The Day We Almost Met (Women in Shakespeare)

The Day We Almost Met (Women in Shakespeare)

The day Mia and I almost met was Super Bowl Sunday, 2008. We were living in Boston, the Patriots were in the Super Bowl, and neither of us was a football fan. It was Mia’s birthday, and all of her friends (affectionately, I’m sure) ditched her to go to Super Bowl parties. They invited her, of course, but she couldn’t think of a more hateful way to spend her birthday, so she decided to take herself, alone, to the theater to see a play. I’m a baseball fan; football has no appeal for me, and I also decided to skip the whole thing and take refuge in taking myself, alone, to the theater.

Mia’s play was Women in Shakespeare. Mine was Angels in America. We were in the same building on the same afternoon. We could have passed each other in the hallway, at the ticket window, at intermission. After her show, Mia treated herself to dinner in a restaurant nearby, seated in the window. I walked by this restaurant, next to that window, on my way home. We didn’t see each other.

The reason I know all this is because we did meet, 17 days later. Our separate Super Bowl outings came up in conversation and the landmark of her birthday and the Super Bowl allowed us to pinpoint it exactly. The odds, they seem incalculable. It’s still incredible to me.

We decided we’d always celebrate Super Bowl Sunday, though we call it The Day We Almost Met, and we promised ourselves that no matter what we did, it would never involve football! That part of the deal is easy to keep.

I spent the night before TDWAM in the studio, and painted this. We spent the actual day apart because Mia is in Italy for the year. (And, like 2008, the Patriots lost. I won’t root against my hometown team though).

Moomins Moomins Everywhere

Moomins are a secret in our family, something private that only we know about, as secret as the ruby hidden on the underside of my engagement ring, on the side that hugs my finger, that no one else can see. It’s there just for us.

Except that Moomins are already a worldwide phenomenon, translated into 44 languages…though all but invisible in the US, where they remain almost totally unknown.

But with a Hollywood movie coming out soon, as well as an animated series in the works featuring Kate Winslet, the Moomin secret is about to come out of the bag.

Moomins, which are genial-looking, hippopotamus-like cartoon figures, are symbols of our honeymoon. As soon as we stepped off the airplane in Helsinki, there were Moomins wherever we looked. On posters, all over the gift shop, on books and journals. These weren’t advertisements, although I seem to recall a welcome message or public service-style announcement from the airport itself that featured Moomin. They are simply woven into the popular fabric of Finland. There was no tagline or logo to clue us in or even tell us what to call them, just the figures, because they were clearly already so well-known. We were so inundated, so immediately, that we had to figure it out right away or risk being hopelessly lost in Finland.

Seeking answers, we asked a salesperson at the airport gift shop – purveyors of dozens and dozens of said hippopotamus-type items – “Um, sorry, we’re not from here, but what are these figures?”. The hesitating answer was one word – “Moomin”, while the incredulous look she gave us said – “Dumbass”.

“Oh, Moomin. Thank you. But what are they?”

“Just…Moomin…”. Now she felt sorry for us, with no easy way to explain all that Moomin stood for in her country. We accepted that they were “just Moomin”, and carried on. Of course, I bought a Moomin journal, and we continued to see them everywhere in Finland. They remain a central ingredient and symbol of our honeymoon, confined to that time and place, with warm memories attached.

Fast forward five years, and they’re about to explode in the US. I’ll do you the favor of cluing you in ahead of time so you won’t be surprised.

Moomins are illustrations that were created in the 1940s by queer Finnish illustrator Tove Jansson. She drew anti-fascist political cartoons (Hitler and Stalin were her favorite skewers) while working for a left-wing magazine, and used the Moomin as an outlet to process anxiety over World War II, particularly the Russian bombing of Helsinki. My understanding is that they populate children’s books, but with a realistic darkness that isn’t often brought to juvenile literature; that adults also find something to love there is proven by the invitation to segue into a comic strip for a British newspaper.

Several Moomin are inspired by people from Jansson’s life: her brother, an old boyfriend. My favorite creative spark comes from the duo called Thingumy and Bob (I like their Finnish names better: Tiuhti and Viuhti), whose inspiration was Jansson’s secret, illegal relationship with a woman. (Gay relationships were forbidden by law in Finland until 1971, though they currently have one of the most progressive outlooks on LGBTQ rights). Thingumy and Bob are not hippo-shaped, by the way: picture more humanoid, less shaggy versions of the 1980s video game character Q-bert, with the bodies of elves. Thingummy and Bob are twins; they are never without each other, and are almost always seen holding hands. Like many twins, they share their own, secret language. They also share a suitcase, which is filled with only a very large ruby (remember my engagement ring!) – a symbol of their love. Their favorite places are confined ones – drawers, purses that they steal in order to sleep in, under rugs (and maybe in closets?).

