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Queer Rock Love

A Family Memoir

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I Wanna Grow Up Like Girls in the Nose

When I was a little girl in the 1970s, my mother told me that someday our TV would be a computer and she’d be able to leave messages on the screen.

My dad told me that someday there would be a woman president and maybe it would even be me.

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No one ever predicted a lesbian rock band that would continue to electrify audiences when its lead singer was over 65. Back then, it seemed like women in their sixties were old ladies, grandmothers or old maids who drove too slow and carried purses full of Kleenex. If you had told me that old ladies could be sexy, powerful and creative—well, I think that human colonization of Mars would have seemed more likely.

In keeping with a 1970s-era vision of the future, the release of the new Star Wars movie has inspired a cultural conversation about women entertainers and aging. Everyone wants to weigh in about whether Carrie Fisher has aged well. Does she have too many wrinkles? Has she gained too much weight?

If this conversation seems very tiresome to you, then let me tell you a story about the Girls in the Nose reunion show last Tuesday night.

Let’s start with the way that lead-singer Kay Turner stands. Legs spread wide. Feet planted flat on the ground. Back straight. Hands wrapped around the mic until she grabs the stand and pulls it to her crotch on a song like “Sodomy.”

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“Does Kay’s voice remind you of Iggy Pop?” I ask my wife.

“Patti Smith,” Katy answers, supplying the feminist canonical referent. But I resist. It’s true that there’s a lot of rock-n-roll priestess in Kay’s performance, but it’s more carnal than Patty. If I could pick one song for them to cover, it would be The Stooges’ “Dirt,” a song that makes me blush every time I hear it.

“Can I have a little less reverb on my vocals?” Kay asks. Noooooo, I think, because I’m enjoying the stadium-rock quality of it. But I’m glad that Kay and guitarist Gretchen Phillips keep asking the sound person for exactly what they want. I once stood in a crowded nightclub while the singer for Sebadoh quibbled with the sound guy for 45 minutes. It’s rare to even hear a female musician ask apologetically for a little more or less of something in her monitor.

There’s no need for apologies here. When Kay sings “Menstrual Hut,” she shrugs off the fact that the members of GITN are mostly post-menopausal now. It was always about hanging out with other women anyway. And when Girls in the Nose makes a reference to the women’s health movement in a song like “Breast Exam,” it’s with a sly, sexy wink. Are they really singing about breast cancer screening? Or are they instructing you in how to squeeze and tug a nipple for more nefarious purposes? Does it have to be an either/or? When percussion/keyboard player Joanna Lebow is cavorting with the Les Nez dancers, I forget to care.

Most reunions are about looking back, and there was a warm glow of nostalgia over the evening, but Girls in the Nose’s performance didn’t feel dated. It was as if—to quote another beloved queer Texas band—they were “sent to us in a time capsule from the future.”

When I grow up, I want to be Girls in the Nose.

There’s one more opportunity to see GITN reunite on January 8 at Cheer Up Charlies.

Photo of GITN courtesy of Ann Hudspeth.

Why I Hoist My Own Tree

Last weekend, I scaled the mountain of musty furniture, bicycles and plastic bins in our garage. When I found what I was looking for—a tattered red duffel bag the size of an average middle schooler—I pulled and heaved and cajoled it down from the heap and into the house. It would have been easier with a second pair of hands, but setting up the Christmas tree has become my personal ritual, something I prefer to do alone.

xmastreeI’m writing by the glow of the tree right now. It’s the same white tree that I wrote about in Queer Rock Love, the one I bought at Target when Katy was so sick from interferon that she could barely get out of bed. After 10 years of service, the old tree is frayed and yellowish, but I can’t part with it.

Before Katy’s illness, I had a tendency to pin my happiness on other people. If I wanted to try something new, I needed more than my partner’s approval—I needed total buy-in. “It was stifling but safe. As long as other people had the power, my desires remained conditional and my failures rested on someone else—this is what I would do, if only…”

When Katy got sick, I was faced with a choice: I could tether myself to her bedside, waiting for her to feel better and meanwhile roiling with resentment that life was passing me by, or I could try to balance caretaking with my own needs for independence. But that meant venturing out on my own, without Katy as my constant cheerleader and companion. It was a prospect that filled me with dread. If you’ve read about the episode with the Christmas tree, then you know the pitfalls I faced trying to disentangle my own desires. I was hyper sensitive to any hint of disapproval, always eager to believe that family responsibilities were too demanding for me to follow my dreams or that I probably wasn’t good enough or strong enough to try.

