My Response

Wednesday November 3, 2004, a sad day.

It looks like Bush won reelection. Still undecided, but Kerry most assuredly did not kick his ass. It’s a very close race again. However, Bush is leading popular votes. I look at the map of the US showing the middle part and my southern part all republican red and just a tiny bit of democratic blue up the west coast and in the top of the country. Parts that are close to Canada. Like those states have been influenced by Canadian sensibility or something. Anyway, I look at the map of the US with this menacing red middle and I think about the other circumstances under which I would look at it with more joy. If I were going on tour for example. I love touring the midwest. I like midwesterners a lot. And I, of course, love the south, my home, a weird place but a place I’m from and which I do understand. But this new map makes me feel, “I don’t understand.” How did this happen? Who are these people who support Bush and are putting him and even more Republicans back in power? I don’t know this country.

Yet I’ve been all over this country singing songs about the joys of lesbianism and I’ve found it to be receptive. Granted, it was awhile ago, but George H’s election margin was not as slim as George W’s. At least George W did not win by a landslide like Reagan did in 1984. I really felt like the majority of this country hated me and what I believe and care about. But then when I went out amongst countrymen and women, I found them to be much kinder and helpful than I’d imagined. Two Nice Girls had many opportunities to interact with unhip, untrendy folks because our van broke down all the time. We had to rely on the kindness of strangers on a very regular basis. And what was amazing and wonderful to me was the extent to which all these straight guys (for that’s who they were) wanted to help us get our van fixed speedily so that we could continue the tour. Granted we told many different stories about what kind of music we did, with contempory christian being a common one and lezzie rock being a very rare one. Still, we looked different and acted different and they weren’t jerks. Over and over they weren’t. They were the opposite. They were helpful.

That was one of the biggest lessons of my life. People aren’t actually as scary as I’ve believed. Or been led to believe. Of course, I’m white and that makes it easier to move thru the US. But given my status, what am I to conclude by looking at the new map of the US, the red and blue one?

I do not want to conclude that I don’t know and will never understand half the people here. I don’t want to conclude that we’re opposites and I have no connection to them. And I don’t want to conclude that I’m defeated somehow. Because actually I think I have before me a very clear challange to continue doing what I have been questing after all my life which is more understanding, more compassion, more of loving my neighbor as I love myself. It’s an enormous challenge, but what could be more clear? I’ve already spent a lot of time hating Republicans, I’m over hating. It doesn’t make me feel good. It makes me feel sick. Today, I see my challenge to love and care even more. Why does Bush choose the policy of offense is the best defense? Because caring is so hard? I think so. Caring is hard. It’s nuanced and contradictory and yet a strong straight line wh

n it does clearly reveal itself. I’m going to go into this like I do a vigorous physical training program. I’m going to continue to care throughout the day, even if I don’t feel like it. I’m going to continue to wish people well, even if I fear that they wish me dead. I’m going to bust ass loving my crazy family of origin as well as people all over the world I don’t even know. I mean it can be easier to love the ones I don’t know. And I’ve got to work on loving my fellow Americans. It’s a microcosm of the split, the division if I love the rest of world and can’t summon it for my own people. Because I choose to claim Americans. I give myself that challenge. It’s sooooooooo hard. But I don’t know what else to do, what other route to go. I have to do that hardest thing. I have to love my neighbor as I love myself, and that involves all the complications of how good a job I’m doing of loving myself and whether or not my neighbor is worthy of my love. I’m just going to have to take a leap of faith and say that they are.

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The Story of My Cat – 1/10/02 (an email)

Dear Friends,

I have more news to share from Austin, TX on the state of my life and my observations of the state of our world. Be warned, this is a heavy, sad tale, so if you’re in a fragile mood, don’t read it.

As you may or may not know, depending on how well or whether you know me, I have only this fall moved in with my lover of ten years, Ann, here in Austin, our actual permanent residence. It’s both exciting and scary to be living together. One of the first things that I noticed was that we spend a lot of time playing with, talking to, and talking about our three cats, Peola, St. Francis, and Ishmael. I really enjoy our relationship with our cats but the spectre of this aspect of our lives as a lesbian cliche kindof concerns me. I mean, we’re lesbians who live together and we are really into our cats. It’s just sooo cliche. But they bring us tons of pleasure. I love to love them, get lost in the moments of loving them, especially after the events of September 11th. I love to take time out to notice them, pet them, feel my feelings of love for these creatures who do not do a lick of work around the house or in some larger workforce, but still deserve to receive my total adoration just because of who they are. They sleep all day and I still think they’re great. Quite frankly I’d like to be able to extend that same generosity of spirit to myself.