Jansson met someone else, her life partner, in the 1950s, who also inspired a Moomin character. Jansson never called herself gay (remember that it was illegal for almost another 20 years). Her niece said Jansson’s secret name for being gay was “spook side” – as in, exploring her spook side, crossing over to the spook side. Jansson and her partner lived together, defying the law, even purchasing an entire island on which to be themselves, free from prying eyes.

Welcome, Moomin. You won’t be our little secret for much longer.

Solo Show Explores Gay Marriage

You're invited

In an exhibition sponsored by the City of Federal Way, painter Maura McGurk uses texture, color and found objects to explore long-term relationships, particularly gay marriage.

McGurk explains that she arrived at this theme through a challenge she gave to herself, to begin using pattern in more conscious ways in her paintings. This technical consideration quickly turned metaphorical as she began to consider the patterns (specifically behavioral ones) in her daily life. This train of thought eventually led to the realization that her eight-year relationship with her wife could now qualify as “long-term”.

But it was a trip to Italy in 2015, their first since traveling there together as a brand-new couple, that provided a natural opportunity to examine their relationship at its beginning and at its current bloom. This bookending also caused McGurk to revisit some of her earlier artwork, since she was inspired by Italy at that time. The warm Italian palette, crusty textures, sense of the passage of time, and found objects such as Italian wall posters frequently featured in her compositions, and she has returned to some of these elements to explore marriage.

The occasional exploration of the figure is a departure from McGurk’s usual abstraction, and a move into more explicitly personal territory and themes.

…And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

Excerpt from “On Marriage” by Kahlil Gibran

12 Paintings in Exhibition to Honor Orlando

Kiyoshi Kuromiya, Mixed media, 4" x 5"
Kiyoshi Kuromiya, Mixed media, 4″ x 5″

This June, I did something I’ve been meaning to do for several years: I created a painting each day of the month to celebrate Pride.

I was having fun with this project, and adhering quite nicely to my self-imposed deadlines. Then Orlando happened, and the project took on a slightly new meaning.

Where earlier in the project, I experimented in style and celebrated not only the idea of Pride itself, but also a “I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow” kind of thinking, after June 12, I felt less celebratory and decidedly more serious. The faces and events that I pinned to the wall above my bed delivered – needed to deliver, for me – a sense of protection. The paintings became more focused on portraits – faces – looking down and yes, I saw them as protectors.

People who know me know that I’m quite superstitious. Maybe that’s my (decidedly former) Catholic background talking, the need for an icon to look to for stability. Maybe the absence of that statuary, scapulary et al, in my life dictates the current need to carry an Evil Eye in my pocket every day, as well as to have these portraits (icon-like) looking down from above my bed.

In any case, 12 of these Pride paintings will be on display at First Covenant Church in Seattle, with an opening reception on July 14, 2016, from 6:00 – 9:00 pm. The exhibition honors the victims of the Orlando murders.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of this project to me. When I began, I imagined the possibility of glitter and silliness. But less than halfway through, although there were still some lighter notes (talking to you, Lesbian Pirates) gravitas became a necessity. And I deeply appreciated the many people who wrote to me and thanked me for helping them to process the events in Orlando via my paintings. That was precious to me, and as an artist, there’s nothing higher than that.

Unfortunately, now we turn our attention to other tragedies, with our thoughts in Minnesota and Baton Rouge. I can hardly say I’ve come to terms with Orlando, and we’re faced with these additional senseless killings. I hope for a sense of closure for Orlando through this exhibition, and I promise there will be upcoming work that deals with Black Lives Matter.

Drop by, open-house style, at First Covenant Church for Capitol Hill Art Walk. I’ll be there, and hope you will too.

Details:

First Covenant Church (Summit Building)
420 E. Pike St.
Seattle, WA

Opening Reception:
Thursday, July 14, 2016
6 – 9 PM
Light refreshments provided

Exhibition on view until August 10.

Pride Project #30 – Barbara Jordan

Barbara Jordan, Mixed media on board, 5" x 5"
Barbara Jordan, Mixed media on board, 5″ x 5″

This is the last post celebrating Pride Month!

