How Hot Is It?

Not as hot here on Martha’s Vineyard as in some other places, but it’s hot, and muggy, and it hasn’t rained in many weeks.

I don’t track the temperature or the humidity, but here’s my data point.

The Airport Laundromat. Photo is from 2011,but it hasn’t changed much, except the trim is now red.

I generally do laundry when I’m about to run out of underwear: about every three weeks. Yes, I have too much underwear and too many pairs of socks, but keep in mind that I don’t have a washing machine and for about 14 years I used the Airport Laundromat. I and the resident malamute — first Travvy and now Tam — would stroll around the airport while the clothes washed, then I’d toss them into two big canvas bags, take them home, and hang them out.

Not including the hanging out, this took an hour or so, an hour during which I couldn’t do much of anything else. If I had my own washer, I could do a load every week or 10 days and go about my day while the machine was doing its thing. I could, in other words, get by with less underwear and fewer pairs of socks.

For the last year or so my neighbor/landlady has let me use her washer, which is great, but I don’t want to be over there every week either so I still mostly do laundry when I’m about to run out of undies.

Today, however, I had more than a week’s supply of clean underwear in the drawer. What I was almost out of were clean shorts and clean sleeveless Ts and other tops. In cool weather I can wear the same T-shirt, or turtleneck, for several days in a row. In hot, muggy summer the mere thought of pulling on the morning T after taking a post-walk shower — yecchh. Socks are not much better.

Not surprisingly, there were no long pants of any kind on the laundry line today. There was only one T-shirt with sleeves.

I should note that my apartment is not air-conditioned (muwahahaha), and since I work at home, I don’t have to dress to impress or even to stay on the good side of the dress code. (My entire life I’ve managed to avoid workplaces with dress codes.)

Summer laundry is a lot more colorful than cool-weather laundry, and the wind kept it moving. Socks and underwear dry on a rack up on my deck, and the undies kept flying off. I’m not complaining, however, because everything dried almost as fast as it would have in a dryer.

This weather inevitably makes me think of the years I lived in D.C. and commuted by bicycle. For two years it was a 10-mile ride each way, from home in Mount Pleasant, D.C., to Alexandria, Virginia. It was bike path almost all the way, though navigating the traffic around Memorial Bridge took nerves of steel and/or an obliviousness to one’s own mortality. On the way home I’d stop to soak my bandana and my face in a bubbler at the Lincoln Memorial. The last mile was straight uphill, from the backside of the National Zoo to the relatively level streets of my neighborhood. Sometimes I walked my bike part of the way.

My commutes got steadily shorter after that, till in 1999 they disappeared entirely. That didn’t keep me off the road, however: for the 10 years or so I had a horse, the horse and I never lived in the same place, so I was always driving somewhere to do barn chores. By then I had a canine companion, so biking was pretty much out of the question.

The view from above
The other end of the line
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July License Plate Report

Unlike the June report, July is being posted in a reasonably timely fashion. It really is August 6.

Compare the top of this map to the top of June’s and you’ll see that July was a very good month: only two states, but they’re both cause for celebration. Not to mention they’re both pretty big, at least compared to Massachusetts, which of course is my benchmark for everything.

I’m rarely in downtown Edgartown, especially in the summer, but the Fourth of July parade lured me thither this year — I was marching with the Democratic Council of Martha’s Vineyard — and that South Dakota plate in a driveway on Cooke Street (or was it Davis Lane?) shouted that I was in the right place at the right time.

The rest of the month was, not surprisingly, a wash. Until near the very end of the month MONTANA appeared, in the parking lot next to the West Tisbury post office of all places. It was outside the West Tisbury church that I spotted Hawaii in May, so let it not be said that all the good stuff is down-island, or in the hospital parking lot.

The count is holding at 38, which isn’t all that great for this time of year. However, some of the missing states, if not exactly common, aren’t all that rare either: looking especially at that vertical line in the country’s midsection, from Iowa south to Louisiana. Idaho and Alabama should be possible too, and where the hell are you, Delaware?