We found Ishmael playing in the gutter with an orange peel on Fulton Street in May of 2000. He was a tiny, dirty kitten. Very friendly and unfazed by the subway ride up to 125th St. He was so filthy that we figured it was alright to take him because he was most certainly unclaimed. He’s really one of those love-machine male cats, very hedonistic and handsome and into being petted and loved by the ladies. And I’m not bragging when I say that he’s handsome. He is a big, grey Maine Coon with the most enormous tail and the most elegant long body. And he has such a sweet disposition. We love him very much, and we’ve loved him in a special way since the attack because we found him so near the World Trade Center, right there on Fulton St., right by our old NYU housing on Water St., right by the South St. Seaport, right by the water. Naming him Ishmael just popped into my head because of his proximity to water, because of Moby Dick. It seemed like he was so unflappable and adventurous that he was the type of guy to be a life-long sailor. I only later read the somewhat distressing tale of Ishmael in the Bible.

Well, he didn’t come home the night of Thursday, November 29th. I was worried, but didn’t freak out. When he still hadn’t come home by Saturday morning, I awoke from my bad, anxiety-filled dreams about him and got on my bike and rode around the neighborhood calling his name. Ann and I also made missing cat signs. I was, of course, reminded of all of the missing person signs posted all over NYC after the attack on the WTC. Would these signs work? Our phone number is on the tag on his collar. Would someone call and say, “oh yes, I saw him wandering around as if in a daze, in shock?” Would just putting the word out there psychically assist us in being reunited? I started getting scared.

I guess I went through many, if not all, of the levels of grieving, I was scared, then angry, “where the hell is he? Doesn’t he know how worried we are?”, then hurt, “I guess he went to go live with someone else” then guilty, “I shouldn’t have continued to reprimand him about eating Peola’s geriatric food. If he preferred that food he should have just been able to have it. Surely my behavior drove him away”, then some weird denial of the sadness thing, “well the house sure feels different without his male energy. And the girls seem to be enjoying getting to sleep on the bed with us for a change, maybe it’s for the best”. But underneath everything, underneath every moment of every day was a low level of depression because of missing him so. It was like a low grade fever, not debilitating but definitely affecting my day. And nights. I really missed sleeping with him. He’s cuddly.

I started to lose hope of seeing him again. People told me stories of their cats being gone for periods ranging from a few days to months and then returning, happy and enigmatic about where they’d been. I wanted to believe that he would return, but I was secretly convinced that he’d gone to live with people who were even nicer to him. Still, I called his name while biking through our neighborhood, hoping that the sound of my voice would remind him of my undying love for him.

Last Wednesday, six days after he disappeared, I returned home from band practice at 12:45 AM and Ann told me that Ishmael had returned at midnight. “He’s home, but he’s hurt” she said. His back left leg was messed up, bent all wrong. God, I was so glad to see him, and he was being so sweet. He was purring up a storm as we petted him. I opened up a can of tuna, and we had a tuna party on the kitchen floor, all three cats and me wolfing down the albacore. He seemed so glad to be with us, I felt immediately ashamed that I had so quickly convinced myself that he had deserted us. On the contrary, he probably went through some hell to come home on that messed up leg, six days later. Since he still had his ID tag on, I don’t think he saw another human since he got hurt or they probably would have called us. I like to think that, anyway. It was a joyous reunion and my heart just melted into a pool of love for the big guy who indeed wanted to be home with us.

We took him to his vet first thing on Thursday. The vet said that his leg was broken and judging by the road tar on his nails that he had probably been hit by a car and then crawled off somewhere to recuperate enough to make it home. The vet said that they would X-ray his leg and operate on it Friday morning. We hated leaving him there at the vets. We’d only just been reunited with him and now we had to part again. I cried. But I was just so damned relieved to have him back, even though I was anxious about how fragile his leg would be after they put the pins in it. He would have to be confined for six weeks, so as to allow the leg to heal. That’s a lot of close care, but so what? It’s great to have him back alive and in one piece.