U.S. Representative Barbara Jordan embodied many important “firsts”. She was the first southern Black person elected to the Texas State Senate following Reconstruction. She was the first southern Black woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. She was the first Black woman to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, in 1976, and despite not running for President, she received one delegate’s vote. She’s the still the only Black woman to have ever served as governor (she was Acting Governor for one day in Texas, and that stat doesn’t count Lieutenant Governors).

She was a lawyer, and a professor too. In fact, she had such a keen legal mind that President Bill Clinton said many times that she was his top choice to appoint to the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, by the time he was in a position to make a nomination, she was too ill to accept.

Ms. Jordan, in true lesbian fashion, met her long-time love on a camping trip, though she wasn’t out publicly.

She carried a copy of the Constitution at all times, in her purse.

Pride Project #29 – Dave Kopay

Dave Kopay, Mixed media on board, 5" x 5"
Dave Kopay, Mixed media on board, 5″ x 5″

Dave Kopay, a retired NFL running back, was the first professional athlete from a team sport to come out of the closet.

This was in 1975, three years after Dave had retired. He read a newspaper article, along with its follow-up letters from readers, about an unnamed NFL player and his experiences in the league as a gay man. He recognized the player (because he’d slept with him) and knew that the story was accurate, but was upset by the readers’ feedback claiming that the story must be false.

Kopay decided to contact the reporter and verify her earlier story. That, in turn, led to an autobiography that was published in 1977, which was influential to people all over the world – from young kids in the Philippines all the way to Billie Jean King – who were grappling with their own issues of coming out and sexuality. King has said Kopay’s book was helpful to her as she navigated professional life in the wake of a public outing in 1981.

Pride Project #28 – Lorraine Hansberry

Lorraine Hansberry, Mixed media on board, 5" x 5"
Lorraine Hansberry, Mixed media on board, 5″ x 5″

Lorraine Hansberry is the first Black woman whose play, A Raisin in the Sun, appeared on Broadway. She was also the youngest playwright so honored.

It pains me to say this, but through two unsigned letters that she sent to The Ladder, a lesbian magazine, in the late 50s, as well as lists that she regularly made for herself, we know that she was uncomfortable with her sexuality.

The lists, especially, show her ambivalence and her struggle to process her identity. They reference her delight at “the inside of a lovely woman’s mouth” and “69 when it really works”; her love of “slacks” and “Eartha Kitt’s legs”.

For me, though, the most poignant entry lists “my homosexuality” under the headings of both “I like” and “I hate”.

Pride Project #27 – Geri Jewell

Geri Jewell, Mixed media on board, 4" x 5"
Geri Jewell, Mixed media on board, 4″ x 5″

Geri Jewell is the first person with a disability to be cast as a regular in a primetime television series, when she played Blair’s Cousin Geri on The Facts of Life in the 80s.

She got her start as a standup comedian who joked about her own cerebral palsy and got lucky one night when producer Norman Lear and MRS. GARRETT were in the audience. The rest is television history. She worked on other shows like Sesame Street, 21 Jump Street, Deadwood, and Glee.

Years later, she came out as a lesbian (though she says that actress Lisa Whelchel – AKA Blair and Geri’s real-life roommate – knew at the time that she was gay and closeted. Great Hollywood gossip 30 or more years after the fact!).

Pride Project #26 – Leonard Matlovich

Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich, Mixed media on board, 5" x 5"
Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich, Mixed media on board, 5″ x 5″

Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich won the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service in the Air Force during the Vietnam War but was discharged when he came out as gay to his superiors and refused to sign a pledge to “never practice homosexuality again”.

This was a calculated move to try to test anti-gay policies in court, and with his spotless record, Matlovich was the perfect face of this campaign.

Time magazine featured him on its cover in 1975, the first openly gay person to land there, and the first time the gay rights movement was featured. This was back when Time was a big deal and brought the queer struggle to lots of American homes via their mailboxes.

Matlovich sued for reinstatement and won in court, but the Air Force preferred that he accept a financial settlement instead of reenlistsing. It was only $160,000, but he took it. He became politically active, and used his celebrity status to campaign against various anti-gay initiatives around the country.