A friend reported NORTH DAKOTA (yeah, you read that right) in the hospital parking lot and posted a photo to prove it. The hospital is a great hunting ground, especially in summer, when travel nurses and doctors come from all over to accommodate our bloated summer population. I fully intended to make a pass through yesterday, but the traffic going into Vineyard Haven was crawling, the temp was in the mid-80s, and I had Tam in the car, so I accomplished my errand — delivering a manuscript on the outskirts of town — and headed home.

But I’m still having North Dakota dreams . . .

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Fourth of July

Yeah, it’s the sixth already, but here’s a comment about the parade that I just posted on Lucian K. Truscott IV’s Substack (to which I subscribe and where I frequently comment).

I live in a small town on the largest island off the coast of Massachusetts. Monday afternoon I marched in the Fourth of July parade in the next town over, helping carry the banner for the island’s Democratic Council. Some of us wore black armbands that said ROE on them. Others carried signs that said JANUARY 6: REMEMBER IN NOVEMBER. The Democratic candidate for Cape & Islands DA and his family marched with us. (If you vote in our region, remember his name: Rob Galibois.) We danced and sang along to an awesome soundtrack created by one of our members — belting out the words to the Jefferson Airplane’s “Volunteers” was especially satisfying.

Just ahead of us was the “best in show” float for Pond View Farm, packed with tie-dye-shirted kids tossing candy to the spectators (a local tradition). Behind us was the Vineyard Peace Council, with a sign that said “War is still not the answer.” According to one of the local papers, more than a thousand people were in the parade and an estimated 25,000 crowded the sidewalks, porches, and balconies to see us pass by. The weather was perfect.

It was our first Fourth of July parade since the beginning of Covid-19. It was the last where no one thought for a minute that a shooter might cut loose with a high-powered semiautomatic rifle.

From left, Carol Koury, me, Patty Blakesley, and Ann Hollister in Edgartown’s Fourth of July parade, 1995.

I think the last time I marched in or even attended Edgartown’s Fourth of July parade was in 1995, the 75th anniversary of the League of Women Voters. I wasn’t a League member but three of my friends were. We marched together wearing suffragist colors. The sign says DEMOCRACY IS NOT A SPECTATOR SPORT, a slogan that is even more timely now than it was then. Maybe if more of us had been paying more attention then, we wouldn’t be in the morass we’re in now.

So much has happened since that we couldn’t have imagined then.

In the days before the Fourth I heard (or read) many people saying that this year they didn’t feel like celebrating the nation’s birthday. Maybe because I came of political age during the Vietnam War, which in my 18th year bled into the Nixon administration, I have never thought of the Fourth as a birthday party. Some years I’d go watch fireworks with friends, but more often I’d stay home and try to keep the resident dog from freaking out at the noise. (Rhodry hated fireworks. Trav was mostly OK with them, and Tam barely notices the noise.)

I started taking the Fourth personally the first year I got to participate in a local community reading of Frederick Douglass’s 1852 speech “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?,” masterminded by Abigail McGrath of Renaissance House and the amazing Makani Themba. That was eight or nine years ago, and I’ve done it every year since (except for the year it didn’t happen). It was at the Inkwell, a stretch of beach in Oak Bluffs that has long been special to the African-American community. In 2020 and 2021, thanks to Covid, each of us recorded our own segments and from them Michelle Vivian-Jemison of MVTV created the speech on video. This year we returned to the Inkwell, and you can watch the recording here:

These times we’re living through give me clues about what it must have been like to be living in the 1850s. Douglass gave his speech in 1852. In 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which gave Southern slaveholders and their agents to invade Northern free states in search of their escaped “property.” Now, in 2022, states that are outlawing abortion are talking of doing something similar: prosecuting women who go elsewhere to obtain abortion services, and even the health-care personnel who assist them.

In 1854 Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which undermined the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and left the question of slave or free up to “the people” (i.e., white male voters) in the new western states. Slavery supporters poured into Kansas to ensure that Kansas would become another slave state. The result was “Bleeding Kansas,” a period of violent conflict between the opponents and supporters of slavery that heralded the civil war to come.

