experience from these people is muffled. Not ideal, but better than frigid denial, better than polite manners and backhanded snubs, better than middle-class "don ' t ask, don't teil," which would carefully place Marge into the category marked "friend" and have her sit many pews away from immediate family at her lover' s father' s funeral. At the same time, it is a balance easily broken. In Port Orford I would never walk down Main Street holding hands with a woman lover. That simple act would be too much. It is also a balance most readily achieved among family or folks who have known each other for decades. If I moved back and li ved down the road from a dyke - closeted or not - who hadn't grown up in Port Orford, whose biological family didn't live in town, who was an "outsider," I would worry about her safety. It isn't that outside the bounds of this fragüe balance these rural white people are any more homophobic than the average urban person. Rather, the difference lies in urban anonymity. In Ann Arbor if a group of fiat boys yells "hey lezzie" at me or the man sitting next to me on the bus whispers "queer" and tries to feel me up, I'H defend myself in whatever ways necessary, knowing chances are good that I'H never see these men again, or if I do, they won 't remember me. On the other hand, in Port Orford if someone harassed me - the balance somehow broken, some invisible line overstepped, drunken bravado overcoming tacit acceptance - I would know him, maybe work with his wife at the cannery, see his kids playing up the river at Butler Bar, encounter him often enough in the grocery store and post office. He would likewise know where I lived, with whom I lived, what car I drove, where I worked, and so on. This lack of anonymity is a simple fact of rural life, one that I often miss in the city, but in the face of bigotry and violence, anonymity provides a certain level of protection. If I moved back to Port Orford, the daily realities of isolation would compete with my concerns about safety. Living across the street from the chainsaw shop, I would have to drive an hour to spend an evening at a lesbian potluck, three hours to hang out at a women's bookstore or see the latest queer movie, seven hours to go to a lesbian and gay pride maren. I don't believe I could live easily and happily that isolated from queer community, nor could I live comfortably while always monitoring the balance, measuring the invisible Unes that define safety. My loss of home is about being a dyke. It is also about class. If queer is the easiest, and exile, the hardest, then class is the most confusing. The economics in Port Orford are simple: jobs are scarce. The life of a Pacific Northwest fishing and logging town depends on the existence of salmón and trees. When the summer salmón runs dwindle and all the old-growth trees are cut, jobs vanish into thin air. Fishermen now pay the mortgages on their boats by running drugs. Loggers pay their bilis by brush cutting (gathering various kinds of ferns to sell by the pound to florists) and collecting welfare. What remains is the meager four-month-a-year tourist season and a handful of minimum-wage jobs - pumping gas, cashiering, flipping burgers. The lucky few work for the public school district or own land on which they run milk cows and sheep. In short, if I moved back, I probably wouldn't find work. Not only are jobs scarce, but my cerebral palsy makes jobs that require a lot of manual dexterity - such as cashiering or flipping burgers - difficult or impossible. And if, miraculously , I did find work, the paycheck probably wouldn't stretch around food, gas, and rent. To leap from economie realities to class issues in Port Orford holds no challenge. The people who live in dying rural towns and work minimum- or sub-minimum-wage jobs, not temporarily but day after day for their whole working lives, are working-class and poor people. There are some middle-class people who live in Port Orford: the back-to-the-land artists who grow marijuana for money, the young teachers whose first jobs out of college bring them to Pacific High School, the retirees who have settled near Port Orford, lured to Oregon by cheap land. But these people don't stay long. The artists bum out. The young teachers find better jobs in other, more prosperous, towns. The retirees grow older and find they need more services than are available in Curry County. The people who stay are poor and working-class. I left because I didn' t want to marry and couldn ' t cashier at Sentry's Market. I left because I hoped to have money above and beyond the dollars spent on rent and food to buy books and music. I left because I didn't want to be poor and feared I would be if I stayed. I will never move back for the same reasons. My loss of home is about class. TVTTT Leaving is a complicated thing. I left with a high school diploma and a scholarship to college, grateful to be leaving, but this is only half the truth. The other halfis that every one around me - my parents, teachers, classmates, and friends, the women who cashiered at Sentry's Market, the men who drove logging trucks - assumed I would leave, go to college, and become "successful." No one expected me to marry a week after graduation and move up the road from my parents, to die in a (SEE NEXT PAGE) I lie when I write that home is being a dyke in dyke communities. Rather, home is particular wild and ragged beaches, specif ie kinds of trees and berry brambles, the exact meander of the river I grew up near, the familiar sounds and sights of a dying logging and fishing town. (FROM PREVIOUS PAGE) drunk-driving