Today I enjoyed the privilege of literally sitting at the feet of Irene Weiss, an 80-something lesbian-feminist-separatist who shared her stories of the past and a new video about lesbians from the 1980s. Irene and I probably never met in the past, but we could have. She lived at the Pagoda, a lesbian retreat in Vilano Beach, FL, just north of St. Augustine. Irene and her partner lived there for 7 years and knew my old friend Rainbow Williams who I’d met just prior to my coming out in 1979, at Orlando NOW meeting. Irene and her partner also visited Gainesville where I went to college, had visited Barbara Deming on Sugarloaf Key just after I was there and just before Barbara passed, and Irene spent time in Jacksonville where I lived for a number of years.
My activism has always been "within" the mainstream. I believe that one of the powerful ways change happens is to work within the system to change the system. Irene's activism was way outside the mainstream, imbedded in the lesbian/feminist/separatist communities and actions. Both kinds of activism were important foundations for today’s young people, for paving the way for young LGBT people to feel a sense of freedom. Today’s young LGBT folk have an entirely different set of work to do before our civil rights are fully established, but they couldn’t do this work if Irene and myself and many others hadn’t done what we did in the many ways we did it "back in the day." I'm not a separatist like Irene but the goals for our various philosophies are the same: our freedom.
I wish our college age LGBT generation could see the film we saw today but I doubt they ever will. I don’t believe it speaks to them in a way they may find significant. It’s a sweet story of a particular generation of a particular community of particular women. A blurb on a radar screen that will sound only in some women’s studies classroom on some campus somewhere IF the film even gets released.
Regardless of whether or not young LGBT people see the film, I hope they will spend some time sitting at the feet of someone much older than they, listening to the stories of lives lived well and of freedom fought and found. Because one day, they will be that person, and they, in turn, will tell their stories to generations to come of days long gone but that changed the world….