I’ve been thinking about all this after watching Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, which I enjoyed immensely—until the last two episodes. As a queer person, I don’t have a lot of patience for straight people bemoaning how trapped they feel by heteronormative timetables of career, marriage, parenting and death. Oh, what’s that? You feel like you’ll be stigmatized if you don’t follow the script? Join the club. (Did you notice that Dev’s lesbian friend, Denise, basically dropped out of the last two episodes? I think it’s because the presence of a queer character would have undermined the whole pretense that there’s only one way to do committed relationships.)

I know that being in a relationship is not for everyone, but I’m also skeptical of the idea that marriage equals death. There’s a strain of misogyny in that tired old tune about suffocating domesticity. I’m more interested in thinking about a relationship as a creative crucible. Learning to balance my needs and desires with the needs and desires of another person has forced me to define my dreams and to become purposeful about pursuing them.

Katy’s in the next room now, working on the 5′ x 5′ painting that has consumed her imagination for the last two weeks. The white lights on the Christmas tree lend an iridescent glow to the layers of paint that she builds up and then scrapes down to begin again. I’m inspired by the depth of her concentration and her willingness to try something new. In a little while, I’ll read this blog post to her, and she’ll tell me about her latest experiments in color and form. I’m glad the circle of light is wide enough to hold us when we’re separate and to warm us when we come back together.

Friendship as a Way of Life at the Dog & Duck Pub

Last night was the final Sunday night at the Dog and Duck Pub on 17th and Lavaca.

IMG_4625My sweetie Katy and her best friend Nancy have been spending Sunday nights at the Dog and Duck Pub for twenty-one years.

That’s longer than my parents were married.

That’s longer than The Beatles were a band.

If Katy and Nancy’s Sunday night ritual was a person, it would be old enough to join them at the Dog and Duck for a drink.

Nancy and Katy actually met for the first time at the Dog and Duck. It was 1991, and Katy still had long, permed tresses a la Jon Bon Jovi. By chance, she happened to make the acquaintance of a group of gay girls from College Station. Katy was intrigued by these college-educated queers with their hairy armpits and Doc Martens and dark beer. She made plans to meet her new friends at the pub, and they showed up with Nancy in tow.

Flash forward a year. At the tail-end of a long and booze-soaked Pride weekend, Katy and Nancy were feeling the Sunday blues. They decided to meet for one last drink at the Dog and Duck, and the tradition stuck. Pretty soon, other people started to drop by every week too. The Dog and Duck was like Katy and Nancy’s living room. No need to call ahead or make a plan—if it was Sunday night, you could pretty much count on the fact that they would be there.

Sometimes people would come to the Dog and Duck regularly, and then life would pull them away. They might resurface years later and start attending the Sunday night sessions again without skipping a beat. I came along in 2001, which makes me somewhat of a newbie. Even after thirteen years, I still occasionally meet old-timers who are new to me.

The Sunday night tradition has outlived jobs, pets, apartments and more. Katy and Nancy both swear that more than one romance ended because of a girlfriend who didn’t respect Dog and Duck time. I’ll admit that when our son was a baby, I didn’t always relish the idea of Katy spending the difficult bedtime hours at a bar. But I’ve also felt pretty damn lucky to have a spouse who really nurtures her friendships. It takes a lot of pressure off when you know that you’re not your partner’s only means of emotional support.

Sunday night conversations at the Dog and Duck can range from raunchy to tearful. Last summer, when my family of origin was in crisis, the battered picnic tables in the courtyard were my refuge—a place where I could narrate the whole, complicated story without interruption and then ask for insights from my friends.

It would have been easy for the ritual to fall by the wayside when Nancy started traveling for work. These days, she’s out of the country almost as often as she’s home, and it takes more intention to keep track of the schedule, but Sunday nights at the Dog and Duck have remained the default.

The French philosopher Michel Foucault said that homosexuality wasn’t subversive as a way of having sex, it was subversive as a way of life. As queer people, one of our strengths is that we hold on to our subcultures and friendships. We don’t put away childish things, we weave them into the fabric of lives that don’t follow straight lines. But it’s not easy to maintain long-term relationships that aren’t legitimized by blood or matrimony or profit. (There’s a reason why we say gay couples who have been together for ten years are the equivalent of straight couples who have been together for twenty-five.) That’s especially true for adult friendships, because our culture lacks ritualized times and places that preserve and strengthen those bonds.

Last night, I raised a glass to Nancy and Katy, thanking them for making a time and a place for friendship in their own lives, and in the lives of so many others. Now the ground is shifting, but the roots are still strong. May we nurture them, and may they bloom wherever they are planted.

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Read about the closing of the Dog and Duck Pub.

Do you have a favorite memory of Sunday nights at the Dog & Duck? Help create a virtual archive by sharing in the comments!

If you like this post, please support my homosexual agenda by sharing on social media. Thanks!

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