As the 1850s went on, more and more USians came to acknowledge that the fissures dividing the nation could no longer be papered over. I hope against hope that the Trump administration, the January 6 insurrection, and the recent Supreme Court decisions have moved more and more of us to the same conclusion. It’s impossible not to notice that the Trump-supporting, abortion-outlawing “red states” include virtually all of the old Confederacy, and that the belief in white male Christian supremacy links the 1850s to our own decade.

To those who didn’t feel like celebrating the Fourth this year, I give you Frederick Douglass’s words:

Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.

I hear that as a reminder and challenge: that USians of the 1850s had hard choices to make, they made them, and that after a bloody, bloody civil war the nation expanded to include the formerly enslaved. The enslavers fought back, of course, and eventually they got their way: they replaced slavery with Jim Crow, and used the U.S. Congress to impose their priorities on the rest of the country. In the 1960s their supremacy went into remission, but in the beginning of the 1980s it came roaring back and it’s only gotten worse in the decades since.

So here we are. We have hard choices to make, and the longer we delay, the harder the choices will get. The word “choice” has long been shorthand for reproductive choice, the right to choose abortion, but now so much more is at stake, starting with the right to choose our representatives, the right to learn U.S. history, the right to organize for a fair wage and safe working conditions, the right to live and let live. Will we rise to the occasion, as Frederick Douglass and so many others have, starting with the founders in 1776?

It’s your choice. My choice. Our choice. Choose.

Women’s rights advocates hang out with “Senator Elizabeth Warren” as we wait for the Fourth of July parade to start.
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June License Plate Report

Just so you know, I’m shamelessly backdating this report. It’s actually August 6. Around the third week of July it dawned on me that I’d never posted the June license plate report — not because I had nothing to report, but because I never got around to it. That was embarrassing, though I sort of have an excuse (I have a sort-of excuse?): in mid-June Matilda, my laptop, died, really died, so I was working on my backup, seven-year-old Kore, which did the job (bless her!) but is slow slow slow.

Matilda 2 arrived and was up and running by the end of the second week in July, which probably explains — or at least will do for an explanation of — why I wasn’t thinking license plates till then. Plus, while in Edgartown for the Fourth of July parade, I spotted SOUTH DAKOTA in a downtown Edgartown driveway.

Whatever the reasonexcuse, I procrastinated a little longer and as August drew close and closer I considered combining June and July: two maps in one post, two months in one heading. That didn’t sit well, mainly because I’m a traditionalist when it comes to my own traditions. So here’s June:

The new ones on the map are Kentucky and neighboring Indiana, 35 and 36 respectively. Delaware is still AWOL so the East Coast remains incomplete. Gotta keep my eye out for that one.

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The Search for Kong

Kong

I couldn’t find Kong anywhere. My apartment is not large. Kong is not small like an earring. But Kong was nowhere to be found.

Kong — or, more formally, Kong Wobbler — is one of Tam’s favorite toys. The top unscrews so you can put treats in it. There’s a keyhole-shaped slot in the side. By batting it around and sometimes rolling it with his nose, Tam persuades the treats to come out the slot. Some treats are small and round enough to come out easily. Mini dog biscuits take more time and effort.

I looked everywhere.

I looked everywhere twice.

I looked places where Kong has never gone: under the bed, behind my work chair, in the closet.

No Kong.

I went from “Where’s Kong?” to “Where the hell is Kong?” to “Someone has stolen Kong.”

My rational mind knew that it was highly unlikely that anyone had snuck in and stolen Kong, but long ago, my editorial mentor, the late Sylvia Abrams, when she couldn’t find something would call out “Who stole my [fill in the blank]?” Whereupon [fill in the blank] would turn up, sometimes in plain sight, sometimes not.

It didn’t work this time. Next time I will use Sylvia’s wording: “Who stole . . . ?”

I gave up, temporarily. Tam and I both needed a walk.

On our walk I tried to think like a Kong, or like Tam playing with the Kong. When I leave Tam home alone, I put out a well-stocked Kong and a couple of peanut butter bones. The Kong starts off in our second-floor apartment but almost invariably winds up downstairs in the studio space. So when we got back, I did another search of the studio. No luck. Then I had to pee.