I was not worried about his surgery on Friday. But I should have been. The hair is standing up on my head as I type this part of the story. I can’t help from crying. Friday morning I got a call from the vet’s assistant saying that they were having difficulty locating Ann. She took the cell phone with her to her hair appointment, but apparently she hadn’t answered their call. The girl asked me if I was authorized to make decisions regarding Ishmael’s care. My blood ran cold and I answered “yes”, wondering what this was all about. She put the vet on the phone and he said rather lightly in his strong Texas accent, “I’m having a hell of a time putting this leg back together. The muscles in his leg have contracted over the last six days and I need to pull his muscle two inches in order to set it right. I can’t pull them but half an inch. I’ve spent thirty minutes on it so far. The best thing to do is for me to amputate his leg.”

I couldn’t fucking believe what I was hearing. I let out a big sob. I got so sad and so scared all of a sudden. I mean, a minute ago I’d gotten off the phone from making band rehearsal arrangements, laughing with my friend. Now a vet is telling me that he’s about to cut my beloved cat’s leg all the way off?????? Please no, don’t let this be happening. I don’t want to have to authorize such a thing. I don’t ever want to have to make a decision like that.

I believe I asked, “Cut off his leg? What kind of cat will he be?” The vet answered in his perky manner, “A three-legged cat. He’ll heal a lot faster from that than from me trying to fix this mangled leg.” Well, that notion was reassuring, however incredible to believe. I was freaking, but I wanted to be good and responsible and do the right thing. If the vet was saying to amputate his leg, maybe that was correct. Hell, I don’t know. I’m not a vet because these things make me so squeamish.

So I authorized him to do what he must. When I hung up the phone I just lost it and cried and cried. I believe that letting out the feelings is good for you, however it felt so terrible to be actually feeling these feelings of hopelessness and sadness and worry and concern for my beloved. I just wanted it to not be true, but I kept coming back to the realization that it was. Very harsh.

The rest of Friday was spent in a sort of depressed and angry daze. I wanted to cry forever and I wanted to just punch something, it’s all so unfair. He went through whatever trauma he experienced to hurt himself in the first place, then he was alone for six days. Then he was so very happy to be back with us having a tuna party on the kitchen floor, I’m sure that he thought that the hard times were over. Then he had to spend the night at the vet and then they cut his whole leg off. Nobody bargained for that turn of events. I kept imagining him coming out of his anesthesia and seeing that his leg was gone and then screaming out, “Noooooo!!!!!.” Then I realized that I probably got that image from a movie or a book or some story about humans and that he’s a cat. I cautioned myself not to inflict human responses onto him, let him have his own responses. As you can see, my mind was reeling, my heart was getting an enormous workout.

Ann had seen him after his surgery and she told me that she thought they had removed his whole haunch.

That was inconceivable.

We picked him up on Sat. morning and although the vet assured us he was doing well, he was growling and crying and they had cut his whole back left haunch off. Anytime I see a cat shaved anywhere it looks disturbing, somewhat obscene to me. They’re supposed to have fur, in my book. He was shaved down to pinkness with tons of stitches up his belly and a tiny little stump. It was like my cat was cut in half but still alive. It’s a freakin’ horror movie. It is truly a horror, incites horror, is horrible.

What a weekend it’s been. Sometimes, Ishmael will be fine, his old self, just butting his head up against our hand to get petted and purring really hard. He can even get up on his three legs and hop around the house, going from room to room and hanging out on the kitchen floor, a favorite spot. But sometimes he seems to have flashbacks, where he stares into space and then up at the ceiling and starts growling and looking around wildly at things in the room that I don’t see. And he gets all scared and then starts howling and screaming. I think that it’s good for him to get his feelings out, too, so I don’t try to calm him down, I just encourage him to feel whatever it is that’s coming up for him. But it is a heartbreaking scene to witness, my beloved cat in such anguish. And then sometimes he’ll suddenly start writhing around and howling, perhaps he’s in pain and/or perhaps he’s frustrated with not knowing how to get himself upright. He’ll freak out for awhile and then get up on three legs and then he’ll stop screaming and go into the kitchen to his food. After he stops screaming, I feel that my heart has been racing and that my chest feels all full and hollow inside and that it’s a lot to go through. I keep wanting to wake up from this bad dream, but it just keeps on being reality. Kindof like Sept. 11th.