car accident or a high-speed game of chase down Highway 101, to have a baby and drop outof school at 15. Ahigh school diploma and a college scholarship were givens in my life. fhis is all about class location. In Port Orford, my family and I were well off: we always had enough to eat, my father was securely employed as a high school teacher, my mother bragged that she had the only Ph.D. in town. We eventually owned a big wooden house. Books and records filledmy childhood, not only those we borrowed from the library but also those we bought and lined our house with. We always had health care. I grew up among people for whom none of these things were givens. On the other hand, we wore hand-medowns and home-made clothes, rented tiny two-bedroom houses, owned one beat-up car, and balanced dental bilis against new school shoes. I didn ' t know that in a middle-class town or neighborhood these things would have marked my family and me as something other than well off. Who left and who stayed measured in part the class differences at Pacific High School. My best friend from sixth to twelfth grade was poor. Judy's father had lost his arm in a mili accident, and they li ved on his disability checks. She and I spent high school together in collegeprep classes, pouring over pre-calculus problems and biology experiments. We both wanted to go to college, to leave rural Oregon, and yet in our senior year as I filled out college applications, Judy made plans to marry her boyfriend of four years. I know now that her decisión aróse out of financial desperation - her father had just died, and her family was falling deeper into poverty - but at the time, I thought Judy was copping out. I walked away, glad to be leaving Port Orford behind me. Or so I thought. Only later did I understand what I lost by leaving. Loss of a daily sustaining connection to a landscape that I still carry with me as home. Loss of arural, white working-class culture that values neighbors rather than anonymity, that is both tremendously bigoted - particularly racist - and accepting of local eccentricity, that believes in self-sufficiency and depends on family - big extended families not necessarily created in the mold of the Christian right. Loss of a certain pace of life, a certain easy trust. I didn' t know when I left at 1 7 that I would miss the old cars rusting in every third front yard. Miss the friendly chatting in the grocery store, the bank, the post office. Miss being able to hitch hike home, safe because I knew everyone driving by. In leaving, I followed in my parents' footsteps. My father, raised poor on a dirt farm in North Dakota, and my mother, raised workingclass in Detroit, both left their families to go to college. Their departures were part of an upward scramble toward the middle class, a scramble that my siblings and I inherited. Our grandparents were farmers, gravediggers, and mechanics; our parents, teachers; and we were to be professors, lawyers, or doctors. As I try to soit this tangle out, knowing I can't dodge the question of my own class location muchlonger, I have to ask, does this upward scramble, this endless leaving, work? Instead of professor, lawyer, and doctor, my brother is a high school teacher, my sister, a low-level administrator, and I, a bookkeeper. Did my parents become middle-class in their scramble? Did my siblings and I? And what about the loss? For decades my mother missed living in a big industrial, working-class city; my father would drive every day to the ocean just to see a long, flat horizon like the one he left behind in North Dakota. My brother has returned to rural Oregon, my sister dreams of leaving Seattle for some small town in the North Cascades, and I entertain fantasies of a rural dyke community. Is the upward scramble worth the loss? To answer these tions brings me back to being queer, brings me to the next question: is queer identity worth the loss? ▼ ▼▼▼▼ Queer identity, at least as I know it, is iargely urban. The happening places, events, dialogues, the strong communities, the journals, magazines, bookstores, queer organizing, and queer activism are all city-based. Of course rural lesbian and gay communities exist, but the people and institutions defining queer identity and culture are urban. For me, coming into my lesbian identity and untangling my class location have both been rooted in urban life. ín moving to an urban private liberal arts college, I found what I needed to come out as a lesbian: the anonymity of a city, the support of outlesbian-feministactivists, and access to dyke books and music. In that same move, I also found myself living amongmiddleclass people for the first time. Because in Port Orford my family had always defined itself as middle-class- and in truth we were well-educated people who feil somewhere between the working-class loggers and the middle-class retirees - I believed the class differences I feit in my bones amounted to my being a country bumpkin. I assumed my lack of familiarity with trust funds, new cars, designer clothes, trips to Paris, and credit cards was the same as my lack of familiarity with city buses, skyscrapers, oneway streets, stop üghts, and house keys. Even now the two, the lack of familiarity with city buses, which I've lost in a decade of urban living, and my lack of familiarity with trust funds, which I have not, are hard to separate. I am remembering the first time I went to OutWrite, a national queer writer' s conference. Queer identity, at least as I know it, is largely urban. The happening places, events, dialogues, the strong communities, the journals, magazines, bookstores, queer