My bathroom is on the ground floor, same as the studio. This is a close-up of the view from the can:

The chair is kitty-corner from the bathroom. Even at that distance I could see there was something under it.

It was Kong. Wedged in so firmly I had to lift the chair to pull it out.

Tam was thrilled. There was still something in it — turned out to be not one but two mini dog biscuits — and he went to work persuading it to come out.

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Pride Parade

The Vineyard’s first ever “Pride Parade” took place on June 11, a bright sunny altogether perfect late-spring Saturday, but I am just now getting around to posting about it. What makes it more odd is that this post is mainly an excuse to reprint something I wrote for the local branch of the NAACP’s newsletter, which came out after the June 1 flag raising but before June 11 festivities. You’ll find that at the end of this post. It’s still “Pride Month” so what the hell.

I was asked to be the “grand marshal” for reasons I don’t quite understand. I do seem to have acquired the status of “elder,” probably because I’ve survived on Martha’s Vineyard for this long and have a lot of interesting history in my head. I’m encouraged that there’s interest in that history, but concerned that if “elder” becomes a synonym for “old person,” it will be yet another way of dismissing us, with a pat on the head rather than more obvious forms of contempt and/or ridicule.

Me and Rob Galibois, Democratic candidate for Cape & Islands DA. Photo by Nikki Galibois.

We mustered at the Island Queen dock on Oak Bluffs harbor. You can glimpse a bit of the scene from the photo (right) of me and Rob Galibois, Democratic candidate for Cape & Islands district attorney. (Readers on the Cape and either island, please take note. Rob is unopposed in the Democratic primary in September, but remember to vote for Rob in November. Thank you.)

This is the first time I’ve seen Rob in anything but a suit. I am wearing the same T-shirt I wore to the June 1 flag raising. Part of being an elder is having cool T-shirts that no one else has and being able to explain where they came from.

Anyhow, “grand marshal” involved walking at the head of the parade, just behind the Oak Bluffs police officer on a cute little scooter that looked like a motorized hand truck with room enough for her to stand. Right behind me were the Dykes on Bikes, one of whom had a smallish border-collie-type dog riding pillion behind her in a milk crate. To my very pleasant surprise, most of them seemed to be local.

Behind them came an array of colorful contingents, decked out in rainbow colors. Several participants came on horseback. The horses and ponies were unfazed by the flapping banners, the marching band, the crowds, and the general hoop-de-do.

From the dock, past waterside restaurants and watering holes, up Circuit Ave, along the residential streets just off Circuit to Ocean Park, onlookers were many and enthusiastic. The pace was fairly brisk. At some point I was asked if I wanted to ride. I managed to stifle my laughter and politely say “Not to worry, I’m a walker.” Of course I’m wondering if this was part of that elder thing. Do I look like someone who can’t walk a brisk mile or two?

Ocean Park and the gazebo were decked out in rainbow colors. The NAACP had a table. Organizers were passing out water bottles, and the band Funktapuss was getting ready to play. (They were great, by the way. If I didn’t have a malamute who was almost certainly complaining bitterly at being home alone, I would have danced longer.)

The Ocean Park gazebo decked out for Pride. The banner reads LOVE ALWAYS WINS.

I’d been asked to say a few words — part of that grand marshal thing, I think — and it was clear to me that the crowd wanted to party. So I mentioned how far the Vineyard had come since I arrived, when the operative guideline was “I don’t care what you do as long as you don’t do it in the streets and scare the horses.” In 2022, we seemed to be doing it in the streets but the horses weren’t worried.

The whole event was as sunny as the day. I experienced little of the dissonance and discomfort that was business as usual back when it was just Gay & Lesbian Pride. The piece that follows addresses this. On the whole I don’t see the absence of dissonance, discomfort, and discussion as an especially good thing.


My first Gay Pride was in 1978. Holly Near was the headliner and that’s what drew my friends and me. It was basically a block party in a fairly quiet neighborhood not far from D.C.’s Dupont Circle, which was widely known as a “gay ghetto.”