In his last public speech, in 1988 as he was dying from AIDS, he said:

…And I want you to look at the flag, our rainbow flag, and I want you to look at it with pride in your heart, because we too have a dream. And what is our dream? Ours is more than an American dream. It’s a universal dream. Because in South Africa, we’re black and white, and in Northern Ireland, we’re Protestant and Catholic, and in Israel we’re Jew and Muslim. And our mission is to reach out and teach people to love, and not to hate…And in the AIDS crisis – and I have AIDS – and in the AIDS crisis, if there is any one word that describes our community’s reaction to AIDS, that word is love, love, love.

If you’re not already crying, there’s more. His tombstone reads:

When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

Not long after his death, I saw these words (or something very like them) on a panel of the AIDS Memorial Quilt when it came to UC Berkeley. I don’t remember the name on panel, if it was Leonard’s or belonged to someone else in similar circumstances, but I vividly remember reading it and crying huge, sobbing tears in the middle of Sproul Plaza.

Those remain some of the most powerful words I’ve ever read in my life.

Pride Project #25 – Sylvia Rivera

Sylvia Rivera, Mixed media on board, 5" x 5"
Sylvia Rivera, Mixed media on board, 5″ x 5″

Sylvia, like many queer kids, became homeless as a kid because her family (in this case, her grandmother who was raising her) didn’t approve of her queer identity. The queer community, especially drag queens, took her under their wing and christened her “Sylvia”.

Her experiences hustling in Times Square and living at the Christopher Street piers in NYC fueled her later advocacy for homeless queer youth and trans women of color. She always maintained that she was there at the Stonewall Inn during the riots in 1969 (though some, including her best friend, say that she wasn’t).

In 2015, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery included her portrait in its collection, making her the first trans person represented there.

You’ve been treating us like shit all these years? Uh-uh. Now it’s our turn!… It was one of the greatest moments in my life.

Sylvia Rivera, on the Stonewall Riots

Pride Project #24 – Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Mixed media on board, 5" x 5"
Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Mixed media on board, 5″ x 5″

Sor Juana, a nun who lived in New Spain (colonial Mexico) in the 17th century, taught herself to read in her grandfather’s library and entered the convent to continue her studies (the only avenue open to a girl at that time). Her living quarters, filled with books, became the salon of the day, where contemporary cultural progressives gathered. She was an early feminist, with her most famous work being a manifesto that advocated for the education of girls and women.

She also wrote love poems to a countess.

Pride Project #23 – St. Brigid

St. Brigid, Mixed media on board, 4" x 5"
St. Brigid, Mixed media on board, 4″ x 5″

St. Brigid was an early Catholic nun, (who was probably a Celtic goddess and “Christianized”; her feast day is the same as the Druid Imbolc, which celebrates spring). She founded convents all over Ireland that focused on education and art. I read somewhere that she also enjoyed beer.

She was very close with another nun named Darlughdach, who was significantly younger. They shared a bed together at the convent, and were so close that when Brigid had a vision of her upcoming death, Darlughdach prayed that she might have a simultaneous death, because she didn’t want to live without Brigid. Brigid begged her to hold on for a year, to continue Brigid’s work at the monastery, and Darlughdach died exactly one year later, to the day.

Pride Project #22 – Dr. James Barry

Dr. James Barry, Mixed media on board, 4" x 5"
Dr. James Barry, Mixed media on board, 4″ x 5″

Circa 1800, James dressed as a boy and entered college at age 10, graduated medical school at 13 and became a surgeon in the British army.

This red-headed Irishman’s interests and accomplishments revolutionized medicine:

  • he promoted hygienic medical practices before that was common
  • he relished difficult assignments to tropical areas with deadly diseases
  • he treated the poor, Blacks, prisoners, and others at a time when doctors could – and did – refuse to treat these people
  • he called attention to the inhumane conditions in insane asylums
  • he posted notices to educate the public about symptoms of and precautions against smallpox, plague, and other diseases
  • he performed the first Caesarean section in which Mom and Baby both lived

As if he weren’t already proven to be brilliant, ahead of his time, and on the right side of everything, he was also against slavery.

At his death, it was revealed that he was born a woman, when his body was undressed to prepare for burial. This was explicitly against his wishes – the undressing, not necessarily the burial – since he’d repeatedly stated his desire for his body to remain untreated in any way, and to be buried in the clothes in which he expired, with only a sheet wrapped around the whole package. No undressing – it was very clear, and expressed many times during the last 25 years of his life, at least.

Interestingly, the feminist and queer movements have begun a tug-of-war over whose camp he belongs to…was James a woman forced to live as a man in order to realize a dream of becoming a surgeon – a course that wasn’t open to females – or a queer who identified as a man and lived his life accordingly?