organizing, and queer activism are all city-based. Of course rural lesbian and gay communities exist, but the people and institutions defining queer identity and culture are urban. From the moment I walked into the posh Boston hotel where the conference was being held, I gawked, staring unbelievingly at the chandeliers, at the shiny gold railings, at the órnate doors, in the same way I used to gawk at twentystory buildings. Saturday night before the big dance party, which I couldn't afford to go to, I had dinner with an acquaintance and a group of her friends, all white lesbian writers from New York City. We ate at the hotel restaurant, where I spent too much money on not enough food, served by brown-skinned men who were courteous in spite of our ever-changing party and ever-changing food orders. Jo and her friends were all going to the party after dinner and were dressed accordingly, in black plastic mini skirts and diamond earrings, three-piece suits and gold cufflinks, haircarefully molded and shaved in all the right places. In my blue jeans and faded chamois shirt, I feit conspicuous and embarrassed. At some point the conversation turned to gossip about queer writers not at the conference. Cathy , an editor for a well-known lesbian press, started in on one of "her" writers, a novelist from rural Oregon. Having earlier heard me talk about growing up in rural Oregon, Cathy turned to me and asked, "When Laura asks me to send stuff to her P.O. box because during the winter rains the mail carrier might not be able to navigate the dirt road to her mailbox, is she serious?" I wanted to laugh. I wanted some clever retort to slide off my tongue. Instead, I politely explained about dirt roads and months of rain. What this New York femme didn't knowaboutrurallivingdidn'toffendme;rather, it was the complete urban bias of the evening that did. Was I uncomfortable, feeling conspicuous and embarrassed, because of class or because of urbanrural differences? I can' t separate the two. Experiences like this one have brought me to needing words for my class location. Sometimes I say I'm mixed-class, living somewhere between working-class and middle-class in a borderland rarely, if ever, acknowledged or defined. Other times I feel like a bridge, one foot working-class, the other middle-class, spanning the distance, able to sit in a posh Boston hotel with well-dressed New York butch and femme dykes and not feel shame, only embarrassment. Or is it as simple as still feeling like a country hick - with all of its class implications - in the city? In any case, it Ieaves me feeling queer in the queer community. The 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots (Stonewall 25 in media shorthand), which if one were to believe the mainstream media and much of the queer media, was a defining event of queer identity in the 90s. I didn't go. I can't tolérate New York City : its noise, crowds, grime, heat, concrete, and traffic. I inherited my father's rural fear of a city as big and tall as New York. I' ve gone to Lesbian and Gay Pride marches for the last decade, but Stonewall 25 was a commercial extravaganza of huge proportions. From the reports I heard, the tickets for many of the events cost outrageous amounts of money . Who could afford the benefit dance at $150, the concert at $50, the t-shirt at $25? I know that at the 1993 March on Washington trinkets and souvenirs flourished. Not only could one buy 14 different kinds of t-shirts but also coffee mugs, plastic flags, freedom rings, posters, etc. I can only assume this proliferation was even more astonishing at Stonewall 25. And sliding scales? They 're evidently a thing of the past Stonewall 25 strikes me not so much as a celebration of a powerful and life-changing uprising of drag queens and buil dykes fedup with thecops, but asamiddleand upper-class urban party that opened its doors only to those who could afford it. Why does the money that creates Stonewall 25 and events like it rarely find its way to working-class and poor queers? Why does the money stay urban? What about AIDS prevention programs, gaylesbian bitransgendered youth services, hate-crime monitoring, queer theater in the mountains of rural Oregon, the cornfïelds of rural Nebraska, the lowlands of rural South Carolina? Have we collectively turned our backs on the small towns in Oregon that one by one are passing local anti-gay ordinances? Are we in effect abandoning them to the Oregon Citizens Alliance, the Christian right coalition that spearheaded the outrageously homophobic Proposition 9 in 1992 and which after losing that vote, has directed its attention toward local initiatives? Will we remember and support Brenda and Wanda Hansen of Camp Sister Spirit, white, rural, working-class lesbians who are building and maintaining lesbian and feminist space in rural Mississippi, when the homophobic violence they face - dead dogs in their mailbox, gunfïre at night - no longer makes the headlines? f?T?T In "Rural Organizing: Building Community Across Difference," Suzanne Pharr writes: If we cannot do rural organizing around lesbian and gay issues, then rural lesbians and gay men are left with limited options: leaving our roots to live in cities; living fearfiil invisible lives in our rural communities; or with visibility, becoming marginalized, isolated, and endangered. Not one of these options holds the promise of wholeness or freedom. (Sojourner: The Women's Forum, June 1994) If we do choose to engage in rural organizing, to effectively build queer communities and foster queer identity in the backwoods, I want us to