That first Pride venue was a bit out of the way, though the music must have wafted out to nearby Connecticut Ave. Passersby weren’t likely to see anything that might trigger their moral sensitivities or make them nervous. If you were there, it was because you wanted to be there and you already knew where to go.

My next Prides were more like carnivals than block parties. They took place at P Street Beach, an out-of-the-way sliver of Rock Creek Park. I wasn’t the only woman who was uneasy around the leather men in their neo-Nazi regalia (minus the swastikas) or some of the drag queens, whose parodies of female behavior sometimes veered into blatant misogyny.

I had already learned that diversity is often downright uncomfortable, and that the discomfort isn’t apportioned equally. The comfort of those accorded more power by society often comes at the expense of those with less.

In the late 1970s and into the ’80s it was black lesbians and lesbians of color who took the lead in addressing this, years before Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw coined a word for it: intersectionality.

Donna Kate Rushin laid it out in “The Bridge Poem,” which gave title to This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, first published in 1981 and still in print. It begins:

I”ve had enough
I’m sick of seeing and touching
Both sides of things
Sick of being the damn bridge for everybody

Bernice Johnson Reagon, scholar, activist, civil rights movement veteran, and founder and longtime leader of Sweet Honey in the Rock, nailed it in a 1981 speech, “Coalition Politics: Turning the Century.” She pointed out the crucial difference between home and coalition: “Coalition work is not work done in your home. Coalition work has to be done in the streets. And it is some of the most dangerous work you can do. And you shouldn’t look for comfort.”

Way back when Gay Pride became Lesbian & Gay Pride, we knew that the Ls and the Gs were not equal partners. The Gs had more money and access to skills and resources than the Ls. They often wanted us around to make them look more liberal and inclusive. (Sound familiar?)

From the outside LGBTQ+ may look like one community, but we’re no more homogeneous than, say, Americans. You and I know that the divisions and fissures within the American “community” are very real. They have torn the country apart in the past and they may do so again.

So I think of LGBTQ+ as a coalition instead, come together around a common goal: to be fully included in American society. At the same time, each partner has its own, sometimes conflicting priorities. And those with less power are too often marginalized and even silenced by those with more.

So I’m ambivalent about this Pride that pretends to be a unity. Pride in ourselves and acceptance by outsiders can only take us so far. Sooner or later we have to decide whether we’re willing to do the hard work of fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion within our own ranks. I am not holding my breath.

Of course I managed to add a new T-shirt to my wardrobe. Have to say, it’s pretty spiffy.
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Fun Run

Tam and I followed one of our usual routes this morning: down Pine Hill, around the Nat’s Farm field (which Mermaid Farm just hayed about half of), to the bike path and home. It’s never exactly the same, but this morning was different: the West Tisbury School was having its end-of-school field day.

This included a fun run involving the younger classes, along the bike path, turn right, down the north side of the Nat’s Farm field, turn right again onto the path through the woods that leads back toward the school, then turn right again to return to the bike path, where their classmates were waiting. Older students stood at each turn to point the way.

Needless to say, Tam found this extremely exciting. We pulled off the path a little way, into the brush. I asked him to sit and kept the treats coming while we watched the runners pass, in ones, twos, threes, and bunches, interspersed with their teachers and aides. Most were wearing orange T-shirts. One kid asked if he was a wolf. Several thought he might be a husky. I kept saying “He’s a malamute.” More than one said he was beautiful.

I watched the kids running, some taking it more seriously than others but all apparently having a good time, and wondered: Are this kids in first grade, second grade, maybe third? Whatever, they’re clearly between the ages of the first-graders killed in Newtown in 2012 and the fourth-graders killed in Uvalde last month. Full of life, full of promise. Beautiful.

I got home to the news that the Supreme Court of the U.S. had indeed overturned Roe v. Wade. Their reasoning was about as ridiculous as that in the New York gun law decision that came down yesterday. And I wondered: Do those justices ever see, really see, the faces of the people whose lives their words affect so profoundly?

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Juneteenth, on the 20th?

