What is usually missing are Lesbians

Why they did what they did is not for me to answer. But I am so glad they did it.

Some quick notes about a conversation I had this week about the early years of AIDS Crisis. And yes, the video at the end is very intentional. 
 
I was asked some questions earlier today by a student writing a paper on ACTUP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power, and yes, we were fighting a war, but that didn't mean we couldn't be a little self-righteously over-the top when it came to self-identification) for a college paper. She asked if there were any people who are the unsung heroes of the movement that I believed deserved to be recognized. 
 
"Lesbians", I responded. 
 
"I'm sorry, I thought that the AIDS crisis was primarily due to the government's inaction to help gay men," she responded. 
"Yes, for the most part, you are correct". I then told her the story of a wonderful woman named Julia. Julia was a lesbian, a home health care nurse and was often one of the last people that many of her clients, whom were primarily people with AIDS, would see before they left this mortal coil. 
 
"These people all lived in the South Bay area of Los Angeles. I knew many of them from meeting them in the Long Beach Leather Community. And that is how I met Julia and the Lesbians.  Lesbians, who statistically were one of the groups least likely to be infected with the disease, came out of the woodwork and took up arms with us, were beaten down by the police with us and went to jail with us. More often than not, Lesbians also somehow found money to bail me out and then made me dinner. The last part here is incredibly significant, as I was a commercial sex worker and a heroin addict at the time. I often didn't eat and typically only had enough money to pay my basic expenses, which included getting high every day."
 
She stuttered, attempting to decipher and understand exactly what I just told her. I chimed in as a way to de-weird-ify what I had just said. "Don't worry if you didn't get to write any of that down or are unsure how to take it. It was what it was. I'm recording this, so I'll send you an unedited copy after were done."
 
I continued to elaborate the best way I could. "Lesbians gave us bed baths when health care 'professionals' refused to work with us. Lesbians made us blankets when we were sick and cold. Lesbians did shopping for us and cooked for us and had holiday meals with us because our own families and friends disowned us; even other men in the gay community wanted nothing to do with us. As I recall, and mind you my memory might a little spotty in parts, I never once ever heard a single one of them ever ask what was in it for them."
 
The student asked the following question, which made me really stop and think: "Do you think they did this out of some kind of solidarity with gay men?" I replied in the negative. Even back then, there were a lot of men who felt so threatened by women that they would often refer to them in less-than-favorable language. Some things change, and some don't. This wasn't an overall attitude, I explained to her, but there was enough of the negativity to be noticeable.
 
I then told her the following: "Before you ask your next question, of me, may I try to guess what it might be?
"Sure. I'm game." 
"You want to know why they went out of their way, facing stigma from their families and the public, knowing there was an unfounded and misogynistic attitude toward them from some small pockets of the gay men's community and risking contracting the disease themselves." (For those not aware, we didn't always know that it was HIV disease that caused AIDS.)
"Yes. That is pretty much exactly what I was going to ask."
 
"I don't know," I replied. "I could easily come up with something that sounds noble and full of emotionally charged prose and go on about the Sisterhood, capital letter S and in quotation marks and have them sound like the 20th century version of  the Knights Templar. Why they did what they did is not for me to answer. But I assume it was there all along without me realizing it."
 
The student sounded puzzled again when she responded, "How did you know it was always there?"
"Have you ever been to a Gay Pride Festival of any kind?" 
"Yes. My favorite cousin, who is more like a brother to me, is gay. We always have a great time." 
"Did you happen to see any women on stage playing acoustic music or groups of women playing music?"
"No, but usually we came in when there was a woman singer playing dance music."
"When I was on the board of directors at Pride NW, I remember emphatically requesting, and often, that we have at least one Lesbian, acoustic folksinger. I told them that yes, it is a stereotype and a cliche, and I do not mean for it to come across in that manner. However, when many of these parades and festivals first started out, there was often little to no money. We had no corporate sponsorships selling us down the river to major companies that exploit our communities or provide us banners with their logo emblazoned on them. Our festivals originally started out as a truly rag tag affair, people just being brave enough to come out and share a moment that just the fact that we came out in public without shame was a political and personal statement second to none. And that is when I first heard what lesbians had to say to the world."
 
A long pause, and then she said, "That sounds, like, really, I don't know what the word is I'm looking for."
"Heavy?"
"Yeah, but not in a bad way. Were these political statements?"
"Yes, but not in the way that most people think of political statements. They would give impassioned speeches about healthcare long before anyone else I knew. They would have small booths selling their hand-made wares for usually just enough money to pay expenses, to eat and get gas to go to another festival and do it all over again, telling stories about where they traveled and the wonderful people they met. They would often sit, either alone or in groups, with acoustic equipment, and if anyone had a PA system, it was usually cobbled together from something that looked like it was left over from Woodstock. They would sing songs about the environment, the family of man, dogs and kids, social injustice and love and respect for one another."
 
"So what you're saying is that the love these lesbians had for gay men was always there."
"I'm not saying that at all."
"Then what are you saying?"
I let out a very gentle sigh. It was my turn to pause.
"I know that you are actively listening and probably expecting me to give you an answer that would easily summarize what my initial response meant. When it comes to this topic and this time, sometimes the words just don't come forward they way I want them to in order to make sense. Because many times during the crisis, it didn't make sense."
"I don't meant to put you on the spot."
"You aren't, so there is no need for an apology." I let out a gentle laugh that attempted to convey I was in fact not upset, depressed or angry at all. 
"Do you need to think about this some more and call me back?"
"No, because in a sense, I am overthinking this."
"Overthinking?"
Another long pause from me.
"Some things reveal themselves all at once. Many times, at least in my view, the things that matter most take time to reveal their purpose. There are times when things never come to a logical or easy to understand conclusion. I am finding that as I grow older, I do not need to know everything. I do not need to understand everything. I do not need to justify my place in what might be a stop in someone else's timeline or journey. Sometimes, the best part of the realization is that it can remain a mystery and still hold an earthshaking power to amaze and wonder."
 
"That's really very beautiful."
"Stop. I'm getting misty."

She laughed out loud at my slightly off-putting way to bring everything back to Earth. She then thanked me for her time. I asked her why she was working on a research paper in the middle of summer.
"I already know what I will be working on for my Master's Thesis. I needed to get a head start on it, since I know this will be a critical year for me, and I want to get it right."
"The worst kind of vice is advice, but I am going to give you some some anyway."
"Please do. And what might that be?"
"I stopped attempting to decipher what this time in my life meant in terms of absolutes, like black and white or right or wrong. Because we all fucked up from time to time. Getting it right just might mean just being honest. And as far as Lesbians and the AIDS crisis are concerned, why they did what they did is not for me to answer. But I am so glad they did it."
 
"I have just one last question for now. Do you know whatever happened to Julia?"
"Yes. She died from ovarian cancer in 1997." 
"I'm so very sorry."
"Me too. Her daughter Elizabeth asked me to speak at a Celebration of Life event they held in her honor. I was scared shitless, because I wanted it to be...beautiful. If this makes any sense, please let it be known that her favorite album was Tapestry by Carole King. I just think that needs to be said somewhere, because she played it. A lot."
 
Love to you all.
 
Ben Bear
 

This video is meant in loving memory of Julia.

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