follow the lead of rural poor and workingclass queers. I want urban activists to take a backseat, to lend their support - financial and otherwise - as rural lesbians and gay men build and strengthen community among themselves. This will be the easy part for urban, middleclass queers to support. The harder part will be understanding the alliances queers - urban and rural - need to créate with straight rural people, the same folks urban people cali "rednecks," "hicks," "clods," and "bigots." Building and supporting these alliances will entail many different kinds of organizing. At the heart of this work needs to be a struggle against economie injustice, since most people - queer and straight - living in rural communities (with the exception of resort towns and retirement enclaves) are poor and working-class. This means confronting unemployment, inadequate food and housing, unaffordable and inaccessible health care and education, issues that queer activists have largely ignored. It is neither easy nor glamorous work, sometimes as simple as lending support to a strike or a family out of work, other times as complex as fighting for health care reform that serves the needs of both rural and queer communities. It will be slow work, creating queer visibility and acceptance by building community among rural lesbians and gay men most accustomed to isolation and by finding common cause with the very people cast as the country 's biggest, most backwards homophobes. But it is exactly this kind of work that will erode rural homophobic violence. Consider for example the eight months I lived at the Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice in rural New York. As a community of women mostly lesbians, protesting the existence of the largest U.S. Army nuclear weapons storage site in the world, the violence we faced from the local community had several sources. The Army Depot was the primary source of jobs for the people in Romulus, and we were a clear and absolute threat to those jobs. We mouthed the rhetoric of economie conversión but never seriously worked on the problems of economie injustice, never asked the hard question, "What happens to the people who work at the Depot after it closes?" Because we - mostly middle-class, urban activists working within the context of the women's peace movement - never asked the question, much less worked toward an answer, we lived in a community that never stopped being angry at us. That anger most typically came out as homophobic violence. By the very nature of activism, activists encounter anger and resistance all the time, but in Romulus, by not addressing the economie issues, the chances of diffusing the anger and working toward true justice were decreased. In addition, the chances of lesbian activists living in comfortable co-existence with the people of Romulus were zero. Alongside the issue of economie injustice was the ever-present fact of our lesbianism - both perceived and actual. In its first two or three years, thousands of women visited and lived at the Camp, and the homophobic violence they encountered was virulent and, for a while, unrelenting. By the time I lived there, seven years after the Camp's founding, our numbers were smaller, and we had settled into a less volatile but still uneasy co-existence with Romulus. To arrive at this relationship, Peace Camp women had worked hard to build alliances with local people - farmers, business owners, the waitresses at the one restaurant in town. One of these alliances was with Bill, the county sheriff. He and his co-workers had done everything from arresting Peace Camp women to issuing us parade permite to helping diffuse violence directed toward us. During my time at the Camp, I became Bob' s contact, a role which, because of my cynicism towards the criminal justice system, made me uncomfortable. I also knew that an alliance with Bill, not as our protector but as a local whom other locáis respected, was important to the Camp. While other Peace Camp women were scornful, rade, or hostile toward Bill, I developed a cordial working relationship with him. I understand the scorn directed toward a burly, uniformed white man toting a gun. But in a rural community, developing an alliance with a sheriff who is willing to go knock on doors to find the people responsible for homophobic violence, as Bill had done on more than one occasion, is part of nurturingaruraldykecommunity. The women with whom I lived understood my discomfort and ambivalence about our relationship with the county sheriff but not my willingness to maintain it, to stand out on the porch and talk about the weather, the corn erop, and the Peace Camp with Bill. I want all of us to listen to Suzanne Pharr' s words, because wholeness and freedom need to be at the center of queer identity and activism. If queer acti vists and communities don ' t créate the "options thathold the promise of wholeness [and] freedotn" for all queer people, rural as well as urban, working-class and poor as well as and upper-class, we have failed. And if we fail, those of us who are rural or rural-raised, poor and working-class, even mixed-class, will have to continue to make difficult choices, to measure what our losses are worth. I know that living openly in relative safety as a lesbian among lesbians, living in a place where I can find work, living with easy access to books and music, movies and concerts, when I can afford them, is lifeblood for me. But I hate the cost, the loss, the measure. ▼ TVVT There are no real answers for me in the measure. My leaving gave me a lesbian community but didn't change my class