On the one hand, I think it’s great that Juneteenth is now a state (at least in Massachusetts) and federal holiday. It celebrates a momentous event: the arrival in Texas of federal troops bearing the news that enslaved African Americans in the states of the defeated Confederacy were now free. (Slavery wasn’t abolished in the entire United States until the 13th Amendment was ratified on Dec. 6, 1865. That wasn’t a slam dunk either, because the U.S. House of Representatives dragged its feet in 1864 until President Lincoln got involved. More about that here.)

On the other hand, it’s now in danger of becoming yet another Monday holiday whose original purpose most people pay little attention to — just another welcome day off. Black Americans have been celebrating it since the 1860s, and nowhere more persistently than in Texas. Here’s hoping white Americans follow their example.

No matter where in the week they actually fall, holidays slide toward the nearest Monday, in order to create the “long weekend.” Juneteenth, June 19th, this year falls on a Sunday, which is already a day of rest in this supposedly secular country — you know, separation of church and state?

Aside: It dawned on me while out walking this morning that “secular” in this country is like “unisex” in clothing. Everyone knows that “unisex” sizes are closely based on men’s sizes but we call them unisex anyway. Likewise “secular” is suffused with Christian conventions and traditions. This is particularly obvious to anyone whose tradition’s day of rest is on Friday or Saturday.

Some jurisdictions are apparently trying to smoosh together Juneteenth and the Fourth of July — you know, use the same red, white & blue bunting for both? I’m afraid they’re trying to downplay or even erase the significance of Juneteenth. Why would I think that? you ask. Because plenty of municipalities and even whole states are working double-time to keep the truths about slavery out of public schools, and it’s pretty much impossible to acknowledge the power of Juneteenth and deny the horrors of slavery at the same time.

However, there is a strong connection to be made between Juneteenth and the Fourth of July, and this June 17 Washington Post op-ed makes it eloquently:

We can’t let Juneteenth become just another holiday or, worse, a holiday for only one segment of the country. We should see it for what it really is: the other half of the Fourth of July. These two holidays, which fall a mere two weeks apart, represent the best of America. One celebrates the Declaration of Independence, which contains what the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass called “saving principles.” The other celebrates America’s journey to live by those principles.

Speaking of that “great abolitionist,” Frederick Douglass, on Saturday morning I again participated in the annual community reading of his great 1852 address “What, to the Slave, is the Fourth of July?” It was the first time since before Covid that we readers gathered in the same place at the same time, but as in the last two years, the whole thing was recorded to be broadcast on July 4. When Douglass gave his speech, the North was chafing under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which gave slaveholders the right to pursue their escaped “property” into non-slave states, and the country was heading toward the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which expanded slavery into the western territories and did much to galvanize abolitionist sentiment.

Historian Heather Cox Richardson in her June 18 Letter from an American compares our time, with the revelations and warnings of the January 6 committee, to 1854: “The passage of that law [the Kanas-Nebraska Act] woke up Americans who had not been paying attention, and convinced them to work across old political lines to stop oligarchs from destroying democracy.” May it be so again!

Meanwhile, Martha’s Vineyard has been celebrating Juneteenth with a long weekend’s worth of activities. The selectboard of Oak Bluffs, however, declined to honor the holiday by allowing the Juneteenth flag to fly on the town’s flag pole in Ocean Park Worse, they wouldn’t even put the local NAACP branch on the agenda so it could present its case. This short-sighted decision made the Boston Globe so you can read about it here.

The Juneteenth flag. The symbolism is discussed in many online sources, but briefly — the designer chose the red, white, and blue to emphasize that both before and after Emancipation, African Americans were Americans. The star represents the Lone Star State, and the burst around it suggests a nova, a coming into being of a new star.
The Pan-African flag designed by Marcus Garvey in 1920 has long been identified with Juneteenth.

And before I forget, here’s my favorite Juneteenth song: Laura Love’s “Saskatchewan”:

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Pride Flag Flying

The “Progress Pride” flag was raised on a Oak Bluffs town flag pole in Ocean Park last Wednesday, to kick off the island’s Pride Month celebrations. There is a hell of a lot to unpack in that sentence, starting with the many, sometimes contentious meetings that led to its happening and the between-the-lines truth that the effort was led (spearheaded?) by the Martha’s Vineyard branch of the NAACP and the Oak Bluffs Association, an organization of Oak Bluffs business owners, and the younger members of both. Maybe in another post?

