Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words, Gay Worlds

from the diary: “Sunday 1/12/86

“Almost every time I read a particularly good book on theories/histories of human development – cultural, emotional, physical – little clicks go off in my head as the previous theories are checked against the one I’m now reading. Inadequacies are discovered, fallacies struck out, gaps filled or opened. And they subtly shift and change to accommodate one another. That’s delightful. I’m not chagrined that no one theory works perfectly to explain all behavior, all human characteristics, because no one person in one culture can see everything at once. What thrills me is that so much can be discovered beyond the taken-for-granted. Even the taken-for-granted casts new shadows in a different colored light.

“The latest good book -- Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words, Gay Worlds by Judy Grahn. This book is helping me transform the shame. I can’t say ‘I’m proud to be gay.’ Because I’m still closeted. Still terrified of myself and the world. But it helps to know that ‘gay’ is not an aberration or an accident, not a failing [that needs] to be corrected or cured, but an essential, integral part of the human being. Modern Western civilization views the world scientifically, morally, socially through its own set of skewed spectacles. Perhaps what we need is not a polishing of our glasses, a new prescription, or an operation on our corneas. What maybe we need is a taking off of our glasses so we can see ourselves as we really are. But then again there rises the question – Who are we? And who’s got the answer?”

We should close our eyes sometimes. Even when that makes it difficult to read a book.

I’d like to read this book again. I bought it a couple years ago. It’s sitting upstairs in the library waiting to be filed. We need more shelves.

Gay men are called faggots, says Grahn, not because they were as cord wood to be thrown on the pyre but because the word recalls the role of firecarrier, firebringer for the tribe. Lesbians have long been teachers, healers, warriors.

I was damn grateful for a book that told me I wasn’t a biological curiosity at best, an example of “social deviance”, but a person and valuable. Poet is a gay role. And Grahn gave me permission to own the role Poet as well as Gay man.

One of Judy Grahn’s poems is included in the Berkeley Poetry Walk and at a reading to celebrate the installation of the poetry panels I shook the woman’s hand and said, “Thank you. I read Another Mother Tongue at a time I really needed it.” And she bowed her head over my hand quietly then looked me in the face and smiled.

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