A weird thing happened when I went to the grocery store Sat. night. As I walked in the door, right ahead of me was a woman in a wheelchair being pushed by someone. I saw that the woman was missing her right leg. Then at the checkout stand, the cover story of the Weekly World News was that a woman’s severed leg had hopped many miles to the hospital and was then re-attached after seven hours of surgery. I sortof doubt the validity of that story. I realize this whole thing has really raised my consciousness about my own ableism. I really have to look at what my definition of being whole and beautiful is.

Ann and I discuss what his amputation brings up for us. It makes me even more aware of how afraid I am of losing my breasts to breast cancer, like my Aunt Jamie. I think about cancer and car wrecks and the special olympics and AIDS. And war.

Throughout this ordeal I’ve flashed on the stories of the people losing limbs in Afghanistan. They lose limbs to the land mines that were already there and they lose limbs to our bombs. And they are not receiving good medical care at all. The hospitals there are lacking supplies, they keep getting raided, they’re understaffed…..people are in a lot of pain. I can’t help but imagine how much pain, being around Ishmael who is a cat and has received the best care that money can buy and is still in a lot of pain. I actually have a really hard time reconciling that people are losing limbs in Afghanistan in the name of retribution for people losing limbs in the World Trade Center. Civilians. Because people “in the wrong place at the wrong time” suffer in these attacks staged by a relatively few number of players in charge. That’s what we saw in the attacks on NYC and Washington. Lots of civilians were killed, people who hadn’t signed up for life-threatening jobs. The same must hold true in Afghanistan. And Iraq. And Bosnia. Everywhere, all the time when violence is considered the way to end violence. I don’t think that being violent to someone teaches them a lesson that their violence is wrong. It just makes them want to figure out a way to get you back. Honestly, didn’t that happen to you? Didn’t you ever get hit by bullies, spanked by your mom and swear under your breath, “you’re going to be sorry some day?”

The vet thinks that Ishmael fell from a high place and broke his leg and herniated his abdomen from the fall. Twice before he has been chased up tall trees in the neighbors’ yard by dogs and has been unable to get down without assistance from a ladder we bought at Home Depot at 2:00 in the morning. It seems possible that he was chased by a dog up a tree and fell down and injured himself. And subsequently lost his leg due to that injury. Should I go and exact revenge on this dog? Believe me, the thought crossed my mind. I’m not quite sure which dog it is, although there are a few who roam the neighborhood freely and one of those is so menacing to me on my bike that I turn around and go the other way when I encounter it. Of course, once he was chased up a tree by two dogs who were on a leash being led by their Republican owners on their nightly visit to shit in our yard. I’m inclined to dislike these people anyway since our political beliefs differ and they had such a laissez faire attitude towards my cat’s predicament at the paws of their irritating pooches. Maybe they are to blame. It seems likely, yet completely unsubstantiated and based only on my prejudice. I don’t exactly know what happened. If I did know, what would I like to see occur in response? Should the dog responsible have its leg amputated in retribution? That might inhibit its ability to chase cats and make them less of a menace to society. Would I like to be responsible for judging that an animal lose its leg? No. Not really, now that I know the horror of such a thing. It seems kinder than killing them, still…..I wouldn’t want that on my head.

Would I want it on my head that someone I don’t know who lives in a country I’ve not been to is killed or maimed because some men who live around there are cruel and callous about killing? Especially about killing Americans? Honestly, no. No. I don’t believe that killing people is okay under any circumstances. I just don’t. After being in NYC during the attack I have new-found compassion for the innocent bystanders, the civilian casualties of wars between rival factions of men. The people who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That sucks when it’s a flood, a fire, a tornado. It is unconscionable when it is a man-made tragedy. It is not okay with me that civilian casualties are considered necessary losses. We didn’t like it when it happened to us here in the US. Why should we think that they like it any more than we do? Why do they deserve it any more than we do?

By this point you may be saying, “Too much information, Gretchen. Thanks for bumming me out.” I fear that the plight of a cat in the face of the plight of humans might seem trivial. But it doesn’t feel trivial to me. This cat drama has hit me where I live. My life is very affected by it. And rather than diverting my attention from the war it has given me new insight into it. Which is why, at the risk of bumming you out, I’m telling you this story. The up side is that I think ultimately Ishmael’s going to be ok, he’s going to adapt and be mobile, he is still alive. I get to be with him. Even though the days feel long and constantly infused with pain and sadness, healing is taking place. I may feel that all is lost, but it’s not. It’s just not. The sun is still rising, the other cats are ok, Ann and I are still really into each other, there’s still goodness in the world. It’s good to remember this. It’s imperative, actually. All is not lost. A leg, but not everything.