The Martha’s Vineyard Times has a good story about the event. As far as I know, the Vineyard Gazette hasn’t covered it, although one of their photographer-writers was there.

I was asked to say a few words at the flag raising, partly because I’m a lesbian and a member of the NAACP but mostly because I’m familiar with some of the island’s lesbian and gay history going back to the mid-1980s, when I landed here as a year-round resident. I wrote out a speech then proceeded to ignore it when I spoke, though I think I made most of the main points. Here, slightly edited, is the written version. It covers some of the same ground as a post I made here almost exactly seven years ago: “Gay on MV“.

At this moment I’m seeing the Pride flag through the eyes of someone who just walked off the boat, or maybe through the eyes of someone passing by who’s thinking they might be, well, different, and is still working out “Now what do I do?”

They may not have seen this particular flag before, but the original rainbow flag as been around for a while and they’ll probably recognize it. It means “You are seen. You are welcome here.” If the flag is hanging on a church or a library, the people inside might have some ideas about where you might find sisters and brothers and allies.

In early 1977, I was living, not happily, in my hometown. It was not unlike the Vineyard in some ways: large enough that not everybody knew everybody else, but small enough that word spread fast to people whether you knew them or not. I did not want to come out there. I moved back to D.C., where I’d lived as a college student. Finding a women’s community was very much on my mind.

There were no lesbian flags flying in D.C., but I knew how to find the lesbians: through Lammas, the feminist bookstore, and the Washington Area Women’s Center. (I wasn’t then and never have been a bar person.) Before long I was a regular customer of the bookstore and a member of the women’s center collective, where I met my first girlfriend. I was writing for off our backs and the Blade (the gay newspaper, which eventually became the Washington Blade and which still exists). I was part of a network that had connections all over the country and even around the world.

When I moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 1985 — for a year, mind you, just for a year — it was a different story. Where were the lesbians? I read every poster on every bulletin board and telephone pole and skimmed every story in both newspapers, looking for signs of lesbian, gay, and/or feminist activity. Nothing. Most startling was that no one seemed to be talking about AIDS, which by 1985 was a huge issue in D.C.

I did find something else I was looking for: a 12-step program for adult children of alcoholics. This was easy: both newspapers carried an extensive list of 12-step programs, complete with meeting times and places. Imagine my surprise when my ACA 12-step group turned out to be my gateway into lesbian, gay, feminist, and pagan activities on Martha’s Vineyard. The connection was the late Mary Payne, who instantly recognized me as one of the sisterhood.

You know how the right wing likes to accuse us — gay men in particular — of “recruiting”? Mary was a recruiter, but what she was recruiting for wasn’t some nefarious gay or lesbian “lifestyle.” She was recruiting for island theater, specifically Island Theatre Workshop, of which she was the founder and director.

The island’s theater scene and Wintertide Coffeehouse became my island homes. On the Vineyard, as elsewhere, if you go where the creative and/or artistic people are, you’ll almost certainly find gay men, lesbians, other idiosyncratic types, and a high level of acceptance for all kinds of diversity.

Mary’s partner, Nancy Luedeman, made a Vineyard panel for the AIDS Quilt. It memorialized four Vineyard men who’d died of AIDS, two by first name and last initial, two by initials only. I saw it before it left the island, and again when it was displayed with over eight thousand others on the Ellipse in October of 1988.

In those days if you said the word “lesbian” in public everyone would turn to stare at you. Who would possibly say “lesbian” in public if they weren’t one?? So we often said “the L-word” instead — this was long before the TV show of that name — or, gods save us, “Lebanese.”

The silence in those days was, to coin a cliché, deafening. By the very late 1980s, the island had begun to discover AIDS. At the public “educational” events I attended — I was working for the Martha’s Vineyard Times at the time — I often got the impression that one could only contract HIV/AIDS through dirty needles or blood transfusions.

