Natural state of being

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They don’t want to hear about you

you’re not their kind

color, height, smell and gait

sets you apart, making you unpalatable

cast out from something you never belonged to

your back is curved before you hit the ground

sans parachute

cowing in utero to the inevitability of rejection

this is you, yellow girl, jaundiced before birth

you enter the world with a cigarette in one gnarled hand

the other high in protest

Gloria Steinem. could learn a thing or two about

your resolve

while she grew up in affluence and chose her metal

you were given nothing but inherited disease and

a penchant for purposing

all this in the time when women were

supposed to cross their legs in polite company

and open them for their husbands every whim

it disgusted you, the hypocrisy of hate

people at your Baptist church crowing gospel

calling you sinner when they caused more harm

than any so-called pervert

sent to camp to straighten out, you

fell for your coach and she for you

making out behind the outdoor toilets

confirmation of bias in the unhooking

of her clumsy sixties bra

feeling the first areola and you were lost

to any other kind of conversion

I wish I’d known you then, when eyes bright

despite the infernal din, you struck out against

the norm, trying daily not to let that

milk of magnesia asking that you straighten out

cause shame

it’s hard isn’t it? When even those pretending to

‘understand’ leave you out of invitations and the like

because you’re different, you’re not looking for a penis

not putting up posters of James Dean but Farrah Fawcett was okay, nor

waxing your legs for Friday nights

you didn’t like what every other girl in the changing rooms

coveted and so, they turned their tanned backs to you

and left you alone

to think of why you had more in common with

Billie Jean King and Radcliffe Hall

than cheerleaders with pom poms of scorn

and football players who would rape you to show

what you were missing

was it really such a sin to want to love

another woman? What was it about how you felt

scared them into loathing? And why when they knew

did it seem such a sport to exclude you?

Until you wrote pain on the insides of your wrists

a dowry of teenage repudiation

ending up in a mental hospital where the nurses

were all secret dykes and you fingered each other

at midnight, hiding your disappointment behind

seventies lino

this wasn’t love either, anymore than lying beneath

a grunting boy, at 14, hoping to fuck out the

feelings people said were evil, though

his use of you, seemed far more abhorrent

than the dreams you had of girls

not just any girl either, not just a writhing

creche of women parts, but one startling woman

you hoped to meet, among the girls who would be boys

and the girls who would be bi on dark and cheap drink weekends

gay bars were undoubtedly

some of the saddest places in the entire world

you neither excelled at pool or darts, you couldn’t

join in anymore there with cunnilingus against bathroom stalls

graffiti the tired penitent of fallen souls

with strangers who reminded you of boys in make up

you didn’t want to be with a girl who hated being a woman

dressing more like a man than your father

you wanted to love another woman with all

her madness and her fluxes, the rise of her lace covered breasts

how her thighs were not muscled but soft and her lips

pillows for your fevered whispers

no such woman seemed to exist back then

when gay venues were often raided by bored

knee-jerk religious police seeking to molest a girl in

baggy trousers and flattened chest on Friday night

shame after all, is a universal weapon and you

had tasted its liquored lash many times by then

watching your friends beaten with sticks by

heady boys in pick-ups waiting outside bars, high on local beer

and blood lust

you were too small to protect anyone, but witnessed

with grief so sharp it left marks in your eyes to think

of how the strongest girls rushed to defend the weakest

struck down by weapons wielded by the ‘righteous’ oh! Texas!

You were such a loathing state and things haven’t really

changed so very much

they still close their doors

they still tell their daughters

“don’t play with her, she’s queer that one”

and as grown up as you are, the pain is twice folded

for you wished by now things would be different

with laws and blood spilled surely paving a way forward

you forgot, for every step, there is one backwards

still just as you resolved to go without

you found me and still I found you

among the carnage, and our own wrecked self-destruction

still we laid in darkness sharing our stories

I tracing the scars on your arms and thighs

like Sanskrit of former muzzled lives

when I looked in your tired eyes I saw

how long you had been watching

this cruel world destroy her rainbow

heavy children

sometimes the greatest love comes

from broken people

too late in their August lives

to kick up chipped heals

they find solace in the depths

of their much labored, chambered heart

for as much as they punish us for existing

we keep returning, generation after generation

unbidden, unwanted, labeled abominations

or just silent dismay

carrying our quelled pain in beseechment

the whole world unsure of how to treat us

often resorting to ignoring

for who knows what to do

with something different? I still

don’t hold your ink stained hand in public very often

fearing I suppose our heads being bashed in

or someone cutting silence with ugly laughter

I think I could handle my own

abasing but never yours

you’ve worn the brand long enough my love

I now aim to remove it, defend you

as you saw the bloodshed longer than most

young men mowed down by AIDS sucking

their last breath through second-hand

straws, emaciated by the squander of

their worth, by a society intent on

blaming someone., anyone, in their aimless pointing

Reagan in the office doing nothing

beneath his hollow cross

even Obama had to ‘evolve’ his

opinion of gay-marriage like it was a

right that should be earned rather than

possessed naturally

but after all we are not

considered very natural

are we? Funny really …

as being with you

is the only natural

state of being I have ever

felt.

SMITTEN authors in the news! SMITTEN POET Carla Toney talks to LC about her life

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