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my two cents from NYC9/14/01 an email

Dear Friends,

As you may or may not know, I’m in New York City right now. I came on
Sunday, planning to stay for a month to do a weekly show with my NY band in
support of our new album. Here are some of my thoughts. I wish they were
more concise and better articulated. But I don’t want to wait until I can
somehow write better. I want to say what is in my heart now.

The day before yesterday I woke up to the sound of relentless sirens and the
friend I’m staying with explained that that giant cloud of smoke was the
World Trade Center being demolished by planes. I’m on 27th St. between 2nd
and 3rd and can see downtown pretty clearly. It is almost impossible to
believe, to accept. Let me tell you, it is really scary and numbing to be
this close to a war, a war zone. I don’t even know how close I am. Closer
than if I were in Austin. I’m merely blocks away.

I do not want to see retaliation and revenge be the result of this act of
retaliation and revenge. I don’t want the cycle of violence to continue. I
dream of something more, of humans being more than our base impulse to get
back at whoever just hit us. I know that we have it in us. I know that we
are indeed all connected to each other. I do believe that we should love
each other as we love ourselves. I believe that love, that living in
forgiveness and compassion, and listening to what others say about how they
feel is much harder than living in retaliation and revenge. At least in this
world at this time it seems to be difficult and rather unpopular. But I
don’t see any other way to respond. I don’t want for this to be the
beginning of yet more righteous indignation that results in many more people
being killed as they simply go to work, live their lives in a town that
happens to be a target of violence.

It is impossible to see first-hand this destruction and to wish it upon
someone else. No one deserves it. If we start bombing away in the Middle
East we will just be inflicting this terror on other regular people going
about their lives. Do you trust Bush and Cheney and all the men who staged
the coup that was last year’s election to do what is fair and right in
regards to this? Why would you? There needs to be a visible face of
opposition to this war here in the US.

Definitely this will be used to fan the flames of anti-Arab sentiments. Our
industrial military complex that makes so much money off of arming the world
will make alliances that will someday prove no longer useful. Our former
customers for arms will become our new enemies. And the business of war will
continue. With some guys making a whole lot of money off the deals they make
at the expense of human beings’ lives. It’s a sick system that’s been going
on for a long time and I feel that this is the moment that I ‘m saying, “No,
I can’t just sit back and take business as usual.” Business as usual is
death and more death. It’s just bullies at the schoolyard ruining playtime
for the rest of us who do just want to play together. I’m ready to stop
trying to just ignore the bullies’ disruptions and see what I can do to help
them understand that there is some pleasure in it for them to play nicely and
respectfully. Surely these men in power are pretty miserable. I would like
to encourage them to join the rest of us in more mature ways of going about
getting what they want.

Perhaps I sound condescending and simplistic. Well, I do think America needs
to take responsibility for what our government has sown in other countries
around the world in the interest of capitalism, in the interest of our
profits, to “protect our self interests.” And simplistic? Love seems both
simple and like the hardest, most painful thing in the world to me. But I
don’t know any other way to break this destructive cycle of violence than by
going at it from a different angle, from the love angle.

I don’t know what I’ll be doing exactly for the rest of my life around this.
That’s what’s so scary about being in NYC right now, I know nothing of the
future. I want to still do our scheduled shows. And I’m scared to stay.
Will the US start bombing away somewhere? Is this World War III? Do we, the
little people, have any say in the matter? I believe that we do. I believe
that we have more power than we acknowledge to ourselves. I believe that if
we open ourselves up we will find amazing things inside.

When are our leaders going to even talk about changing US policies? My
friend Jason noted that it is not “protecting us” for the US to refuse to sit
down and have a conversation about race. I want to see the bar raised on
conversations. Conversations are opportunities to listen and the US surely
could do some listening. I’ve learned a lot from listening. I have a whole
new understanding of what it feels like to be caught in the middle of a war
that some men are waging against each other. It really hurts. It is super
scary. It is so stinky. The wind brings that cloud, that haze of asbestos
and burned bodies right into the room where I am writing and there is no
escaping it. It’s difficult to breathe indoors, much less go outside. No, I
don’t wish this on anyone. Even if they wish it on me.

