My sweetheart is an archivist. Not in any formal sense, but she grew up in a generation which took snapshots any time and any where. I have not been photographed this much since I lived with Tee Corinne. Growing up, my brother and I were the kind of kids who could not face a camera without disguising our real selves by making horrid faces. It was Tee who taught me to be gracious about allowing my image to be captured. I have come to believe that our reproduced visages are as important as our printed words.
We were invisible for so long. There are those who would like us to be invisible again. Like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran who denies the existence of gays in his country. Like the three priests who parted ways with the American Episcopal Church and went to be consecrated as bishops in Africa where, apparently, Episcopalians object to gay and lesbian bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions. Like the 63,000 people here in Oregon who this year signed a petition supporting a ballot measure that would block civil unions. I mean, for goodness sake, what's with this compulsion to disenfranchise, eradicate -- erase us?
As a gay kid, I had a need to be invisible and got darned good at it. Unspeaking, thin, shy, I was unable to speak in a classroom. I became physically ill when, as an adult writer, I had to read my work aloud or speak to groups that sometimes numbered in the hundreds. The last therapist I worked with opened my eyes to my need to disappear and explained how it led to panic attacks. "Ground yourself," she told me. "Make yourself real to yourself. Have a drink of water, touch the dog, look in the mirror." Mirror? The only mirror I had was on the medicine cabinet in the bathroom.
The next time I was in a secondhand store, I noticed a really tacky mirror whose wicker frame had been painted a glossy royal blue. Over the next few years, I decorated my walls with every kind of mirror I could find at garage sales. Big oak-framed mirrors with brass tacks. Little tiny mirrors with white wood frames. A round mirror set in a translucent blue plastic starburst. A full length oval mirror that must be 75 years old. Turns out, I love these mirrors. Of course, I still don't look in them, I just look at them.
Then I fell in love with my camera-crazy sweetheart who, out of sheer enjoyment, is making a record, a beautiful record, of our times together. Her home is filled with photo albums from years past. We figure, when our U-Hauls are unloaded, we'll need special shelving just for her albums - and for my shoeboxes filled with photos, which by themselves fill a wooden chest, a file drawer, and two oversized produce boxes. Heck, we may need a trailer plus that U-Haul.
And that's exactly what we need as gay people. We can't take the chance of assuming we're safe now, that we won't be shamed or brutalized or economically forced back into closets. It's a matter of self-preservation to fill those paper and CD and cyberspace albums. It's imperative that we hand them over to our local lesbian and gay archives before we die. I can only imagine how affirming it would have been to have grown up with images of people like me. Even a snapshot of two women holding hands on a beach or of two guys kissing over a prized tomato plant in their garden, would have made me think that maybe, just maybe, it was okay to be me.
My friend Jean Sirius went to Paris with a camera. Marie-Genevieve Havel , a 70-something out lesbian artist, took Jean under her wing and commanded everyone in her circle to pose. Now Jean is taking those images and turning them into a short movie. More! We need more images like these!
Keep on snapping those embarrassing shots of me looking all starry-eyed at you, Sweetheart. Capture us everywhere we go, whether it's Niagra Falls on our honeymoon or shopping at Publix. Get me to take pictures of you with gay friends and family. And please keep creating those albums for our grandbabydykes. Place us in history so not just the straights, but we ourselves are convinced of our proper place in the world. Listen up, President Ahmadinejad, we're here and we have proof!
Copyright 2007 Lee Lynch
Lee Lynch has been writing about lesbians since the 1960s when she was a frequent contributor to "The Ladder." Since then she has published thirteen books. The latest is Sweet Creek, from Bold Strokes Books. A 2007 recipient of the Alice B. Reader Award, she was named to the Saints & Sinners Literary Hall of Fame in 2006.