Tuesday, November 25, 2008


As Barack Obama prepares to take up residency in the White House and become the 44th President of the United States, I’m thinking about generational transitions. President-Elect Obama is one example of a generational transition as the first President born in the 1960s. The election of Bill Clinton was another moment of generational transition, then of people who grew up during the 1960s. It makes me wonder, what is the significance of generations and to what do we owe younger generations?

My own thinking about generational transitions comes from my experiences as young lesbian (I came out in 1988) and what I felt at the time was a lack of leaders ahead of me who were role models and mentors. Part of that perceived lack was not only a limited number of people, but also a lack of visibility of the people who were from the generations preceding me. I’ve now learned about Sally Gearheart, Judy Grahn, Virginia Apuzzo, and a host of others who were out and speaking out on behalf of lesbians and gay men and our demands for equality. At the time, however, when I was eighteen, nineteen, and twenty, many lesbians from other generations were telling me to not be too open and to think about my professional future and my ability to find work and build a life without being labeled a lesbian too publicly. I never took that advice. Things worked out anyway.

I hope that things are different for young people coming out now. Certainly there are many more signs of open and vibrant lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities and leaders than there were twenty years ago. At the same time, I’m aware of how many young queers today are homeless and kicked out by their families and communities.

Sassafras Lowrey, a fantastic young activist, has just edited an anthology called Kicked Out about young people who have been kicked out of their homes as a result of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. These are heartbreaking stories that Sassafras has gathered, but they are also stories of hope and resilience. Unfortunately, the stories of young queers being kicked out are not new.

In my hometown of Detroit, MI, too many young queers are living on the streets or in marginal circumstances as a result of being queer. It’s not a new phenomenon; it’s been happening since I worked there in the 1990s. Today, however, the challenges of young queer people are being met on a daily basis by the Ruth Ellis Center.

Ruth Ellis was a long-time activist in Detroit and in many ways embodies the spirit of generational visibility and knowledge and affection transfer between and among generations. Ellis lived to be 101 and along the way provided support and assistance, both material and personal, to hundreds in the GLBT communities in Detroit. Today, the Ruth Ellis Center, headed by the incredible Grace McClelland, provides housing, street outreach, and a drop-in center for queer young people in Detroit. These are vital services that are the result of the dreams and hard work of many people in the Detroit area. McClelland and her team of staff and volunteers are making a real difference and ensuring that young queers are cared for in meaningful and life-giving ways. To me, they are models for how our queer community should be.

We all have an obligation to care for the next generation, not just as parents or role models, but also as activists and advocates. Young people need the support and good-heartedness of our community for them to find lives that are good and meaningful and fulfilling to them. As we watch a new generation take up residence in the White House and as we remember through the new film the generation of Harvey Milk, let’s commit ourselves personally and communally to helping GLBT young people in every way that we can. If our lives our to matter in the annals of history, we must ensure that their lives matter today and in the future.

Word count: 672

Julie R. Enszer is a writer and poet who lives in University Park, MD. You can read more of her work at www.JulieREnszer.com.

This is column #26 dated 21 December 2008 in the series, CIVILesbianIZATION.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I can only write this because we are now far enough away from the hard times, and even then I write this with trepidation. I worry that by even suggesting my hypothesis, love deepens, I may be engaged in a practice that is too hubristic for my own good. I worry that in three weeks, three months, or three years, I might look back and regret these words. Still I will write them. Love deepens.

By that I mean, over the course of time together two people in love find that in addition to being challenged and tested, often painfully, love deepens. The reward for staying around during the fights, during the indecision, during moments of meanness and unkind words, is that the emotional, erotic, and spiritual connection that is shared becomes deeper and more meaningful. There is a reward, even a pay off, to staying with one person for more than a few months or a few years. There is a different type of love that emerges after a substantial time together.

I’ll be honest. This surprised me. Yes, I’ve heard people describe such a thing, but as a younger person, I thought that was all verbal blather designed to promote mythic heterosexual monogamy. It may be and now I may just be engaged in the myth-making myself. If so, I hope to be slapped soon into a more radical perspective. First, however, let me suggest that this notion that love deepens is not part of hegemonic heterosexism, but rather a part of our human condition that we can celebrate from a queer perspective.

I’ve been reading the letters of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. They had a friendship that extended over thirty years, and, despite some early uncomfortable suggestions that they should marry (an absurd notion—Bishop was, of course, a lesbian), they remained friends, close friends, in spite of the miles that separated them for much of their life. Reading the letters, I’m struck by the same insight that I see in my intimate relation (and I might add other relationships): love deepens. Bishop’s love for Lowell and his for her deepens as the time passes, as the pages of letters become filled with words and images and poems.

Time does something to us in relationships. It softens some edges and hardens others. The shared experiences accrue to greater meaning. Things that were once annoying become predictable in and in that predictability reassuring and even delightful.

I don’t want to argue for us queers to all gallop off into long-term, committed relationships. I chafe at the presentation that we’re making in order to sway our heterosexual counterparts in supporting our right to marriage. To me, being a lesbian is still at its core about challenging patriarchy and sexism and homophobia and demanding that we have more models, not fewer, for how we might live our lives with greater joy and opportunity and passion and service.

Yet, I’m aware at the power of relationships between people as they grow older. Those relationships need not be intimate partnerships; they may also be friendships as with Bishop and Lowell, they may be familial relations or companions or cohorts or confidantes. We don’t have enough language to describe the matrix of relationships that we can imagine for ourselves. We do know that time invested in people, in building relationships with people, delivers rewards.

My greatest hope is that this morphing of love with time continues. I want love to deepen as time marches on. When I look back on year three, when I never imagined year twelve, I couldn’t imagine the experience I have now. I want it to continue. Perhaps the transition from fifteen years to twenty, from twenty-five to thirty, from even thirty-five to forty if I dare to imagine that long, will be that love to deepen further. This seems to me one of the joys of growing older and sticking around through the hard times. I also want love to broaden. I want more space for it in my life and in my world. I want my queer love to be broad and deep and celebrated by me, and everyone.

Word count: 707

Julie R. Enszer is a writer and poet who lives in University Park, MD. You can read more of her work at www.JulieREnszer.com.

This is column #24 dated November 23, 2008 in the series, CIVILesbianIZATION