At the moment I’m fine. Trying to figure out what to do next. There is no
need to write me back. Just give some love to someone, a hug, ask them how
they’re feeling and listen to their answers. We can’t let hope die.
Entertain the thought that we can live a different way. Entertain the
thought that people do have the power. It just might be possible that love
is the highest and truest thing that courses through our bodies. We are
indeed all connected.

Gretchen Phillips

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notes for Rhino Compilation Lesbian Favorites: Women Like Us

I was in seventh grade. One fateful night, while lying in bed, I heard music coming from the next room where my mom was watching TV. The songs were so compelling that I had to get up and go see who was singing. There on the TV I saw a beautiful, small woman with a nice Jewish nose and a big afro, performing on the acoustic guitar in a manner that was completely mesmerizing. To this day I remember it vividly. I was filled with longing in that especially potent way one can long at 12.

I wanted to be as great and as poignant a creator as she. But there was something else, too. Just because I wanted to be like her did not mean that I wanted to replace her. No, I really wanted her to still be in the picture, my scenario, my life. At 12, I wasn’t sure what that desire was about. I did not immediately recognize my first crush as such.

After that I began playing my guitar like mad. I bought all the Janis Ian songbooks I could find and learned her songs. In addition to being musically inspired by her, I was libidinally inspired. She was an acknowledged bisexual, and I wondered if my love for her meant that I was bisexual too. In my typically studious fashion I began researching lesbianism. I went to the library every weekend and looked under “H” for homosexuality. I read Colette, Natalie Barney, and Rita Mae Brown. I argued with my classmates about the validity of homosexuality. Being the little proselytizer that I was, I got quite a few on my side. Music became a great way to put forth my ideas about lesbianism without actually having to dialogue. I didn’t even need to come out to anyone in person; I said it all through my songs.

It was not an entirely easy road. My parents wondered what they’d done wrong and blamed Janis Ian’s bad effect on me. But I knew that she had given me the courage to be myself. To question and follow my heart, to speak and sing my mind and not be overlooked, to attract girls. Yep, performing as an out lesbian is quite the babe-magnet activity.

Once I was out of the house and living on my own, I went to women’s music festivals and discovered the world of “wimmin’s music.” By the late ’70s there was quite an active scene. It was mostly pop/folk acoustic music celebrating the joys of lesbian love and life and was centered around the women (sometimes collectively)-owned independent labels, Olivia and Wise Women being foremost among them. Women oversaw the recording, arranging, playing, manufacturing, and distribution of the albums. Sisters were truly doing it for themselves, and the music flourished in women-centered bookstores, bars, and, of course, music festivals. Concerts served as meeting places, cruising spots, and community happenings. Especially in towns without gay bars.

Many of these artists were able to enjoy sustainable careers in music as out lesbians travelling the circuit. Sure, mainstream radio didn’t pay any attention to them, but units did sell. Cris Williamson’s The Changer And The Changed was the most successful independent album well into the DIY punk ’80s, with 300,000 units sold by 1995.

While I felt a sense of camaraderie with these performers, my musical tastes ran toward punk. So, as an experiment I took the unabashed freedom of lesbian expression that wimmin’s music had inspired and applied it to my punk band, Meat Joy. Was the world ready for my records to be filed under “rock,” not “women’s music,” in the record store? Yes, indeed. That happened, thanks to all the hard work that the wimmin’s music pioneers had done before me. It was now possible to be an out lesbian musician and be accepted by the mainstream.

I came to find that there were many others who had the same goal. Perhaps we pursued a desire for mainstream success but didn’t want to sacrifice our lesbian identity in order to achieve it. Some of us dared to be as pop and as queer as we wanted to be on male-owned record labels and had startlingly good results. The mainstream did want to hear us. Straight folks were interested in what we had to say. And lesbians were thrilled at getting to be a core audience who got to see their idols on VH1. Ten years from now that may not be such a big deal. Ten years ago it was.

So there were new versions of pop success. Some of these artists have been out for their whole careers, and some came out when their careers were already well established. Since the early ’80s, Phranc (your all-American, Jewish, lesbian folksinger) has been at the vanguard of lezzie music, making albums on the Rhino, Island, and Kill Rock Stars labels. She has toured with The Smiths and Morrissey. Phranc is seminal without the semen.

Two Nice Girls was formed with the intention of “making lesbianism as attractive as possible.” We wanted to chronicle our own personal experiences and write theme songs for people to come out to. And we also wanted to completely restructure the patriarchal planet.