There was a Hollywood movie several years ago that spun James’ biography by introducing a heterosexual love affair with a male governor who fell in love with James as a woman. This is unsubstantiated by any historical documentation. Some accounts that I suspect have been “straightened up” (we’ve seen it before) state that the servant who undressed James at death saw abdominal stretch marks that proved James had been pregnant into late term.

Although we’ll never know the true story – James never recorded any thoughts on the subject – this feminist has to side with the queers.

First, there’s his lifelong insistence on never being undressed, even at death. If James were living as a man only for career purposes, the case could be made that the empowered-female-within would have wanted to be unmasked at the end of life.

But my best piece of evidence? Written accounts call James a notorious “lady-killer”!

Pride Project #21 – Kiyoshi Kuromiya

Kiyoshi Kuromiya, Mixed media, 4" x 5"
Kiyoshi Kuromiya, Mixed media, 4″ x 5″

I really believe that activism is therapeutic.”

– Kiyoshi Kuromiya

Kiyoshi Kuromiya was born in a Japanese internment camp in rural Wyoming during World War II. As a college student, he participated in some of the earliest demonstrations of the civil rights movement: “Annual Reminders” held in Philadelphia in the 1960s on the 4th of July.

He was active in many capacities in the gay community, notably as a gay delegate to the Black Panthers convention when they endorsed the fight for gay rights, as a proponent for medical marijuana, and as a litigant against the Communications Decency Act. Despite all this, he was probably best known as an AIDS activist. After his own diagnosis in 1989, he founded an AIDS resource center that served as a nexus for information, support, and action.

Fun fact: Kuromiya assisted Buckminster Fuller in writing a book on technology, and was a nationally ranked Scrabble player.

Pride Project #20 – Lesbian Pirates

Lesbian Pirates Anne Bonney and Mary Read, Mixed media on board, 5" x 5"
Lesbian Pirates Anne Bonney and Mary Read, Mixed media on board, 5″ x 5″

Although some accounts differ and some have been clearly “straightened up”, there is enough evidence to count Anne Bonney and Mary Read as Lesbian Pirates, who not only established reputations as among the toughest of the rough-and-tumble pirates on the high seas, but were a couple as well.

Anne was known in her hometown of Charleston, circa 1710, as a rowdy tomboy with short hair. After a series of infamous incidents involving taverns, swords, and beating a would-be suitor with a chair, she eloped and her father disinherited her. She soon left her husband and took off for the Bahamas where pirates, homosexuals, and ne’er-do-wells headquartered. Told that she needed a man for protection, she linked herself with a man and his mistress, then with Calico Jack (part inspiration for Johnny Depp’s character in Pirates of the Caribbean) who was so named because of his flamboyant patterned dress and was suspected of being gay. Was this the first bearded relationship among pirates??

Anne plotted many pirate takedowns of other ships, and also of men who paid her too much attention. She eventually felt that she didn’t need Calico Jack for protection, and threw him out of the captain’s quarters so that she could live there alone.

As for Mary Read, her mother dressed her in boys’ clothes and called her “Mark” so that she could inherit family money (something girls weren’t allowed to do in England at that time). Her mother disowned Mary when she realized that Mary actually preferred being Mark. Mary ended up in the Bahamas, having been a footboy, then a soldier, then a sailor, then captured by pirates and finally persuaded to join their crew (as Mark). This is where she met Anne, and they were joined at the hip, living together in the captain’s quarters. As time went by, Calico Jack either became jealous (I’m not so sure) or wanted an upgrade to his living arrangement and burst in on the master suite. He found the two pirates in bed, with an undressed Anne poised over the undressed and obviously female “Mark”. This is where the story gets “straightened up” because many historians maintain that Anne had believed she was about to go to bed with “Mark”, discovering Mary’s true identity at exactly the same moment as Calico Jack. This is completely ridiculous, given how intimately they’d been living, but it’s in keeping with a straight narrative that would rather portray Anne as a loose woman with lots of male suitors rather than a self-possessed lesbian in control of her sexuality.

At some point, Mary goes back to her real name and the two women infamously conduct many raids together. Once, Mary kills an ex-lover of Anne’s out of jealousy. They’re eventually caught, tried, and sentenced to hang. They escape execution by claiming they’re pregnant (highly unlikely, but a common – and successful – plea for women at that time), but Mary dies in prison. Anne disappears from history at this point, though claims that she married and returned to Charleston or became a nun sound like more “straightening up” to me.