Growing up I didn’t have a SMITTEN

black lesbianGrowing up in Europe I didn’t have anything like SMITTEN. My ‘sources’ were hard to find and often took me to oblique and obscure bookstores that had tiny ‘feminism/Lesbian’ (as they were once twinned) sections. Within those sections I found little I could personally relate to. I read Radcliffe Hall’s The Well Of Loneliness, now considered the ‘Bible’ of lesbianism and whether right or wrong, it did set a stage for me, and I loved the style and emotions therein, but over all her book is also very sad, it talks of lesbians as ‘inverts’ who are women trapped inside men’s bodies wishing to live the life men live and love women like men do. That was not my feeling. I was a woman happy to be a woman who wanted to love another woman who was most definitely a woman. (It should be noted many lesbians prefer to identify on the masculine end of the scale and yet identify as masculine women and this is a legit form of love too).

Even now, many years hence, there are divides within the LGBTQ and even lesbian/bi worlds. For some, you are just not considered a lesbian unless you subscribe to some of the dress-code/tough-act code and you are objectified for wanting to take on some of the accoutrement considered ‘heterosexual’ by queers. Likewise, you may be typecast as ‘femme’ (or butch) even in today’s society, as much as anything because since legislation has legalized gay marriage and made it easier in some countries for LGBTQ it has been assumed LGBTQ doesn’t need the same resources and so, there are less lesbian clubs/places to meet than ever before, and more is conducted online which as we all know, can be very hit and miss.

I personally knew of four lesbians who were date-raped when they met their ‘lesbian’ date in real life, after meeting online. In all cases, it was a set-up and there were men involved who took advantage of those women and punished them for being lesbians and not attracted to men. You may think that sounds extreme but having worked at two rape crisis centers I can assure you, it’s as common place now as it was in the seventies. The idea that LGBTQ and lesbians don’t need a ‘safe place’ to meet other like minded people, is too optimistic, it assumes it is now ‘safe’ to be a lesbian, but as any lesbian will tell you, we still fear holding a woman’s hand walking down certain streets. That hasn’t and won’t go away.

Let us not forget, in the vast majority of the world it is still illegal, frowned upon, punished or made impossible to be a lesbian and LGBTQ only pertains to a small percentage of this world in terms of population. If you are an African lesbian, good luck, you risk your life admitting that. So our Western ideas do not apply to the majority of lesbians out there.

Little really good literature is lesbian or LGBTQ, indicative of the stereotyping of LGBTQ literature when it is published and the small minority size of each group. You really have to hunt to find excellent, really well written lesbian literature or poetry. It was my dream to put together a group of authors who embodied love between women and showed the variety and depth of that love. SMITTEN accomplished this with over 120 poets and artists contributing some striking, stirring poems, drawings and thoughts of love and attachment.

SMITTEN was created for those people though I am certain we do not reach nearly enough. But it was my dream that even if we reached a few, even if we reached a girl like myself who went in search of ‘real’ lesbian love in a book store, they could find it. Maybe we haven’t done enough but with every act we hope to raise the consciousness of all people not just LGBTQ. People who may assume because gays have the right to vote and marry  and are represented on TV in some countries that they are absolutely free of persecution. This is not the case and while there are many other such minorities who are objectified, ridiculed, stereotyped and minimized, it was my mission to highlight lesbians and women who love women because I am one.

SMITTEN may not have existed when I was really young and had no gay friends, no cohorts who were LGBTQ and no school friends who were even sympathetic or understanding of LGBTQ. I myself didn’t really know enough. I sought refuge in gay bars when old enough but often times found those as judging and uncomfortable as being the only straight. The stereotypes, expectations, reductions and cliches of being a lesbian were as backward among lesbians as among heterosexuals! We had no role-models, nobody to refer to and only a palpable sense of shame emanating from society en mass. Nobody in their right mind wanted their daughter to grow up to be a lesbian, wasn’t that just something that happened like a birth defect or because a mother didn’t do her job right? That was the thinking back then and back then wasn’t ‘that’ long ago!

Consequently I spent more of my youth trying to get by without examining my lesbian identity and enjoying what it could be like to love another woman. I look at photos of very young lesbians now and I envy them their freedom but I am not so naive to assume they are entirely free, as a minute after the photo is taken, they could be beaten up by a mob who didn’t like what they saw. It still happens.

SMITTEN defies the hate, bigotry and misunderstanding of lesbianism. SMITTEN isn’t about women fucking other women for porn. SMITTEN isn’t about stereotypical lesbians created by heterosexual men. SMITTEN isn’t angry and hateful as some feminist backlash can be. SMITTEN is about this: Love IS LOVE.

Please support SMITTEN by gifting it to an LGBTQ person you care about, or buying it for yourself irrespective of your gender and sexual orientation, because love IS love and it transcends everything. If you like poetry, or you support LGBTQ inclusion and visibility then your support of SMITTEN can person by person, change everything. And if you cannot do that, perhaps think of requesting SMITTEN from your local library or purchasing the less expensive Kindle version (although it should be said the print version of SMITTEN is sumptuous!). YOUR support helps little girls growing up today, grow up to have a VERY different outlook in life, one without as much fear and isolation.

SMITTEN is available in print at

SMITTEN is available in KINDLE at

SMITTEN’s authors interviews, poetry readings and photo archive can be found here

With thanks to Indie Blu(e) for taking a chance and publishing this incredible project.

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

SMITTEN Poets READ: The Girl Who Always Cries – Crystal Kinistino

 

SMITTEN is coming out late October, 2019 via all good book stores. Published by Indie Blu(e) www.indieblu.net 

Please consider supporting this project of over 120+ talented poets and authors by purchasing a copy of SMITTEN for someone who appreciates beautiful poetry. https://www.facebook.com/SMITTENwomen/

SMITTEN Poets READ: Walking By Hot Topic While Announcing Queerness, or So I Hoped by Kelsey Hontz

 

SMITTEN is coming out late October, 2019 via all good book stores. Published by Indie Blu(e) www.indieblu.net 

Please consider supporting this project of over 120+ talented poets and authors by purchasing a copy of SMITTEN for someone who appreciates beautiful poetry. https://www.facebook.com/SMITTENwomen/

SMITTEN Poets READ: Ephemeris | Morning Senses by Cristina DeSouza

 

SMITTEN is coming out late October, 2019 via all good book stores. Published by Indie Blu(e) www.indieblu.net 

Please consider supporting this project of over 120+ talented poets and authors by purchasing a copy of SMITTEN for someone who appreciates beautiful poetry. https://www.facebook.com/SMITTENwomen/

SMITTEN Poets READ: Friday Karaoke by Kindra M. Austin

 

SMITTEN is coming out late October, 2019 via all good book stores. Published by Indie Blu(e) www.indieblu.net 

Please consider supporting this project of over 120+ talented poets and authors by purchasing a copy of SMITTEN for someone who appreciates beautiful poetry. https://www.facebook.com/SMITTENwomen/

SMITTEN Poets READ: After the Fire – by Kim Harvey

 

SMITTEN is coming out late October, 2019 via all good book stores. Published by Indie Blu(e) www.indieblu.net 

Please consider supporting this project of over 120+ talented poets and authors by purchasing a copy of SMITTEN for someone who appreciates beautiful poetry. https://www.facebook.com/SMITTENwomen/