location. I moved from being a rural, mixed-class dykechild in a straight, rural, working-class town to being an urban-transplanted, mixed-class dyke activist in an urban, mostly middle-class dyke community. Occasionally I simply feel as if I' ve traded one disjunction for another and lost home to boot. Most of the time, however, I know that living openly in relative safety as a lesbian among lesbians, living in a place where I can find work, living with easy access to books and music, movies and concerts, when I can afford them, is lifeblood for me. But I hate the cost, the loss, the measure. The disjunction of never belonging has become an ordinary condition in my life, only noticed when I meet ne w people or travel to new places. Some years ago, a friend and I took a trip to lesbian land in Oregon, visiting WomanShare, Oregon Women' s Land (OWL), and the Healing Ground, hanging out with dykes, hiking in the mountains, splitting firewood, and planting trees. As we left WomanShare heading north to Eugene, Janice told us about a dyke-owned natural food store in Myrtle Creek and asked us to say helio to Judith if we stopped. Two hours later we pulled off Interstate 5 into a rickety little logging town. My friend, a Jewish dyke who grew up in suburban Cleveland and suburban Detroit, noticed the John Birch sign tacked under the "Welcome to Myrtle Creek" sign, while I noticed the familiar ramshackle of Main Street, the hills checkered with overgrown clearcuts, the one-ton pick-up trucks with guns resting in their rear Windows. We parked and started to make a shopping list: fruit, bread, cheese, munchies for the road. I could feel Marjorie grow uncomfortable and wary, the transition from lesbian land to town, particularly one that advertised its John Birch Society, never easy. On the other hand, I feit alert but comf ortable in this town that looked and smelled like home. In white, rural, Christian Oregon, Marjorie'shistory as an urban middle-class Jew and mine as a rural mixed-class gentile measured a chasm between us. As we walked into the grocery store, the woman at the cash register smiled and said, "Welcome, sisters," and all I could do was smile back. Judith wanted news from WomanShare, asked about Janice and Billie, answered our questions about Eugene, already knew about the woman from Fishpond who had committed suicide a week earlier. News of her death moved quickly through this rural dyke community; as we traveled north, we heard women from southern Oregon to Seattle talking about and grieving for this woman. As I stood in Judith's store, I began to understand that OWL and WomanShare and Rainbow ' s End and Fly Away Home and Fishpond and the Healing Ground weren 't simply individual, isolated pieces of lesbian land, created and sustained by transient urban lesbians, but were also links in a thriving rural lesbian network. When Judith asked where I was from, I tried to explain what it meant to discover this network a mere hundred miles east of my inarticulated dyke childhood. But all I could really do was smile some more as Judith told stories about being a dyke in Myrtle Creek, stories interrupted as she greeted customers by name and exchanged local gossip and news. Marjorie and I left 45 minutes later with a bag, of groceries and a pile of stories. As we drove north, I reached out to my ever-present sense of disjunction and found it gone for the moment. I certainly don 't believe that I can cure my sense of disjunction with a simple move to the Oregon mountains where I could live at OWL or WomanShare and shop in Myrtle Creek. The problems highlighted by the intersection of queer identity , working-class and poor identity , and rural identity demand long-lasting, systemic changes. The exclusivity of queer community shaped by urban, middle-class assumptions. Economie injustice in the backwoods. The abandonment of rural working-class culture. The pairing of rural people with conservative, oppressive values. The forced choice between rural roots and urban gay and lesbian life. These problems are the connective tissue that brings the words queer, class, and exile together. Rather than a relocation back to the Oregon mountains, I want a redistribution of economie resources so that wherever we live - in the backwoods, the suburbs, or the city - there is enough to eat, warm, dry houses for everyone, true universal access to health care and education. I want queer acti vists to struggle against homophobic violence in rural áreas with the same kind of tenacity and creativity we bring to the struggle in urban áreas. I want rural queers, working-class queers, poor queers to be leaders in our communities, to shape the ways we will celébrate the 5Oth anniversary of Stonewall. I want each of us to be able to bring our queerness home. FOOTNOTE: In her brilliant essay "Whenever I Teil You the Language We Use is a Class Issue, You Nod Your Head in Agreement- And Then You Open Your Mouth ' about working-class culture and class oppression, Elliott maps out three definitions of the word redneck. lts denotation: "A member of the white rural laboring class..." lts connotation: "A person who advocates a provincial, conservative, often bigoted sociopolitical attitude characteristic of a redneck...." And lastly its usage by progressives, induding many lesbians and gay men: "1. Any person who is racist, violent uneducated and stupid (as if they are the same thing), womonhating, gay-bashing, X-tian fundy, etc. 2. Used as a synonym for every type of oppressive belief except dassism." {Lesbian Ethics, 4:2).


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