The silence sometimes had tragic consequences. The four men memorialized on Nancy’s AIDS Quilt panel had all died off-island. Their names weren’t included because they had family here. A Vineyard man who was dealing with both addiction and HIV struggled to get services within a health care system whose component parts didn’t speak to each other and sometimes seemed unaware of each other’s existence. He found his most dedicated supporters and advocates in the Vineyard’s 12-step community.

His struggle, followed by his accidental death in a house fire, led to the formation of the AIDS Alliance, which pulled together health-care providers, advocates, community activists, and others dedicated to both educating the public about HIV/AIDS and to making it easier for those with HIV/AIDS to access services. The AIDS Alliance was in turn a beneficiary of the Crossover Ball, a very popular gender-bending New Year’s Eve event that was held several times between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s.

Photo is from June 2015, but this is the T-shirt I wore to the flag raising. It’s one of ILGA’s two T-shirts: “No man is an Island Lesbian (and Gay Association of Martha’s Vineyard),” which for a very long time I only wore off-island. Several people took pictures of it.

It also helped spur the organization of ILGA, the Island Lesbian & Gay Association, whose first meeting attracted about 26 people, about half of them men and half women, in the big room at the Wooden Tent. ILGA’s main activities were potlucks at members’ homes and a newsletter called, of course, Stone Walls, but it also led to the first-ever participation by Vineyard gay men and lesbians in the Pride parade in Boston, I think in 1994.

Robert Cropper and I were listed in the “island organizations” section of the island phone book as ILGA contacts. For the first time you could find the words “lesbian” and “gay” in the phone book, with phone numbers to call for more information.

The island’s gay and lesbian community, such as it was, was beginning to have a public presence. We grew more visible, and discovered we had allies, when in 1993 two Oak Bluffs town fathers tried to have two of the first kids’ books about gay and lesbian families — Heather Has Two Mommies and How Would You Feel If Your Dad Was Gay? — pulled from the Oak Bluffs School library. We showed up at meetings where the town fathers and their supporters told us that AIDS was God’s scourge of the homosexuals, and worse. But the school librarian stood firm, the student member of the school committee was eloquent in defense of the books, and the books stayed in the library.

In response to all this, I helped organize a Banned Books reading at Wintertide Coffeehouse in January 1994. More than 20 Vineyarders picked a short passage to read from their favorite banned book. It was spectacularly successful, and I think it proved to all of us that we had supporters, we were not alone.

The person coming off the boat or walking by and seeing the Progress Pride flag flying in Ocean Park isn’t going to know any of this history. It all happened a whole generation ago. But it helps explain why that flag is flying here today, and why it matters.

The flag raising at Ocean Park, June 1, 2022. That’s me in mostly white in the middle distance. Photo by Dan Waters.
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May License Plate Report

Malvina Forester gets inspected in May and as usual I put it off till the last full week of the month. Procrastination paid off once again, because parked in front of the West Tisbury church was a car with Hawaii plates, then when I pulled into the back lot at Kenny Belain’s garage what should I see but Kansas.

Malvina didn’t get inspected after all because the mechanic on inspection duty said her tires probably weren’t going to pass and her right front definitely wouldn’t. I immediately headed down-island to Island Tire and ordered four new ones. They came in yesterday, I had them put on this morning, and I managed to drive to Oak Bluffs and back this evening without getting busted for having an expired inspection sticker. I’ll take care of that tomorrow.

The month finished off with Wisconsin. Four is actually a good tally for May. I’m still making up for a slow January. The year’s total stands at 34. In 2021 I was up to 39; in 2020, the Covid year when travel was way down, it was 36, and in 2019 it was 38. Need I say that any month that includes Hawaii is a good month?

The Southwest is unusually solid for this time of year. Last year Nevada and New Mexico were missing at the end of May; the year before that it was Utah and Oklahoma; and in 2019 it was Utah, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

East and West haven’t linked up yet either. By the end of May they usually have, with the connecting links being Missouri and/or Arkansas, neither of which I’ve seen in 2022. We’ll see what June brings to the island.

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