Ferron has put out albums on her own labels (Lucy and Cherrywood Station) as well as Chameleon and EarthBeat! She is one of the most critically acclaimed of the artists with a foot firmly in the “wimmin’s music” domain. Her deeply lyrical music definitely transcends all boundaries.

Sandra Bernhard is a well known personality. She has made movies and albums, hosted television shows, written books, posed for a very hot Playboy spread, and toured with her original shows. She is not the slightest bit afraid to have an opinion.

Jill Sobule claims that she wanted to get a song about homosexuality on the radio, so she wrote “I Kissed A Girl.” Not only did it get airplay, the song’s video was shown on MTV all the time, giving us an opportunity to see a video about lesbianism.

Janis Ian has had many stages to her career. She had a hit with “Society’s Child” when she was a teenager, and then dropped out of the business for awhile. Then again, while in her early 20s, she had a hit with “At Seventeen.” Coming out coincided with her most recent return to recording. I for one am very glad to have her back.

k. d. lang, of course, made quite a splash when she came out in 1992, and she has run a steady, very intuitive stealth campaign to infiltrate the hearts and minds of all who listen to her. She is much loved and respected by fans everywhere for the sheer power of her immense musical talent and humor.

The first lesbian compilation was Lesbian Concentrate, released in 1977 by Olivia Records in response to Anita Bryant’s antigay crusade. To the best of the record company’s knowledge there had never before been an album with the word lesbian on the cover. Some distributors refused to carry it. Olivia also sent promo 45s, press kits, and “Lesbian Concentrate” stickers to gay bars and bookstores. The stickers began to appear everywhere (an early form of lesbian tagging), and the campaign to sensitize America to the word lesbian was on.

The title of this 1997 Rhino compilation, Women Like Us: Lesbian Favorites, refers both to the notion that “women like us” — these songs are especially popular among women — and the old euphemism “women like us” referring to fellow lesbians. Some of these performers are lesbian and/or bisexual, and some are not. What they share is that lesbians have embraced these songs and/or the artists.

Just as wimmin’s music set the stage for the next generation’s degree of mainstream success, these artists set the stage for queercore and beyond. Young girls weary of our pop music forays have created new dyke music that is political, powerful and more punk than pop. Now there are quite a few new women-owned-and-run indie labels with agendas that are very homo-oriented. Many of today’s women performers are more butch-looking than chick singers used to be. Previously unspoken topics are introduced via the radio. Young girls are growing up seeing all-girl bands who can play their instruments as very normal and commonplace. I think we’ve upped the cultural ante. And we’ve won Grammys® as well as GLAAD Media Awards for it.

This compilation is a slice out of a continuum of women in music. We have now come to a point in time when a compilation can exist with this title and these artists have agreed to appear on it. It is a testament to how far we’ve come both musically and in terms of lesbian visibility that these songs are commercially viable. Not all of them are overtly political or deliberately subversive. I have no doubt that some of these artists would argue with me long and hard that their work is just an expression of themselves as people, and they just happen to be lesbian or popular among lesbians, and that they have no agenda to put forth. Sure thing — I understand that. Still, the fact that a label like Rhino wants to release a retrospective of the phenomena that is lezzie music and expects such a release to be successful is really a feat. Remember, there were distributors 20 years ago who refused to carry Lesbian Concentrate.

Love in all its different stages seems to be the recurring theme of this album. There’s obsession (Fem 2 Fem), sex and passion (Janis Ian), the end of the affair (Sandra Bernhard), and lamentation (Kristen Hall), plus a host of other musings on the subject. I believe that songs are very powerful things. Certain songs remind us of a particular time or place. Music becomes the soundtrack to our lives. I remember songs on the radio when I was in the car with my family, and they gave me feelings I didn’t understand and absolutely could not share with anyone else. Yet it was perfectly acceptable to sing along. Music can become a way to express otherwise too scary and puzzling emotions. When you’re singing someone else’s song, their words, it is one step removed, yet totally liberating.

So sing along. Sing these songs of wistful and powerful desire. Sing these songs of regret for love lost and for love consummated. Let this album be your soundtrack. All things lesbian are contained herein: sing-alongs and more intimate songs of attraction, anthems and make-out music, cultural commentary, and personal soul-bearing. Please enjoy. May this be used as music to seduce by.

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