Decked out in lipstick, earrings, a miniskirt, stockings, pump heels, my long hair down my back, I drove towards the lesbian bar I had heard about outside of Long Beach. It was 1969, I was 23 years old. Ordering a drink at the bar, I sat and looked around. Flannel shirts, cropped hair, workmen’s boots, I felt like I was surrounded by truck drivers. “I guess I’m not a lesbian,” was my thought as I exited the bar. Fast forward a year. With my M.A. from Cal State Long Beach in my pocket, I was celebrating in London, England. This time I put on jeans, a fancy blouse, earrings, and headed to the Gateways (the bar in the Killing of Sister George).
I arrived at 11pm. Unaware of the liquor licensing laws of England in 1970, I expected things to start about then. Instead they had called last orders (“Last orders! Have you no homes to go to?”) and everyone was on their way home. Not one to give up easily I returned the following week. My one outstanding memory of my first night at the Gateways was a woman who came up to me and asked, “Are you butch? Or femme? I can’t tell by the way you dress.” On my way out, a woman shoved a leaflet, “Gay Liberation Front” in my hand. Meetings at the London School of Economics. Women who looked butch, women who looked femme, and all shades in-between. Bam! I was home.
Fast forward again to 1971. I was 24 years old and I took part in the first Gay Liberation Front demonstration that ever marched through the streets of London and ended at Trafalgar Square. The “brothers” were up on the plinth speechifying, but there was not a single woman up there. Then I heard my name called from the plinth, “Carla! Where’s Carla?” The other GLF women did not want to appear on the plinth – for fear of their jobs or their photos in the News of the World (we always called it “News and Screws”), and I was six thousand miles from home.
Wearing an orange t-shirt with “LESBIAN” emblazoned on the front, I turned to my friend, Rosie Dadson, and asked her to please come with me. Rosie and I climbed up on the plinth. Rosie was wearing a purple wig (her mother was Scots, her father Nigerian). Rosie held my hand. All I said was, “Gay is good! I’m a lesbian and I’m proud!” and the crowd erupted into cheers. When Rosie and I came down from the plinth, a young girl came up to me. “I want to be a lesbian, too,” she told me. “All you need is courage,” I replied.
Fast forward again. 1974, I moved into a lesbian squatting community that centered on Broadway Market, Hackney in East London with other women I had known from the Gay Liberation Front. In 1976, after a one night stand with a French/Moroccan/Berber (there were no other options at the time), I gave birth to twins in The Mother’s Salvation Army Hospital on Lower Clapton Road. I named my daughter after my mother, grandmother and great grandmother.
My son I named Daniel. I decided that, if the first Daniel could survive a den of lions, then my Daniel could survive life in a lesbian community. Daniel ended up with a scholarship to Oxford (M.Sc.) and then Cambridge (doctorate). My daughter did her B.A. at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), and her M.A. at Goldsmith’s and then had three beautiful children. My nineteen year old granddaughter and sixteen year old grandson are half Tibetan. My 16 month old grandson is “black British” – his paternal grandparents both came from Jamaica. After living in Hackney for thirty years, I married a woman from a little village on the edge of Germany’s Black Forest.
Although I no longer live in London, I am still part of the “lesbian world.” (Three of my poems appear in “SMITTEN,” an anthology of lesbian poetry – the first appearance of any of my work in the United States. Publication: late October 2019 by Indie Blu(e) Publishing. It can be purchased through Amazon and Barnes & Noble worldwide. Website: https://www.facebook.com/SMITTENwomen/ . My historical research, No Man’s Land: “Multitribal Indians” in the United States, was inspired by my mother’s assertion that she visited the descendents of Tecumseh in California’s High Sierras as child. Using classic texts and original sources to verify the accuracy of her assertion, I traced a massive movement of British loyalists and First Nations peoples from 1780 in the southeastern United States to 1930 on the west coast. It will be published in 2020/2021.)
Originally published in LC October, 2019